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Biden Outlines 'Bold' National Vaccine Effort

SATURDAY, Jan. 16, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- President-elect Joe Biden described an ambitious national vaccination plan on Friday that will deliver coronavirus vaccines to far more people and invoke a wartime law to boost vaccine production.

In a speech in Delaware, Biden told Americans that, "The honest truth is this: Things will get worse before they get better."

He pledged to ramp up vaccination availability in pharmacies, build mobile clinics to get vaccines to underserved rural and urban communities and encourage states to expand vaccine eligibility to people 65 and older, The New York Times reported. Biden also vowed to make racial equity a priority in fighting a virus that has disproportionately infected and killed minorities.

"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," he said. "You have my word… we will manage the hell out of this operation."

But Biden faces a stark reality: With only two federally authorized vaccines in circulation, supplies will likely be limited for the next several months.

Even if Biden invokes the Korean War-era Defense Production Act, it may take some time to ease vaccine shortages. The law has been invoked already, to important but limited effect, the Times reported. Biden has promised to build mass vaccination sites and develop new programs to serve high-risk people, including the developmentally disabled and those in jail. But those promises will only be achieved if there are vaccines available.

"It won't mean that everyone in this group will get vaccinated immediately, as the supply is not where it needs to be," Biden conceded. But as new doses become available, he promised, "we'll reach more people who need them."

The vaccine distribution plan comes one day after Biden proposed a $1.9 trillion pandemic "rescue" package that includes $20 billion for the vaccine effort. Biden has said repeatedly that he intends to get "100 million COVID vaccine shots into the arms of the American people" by his 100th day in office.

Another $50 billion will go toward a massive expansion of testing, while $130 billion would be used to help schools reopen safely, the Washington Post reported.

The rescue plan was hailed by health professionals, including National Nurses United (NNU), which represents 170,000 nursing professionals across the country.

"NNU leaders have been regularly meeting with the Biden transition team for the last two months and we are very pleased that this plan contains so many of the items we proposed," NNU Executive Director Bonnie Castillo said in a statement.

"We urge Congress to take this plan up immediately after the inauguration, and we look forward to working with the incoming administration on implementing this plan with the urgency that is required to confront this pandemic," Castillo said.

The American Hospital Association (AHA) also weighed in on Biden's proposal.

"In particular, we are pleased that it includes much-needed additional funding to significantly scale up vaccine distribution and administration," AHA President Rick Pollack said in a statement. "Hospitals and health systems are working tirelessly to administer vaccines as quickly and safely as possible, but to get to the scale our country needs for herd immunity, we need additional assets and other stakeholders to join us. This plan will help put more boots on the ground for contact tracing and getting more shots into arms."

US vaccine rollout nears 1 million doses a day

One month after the United States began what has become a troubled rollout of a national COVID vaccination campaign, the effort is finally gathering real steam.

Close to a million doses -- over 951,000, to be more exact -- made their way into the arms of Americans on Tuesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. That's the largest number of shots given in one day since the rollout began and a big jump from the previous day, when just under 340,000 doses were given, CBS News reported.

That number is likely to jump quickly now that the federal government has given states the OK to vaccinate anyone over 65 and said it would release all the doses of vaccine it has available for distribution. Meanwhile, a number of states have now opened mass vaccination sites in an effort to get larger numbers of people inoculated, CBS News reported.

But even with the recent pickup in vaccinations, more than two-thirds of the doses sent to states have yet to be administered. As of Friday, over 31 million doses had been shipped to all 50 states and all U.S. territories. Of those, just over 12 million had actually been used, CDC data shows.

The urgency of the vaccination campaign began even more apparent on Wednesday after scientists at Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center reported the emergence of a potentially more contagious U.S. variant that has acquired three gene mutations not previously seen together in the virus. The findings are under review for publication in BioRxiv, an online repository of research that has not yet been peer-reviewed.

The evolving variant with three new mutations became the dominant virus in Columbus between late December and January, the researchers said.

"This new Columbus strain has the same genetic backbone as earlier cases we've studied, but these three mutations represent a significant evolution," study leader Dr. Dan Jones, vice chair of the division of molecular pathology at Ohio State, said in a university news release.

"The big question is whether these mutations will render vaccines and current therapeutic approaches less effective," added Peter Mohler, study co-author and chief scientific officer at Wexner. "At this point, we have no data to believe that these mutations will have any impact on the effectiveness of vaccines now in use."

A global scourge

By Saturday, the U.S. coronavirus case count passed 23.6 million while the death toll passed 392,500, according to a New York Times tally. On Saturday, the top five states for coronavirus infections were: California with nearly 3 million cases; Texas with nearly 2.1 million cases; Florida with more than 1.5 million cases; New York with over 1.2 million cases; and Illinois with more than 1 million cases.

Curbing the spread of the coronavirus in the rest of the world remains challenging.

In India, the coronavirus case count was over 10.5 million by Saturday, a Johns Hopkins University tally showed. Brazil had over 8.4 million cases and over 208,000 deaths as of Saturday, the Hopkins tally showed.

Worldwide, the number of reported infections passed 93.9 million on Saturday, with over 2 million deaths recorded, according to the Hopkins tally.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the new coronavirus.

SOURCES: New York Times; Washington Post; CBS News

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