Biden: Vaccine distribution will be “greatest operational challenge we’ve ever faced as a nation” Updated for 2021

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Updated: March 4, 2021

U.S. President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Tuesday called on the incoming Congress to provide more funding to battle the coronavirus pandemic, saying “vaccine distribution will be the greatest operational challenge we’ve ever faced as a nation.”

Addressing the nation in Wilmington, Delaware, Biden said it is “travesty” the U.S. still does not have enough testing.

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He warned that the next few weeks will be the tough, saying it will get worse before it gets better.

“I want to clear about five things every American should know about our efforts to contain COVID-19 and where the vaccine stands today. First — things will get worse before they get better,” Biden said.

“Second, the Trump administration’s plan to distribute vaccines is falling behind, far behind,” he added, before promising once again that he will help deliver 100 million shots of the vaccine in his first 100 days in office.

The President-elect reiterated his argument that although the worst days of the pandemic are still ahead, “we’re going to get this done.”

Biden said he will invoke the defense production act to ensure the U.S. has enough vaccine and enough tools to fight the pandemic.

“I will use my power under the Defense Production Act to order private industry to accelerate the making of materials needed for the vaccine,” the president-elect said.

Read full remarks by President-elect Joe Biden After a COVID-19 Briefing in Wilmington, Delaware

Good afternoon. 

Vice President-elect Harris and I just received a briefing on COVID-19 by our team of experts.

As we end one of the most difficult years as a nation, I am optimistic about the future.

The vaccines that have been discovered and developed give us enormous hope. 

Our economy is poised to come back, and come alive.

And I can see a return to normalcy in the next year. 

I also see the incredible opportunities for our nation in the years ahead in job creation, in clean energy, racial equality, and so much more. 

But I need to be honest. 

The next few weeks and months are going to be a very tough period of time for our nation — maybe the toughest of the entire pandemic. 

I know that’s hard to hear. But it’s the truth. 

So, we need to steel our spines for what’s ahead. 

We need to follow even more closely the recommendations to slow the spread of the virus. 

And each of us needs to do what we can to protect ourselves, our families, and our fellow Americans.

We are going to get through this. 

Brighter days are coming. 

But it’s going to take all the grit and determination we have as Americans to get it done.

 So today, I want to clear about five things every American should know about our efforts to contain COVID-19 and where the vaccine stands today

First — things will get worse before they get better.

In September, we passed the grim milestone of 200,000 deaths.

At the time, I warned that we’d hit 400,000 deaths before the end of the Trump Administration in January. 

Critics said I was being too alarmist and negative.

But as I’ve said all along, I will tell it like it is when it comes to COVID. 

And the reality is, it looks like we’ll hit that grim milestone.  

We just crossed 330,000 deaths. 

We’re averaging a daily death rate of nearly 2,200 people — which means we will lose tens of thousands of more lives in the months to come.

Hospitals are being stretched beyond capacity.

And that’s data before we see the impact of cases coming from the holidays.

People getting infected today don’t show up in case counts for weeks, and those who perish from the disease die weeks after exposure. 

So we have to anticipate that infections over the holidays will produce soaring case counts in January and a soaring death toll into February. 

Turning this around will take time. And we might not see improvement until well into March, as it will take time for our COVID response plan to begin to produce visible progress.

Second, the Trump administration’s plan to distribute vaccines is falling behind, far behind. 

We are grateful to the companies, doctors, scientists, researchers, and clinical trial participants, and Operation Warp Speed for developing the vaccines quickly.

But as I long feared and warned, the effort to distribute and administer the vaccine is not progressing as it should.  

A few weeks ago the Trump Administration suggested that 20 million Americans could be vaccinated by the end of December.

With only a few days left in December, we have only vaccinated a few million so far.  

At the pace the vaccination program is moving now, it would take years, not months, to vaccinate the American people. 

Which brings me to the third thing every American should know: the Biden-Harris Administration will spare no effort to make sure people are getting vaccinated. 

I’ve laid out three challenges in our first 100 days.

One of them is ensuring that 100 million shots have been administered by the end of our first 100 days.

If Congress provides the funding, we would be able to meet this incredible goal.

It would take ramping up five to six times the current pace to 1 million shots a day.  

But even with that improvement, even if we boost the speed of vaccinations to 1 million shots a day, it will still take months to have the majority of the country vaccinated.  

I have directed my team to prepare a much more aggressive effort — with more federal involvement and leadership to get things back on track.  

We will find ways to boost the pace of vaccinations.  

But as Dr. Fauci and others have stated these past few days, this will all take more time than anyone would like – and more time than the promises from the Trump administration has suggested.

This will be the greatest operational challenge we have ever faced as a nation. 

We will get it done.

But it’s going to take a vast new effort that is not yet underway.

And that gets to the fourth thing you should know: I will move Heaven and Earth to get us going in the right direction.

I will use my power under the Defense Production Act to order private industry to accelerate the making of materials needed for the vaccine.

Vice President-elect Harris and I have been speaking with county officials, mayors, and governors of both parties to speed up the distribution of the vaccine across the nation.

We are planning a whole-of-government effort.  

We will work to set-up vaccination sites and send mobile units to hard-to-reach communities.

We also know there is vaccine hesitancy in many communities, especially in Black, Latino, and Native American communities who have not always been treated with the dignity and honesty they deserve by the federal government and the scientific community throughout our history. 

That’s why we will launch a massive public education campaign to increase vaccine acceptance.

We will do everything we can to show the vaccines are safe and critically important for one’s own health and that of their family and community.

That means we will also make sure the vaccine is distributed equitably, so every person who wants the vaccine can get it no matter the color of their skin or where they live.  

And we’re going to ensure vaccinations are free of charge. 

Fifth — while the pandemic rages on and as we increase the supply, distribution, and administration of the vaccine, we must remain vigilant.

As part of our 100-day challenge, I’ll be asking the American people to wear a mask for the first 100 days of my administration. 

Not as a political statement, but as a patriotic duty. 

Our Administration will require masks where we can for federal workers, in federal facilities, and on interstate travel like planes and trains. 

And we’ve been working directly with county officials, mayors, and governors to implement mask mandates in their towns, cities, and states. 

Masking has been a divisive issue in this country.  

But COVID is a killer in red states and blue states alike.

So — I encourage all of you — wear a mask. 

Encourage your family and friends to do the same.

It’s one of the easiest things we can do that will make a huge difference to save lives.

Another 100-day challenge is opening most of our K-8 schools by the end of our first 100 days in the spring. 

But we can only do that if Congress provides the necessary funding so we can get schools, districts, communities, and states the resources they need for so many things that aren’t in their already tight budgets.

They need funding for testing to help reopen schools.

More funding for transportation so students can maintain social distancing on buses.

They need it for school buildings, for additional cleaning services, protective equipment, and ventilation systems.

This will require an additional tens of billions of dollars to get it done.

And Congress also needs to fund and provide more protective equipment for frontline health care workers who are still reusing masks and gowns.

And we need to scale up testing so anyone who needs one can get one.

After 10 months of the pandemic, we still don’t have enough testing.

That’s a travesty.

All of this — vaccinations, testing, protective gear — will require more funding from Congress, more than was just approved.  

That is why I will propose a COVID action package early next year and challenge Congress to act on it quickly.

My ability to change the direction of the pandemic starts in three weeks.

But with thousands dying every day between now and then, let me conclude by discussing what needs to happen now.

I congratulate the bipartisan majority on passing and President Trump on signing the COVID relief bill. 

It is a step in the right direction. 

It will help people in need.

It will pay for some, but far from all of what we need to fix the COVID response.  

It’s a down payment.

But now, with that done — I hope that the President will also clearly and unambiguously promote mask wearing.

I give former Governor Chris Christie credit. He and I disagree on most things.

But I’m thankful he’s now encouraging people to do the right thing and wear a mask for themselves, their loved ones, and their country.

I hope President Trump listens to him. 

He can do it, too. 

It would make a huge difference.

And I hope that the President will clearly and unambiguously urge all Americans to take the vaccine once it’s available.

I took it to instill public confidence in the vaccine.

Vice President-elect Harris took hers today to do the same.

When his doctors recommend it, President Trump should take it and instill that same degree of confidence.

And let me also say this to the American people: we can save 60,000-100,000 lives in the weeks and months ahead if we step up together.

Wear a mask. Stay socially distanced. Wash our hands. Avoid large indoor gatherings.

I know that these are often not easy asks. 

You’re already making tremendous sacrifices every single day. 

It’s hard on your lives, on your livelihoods, and on your kids and families. 

It’s not small what’s being asked of you.  

But we are in it together. 

And the actions we take now will help us contain the pandemic and get us back to our lives and loved ones.

So, to the American people, I know there’s a lot that we have to do.

But I want you to know there’s also so much we can do. 

We are the United States of America.

We’ve been through hard times before as a nation, and we’ll come through this as well.

I promise you. We will.

May God bless you all.

May God protect our troops.

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Simon Ateba
Simon Ateba
Simon Ateba covers the White House, the U.S. government, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions for Today News Africa in Washington D.C. Simon can be reached on simonateba@todaynewsafrica.com

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