President Biden said Thursday it will “take months” to defeat the coronavirus and the death toll will likely exceed half a million, though he’s confident he can speed the vaccine rollout through wartime production powers, FEMA-supported centers and pharmacy programs.
He said he will appoint a COVID-19 coordinator for each state, arguing the prior administration left governors on their own in the fight, and fully reimburse them for use of the National Guard in fighting the disease.
“Help is on the way,” Mr. Biden said in a White House ceremony during his full day in office.
Mr. Biden signed a series of executive orders that set up a pandemic testing board, mandated masks on interstate travel and ordered the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to release clearer guidance for businesses to prevent the spread of the virus.
He also said foreign travelers entering the country will have to quarantine upon arrival, in addition to testing negative, and he will give scientists a bigger platform at the White House.
The plan, he said, “is based on science, not politics. It’s based on truth, not denial.”
The blueprint leans heavily on the Defense Production Act, a Korean War-era law that let presidents marshal private industry to manufacture critical supplies.
Mr. Biden is eyeing diagnostics, masks and vaccine supplies. He also wants “surge” testing for schools looking to reopen.
It remains to be seen whether this administration can get doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines to states in a quicker, more predictable cadence.
Both the Trump and Biden teams recommended broader access to the vaccines, as the rollout lagged, but demand is beginning to outstrip supply. That’s led to gripes from governors, who say the lack of supply is holding them back.
The Biden plan “includes prioritizing supplies that could cause bottlenecks, including glass vials, stoppers, syringes, needles, and the ‘fill and finish’ capacity to package vaccine into vials,” according to documents from the White House.
His team said it is trying to figure out what’s needed, from chemical ingredients to supporting supplies like syringes, but hopes to meet its mark of 100 million shots in the first 100 days.
“I think starting now you’re going to see it. The average of at least a million a day,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told White House reporters.
Congressional Republicans said if that’s the case, then the Trump administration deserves credit for getting the nation to this point.
“By doing simple math, we are on track to deliver 100 million doses in 100 days, showing that President Biden’s plan is not a new plan at all and leans on the Trump administration’s success,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise said. “If President Biden wants to develop a new plan to administer 200 million vaccines in 100 days, congressional Republicans stand ready to work with President Biden to help further speed vaccine distribution.”
Mr. Biden said his 100-million remains a lofty and worthy goal and that people doubted it when he announced it during the campaign.
“C’mon, gimme a break, man,” Mr. Biden told a reporter who asked if the pace was any better than existing capabilities.
Approval of new vaccines would be a game-changer in expanding the reach of the campaign.
Johnson & Johnson is expected to seek approval of its vaccine by the end of the month or early February. It requires one dose instead of two, so it could accelerate the rollout.
AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine could be right behind them. It requires two doses but is already in use in the U.K. and is relatively inexpensive.
In the meantime, Mr. Biden is calling on Americans to maintain basic precautions.
“We’re going to take steps necessary now to slow the spread of the disease as well,” Mr. Biden said.
The president is challenging all Americans to “mask up” for 100 days.