WASHINGTON – President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., setting himself ambitious goals to turn the tide of the coronavirus pandemic, on Tuesday pledged to receive “at least 100 million Covid vaccines in the arms of the American people” during his first 100 days in office, and said he would make it a “national priority” to get children back to school during that time.
The commitment, which Biden made by introducing members of his health team to Wilmington, Del., Is in line with the goals set by President Trump.
But in creating clear benchmarks for himself, Mr. Biden is taking some risk. The 100 million pledge will undoubtedly be kept at the 100-day mark on April 30, and fulfilling it will require no hiccups in the manufacture or distribution of the vaccine and the willingness of Americans to be vaccinated.
Mr Biden’s announcement came as new details emerged about how Pfizer, the pharmaceutical giant whose vaccine could receive regulatory approval in the United States over the weekend, has repeatedly urged the Trump administration to lock in a larger supply. Before the vaccine proved to be highly effective in clinical trials, the administration repeatedly refused the option of expanding its pre-order beyond the 100 million doses it agreed to buy from Pfizer last July. .
The administration is now looking to double the pre-order; otherwise, he will run out of Pfizer vaccine by March, according to people familiar with the discussions. But Pfizer may not be able to deliver more doses to Americans until June, as the company signed deals with other governments, including the European Union, as the Trump administration hesitated.
Pfizer, an American company, could face a backlash from consumers if countries in Europe or elsewhere use its vaccine to save lives while Americans are forced to wait. But Trump administration officials, trying to hedge their bets between six vaccine makers, were unwilling to commit too heavily to Pfizer.
Moderna, based in Cambridge, Mass., Is close to Pfizer and may get clearance for its vaccine this month. Like Pfizer, its federal contract calls for it to deliver 100 million doses by the end of the first quarter.
Both vaccines require two doses, so together these supplies would likely cover 100 million Americans by the spring. Moderna has said he plans to produce at least 400 million more doses next year, but it’s unclear how many the US government could claim.
At a vaccine “summit” on Tuesday at the White House, Mr. Trump signed an executive order that he said “would ensure that the United States government prioritizes the distribution of the vaccine to American citizens before send it to other countries ”. But the order seemed to have few teeth. Mr Trump has also said he will use the Defense Production Act to produce an additional vaccine, but did not specify how.
Mr Biden’s team is apparently relying on Pfizer and Moderna’s commitments to the Trump administration to deliver on Mr Biden’s 100 million vaccine pledge. His advisers note that the pledge is for 100 million doses – not 100 million people vaccinated.
A third vaccine maker, Johnson & Johnson, could release its clinical trial results within weeks, while a fourth company, AstraZeneca, is still recruiting participants to its trial in the United States. Two other companies included in the Trump administration’s emergency vaccine development program, Novavax and Sanofi, have yet to begin clinical trials.
Mr Biden’s vaccination schedule is achievable, experts say, but he can be optimistic.
“Distribution needs to be transparent throughout the United States, which means every state and local health department is coordinating,” said Dr. Leana Wen, former Baltimore health commissioner. “And there is the issue of public trust. So I certainly hope that will happen, but it’s very optimistic.
In addition to the vaccine promise, Mr Biden implored Americans to wear masks during his first 100 days in office and said he would make them a requirement in federal buildings and on planes, trains and buses that cross state lines.
The presidential transition
“My first 100 days won’t end the Covid-19 virus – I can’t promise it,” Biden said. But he added, “I am absolutely convinced that in 100 days we can turn the tide of disease and change life in America for the better.”
The senior officials Mr Biden will appoint – including Xavier Becerra, a former congressman who is now California’s attorney general, as a candidate for the post of secretary of health and human services – will face the immediate challenge of slow the spread of the coronavirus, which has already killed more than 285,000 people in the United States and has taken particularly devastating havoc on people of color.
To address these disparities, Biden created a “Covid-19 Fairness Task Force”. It will be led by Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, a health equity expert at Yale University Medical School who described the US Virgin Islands, where she grew up, as “a place where people die too often, too young, of preventable diseases. . “
The event was the first time Mr Becerra and other candidates chosen by Mr Biden – some appearing virtually and others in person – had spoken in public alongside him. Most, including Mr. Becerra, a son of immigrants, shared their personal stories. Dr. Vivek Murthy, who will resume his role in the Obama administration as Mr. Biden’s surgeon general, offered greetings from his grandmother.
Dr Anthony S. Fauci, who will be Mr Biden’s chief medical adviser in addition to continuing in his role as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, participated via video, saying he should also attending a ceremony for a colleague at the National Institutes of Health, Dr Harvey J. Alter, who had won the Nobel Prize in medicine – “a reminder,” said Dr Fauci, “of America’s place as as a pioneer of science and medicine. “
As Dr Fauci looks forward to serving in his seventh administration, another of the key members appointed by Mr Biden – Dr Rochelle Walensky, chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital, who will lead the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – n never served in government.
She will face the Herculean task of restoring the morale and reputation of an agency that has been silenced and beaten by Trump’s White House.
“Every doctor knows that when the patient codes, your plans don’t matter – you are responding to the code,” said Dr. Walensky. “And when the nation codifies, if you’re called to serve, you serve.”
Also Tuesday, Jeff Zients, the new coordinator of the Covid-19 response. Mr Biden has yet to nominate his candidates for other health care positions, including commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration and director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Michael D. Shear contribution to reports.