- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 11, 2021

President Biden praised National Institutes of Health scientists Thursday for their sacrifice in developing COVID-19 vaccines while taking several jabs at former President Donald Trump, who presided over the lightning-fast development of the shots.

Speaking at NIH headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland, Mr. Biden said the plan he received from the Trump administration was lacking even though it placed him on track to achieve his goal of 100 million shots in 100 days.

“He didn’t order enough vaccines. He didn’t mobilize enough people to deliver the shots,” Mr. Biden said of his predecessor.

“This country did not have a plan,” the president said, before ticking through a series of efforts to throw federal weight behind a vaccination effort that had been largely left to the states.

He pointed to mass-vaccination centers in Arizona, California and Texas and the government’s purchase of 200 million additional doses of approved vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.



He also said 100 million doses from Pfizer are now on track to be delivered by the end of May instead of the end of June.

Mr. Biden spoke after a tour of NIH labs on the Bethesda campus. He said he was astonished by the speed with which government scientists and Moderna formed the basis for a vaccine with the virus’s sequence from China and their messenger-RNA platform.

“Over the weekend?” Mr. Biden asked.

“You know something about working weekends, right?” said Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, an immunologist at the NIH Vaccine Research Center.

“Not like that,” Mr. Biden said.

He grumbled about the Trump administration throughout his tour, saying he didn’t have much visibility into the process and thought more vaccines would be available at the start.

Republican leaders say Mr. Biden shouldn’t be griping about a program that sped vaccines from development to approval in less than a year — by far a record — and was delivering about 1 million doses per day when he was inaugurated.

The president focused instead on the people in lab coats at NIH.

“On behalf of a grateful nation, I want to thank you and your families for your work and your sacrifice,” Mr. Biden said. “I know it wasn’t easy.”

“We are America,” he said. “We never give up, we never give in.”

Reported coronavirus cases have been plummeting since a Jan. 8 peak, resulting in a drop in COVID-19 hospitalizations. The daily death toll, which usually shifts a few weeks after case trends, is starting to decline slowly.

Transmission remains high, however, with a U.S. rolling average of 110,000 cases per day still far above the 66,000 daily count during the Sun Belt surge over the summer. More than 27.3 million Americans have been infected with COVID-19 and almost 475,000 have died from the disease.

Scientists aren’t sure why the picture is improving — it may just be the reverse side of a holiday-driven spike or better adherence to mask-wearing and distancing. The nation might be seeing some early benefit from vaccinations, combined with natural immunity from widespread infections.

The U.S. has delivered roughly 46 million doses of vaccine, translating to 10.5% of the population receiving at least one dose and 3.4% being fully vaccinated with both doses, according to a Bloomberg News tracker.

Many states are attempting to immunize seniors and certain frontline workers after moving through health workers and nursing home residents and staff, who were given first-round priority.

Earlier Thursday, Dr. Anthony Fauci said he thinks the phased-in vaccination campaign should morph to “open season” by April, as manufacturing ramps up and more vaccines are approved.

“Virtually everybody and anybody in any category could start to get vaccination. From then on, it would likely take several more months, just logistically, to get vaccine into people’s arms,” Dr. Fauci, who leads infectious-disease research at the NIH, told NBC’s “Today Show.”

That should put the U.S. on track for the “overwhelming majority” of Americans to be protected by late summer or the start of the fall, he said.

Aggressive mutations of the coronavirus are the wild card in how quickly the nation can wrangle the virus. The fast-spreading “U.K. variant” has been detected in dozens of states.

Dr. Barney S. Graham, deputy director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH, said existing vaccines eventually may lose their efficacy against variants.

“But I think we’re OK for now,” Dr. Graham told Mr. Biden.

Dr. Fauci, who joined Mr. Biden’s tour, said the emerging variants underscore the need for basic precautions and vaccinations to wrangle the virus before it mutates into stronger versions.

Mr. Biden said the emerging variants “create immense challenges, and masking is still the easiest thing to do to save lives.”

“It’s a patriotic responsibility,” Mr. Biden said.

Mr. Biden left his mask on throughout his remarks, saying he was far enough from people to take it off — and that he might sound muffled — but that it sent the right message.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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