President-elect Joe Biden’s plan to boost the Covid-19 vaccine rollout, including by spending $20bn to create mass vaccination centres, should help speed up putting shots into the arms of millions of Americans, experts and officials said.
The Biden administration on Thursday revealed a nearly $2tn proposal to address the economic harm from the Covid-19 pandemic that included $20bn for vaccine distribution and $50bn for testing.
It builds on the $982bn Covid relief bill passed in December, more than tripling the funding allocated to state and local governments for vaccine distribution.
“The vaccine rollout in the United States has been a dismal failure thus far,” Biden said in a prime-time address. “This will be one of the most challenging operational efforts we’ve ever undertaken as a nation. We’ll have to move heaven and earth to get more people vaccinated.”
More than a month into the United States’ vaccination campaign, around 11mn Americans have been vaccinated — far short of the Trump administration’s initial goal of 20mn people by the end of 2020.
Federal officials largely left states to manage distribution, resulting in wide variations in vaccination rates even as daily deaths hit new records.
Experts said that rapidly setting up vaccination centres and getting more shots to communities will be crucial if Biden is to reach his target of 100mn shots in the first 100 days, a promise he repeated on Thursday.
More infectious variants of the coronavirus have been found in the United States, adding to the need for rapid distribution.
“We’re at the peak of the surge of the epidemic and we’re in a race against time against these new variants. I think the game’s changed in terms of what the strategy needs to be,” Scott Gottlieb, former head of the US Food and Drug Administration and Pfizer Inc board member, said in an interview.
Pfizer and BioNTech SE and Moderna make the two vaccines being distributed in the United States.
Gottlieb said that pushing doses to multiple channels around the country, such as pharmacies and mass vaccination sites, would make it easier to reach a wider group of Americans and that it would be a mistake to rely on only one method of distribution.
“The mistake we made was we relied on a single approach to how we were distributing” vaccines, he said. “We need to look at a lot of different approaches because certain people are going to be willing to go online, register, go to a big stadium, stand in line, and get a vaccine and certain patients won’t.”
This week, the Trump administration said they would release millions of doses they had held back for second shots, a move Biden previously indicated he also favoured.
It encouraged states to expand access to people 65 and older or with certain medical conditions.
Mass vaccination centres will hasten the rollout because residents will have a single, widely-known location, experts said.
They also tend to be closely connected to local governments and nonprofits, which can be an asset when contending with local factors, including hesitancy to take the vaccine or lack of health insurance.
“We have to move vaccination into the community and nearer to patients with mass vaccination sites and community vaccination units which will allow people to more easily access the vaccine,” said Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
Local public health officials said that mass vaccination centres have been effective once up and running, but they have been difficult and expensive to set up and staff.
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