Joe Biden said on Tuesday that the Trump administration’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout was “far behind” schedule, and warned it could take years to inoculate the American people if distribution continued at the current pace.
The US president-elect addressed the pandemic as authorities in the western state of Colorado reported that a more transmissible strain of the virus, first discovered in the UK, had been confirmed in the US.
Mr Biden said the Trump administration’s coronavirus response was faltering as the US faced a “very tough period” during the coming weeks and months — “maybe the toughest during this entire pandemic”.
“I know it’s hard to hear, but it’s the truth,” he said in Wilmington, Delaware. “Things are going to get worse before they get better.”
Mr Biden said the Trump administration’s vaccine rollout was not progressing as quickly as the administration had predicted.
“The Trump administration suggested that 20m Americans could be vaccinated by the end of December,” Mr Biden said. “With only a few days left in December, we have only vaccinated a few million so far. ”
He added: “At the pace the vaccination programme is moving now, it’s going to take years, not months, to vaccinate the American people.”
Mr Biden said US hospitals were “being stretched beyond capacity” even before an expected spike in hospitalisations following the holidays, when many Americans had chosen to travel despite health officials’ recommendations not to do so.
The president-elect said the country might not see in an improvement in the pandemic “until well into March”, adding that it would take time for the incoming administration’s Covid response plan “to produce visible results”.
Once he takes office on January 20, Mr Biden said he planned to use the Defense Production Act to accelerate vaccine production. He said his administration would also launch a public education campaign to demonstrate the safety of the vaccines in minority communities where there had been hesitancy about vaccines in the past.
The incoming administration has set a goal of administering 100m vaccinations within its first 100 days. Mr Biden said that goal would require additional funding from Congress, and ramping up distribution by as much as five to six times the current level.
“But remember,” he said, “even with that improvement, even if we boost the speed of vaccinations to 1m shots a day, it will still take months to have the majority of the country vaccinated.”
Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease expert, said last week that he expected the new coronavirus variant was present in the US.
Colorado governor Jared Polis said on Tuesday that the variant had been detected in a man in his 20s who had not travelled recently.
“There is a lot we don’t know about this new Covid-19 variant,” Mr Polis said, “but scientists in the UK are warning the world that it is significantly more contagious. The health and safety of Coloradans is our top priority and we will closely monitor this case.”