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President Joe Biden has vowed to move “heaven and earth” to administer 100 million vaccines to Americans in 100 days when unveiling his national Covid-19 plan on Thursday – all while calling the Trump administration’s vaccine strategy a “dismal failure”.
On the first day of his administration, Mr Biden unveiled his national strategy for Covid-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness, which involved 10 executive orders.
Americans make up 4 per cent of the world’s population, Mr Biden said, yet the country accounted for 25 per cent of global Covid-19 cases and 20 per cent of global deaths.
"For the past year, we couldn't rely on the federal government to act with the urgency and focus and coordination we needed. And we have seen the tragic cost of that failure," Mr Biden said, calling the vaccine rollout a “dismal failure”.
The Biden administration was now tasked with tackling the pandemic at a time when more than 400,000 American have died from Covid-19 and the country has over 24.5 million recorded cases.
“Things are going to continue to get worse before they get better,” Mr Biden warned. “The death toll will likely top 500,000 next months. It’s going to take months for us to turn this around.”
But he said that America would “get through this” and “defeat this pandemic”.
“Help is on the way,” Mr Biden added before unveiling parts of his national strategy.
Mass vaccination campaign
“Our plans starts with mounting an aggressive, safe and effective vaccination campaign,” Mr Biden said. “This will be one of the greatest operational challenges our nation has ever taken, and we’re committed to getting it done. We will move heaven and earth to get people vaccinated for free.”
On Wednesday, he directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) to create “federally supported community vaccination centres” across the United States. The goal was for at least 100 of these centres to be created within the next month.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will also be launching its own federal vaccination programme within the next month that would make vaccines available to pharmacies in local communities.
One issue hospitals and other health localities have faced in recent weeks was administering the vaccine under federal and state eligibility guidelines. This has caused some vaccine doses to go to waste.
The Biden administration now asked that states open up eligibility to frontline essential workers and those 65 years and older. All of this while staying “laser-focused on working to ensure that the highest-risk members of the public, including those in congregate settings, can access the vaccine where and when they needed it,” the plan stated.
Health experts have called for vaccine eligibility to be widened and simplified for states due to poor rollout, which influenced the Trump administration earlier this month to recommend the vaccine for those 65 years and older, as well as those with underlying conditions. But the Biden administration has not yet opened up its guidance to include underlying conditions.
States will ultimately have the power to decide what population groups receive the vaccine first.
Additionally, the vaccination plan entailed Mr Biden issuing an executive order “directing relevant agencies to exercise all appropriate authorities, including the [Defense Production Act], to accelerate manufacturing, delivery, and administration to meet shortfalls in equipment and supplies needed for the Covid-19 response".
Relevant agencies would be responsible for producing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as gowns and masks, as well as necessary equipment to ramp up Covid-19 testing and vaccine manufacturing.
“The pandemic has disproportionately impacted Blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans,” Mr Biden said.
In response to this, he created a Covid-19 Health Equity Task Force that would directly address the racial disparities the Covid-19 crisis has further exacerbated.
The task force would "expand the availability of testing and vaccines in communities of color, and other underserved communities, ensure that new clinical treatments are developed to serve diverse Americans, and safely reopen our schools so that children who are facing disproportionately high risks of learning loss can get back into the classroom,” the plan stated.
This meant putting money towards the development of more testing sites and vaccination centres in underserved communities. Sports arenas, school gyms, and community centres were all up for consideration to become a Covid-19 centre.
Another stimulus package
Although Mr Biden has signed several executive orders to address the pandemic, he acknowledged that he would need the assistance of Congress to pass legislation and access more funding.
“Our administration will be asking Congress for funding to grow the public health workforce,” he said.
Portions of this funding would allow the Department of Health and Human Services to expand the pool of medical professionals who are capable of administering the vaccine. Fema would also assign “Covid liaisons” to each state to communicate between the states and the federal government.
Mr Biden has asked for $400bn total to go to his Covid-19 relief plan.
The bill, entitled the American Rescue Plan, included $350bn in state and local government aid, $170bn for K-12 schools and institutions of higher education, $50bn toward Covid testing, and $20bn for a national vaccination campaign.
Covid-19 education and communication
Another way to reach all communities in the US would involve a “federally led, locally focused” public education advertising campaign that would inform Americans about masking, testing, and vaccinations.
The campaign was “designed with diversity and inclusivity in mind, including communications in multiple languages, to maximise reach and effectiveness,” the plan stated.
Mr Biden said it would be on Americans to work with the federal, state, and local governments to stop the spread of the virus. This would start through strong communication from his administration about the facts of the virus and what people could do.
One of the executive orders Mr Biden signed involved a federal mask mandate that requires people to wear masks on federal property and between interstate travel.
“It’s a patriotic act,” Mr Biden said about wearing a mask. “It’s the single best thing we can do. More important than the vaccines because they take time to work.”
Experts with the Biden administration estimated that 50,000 lives could be saved between now and April from Covid-19 if everyone was to wear a mask.
The Trump administration first created a White House coronavirus task force to address the pandemic, which included daily press briefings. But those ceased within a couple of months, despite the virus continuing to surge through communities.
Mr Biden vowed that the American public would be hearing from his task force members more often about any updates, whether they’re good or bad. He also said his administration would build back public trust in federal health agencies.
“The federal government should be the source of truth for the public to get clear, accessible, and scientifically accurate information about Covid-19,” Mr Biden said. “We will be honest, transparent, and straightforward with the American people to rebuild trust.”
This initiative started on day one of the Biden administration with Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, appearing at the White House press briefing to update the public on the virus and answer reporter questions.