President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday took aim at the Trump administration for “falling behind” on vaccine distribution as the country reels from more than 330,000 deaths from COVID-19 thus far.
In remarks delivered in Wilmington, Delaware, Biden first pushed back on the notion that he was being “too alarmist” for previously warning that the country would hit 400,000 deaths before the end of Trump’s term next month. The President-elect recalled issuing the stern warning in September when the country passed the “grim milestone” of 200,000 fatalities amid the pandemic.
“Critics said I was being too alarmist and negative, but as I said all along, I’ll tell you like it is when it comes to COVID, and the reality is it looks like we’re going to hit that grim milestone,” Biden said. “We’ve just crossed 330,000 deaths in America. We’re averaging daily death rates of nearly 2,200 people which means we’ll lose tens of thousands of more lives in the months to come.”
Biden said that the country might not see improvement until March, given it will take time for his incoming administration’s COVID-19 response plan to begin producing “visible progress.”
The President-elect then ripped into the Trump administration for “falling behind” on its vaccine distribution plan. Biden added that he plans to “move heaven and Earth” by enacting the Defense Production Act when he’s sworn in to accelerate vaccine production as well as PPE.
Biden said that he and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris plan to “launch a massive public education campaign to increase vaccine acceptance” and ensure that vaccinations are free of charge.
Biden also congratulated Congress on passing the COVID relief bill and President Trump’s signing of it, but stressed that “it’s a down payment” that will “pay for some but not all of what we need to fix the COVID response.”
Biden went on to urge Trump to “unambiguously promote mask wearing,” citing former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) promotion of the mitigation measure, and to “clearly and unambiguously urge all Americans to take the vaccine once it’s available.”
“I took it to instill public confidence in the vaccine. President-Elect Harris took hers today for the same reason,” Biden said. “And when the President’s doctors recommend it, President Trump should take it and instill the same degree of confidence.”
The comments come weeks into a distribution effort that has missed its first target: 20 million vaccinated by the end of the month.
Instead of that goal, heralded by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and others, the Trump administration will likely distribute around 16 million COVID vaccine doses before New Years.
The first week of the distribution effort saw states express shock as Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s vaccine production effort, told them that they would receive fewer doses than initially expected. Though administration officials eventually apologized for the “miscommunication,” vaccine manufacturer Pfizer issued a statement that week saying that it had “millions of doses” sitting in its warehouse, waiting for instructions on distribution.
At the same time as estimates of how much of the vaccine would reach the states began to falter, Trump officials have offered projections of widespread availability of the vaccine that are wildly unrealistic. Azar said this month that the vaccine would be as available as the flu shot by February or March, weeks into Biden’s tenure.
Throughout all of this, Trump administration officials have put the onus on the states to distribute the vaccine for the last mile — taking it from federal hands into people’s arms. But Congress only passed legislation days ago appropriating billions of dollars for that effort, suggesting that it could be weeks or months until states can take the funds and build infrastructure to distribute the shot.