President-elect promises more vaccination sites, additional supply, and full transparency

WILMINGTON, Del. — President-elect Joe Biden outlined his plans to scale up Covid-19 vaccinations in the U.S., including expanding vaccine access, increasing production of necessary supplies, and increasing government transparency on pandemic issues. He also said he’d mandate mask wearing by federal employees for the first 100 days of his administration.

This speech came a day after Biden unveiled a $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief proposal called the “American Rescue Plan,” which will contain additional stimulus checks, increased unemployment aid, rental assistance funds and an extension of the federal eviction moratorium, funds for a national vaccine program, and a $15 minimum wage. The speech also came mere hours after the CDC released a report warning of pending increases in U.S. Covid-19 infections due to spread of the more contagious B.1.1.7 variant, which is expected to become the dominant viral strain in the country by March.

“We didn’t get into all of this overnight. We won’t get out of it overnight either — but we will get through it,” President-elect Biden promised before delving into some hard statistics on the current state of the pandemic: infection rates have increased by 34%, he noted, and the U.S. is currently facing between 3,000-4,000 deaths per day as the nation approaches the “grim milestone” of 400,000 deaths — a number that far exceeds President Trump’s threshold for successful virus containment, as noted by the Washington Post.

Biden said that his administration intends to see that 100 million Covid-19 vaccines are administered by the end of his first 100 days in office — a plan which consists of five key components:

  1. Work with states to open up vaccinations to more priority groups.While Biden noted that the implementation of current prioritization guidelines for Covid-19 vaccination — which emphasizes vaccination of healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities — has been “too rigid and confusing.” To address this the Biden administration intends to encourage that states expand vaccine access to individuals 65 years of age and older and essential workers such as teachers, first responders, and grocery store workers.
  2. Increase the number of U.S. vaccination sites.The Biden administration intends to use FEMA and the National Guard to establish “thousands” of Covid vaccination centers, with the goal of getting the first 100 of these facilities up and running by the end of the first month in office. This plan includes making sure vaccination centers are established in Black, Latino, and Native communities that have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, as well as rural communities with limited health care access. To operate these sites, the administration intends to expand the pool of medical professionals, “including retired health care workers,” who can administer vaccines.
  3. “Fully activate” U.S. pharmacies to provide vaccine coverage.Biden said that his administration intends to begin a new effort to work with both independent and chain pharmacies to increase vaccine access and immunization rates. “This program will expand access in neighborhoods across the country so that you can make an appointment… conveniently show up at a particular time, and get it done quickly,” he said.
  4. Use the full strength of the federal government to ramp up vaccine supply.The President-elect plans to make use of the Defense Production Act to “accelerate the making of materials needed to supply and administer the vaccine.” He also referred to the (recently altered) Trump administration policy of holding back part of the Covid-19 vaccine supply in reserve, arguing that the plan “did not make sense.” Instead, Biden said his team will release vaccines as they are available, keeping a much smaller portion in reserve.

    Biden went on to say that, while they intend to release vaccine supply sooner, his administration intends to stick to the FDA-recommended dosing schedule for all vaccines.

  5. “We will always be honest and transparent about where we stand.”Biden’s administration intends to improve communication between local, state, and federal government so that health officials know how much vaccine they are going to get, as well as when they will receive it. Biden also promised transparency in informing the public regarding administration decisions related to the pandemic, saying his administration will ensure that institutions such as the CDC and NIH will be “totally free from political influence,” and that the FDA’s decisions will be based on “science and science alone.”

    Biden also announced plans to increase outreach to Black, Latino, and Native communities where vaccine hesitance is prevalent, noting that these communities “have not always been treated with the dignity and honesty they deserve by the federal government and the scientific community.”

“This will be one of the most challenging operational efforts ever undertaken by our country,” Biden said. “But you have my word — we will manage the hell out of this operation… I am convinced the American people are ready to spare no effort and no expense to get this done.

Biden added that once his administration is in office, he has plans to pass an Executive Order requiring face coverings or masks to be worn by federal employees and on federal property, as well as passengers using interstate travel such as planes or trains, for the first 100 days after inauguration.

“I know it’s become a partisan issue,” Biden noted, “but what a stupid, stupid thing to happen. [Mask wearing] is a patriotic act. We’re asking you. We’re at war with this virus.”

Biden specifically called out members of Congress who neglected to wear masks during the deadly riot on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6, noting that at least 4 members of Congress, “including one cancer survivor,” have developed Covid-19 since that day.

“We can’t solve our problems as a divided nation,” Biden concluded. “The only way we come through this is if we come through together.

ACP Offers Support for Biden Admin’s Plan

Shortly after President-elect Biden completed his remarks, the American College of Physicians (ACP) issued a statement saying the organization is “supportive and encouraged by many of the recommendations put forth to slow the transmission of Covid‐19, rapidly distribute and vaccinate one hundred million people in his first 100 days in office, and to also address the health inequities painfully obvious during the pandemic.”

The ACP particularly praised the incoming administration for how closely it’s Covid-19 supply plans, as well as the proposed Covid-19 relief package, align with ACP policy recommendations, including addressing racial inequities and health disparities, increasing funding for vaccinations, testing, and public health, addressing PPE shortages, and expanding paid family and medical leave.

“ACP applauds the plans outlined by President‐elect Biden to address the critical needs of both patients and physicians,” said Jacqueline W. Fincher, MD, MACP, ACP president, in a statement. “On behalf of the internal medicine community we are ready, willing and able to help move our country past this unprecedented public health emergency through a multi‐step plan that addresses so many critical needs of our patients and our health care profession.”

John McKenna, Associate Editor, BreakingMED™

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