WASHINGTON — President-elect Biden’s newly released vaccine distribution plan promises to dramatically increase the number of vaccination sites in America by mobilizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Guard, relying on low-income community health centers, and pharmacies around the country.
Biden unveiled the plan in a Friday afternoon speech in which he doubled down on his long-stated goal: Administering 100 million vaccine doses in his first 100 days in office.
“Some wonder if we’re reaching too far for that goal,” Biden said. “Is it achievable? It’s a legitimate question to ask. Let me be clear. I’m convinced we can get it done.”
That goal represents a major ramp up from the rollout so far, overseen by the Trump administration, which has administered 12.2 million doses in just over one month.
Biden has long foreshadowed many of the elements of his newly released plan, including setting up mobile vaccination clinics in hard to reach areas. But the plan includes a new promise to “quickly jumpstart efforts” to administer Covid-19 vaccines in pharmacies around the country. The National Association of Chain Drug Stores has said its members, which include Walmart and Walgreens, could administer 100 million doses of vaccines in just 30 days.
Biden also is pledging to set up federally supported vaccination centers. It appears from the plan that Biden will mobilize FEMA as well as the National Guard to staff those clinics.
Biden promised to instruct FEMA to begin setting up these centers of his first day in office.
“By the end of our first month in office, we will have 100 federally supported centers across the nation that will ultimately vaccinate millions of people,” Biden said.
And Biden will stand up a new vaccination partnership with so-called federally qualified health centers, community health centers which primarily serve low-income Americans. A fact sheet for Biden’s plan says that the new partnership will “ensure that [health centers] can directly access vaccine supply where needed.”
The Biden administration will also keep a recent policy change from the Trump administration, which encourages states to make vaccines immediately available to anyone over 65, rather than prioritizing just frontline health care workers. That plan, which was unveiled by the Trump administration earlier this week, has been widely criticized by public health officials because, they say, there is not enough supply to meet this increased demand.
“The process of establishing priority groups has been driven by science, but the problem is implementation has been too rigid and confusing,” a fact sheet on the plan states.
The new plan, however, is light on specifics about how the president-elect intends to get more doses of the vaccine immediately to the states.
The plan promises use the wartime law, known as the Defense Production Act, to increase supply of critical vaccine components like vials and syringes, but it does not make clear how Biden intends to increase the supply of actual shots — despite the fact that the plan acknowledges that “supply is not where it needs to be.”
In his address, Biden also noted the substantial vaccine hesitancy that could prevent millions of Americans from seeking immunizations even once they’re available. He highlighted, in particular, communities of color subjected to past abuses at the hands of medical researchers, and pledged that his vaccination strategy would pay special care to ensure those communities’ needs are met.
“We also know we need to address vaccine hesitancy and build trust in many communities. We know that’s the case, for example, [in] Black, Latino, and Native American people who have not been treated with the dignity and honesty they deserve by the federal government and the scientific community throughout our history.”
Biden, noting that Black and Native American populations have weathered particularly devastating Covid-19 tolls, called the racial health disparities “unconscionable.” He said fighting vaccine misinformation is a critical component of the new administration’s effort to make equity considerations central to all coronavirus response policy decisions.
“We also see the disinformation campaigns are already underway to further undermine trust in the vaccines,” Biden said. “Our administration [will] launch a massive public education campaign to rebuild that trust. To help people understand what science tells us: That vaccines help reduce the risk of Covid infections, and it can better safeguard our health and the health of our families and our communities.”
Lev Facher contributed reporting.