Political News

Biden criticizes pace of vaccine rollout, vows to accelerate

Posted December 29, 2020 4:53 p.m. EST
Updated December 30, 2020 11:33 a.m. EST

— President-elect Joe Biden criticized the Trump administration Tuesday for the pace of distributing coronavirus vaccines and predicted that “things will get worse before they get better” when it comes to the pandemic.

“We need to be honest — the next few weeks and months are going to be very tough, very tough for our nation. Maybe the toughest during this entire pandemic,” Biden said during remarks in Wilmington, Del., on Tuesday.

His comments come as the coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 336,000 Americans, with experts warning holiday travel and gatherings could precipitate yet another spike in infections even as the virus has already been surging in states nationwide.

Biden encouraged Americans to “steel our spines” for challenges to come and predicted that “things are going to get worse before they get better.”

He also went after the Trump administration over its vaccination efforts, warning that the project, dubbed Operation Warp Speed, is moving at a slower pace than needed.

“As I long feared and warned, the effort to distribute and administer the vaccine is not progressing as it should," he said.

Earlier this month, Trump administration officials said they planned to have 20 million doses of the vaccine distributed by the end of the year. But according to data provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just over 11.4 million doses have been distributed, and only 2.1 million people have received their first dose.

At the current pace, Biden said “it’s going to take years, not months, to vaccinate the American people.”

To vaccinate 70 percent of North Carolina's population by the end of June, 38,000 people would need to get shots every single day.

After two weeks of vaccinations, only 63,571 people statewide had received their first vaccination dose as of Monday, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. Vaccinations did jump about 60 percent from the first week to the second week, however.

DHHS officials didn't respond Tuesday to a request for comment.

Women make up 65 percent of vaccine participants so far in North Carolina, reflecting their roles among front-line health care workers.

The top counties to participate to date surround larger health care systems. Wake County, with 7,767 vaccinated, is top, followed by Mecklenburg County, Durham County, Forsyth County, Orange County and Cumberland County.

Dr. Nirmish Shah, a hematologist with the Duke University Health System, got a placebo while taking part in the trial for Moderna's vaccine, so he rolled up his sleeve for the Pfizer vaccine on Monday.

"I want everyone to understand that we're all trying to play a part to move in the right direction," Shah said, adding that he thinks a combination of factors is slowing the vaccine rollout.

"I think logistics are definitely part of it in addition to some hesitancy," he said.

"I do think that more people are willing to kind of consider getting the vaccine now," said Shah's wife, Dr. Sandy Shah, an oncologist who also participated in the Moderna vaccine trial.

As health care providers, the Shahs said they feel a duty to take part, and that desire to set an example spreads through their family. Their 13 year old daughter, Shaili Shah, is applying to the upcoming Moderna vaccine trial for children.

"We want our daughter to be as healthy as she can be, so we allowing her to enroll because we really believe that this is what we need to do," Sandy Shah said.

Eighty percent of those vaccinated in North Carolina so far are white, and as the vaccine rollout broadens, health leaders desperately want more minority participation.

DHHS announed Tuesday that it is partnering with North Carolina Central University’s Advanced Center for COVID-19 Related Disparities to get more information about vaccines into underserved communities.

"Each of us have an important part in trying to make a big difference so that we can try to get back to normal as soon as we can," Nirmish Shah said.

Biden, who takes office Jan. 20, said he has directed his team to prepare a “much more aggressive effort, with more federal involvement and leadership, to get things back on track."

Biden said he would “move heaven and earth to get us going in the right direction."

He set a goal of administering 100 million shots of the vaccine within his first 100 days in office, but said to accomplish that, the pace of vaccinations would have to increase five to six times to 1 million shots a day. Even with that pace, however, Biden acknowledged it “will still take months to have the majority of Americans vaccinated.”

Biden has made combating the coronavirus pandemic a central focus of his transition work. He has pledged that one of his first acts as president will be to release a comprehensive coronavirus aid bill to Congress that will include funding for expanded vaccinations and testing, among other things. He also has a COVID-19 task force working on ways to better streamline the government response to the pandemic and help turn the tide of infections.

Still, Biden warned that it would take months after he’s in office for Americans to see positive change in the course of the virus.

“Turning this around is going to take time. We might not see improvement until we’re well into March, as it will take time for our COVID response plan to produce visible progress,” he said.

WRAL anchor/reporter Cullen Browder contributed to this report

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