Coronavirus Briefing: Biden’s vaccine surge

Vaccines and the need for speed

Weeks into the American vaccination effort and the country is terribly behind schedule. Of the roughly 21.5 million doses that have been distributed, only about six million have been injected into the arms of Americans, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
One solution, President-elect Joe Biden believes, is to not hold back.
His administration announced today that it would release nearly all available vaccine doses when Mr. Biden assumed office later this month. That’s in contrast with the Trump administration’s practice of holding back roughly half of the vaccine supply to ensure enough supply for a second dose. (Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses given weeks apart.)
Releasing a vast majority of the vaccine doses would go against the recommendation of officials from the Food and Drug Administration, but a transition official told The Times that Biden would use the Defense Production Act, if needed, to ensure that enough doses were available.
To be sure, there are many reasons for the painfully slow rollout. Some experts say distribution has sputtered because of a lack of administering capacity and several logistical hurdles, rather than a severe shortage of doses.
“This is not the problem we’re trying to solve right now,” said Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and public health expert at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University.
But releasing the full supply of vaccines could ease a critical bottleneck. The announcement coincided with a letter from eight Democratic governors imploring the Trump administration to release all available doses to the states as soon as possible.
During an interview this week with a local radio station, Mr. Biden also said he planned to set up thousands of federally-run vaccination sites across the country. They would be in places like high school gyms and sports stadiums, and staffed by federal workers, volunteers, FEMA, the military and others.
This week, under intense criticism about the slow pace of the rollout, the Trump administration began urging states to start vaccinating people beyond the first priority group — the nation’s 22 million health care workers and three million residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
“It would be much better to move quickly and end up vaccinating some lower-priority people than to let vaccines sit around while states try to micromanage this process,” said Alex M. Azar II, the health and human services secretary. “Faster administration would save lives right now, which means we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
Public health officials worry that upending the months of discussions about who should get the vaccine first could bring more chaos to the rollout and increase the likelihood that more vulnerable Americans could be skipped over.
Other ideas. The Times’s Opinion section asked public health experts for their thoughts on how to speed up vaccine delivery. Their ideas include using a lottery system, targeting hot spots, using algorithms for distribution and not pressuring those who are hesitant about the vaccine to take their doses.