Joe Biden unveils plan to speed US Covid-19 vaccine roll-out

Biden speaks during day two of laying out his plan for combating coronavirus on Jan 15, 2021, in Wilmington, Delaware. PHOTO: AFP

WILMINGTON, DELAWARE (REUTERS) - US President-elect Joe Biden on Friday (Jan 15) said he would order increased production of syringes and other supplies to ramp up vaccinations against Covid-19 and improve upon the Trump administration roll-out that he has called a "dismal failure."

Under Biden's plan, federal disaster-relief workers would set up thousands of vaccination centers, where retired doctors would administer shots to teachers, grocery store workers, people over 65 years old and other groups who do not currently qualify.

According to a document released by his transition team, Biden would invoke the Defense Production Act to increase production of equipment needed to distribute the vaccines, such as glass vials, needles and syringes.

He would also use the law to support vaccine refrigeration and storage.

States that use their National Guard in the effort would be reimbursed by the federal government, the transition team said.

With infection rates soaring, Biden has promised to do better than President Donald Trump to curb the virus, and get 100 million vaccine shots into the arms of Americans during his first 100 days in office. Biden takes office on Wednesday.

The coronavirus has killed more than 389,000 people in the United States and infected about 7 per cent of the population.

A top adviser said the death tally could reach 500,000 by February.

Speaking on Friday afternoon near his home in Wilmington, Delaware, Biden called for increasing vaccine distribution in lower-income neighbourhoods not currently well served by public health hospitals and pharmacies.

Biden also plans a marketing campaign to encourage those sceptical of the vaccine to get inoculated.

"This is a time to set big goals and pursue them with courage and conviction because the health of the nation is literally at stake," Biden said.

His transition team said he will reorganise the vaccine distribution team currently called "Operation Warp Speed" and has asked former Food and Drug Administration chief David Kessler to work with manufacturers to boost vaccine availability.

Biden unveiled a US$1.9 trillion (S$2.5 trillion) stimulus plan on Thursday that includes US$20 billion for vaccine distribution as well as US$50 billion for coronavirus testing, which experts and officials said should help speed the process up.

The proposal faces an uphill battle in Congress, however.

When Biden takes office, Democrats will control both the Senate and the House of Representatives but by narrow margins. Some Republicans have baulked at its cost, while liberals have pushed for more spending on direct payments to individuals.

The Trump administration had aimed to give vaccine doses to 20 million Americans by the end of 2020. But only 11.1 million coronavirus shots had been administered as of Thursday out of more than 30 million doses distributed to states, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Federal officials have largely left states to manage distribution, resulting in big differences in vaccination rates.

The Trump administration has said it expects one million shots to be delivered per day by the end of next week.

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