Joe Biden has suggested the US could soon be vaccinating an average of 1.5 million Americans a day – but warned the country’s growing COVID death toll could still top 600,000.
The US has offered one million doses per day over the last week, but the new president insisted: “I think we may be able to get that to…1.5 million a day, rather than one million a day.”
He added that he expects widespread availability of the vaccines for Americans by spring, with the US “well on our way to herd immunity” necessary to end the pandemic by summer.
Despite this, he warned the nation was going to be “in this for a while”, and could see between “600,000 and 660,000 deaths before we begin to turn the corner in a major way”.
Already, more than 420,000 Americans have died with coronavirus.
Meanwhile, Mr Biden is still fighting to get his $1.9trn stimulus package through Congress.
If successful, it would fund a national vaccination programme, aid to reopen schools, direct payments of $1,400 to individuals and financial relief for state and local governments.
“Time is of the essence,” the president said. “I am reluctant to cherry-pick and take out one or two items here.”
The president’s team held a call Sunday with at least a dozen senators.
“There’s an urgency to moving it forward, and he certainly believes there has to be progress in the next couple of weeks,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.
She warned that action needed to be taken before the US reaches an “unemployment cliff” in March, when long-term benefits expire for millions of Americans.
But some Republicans are not convinced.
Senator Susan Collins of Maine said after Sunday’s call that “it seems premature to be considering a package of this size and scope”.
Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said “any further action should be smart and targeted, not just an imprecise deluge of borrowed money that would direct huge sums toward those who don’t need it”.
Besides suggesting a new vaccine target, Mr Biden also spent Monday reversing a Trump ban on transgender people joining the US military and renewing a number of COVID-related travel bans – including on arrivals from the UK.