The Biden administration’s been cautious in its public vaccination goals, but experts make a case to speed things up.
The Biden administration has been quite cautious in setting its public vaccination goals.
During the transition, officials said they hoped to give shots to one million Americans per day — a level the Trump administration nearly reached in its final days, despite being badly behind its own goals. In President Biden’s first week in office, he raised the target to 1.5 million, although his aides quickly added that it was more of a “hope” than a “goal.” Either way, the country is now giving about 1.7 million shots per day.
The Times’ David Leonhardt spent some time recently interviewing public-health experts about what the real goal should be, and came away with a clear message: The Biden administration is not being ambitious enough about vaccinations, at least not in its public statements.
An appropriate goal, experts say, is three million shots per day — probably by April. At that pace, half of adults would receive their first shot by April and all adults who wanted a shot could receive one by June, saving thousands of lives and allowing normal life to return by midsummer.
Biden struck a somewhat more ambitious tone yesterday, telling CNN that anybody who wanted a vaccine would be able to get one “by the end of July.” But Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and an adviser to the president, also said that the timeline for when the general population could receive shots was slipping from April to May or June.
The key fact is that the delivery of vaccine doses is on the verge of accelerating rapidly. Since December, Moderna and Pfizer have delivered fewer than one million shots per day to the government.
But over the next month and a half, the two companies have promised to deliver at least three million shots per day — and to accelerate the pace to about 3.3 million per day starting in April. Johnson & Johnson is likely to add to that total if, as expected, it receives the go-ahead to start distributing shots in coming weeks.
Very soon, the major will be logistics: Can the Biden administration and state and local governments administer the shots at close to the same rate that they receive them?
“I’m not hearing a plan,” Dr. Peter Hotez, a vaccine expert at Baylor College of Medicine, said. “In the public statements, I don’t hear that sense of urgency.”
Experts said they understood why Biden had set only modest public goals so far. Manufacturing vaccines is complex, and falling short of a high-profile goal would sow doubt during a public-health emergency, as Barry Bloom, a Harvard immunologist, said. If he were president, Bloom added, he would also want to exceed whatever goal was appearing in the media.
The appropriate goal is to administer vaccine shots at roughly the same rate that drug makers deliver them, experts said — with a short delay, of a week or two, for logistics. Otherwise, millions of doses will languish in storage while Americans are dying and the country remains partially shut down.
“We should be doing more,” Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins, said. “I am kind of surprised by how constrained we’ve been.” Many vaccine clinics operate only during business hours, she noted. And the government has not done much to expand the pool of vaccine workers — say, by training E.M.T. workers.
The newly contagious variants of the virus add another reason for urgency. They could cause an explosion of cases in the spring, Hotez said, and lead to mutations that are resistant to the current vaccines. But if the vaccines can crush the spread before then, the mutations may not take hold.
Biden aides have emphasized the challenges — the possibility of manufacturing problems, the difficulty of working with hundreds of local agencies, the need to distribute vaccines equitably. They also point out that they have nearly doubled the pace of vaccination in their first month in office, accelerated the pace of delivery from drugmakers and have plans to do more, like open mass-vaccination clinics and expand the pool of vaccine workers.
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