Wednesday, January 20, 2021 (Kaiser News) – This story was also broadcast on PolitiFact. It can be reposted for free.
It is in the nature of presidential candidates and new presidents to promise great things. Just months after his inauguration in 1961, President John F. Kennedy promised to send a man to the moon by the end of the decade. This pledge has been kept, but many others have not, such as candidate Bill Clinton’s promise to provide universal health care and presidential hopeful George HW Bush’s guarantee of no new taxes. .
Today, in a pandemic that strikes once in a century, new President Joe Biden has pledged to deliver 100 million vaccines against covid-19 during his first 100 days in office.
“This team will help get … at least 100 million covid vaccines in the arms of the American people in the first 100 days,” Biden said at a December 8 press conference featuring key members of his team health.
When first asked about its promise, Biden’s team said the president-elect meant 50 million people would receive their two-dose regimen. The incoming administration has since updated that plan, saying it will release vaccine doses as soon as they become available instead of withholding part of that supply for second doses.
Either way, Biden may have a hard time hitting that 100 million mark.
“I think it’s an achievable goal. I think it will be extremely difficult, ”said Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers.
While a rate of 1 million doses per day is “somewhat of an increase over what we’re already doing,” a much higher vaccination rate will be needed to stem the pandemic, said Larry Levitt, vice-president. executive chairman of health policy at KFF. . (KHN is an editorially independent program of KFF.) “The Biden administration has plans to streamline vaccine distribution, but rapidly increasing supply” could be a difficult task.
During the Trump administration, vaccine deployment has been much slower than Biden’s plan. The deployment began over a month ago, on December 14. Since then, 12 million shots have been administered and 31 million doses have been dispatched, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracking system.
This slowness has been attributed to a lack of communication between the federal government and state and local health departments, insufficient funding for large-scale immunization efforts, and confusion of federal guidelines on vaccine distribution.
The same issues could plague the Biden administration, experts said.
States still do not know how many vaccines they will receive and whether there will be an adequate supply, said Dr Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer of the Association of State and Territory Health Officials, which represents the agencies. state public health.
“We have received little information on how much vaccine states will receive in the near future and we have a feeling that there may not be 1 million doses available per day in the first 100 days of Biden’s administration, ”Plescia said. “Or at least not at the very beginning of the 100 days.”
Another challenge has been the lack of funding. Public health services have had to launch vaccination campaigns while running testing centers and conducting contact tracing efforts with budgets that have been severely underfunded for years.
“States have to pay for building systems, identifying personnel, training, staffing, tracking people, information campaigns – whatever is needed to get the vaccine in someone’s arm. ‘a,’ said Jennifer Kates, KFF global health and HIV policy director. “They must create an unprecedented mass immunization program on a fragile basis.”
The latest Covid stimulus bill, signed in December, allocates nearly $ 9 billion in funding to the CDC for vaccination efforts. About $ 4.5 billion is supposed to go to states, territories and tribal organizations, and $ 3 billion is expected to arrive soon.
But it is not clear whether the level of funding can support mass vaccination campaigns as more groups become eligible for the vaccine.
Biden released a $ 1.9 trillion plan last week to tackle covid and the struggling economy. It includes $ 160 billion to create national immunization and screening programs, but also allocates funds for stimulus payments of $ 1,400 to individuals, state and local government aid, an extension of unemployment insurance and financial assistance to allow schools to reopen safely.
Although it took Congress nearly eight months to pass the latest covid relief bill after Republicans objections to the cost, Biden seems optimistic that Republicans will participate in his plan. But it’s not yet clear that it will work.
There is also the question of whether incumbent President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial will hamper Biden’s legislative priorities.
In addition, states have complained about a lack of guidance and confusing instructions on which groups should be given priority vaccination status, an issue the Biden administration will need to address.
On December 3, the CDC recommended that healthcare workers, residents of long-term care facilities, people 75 years of age and older, and essential front-line workers be vaccinated first. But on January 12, the CDC changed course and recommended that all people over 65 be vaccinated. In a speech last week by Biden detailing his vaccination plan, he said he would stick to the CDC’s recommendation to prioritize those over 65.
Outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar also said on January 12 that states that moved their vaccine supply fastest would be given priority to get more shipments. It is not yet clear whether the Biden administration’s CDC will stick to these guidelines. Critics said this could make vaccine distribution less equitable.
In general, taking over with a strong vision and clear communication will be key to speeding up vaccine delivery, Hannan said.
“Everyone needs to understand what the goal is and how it will work,” she said.
A challenge for Biden will be to tamp down with expectations that the vaccine is all that is needed to end the pandemic. Nationwide, cases of covid are more prevalent than ever, and in many places, authorities cannot control the spread.
Public health experts have said Biden needs to step up efforts to increase testing across the country, as he suggested doing so by promising to create a national pandemic testing board.
With such a focus on vaccine delivery, it is important that this part of the equation is not lost. Right now, “it’s completely everywhere,” KFF’s Kates said, adding that the federal government will need a “common sense” of who is and is not being tested in different areas in order to “fix it. “public health capacity.