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Biden Reveals Plans For COVID-19 Vaccination Campaign

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

One hundred million COVID-19 vaccinations in 100 days - that is President-elect Biden's goal as soon as he gets sworn in next week.

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JOE BIDEN: I'm convinced we can get it done. And this is a time to set big goals, to pursue them with courage and conviction because the health of the nation is literally at stake.

CHANG: That is Biden speaking today in Wilmington, Del., laying out his COVID-19 vaccination plan. And joining us now to talk about that plan is NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin. Hey, Selena.

SELENA SIMMONS-DUFFIN, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: All right. So just give us the broad brushstrokes of what Biden laid out today.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Well, he released a detailed plan. It's about four pages long, and it has several big principles. Here is how he laid those out in his speech this afternoon.

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BIDEN: Our plan is as clear as it is bold. 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.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: A few details that stood out - he said FEMA would help set up 100 mass vaccination sites in his first month in office, and he mentioned the Defense Production Act. He said companies that could ramp up making supplies like tubes and syringes and protective equipment had already been identified. He said his administration would, quote, "manage the hell out of this operation." He pledged transparency. And he had some notes of caution that there would be stumbles along the way, and it would take a while before the effect of these initiatives would become apparent. There are still rough days of this pandemic ahead of us.

CHANG: Absolutely. Well, you were on the show on Tuesday, laying out some last-minute changes the Trump administration was making to the vaccine rollout. What is Biden planning to do with those ideas?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Well, he's following through with a lot of them, actually. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said their administration was urging states to expand eligibility to people age 65 and older, get pharmacies engaged and get mass vaccination sites launched and that they would be releasing second doses that had been kept in reserve. All of those things are here in Biden's plan, more or less. One difference is the Trump administration urged states to open things up to 100 million people with underlying conditions. Biden makes no mention of that at this point. He puts a new emphasis on essential workers like grocery store staff and teachers and transportation workers.

CHANG: So a lot of those ideas are being carried over. Does this represent a dramatic change to the current vaccination program?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Right. So even though the - Biden called the rollout thus far a dismal failure, the plan kind of seems like Operation Warp Speed with a twist. Biden officials say they'll be scrapping that name, by the way. But they are keeping one of the heads of the effort, Army General Gus Perna, and some of the policies, just with more federal funding and involvement. It could be that public health officials will be relieved there's some continuity here. They're kind of midstream, and a totally new approach might be disruptive.

CHANG: I can imagine. OK, well, let's go back to the reserve supply of the second doses that you mentioned was going to be released next week. Today there were reports that the reserve had actually already been used up. What's going on there?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Yeah, that's right. The Washington Post first reported - and NPR confirmed - that the federal government started sending out its reserve of second doses at the end of last year. So some governors who were expecting a windfall of extra doses next week - because a stockpile of second doses was supposedly now up for grabs - said that they were shocked to find no such windfall was coming, that the reserve had already been sent out. And it makes Secretary Azar's announcement kind of seem either misinformed or disingenuous. I also think that the public has this feeling of being on edge of scarcity. When will it be my turn? Will doses run out? Biden did not address this whole situation directly in his remarks, but he did say the ambiguity for states and cities about how much vaccine they're getting would end when he's in office.

CHANG: That is NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin. Thank you, Selena.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Thanks, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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