Biden to deploy FEMA, National Guard to set up Covid vaccine clinics across the U.S.

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President-elect Joe Biden plans to use FEMA and the National Guard to build coronavirus vaccine clinics across the United States, according to new details of his Covid-19 vaccination plan released by his transition team on Friday.

The Biden administration will also “quickly jumpstart” efforts to make the vaccines available at local pharmacies across the U.S., which should ensure that Americans have access to doses at facilities only miles from their home, according to the plan. 

“Here’s the deal: The more people we vaccinate, the faster we do it, the sooner we can save lives and put this pandemic behind us and get back to our lives and loved ones,” Biden said at a speech in Wilmington, Delaware, Thursday night. “We won’t get out of it overnight and we can’t do it as a separated nation.”

Drug store chains and pharmacies were supposed to take on a larger role in distributing the vaccine once the government expanded access to more people. But the slower-than-expected rollout has frustrated pharmacy chains. The National Association of Chain Drug Stores called on the federal government earlier this week to allow states to send more doses directly to pharmacies as they do with hospitals and health departments. 

The group estimated that the country’s retail pharmacies could administer at least 100 million doses of vaccines each month, which would exceed the incoming administration’s promise of 100 million shots in 100 days.

The Biden administration has said current vaccination efforts are not sufficient to quickly and equitably vaccinate the vast majority of the U.S. population, adding, “We must ensure that those on the ground have what they need to get vaccinations into people’s arms.”

The pace of vaccinations in the U.S. is going much slower than officials had hoped. As of Friday at 6 a.m. ET, more than 31.1 million doses of vaccine had been distributed across the U.S., but just over 12.2 million shots have been administered, according to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Meanwhile, cases are rapidly growing, with the U.S. recording at least 238,800 new Covid-19 cases and at least 3,310 virus-related deaths each day, based on a seven-day average calculated by CNBC using Johns Hopkins University data.

“We remain in a very dark winter,” Biden said during a speech on Friday. “Almost a year later we’re still far from back to normal. The honest truth is this: Things will get worse before they get better,” he said. He called the vaccine rollout in the U.S. a “failure.”

According to the plan, Biden will also invoke the Defense Production Act to “maximize the manufacture of vaccine and vaccine supplies for the country.”

The incoming president’s advisors had previously hinted that he would invoke the wartime production law, which allows the president to compel companies to prioritize manufacturing for national security, to bolster vaccine production.  

“The policy changes that we’re going to be making are going to take time to show up in the Covid statistics. It’s not just statistics, it’s people’s lives,” Biden said Friday.

The plan says the act will increase the supply of necessary equipment that could otherwise cause bottlenecks in the vaccine’s rollout if they were in shortage, including glass vials, syringes, stoppers and needles. It will also increase the capacity to package the vaccines into vials.

Biden’s plan will also encourage states to open up eligibility beyond health-care workers and long-term care facility residents and staff, and include frontline essential workers like teachers, first responders, grocery store employees and anyone who is 65 and older.

The CDC on Tuesday issued new guidelines that expanded coronavirus vaccine eligibility to everyone age 65 and older as well as to those with comorbid conditions, like diabetes. Some 53 million Americans who are 65 and older and 110 million people between 16 and 64 with comorbid conditions are now eligible to receive the vaccine if every state adopts the guidelines, according to the CDC.

“It won’t mean that everyone in these groups will get vaccinated immediately, as supply is not where it needs to be,” the transition team wrote. “But it will mean that as vaccines become available, they will reach more people who need them.”

Biden said the administration also plans to launch a public information campaign to “rebuild that trust” as some polls suggest Americans are skeptical about getting a Covid-19 vaccine.

“We’ll help people understand what science tell us. That the vaccines help reduce the risk of Covid infections and can better safeguard our health and the health of our families and our communities,” the president-elect said.

“Our plan is as clear as it is bold,’ he added. Get more people vaccinated for free, create more places for them to get vaccinated, mobilize more medical teams to get the shots in people’s arms, increase supply and get it out the door as soon as possible. This will be one of the most challenging operation efforts ever undertaken by our country, but you have my word. We will manage the hell out of this operation.”

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