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Biden to speed release of first Covid vaccine doses in reversal of Trump policy

Joe Biden will release most available Covid-19 vaccine doses to speed delivery to more people when he takes office, a reversal of the Trump administration policy, his office said Friday.

The move came after the US suffered its deadliest ever day from the coronavirus pandemic on Thursday, with more than 4,000 people dying from the virus amid warnings the situation could deteriorate further this month.

The record daily death toll of 4,085, according to Johns Hopkins University data, has brought the total number of US deaths to more than 365,000 since the pandemic began, with more than 21.5 million people having contracted the disease – both totals are far greater than any other country in the world.

“The president-elect believes we must accelerate distribution of the vaccine while continuing to ensure the Americans who need it most get it as soon as possible,” spokesman TJ Ducklo said in a statement. Biden “supports releasing available doses immediately, and believes the government should stop holding back vaccine supply so we can get more shots in Americans’ arms now”.

Under the Trump administration’s approach, the government has been holding back a supply of vaccines to guarantee that people can get a second shot, which provides maximum protection against Covid-19. Both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines require a second shot about three weeks after the first vaccination. One-shot vaccines are still undergoing testing.

After a glow of hope when the first vaccines were approved last month, the nation’s inoculation campaign has gotten off to a slow start. Of 29.4m doses distributed, about 5.9m have been administered, or 27%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The UK announced it would delay administering the second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine earlier this month, a move which had prompted criticism from top US infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci who said while the argument could be made for such a step, he would not be in favour.

Fauci is set to be the chief medical adviser for Biden when he assumes the US presidency.

Biden has already indicated his displeasure with the slow roll out of the vaccine. In a speech last week, before his election victory was certified by Congress, the president-elect said he intends to speed up vaccinations by having the federal government take a stronger role to make sure that vaccines are not only available, but that shots are going into the arms of more Americans.

“The Trump administration plan to distribute vaccines is falling behind – far behind,” Biden said. “If it continues to move as it is now, it’s going to take years, not months, to vaccinate the American people.”

The American Hospital Association estimates that the nation would need to vaccinate 1.8 million people a day, every day, from 1 January to 31 May, to reach the goal of having widespread immunity by the summer. That’s also called “herd immunity” and would involve vaccinating at least 75% of the population.

Without spelling out details, Biden said his administration will put in place a much more aggressive vaccination campaign, with greater federal involvement and leadership, and the goal of administering 100m shots in the first 100 days.

He said he and the vice-president-elect, Kamala Harris, have been talking with state and local leaders about a coordinated approach that meshes the efforts of governments at all levels. Among the specifics: opening up vaccination centers and sending mobile vaccine units to hard-to-reach communities.

Ducklo said Biden will share additional details next week on how his administration will engage the pandemic when he takes office on 20 January. Biden’s plan to change the vaccine distribution plan was first reported by CNN.

Covid-19 case numbers are rising in almost every corner of the US, with deaths surging dramatically in places – in Los Angeles county one person is now dying of the virus every eight minutes. A further 115,000 people could lose their lives nationally over the coming four weeks, according to projections by the University of Washington.

“We believe things will get worse as we get into January,” Fauci said in an interview with NPR. “As we get into the next couple of weeks in January, that likely will be a reflection of the holiday season travel and the congregate settings that usually take place socially during that period of time.”

Fauci said Americans may be able to “blunt the acceleration” in cases by adhering to social distancing and mask wearing. “Now’s not the time to pull back on this,” he said.

Fauci admitted that distribution of the vaccine had been sluggish to date.

The Trump administration had promised 20 million people would be vaccinated by the end of December and 40 million doses distributed across the country. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, told the Washington Post vaccine distribution had got off to a “rocky beginning” and that the next few weeks were “going to be really critical to see how we can get this distribution system up and going more smoothly”.

Steven Stack, Kentucky’s commissioner of public health, said that messaging by the federal government had set unrealistic expectations of a swift vaccine program. “We overpromised and underdelivered as a nation,” Stack said, adding that his state had got just a third of the vaccines promised.

He added there was also reluctance among some people to get the shots. “Sometimes, more than 30% of eligible people decline to receive the vaccine when offered,” Stack said. “There’s a need to be flexible or else we don’t administer the vaccine. A shot in a willing arm is ultimately a higher priority than a shot in only certain arms.”

Source:

www.theguardian.com

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