Joe Biden fears lack of detailed plan for COVID vaccine distribution

President-elect Joe Biden raised concerns Friday about what he said was a lack of detailed planning for end-stage distribution of the coronavirus vaccine, following discussions with current Trump administration officials.

Biden made the statement after speaking in Wilmington about a ‘grim’ jobs report that he also called ‘dire.’

‘There is no detailed plan that we’ve seen anyway as to how you get the vaccine out of a container into an injection syringe into somebody’s arm,’ Biden said.

The number of Americans hospitalized with COVID-19 hit an all-time high in the U.S. on Thursday at 100,667, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

That figure has more than doubled over the past month, while new daily cases are averaging 210,000 and deaths are averaging 1,800 per day, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. 

Biden said the current administration has ‘clued us in on their planning,’ and he acknowledged in a CNN interview Thursday having spoken to infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, who he has asked to be his science advisor and to stay on in his post.  

‘And it’s going to be very difficult for that to be done is very expensive proposition,’ Biden said.  

Biden did not appear to be calling into question the administration’s plans for delivery of a vaccine. The Trump administration has been bringing in the military to plan to get out millions of doses once vaccines start coming online in a matter of weeks, pending emergency approval. 

‘There is not detailed plan that we’ve seen anyway as to how you get the vaccine out of a container into an injection syringe into somebody’s arm,’ Biden said, after his team got briefed on the administration’s plans

From container to arm: Biden said he wanted to see a detailed plan which sets out how people will actually received the virus, with Pfizer's likely to be the first to be actually injected

From container to arm: Biden said he wanted to see a detailed plan which sets out how people will actually received the virus, with Pfizer's likely to be the first to be actually injected

From container to arm: Biden said he wanted to see a detailed plan which sets out how people will actually received the virus, with Pfizer’s likely to be the first to be actually injected

He referenced health disparities and how the virus affects minorities and those lower on the economic ladder especially hard. 

‘There has to be some equity in the way this is distributed,’ he said. He noted COVID-19 has become the leading cause of death for the last week, when it passed heart disease. 

For ‘communities of color it’s a mass casualty event,’ Biden said.

‘The equity side this has to be an important part of distribution,’ Biden added. 

He said just getting the vaccine to pharmacy chains like Wal-Mart isn’t enough, and called for a focus on ‘how we get the vaccine to those communities.’

‘The cost of actually getting the serum into an injection, into a needle into somebody’s arm costs a lot of money. It takes a lot of people. It takes a lot of folks to be able to get that done.’ 

‘We have to have a much better way than they have seen thus far as to how it’s distributed,’ Biden said. 

The president-elect said he would not make the vaccines being developed for COVID-19 mandatory but hoped the public would develop confidence in them over time.

Biden has focused heavily on the pandemic and economy during the transition, after a campaign in which he made Trump’s mishandling of the coronavirus a central theme and promised to make the pandemic his top priority in the White House.

He is expected to name Jeff Zients, a co-chair of his transition and a former Obama administration economic aide, as his coronavirus ‘czar’ to coordinate the government’s pandemic response and oversee an ambitious vaccine distribution effort, according to a person familiar with the matter. 

His criticism came despite the Trump administration saying for months that military officials had been making arrangements to get millions of doses out the door once vaccines get approved.

There are huge logistical challenges, including the need to keep vaccine stored at a very cold temperature, the need for vials to contain it, and persuading Americans to take it. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s chief Stephen Hahn said Friday he believes 20 million Americans could realistically get the vaccine this year. 

‘We expect to move quickly,’ after that meeting, Hahn told Reuters. 

It comes after Pfizer admitted Thursday that it will only be able to deliver 50 million doses of its shot worldwide – half its original 100 million dose promise – by the end of 2020. 

With its two dose regimen, that means just 25 million people globally will receive the company’s shot this month. 

Pfizer, which did not accept funding from Operation Warp Speed, was able to offer its own storage and shipping solution for transporting its shot at ultra-cold temperatures, but ran into a supply chain issue that has cut its anticipated production. 

Hahn told Reuters that Pfizer would supply the U.S. with enough vaccine to inoculate 12.5 million people following its anticipated FDA approval, but he did not address the stunted supply chain. 

Hahn declined to lay out a specific timetable for approval of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech but said he hoped the regulator would make a decision this month. 

Many federal officials are expecting a vaccine approval within days of a December 10 meeting of experts, though one FDA official recently said an approval decision could take weeks.

Biden spoke as U.S hit record-high rates of new COVID-19 cases (217,664), hospitalizations (100,667) and deaths (2,879) on Thursday.  

Dr Stephen Hahn, FDA Commissioner, said it is still realistic to vaccinate 20 million Americans against COVID-19 this year after a 'robust discussion' at the White House this week (file)

Dr Stephen Hahn, FDA Commissioner, said it is still realistic to vaccinate 20 million Americans against COVID-19 this year after a 'robust discussion' at the White House this week (file)

Dr Stephen Hahn, FDA Commissioner, said it is still realistic to vaccinate 20 million Americans against COVID-19 this year after a ‘robust discussion’ at the White House this week (file)

Britain leapt ahead of the United States this week in approving Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, intensifying scrutiny on U.S. regulators as they consider whether to grant emergency use in the country that leads the world in coronavirus infections.

The UK expects to get 800,000 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine this month, and British doctors and nurses were told Friday they won’t be first in line for the jab.   

Still, Britain’s move to approve the American firm’s shot has angered many in the U.S., including some in the White House.  

Hahn has come under pressure from outgoing Trump, who is eager to claim credit for a successful vaccine, to speed up the process.

The FDA head discussed the situation at a White House meeting with chief of staff Mark Meadows earlier this week to explain the timing and the ‘balancing act’ required to make sure a vaccine is safe and effective.

‘Mr Meadows asked for a briefing and we gave it, and it went very well,’ Hahn told Reuters. 

‘We had a very robust discussion, and I know that term sometimes is loaded, robust, but we did.’ 

Though he declined to give a specific timeline for vaccine approval, Hahn gave a nod to its likelihood by endorsing the White House’s goal of having 20 million Americans inoculated by the end of the year.

‘I think given what we know about supplies, it is realistic,’ Hahn said of that goal.  

‘It’ll very much depend upon…the vaccination campaign.’

Trump, a Republican who lost the November 3 presidential election to Democrat Joe Biden but has declined to concede the race, said last week he deserved credit for the vaccine.

Pfizer will only be able to ship half as many doses of its coronavirus vaccine as it promised by the end of the year. Pictured: Refrigerated trucks equipped to deliver the vaccines leave a Pfizer plant in Belgium

Pfizer will only be able to ship half as many doses of its coronavirus vaccine as it promised by the end of the year. Pictured: Refrigerated trucks equipped to deliver the vaccines leave a Pfizer plant in Belgium

Pfizer will only be able to ship half as many doses of its coronavirus vaccine as it promised by the end of the year. Pictured: Refrigerated trucks equipped to deliver the vaccines leave a Pfizer plant in Belgium 

WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT THE CURRENT VACCINE PLAN  

Dealing with the virus that has killed more than 276,000 people in the United States as well as the economic fallout from the crisis is one of Biden’s top priorities once he takes office on Jan. 20.

Hahn said Biden’s team had not been in touch with him but he would be happy to provide information about the vaccine approval process. 

The cancer specialist said he had not made plans for a new job after the Biden administration takes over.

To get to 20 million people, the FDA would need to approve both Pfizer’s vaccine and the shot developed by Moderna soon so they can go to the states quickly.

Data from late-stage trials of Moderna’s vaccine, which uses the same mRNA technology as the Pfizer/BioNTech shot, is due to be reviewed on December 17.

Based on a scenario in which people get two doses, Pfizer plans to provide the United States with enough vaccine for 12.5 million people and Moderna has said it will have enough for 10 million people this year.

Pfizer and Moderna have tested their products as two-shot vaccines given weeks apart, but Hahn said officials at the agency were combing through their data and might consider them as a single-shot if warranted.

‘I can’t prejudge what our scientists will decide, but we will look at that,’ Hahn said.

A single shot vaccine would be much easier to manage because it would not require millions of Americans to return for a second shot weeks later, a major logistical challenge for public health officials.

Trump’s Operation Warp Speed program has struck deals with several drugmakers in an effort to help speed up the search for effective treatments to fight the global pandemic.

Of the vaccines being evaluated, only Johnson & Johnson’s candidate is being tested as a single-shot vaccine.

A speedy vaccine approval could be a political win for Trump’s outgoing administration, which has been pushing for effective treatments to help restore a sense of normality to daily life and a hard-hit U.S. economy.

Hahn said he would be eager to be inoculated as soon as there is an approval. 

‘I will be first in line and I will encourage my family to take this vaccine,’ he said. 

States faced a deadline on Friday to place orders for the vaccine as many reported record infections, hospitalizations and deaths, while hospitals were pushed to the breaking point – with the worst feared yet to come.

Arizona reported more than 5,000 new COVID-19 cases for the second straight day Friday as the number of available intensive care unit beds fell below 10% statewide. Hospital officials have said the outbreak will exceed hospital capacity this month.

The state expects to get enough doses of new coronavirus vaccines by the end of the year to inoculate more than 383,000 health care workers and long-term care facility residents, the state´s health director said Friday. 

Next in line are teachers and other essential workers, followed by older Arizonans or people otherwise at higher risk of serious cases of COVID-19.

Nevada reported 48 new deaths from the coronavirus Thursday, marking the deadliest day since the onset of the pandemic as cases and deaths continued to rise more than a week after new restrictions were implemented on businesses. One hospital was so full it was treating patients in an auxiliary unit in the parking garage.

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