Biden recruits federal muscle for vaccine blitz

FEMA and the National Guard will be sent to set up Covid-19 vaccination clinics nationwide

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US president-elect Joe Biden announced Friday he would put federal resources towards setting up "thousands" of vaccine sites, while also sending out mobile clinics and expanding the public health workforce to accelerate the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines.

Mr Biden has said he wants 100 million Americans to receive injections during his first 100 days in office, a drastic increase from the current pace.

"This is going to be one of the most challenging operational efforts ever undertaken by our country," Mr Biden said Friday from Wilmington, Delaware.

"But you have my word: we will manage the hell out of this operation."

The afternoon address came a day after he unveiled a $1.9 trillion stimulus package for the battered economy that included $20 billion for vaccines and $50bn for testing.

As of Thursday morning, about 30 million doses had been sent to states but only 11.1 million had been used, according to official data, well behind the Trump administration's target of 20 million in December.

Mr Biden's plan would drastically increase the role of the federal government in the distribution effort, mobilising the Federal Emergency Management Administration and reimbursing states that send out their National Guard.

Mr Biden has also asked Congress to fund the expansion of the nation's public health workforce to 100,000 personnel, about triple the current number.

The push comes as the incoming leader seeks to wrest the focus from the impeachment of President Donald Trump to the agenda for his first days in office.

More than 388,000 people in the US have lost their lives to the virus, a figure that is likely to have hit 400,000 by the time Mr Biden is sworn into office on Wednesday.

The outlook is set to worsen as the B.1.1.7 variant of the coronavirus establishes itself in the US as the dominant strain in March, according to modelling by the Centres of Disease Control and Prevention.

The agency said the strain, first discovered in Britain and drove a near exponential rise in cases there, could further stretch hospitals and increase the percentage of people who need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.

Experts credit the Trump administration's Operation Warp Speed (OWS) with helping to develop Covid-19 vaccines in record time, but say there was not enough planning for the "last mile," and distribution has been off to a rocky start.

Major differences have arisen in the rate at which states are administering their doses, and some states have been criticised for being overly prescriptive in their initial distribution, which slowed things down and even led to some shots expiring.

The Trump administration has already moved to release second doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that were being held in reserve and is recommending states begin vaccinating everyone over the age of 65.

Mr Biden's plan would continue that policy, while also seeking to improve co-ordination with states by providing "actionable data on vaccine allocation timelines and delivery."

The Biden team also said they would invoke the Defence Production Act  to boost supply, with special attention to ethnic minority communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic, and to embark on an education campaign to build vaccine confidence.