Biden recruits federal muscle for vaccine blitz

Biden has said he wants 100 million Americans to receive shots during his first 100 days in office, an ambitious goal that would require a big step up in the current pace of distribution

Wilmington (United States) (AFP) - US President-elect Joe Biden announced Friday he would surge federal resources into making "thousands" of vaccine sites, while also deploying mobile clinics and expanding the public health workforce to accelerate the rollout of Covid-19 shots.

Biden has said he wants 100 million Americans to receive injections during his first 100 days in office, a drastic increase from the current pace.

"This is going to be one of the most challenging operational efforts ever undertaken by our country," the 78-year-old Democrat said Friday from Wilmington, Delaware.

"But you have my word: we will manage the hell out of this operation."

The afternoon address came a day after he unveiled a $1.9 trillion stimulus package for the battered economy that included $20 billion for vaccines and $50 billion for testing.

As of Thursday morning, some 30 million doses had been sent to states with only 11.1 million injected into arms, according to official data, well behind the Trump administration's target of 20 million in December.

Biden's plan would drastically increase the role of the federal government in the distribution effort, mobilizing the Federal Emergency Management Administration and reimbursing states that deploy their National Guard.

Biden has also asked Congress to fund the expansion of the nation's public health workforce to 100,000 personnel, nearly triple the current number.

The push comes as the incoming leader was seeking to wrest the focus from the impeachment of Donald Trump to the agenda for his first days in office.

More than 388,000 people in the United States have lost their lives to the virus, a figure that is likely to have crossed 400,000 by the time Biden is sworn into office on Wednesday.

The outlook is set to worsen as the B.1.1.7 variant of the coronavirus establishes itself in the US as the dominant strain in March, according to modeling by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

The agency said the strain, which first emerged in Britain and drove a near exponential rise in cases there, could further stretch hospitals and increase the percentage of people who need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.

  • Rocky start -

Experts credit the Trump administration's Operation Warp Speed (OWS) with helping to develop Covid-19 vaccines in record-breaking time, but say there was not enough planning for the "last mile," and distribution has been off to a rocky start.

Major differences have arisen in the rate at which states are administering their doses, and some states were criticized for being overly prescriptive in their initial rollout, which slowed things down and even led to some shots expiring.

The Trump administration has already moved to release second doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that were being held in reserve, and is recommending to states to begin vaccinating everyone over the age of 65.

Biden's plan would continue that policy, while also seeking to improve coordination with states by providing "actionable data on vaccine allocation timelines and delivery."

The Biden team also said they would invoke the Defense Production Act in order to boost supply, pay special attention to ethnic minority communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, and embark on an education campaign to build vaccine confidence.

On Friday, incoming White House communications chief Jen Psaki tweeted that Bechara Choucai, chief health officer at Kaiser Permanente, would run point on vaccine rollout efforts.

Former Food and Drug Administration chief David Kessler will replace Moncef Slaoui as the head of the Biden equivalent of Operation Warp Speed, which will also see a name change.

© Agence France-Presse