Biden blasts Trump administration for slow pace of Covid vaccinations

Mike Memoli and Lauren Egan and Shannon Pettypiece

President-elect Joe Biden hit the Trump administration of falling short on its efforts to vaccinate Americans against Covid-19 and outlined a series of steps he plans to take once in office to ramp up the pace of vaccinations, including the use of the Defense Production Act.

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

Biden has vowed to administer 100 million shots in his first 100 days in office. But to do that he said he is going to need additional funding from Congress and more federal involvement to help states facilitate the vaccines. He also said he plans to use the Defense Authorization Act to get companies to ramp up production of the materials needed for the vaccines and protective equipment for health care workers.

Even with those measures, Biden cautioned it could still take months to get the majority of the country vaccinated.

"It will take more time than anyone would like and more time than the promises of the Trump administration," Biden said. "This is going to be the greatest operational challenge we've ever faced as a nation."

The Trump administration’s vaccine distribution efforts are off to a slower start than officials had projected after a number of unanticipated snags, highlighting the logistical complexity of the herculean effort.

Officials working on Operation Warp Speed said earlier this month they planned to have 20 million people vaccinated by the end of the year, and in October Health and Human Service Secretary Alex Azar said the U.S. would distribute 100 million doses of the vaccine by year’s end.

Instead, the federal government said Monday that 11.5 million doses of the vaccine have been sent to the states so far and only about 2 million people have gotten their first dose, according to data compiled by NBC News from federal and state agencies.

At the current rate of around a million shots a week, the U.S. will come up far short of projections by Trump administration officials that every person who wants a shot would be able to get one by the spring, said Drs. Celine Gounder, a member of Biden's Covid-19 advisory board, and Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. It will require millions of shots being administered every day for months in order for the country to return to some sense of normalcy by the spring, they said.

Brett Giroir, the administration's testing czar, said that by the end of the week the federal government will have distributed 15.6 million doses of the vaccine to states and another 4.2 million next week. He said the number of people who have received the vaccine is likely greater because of a lag time in states reporting data.

"It has only been 15 days since the first shot got in people's arms so we do expect that to ramp up, the state plans will ramp up over the next week or two, we expected that to accelerate," Giroir said Tuesday on MSNBC.

Biden also warned the public of a very difficult period ahead, projecting a continued rise in infections and deaths, saying the country needs to "steel our spines for what's ahead." He repeatedly implored Americans to wear masks.

"We need to be honest, the next few weeks and months are going to be a very tough period for our nation, maybe the toughest during this entire pandemic," he said. "I know it's hard to hear, but it's the truth."

Earlier in the day, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris received the vaccine on Tuesday, a little over one week after Biden got his first dose of the vaccine live on television.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease specialist, had been recommending Biden and Harris to get vaccinated as soon as possible for national security reasons.

Biden's remarks on the ongoing Covid-19 crisis and vaccination program will come on the heels of Trump's decision on Sunday night to sign the $2.3 trillion government funding and coronavirus relief package, narrowly avoiding a government shutdown.

Biden criticized Trump over the weekend for holding out on signing the bill, calling it an "abdication of responsibility."

Biden's remarks on Covid-19 on Tuesday also come as Capitol Hill grapples with whether to increase the coronavirus stimulus checks to $2,000, as Trump has been pushing for.

The Democratic-controlled House narrowly passed a bill Monday evening to increase direct coronavirus relief payments, although the measure faces an uphill battle in the Republican-run Senate.

Biden on Monday said he supported increasing the direct payments to $2,000.

The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies also announced Tuesday that they have canceled the traditional Inauguration Day luncheon on Jan. 20 with the newly sworn-in president and vice president, citing health concerns.

"In light of the ongoing pandemic, the JCCIC, in consultation with the Presidential Inaugural Committee, has made the decision to not move forward with hosting the traditional inaugural luncheon," said Paige Waltz, a spokesperson for the JCCIC, adding that more announcements would be made on the various inaugural ceremonies that typically take place at the U.S. Capitol.