By Sabrina Siddiqui and Stephanie Armour
WASHINGTON -- President-elect Joe Biden will seek to release
nearly all available coronavirus vaccine doses to accelerate
distribution, his transition team said Friday, in a shift from the
Trump administration's policy of holding back stock for second
"The president-elect believes we must accelerate distribution of
the vaccine while continuing to ensure the Americans who need it
most get it as soon as possible," said TJ Ducklo, a spokesman for
Mr. Biden's transition. "He supports releasing available doses
immediately, and believes the government should stop holding back
vaccine supply so we can get more shots in Americans' arms
Mr. Ducklo said Mr. Biden, who will be inaugurated on Jan. 20,
will release additional details about his vaccine distribution
plans next week. They include establishing federally run
vaccination sites, as well as mobile units that can travel to rural
and underserved areas, and the launch of a national public
awareness campaign around vaccine safety and guidelines, said
incoming White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
The announcement comes as the U.S. and many other countries are
struggling to ramp up vaccination programs. The Trump
administration had promised to vaccinate 20 million people by the
end of 2020.
The administration has been holding back about half of the
vaccination doses for second shots. The administration has
distributed 21.4 million vaccination doses from Moderna Inc. and
Pfizer Inc. with BioNTech SE, and 5.9 million people have received
the first dose as of Jan. 7, according to the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention.
"Vaccines give us hope, but the rollout has been a travesty,"
Mr. Biden told reporters in Wilmington, Del., on Friday.
Some medical authorities, including the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration, have said delaying the second dose of the vaccine
is potentially detrimental to public health. A Biden transition
official said the president-elect is confident that manufacturers
can produce enough vaccines to deliver second doses in a timely
manner, while adding Mr. Biden will use the Defense Production Act
to boost supply.
The Biden team's decision won't change the timing interval
between first and second doses, according to a person familiar with
the administration's planning.
The release of more vaccination doses could further strain some
states that have for months been calling for more funding from the
Trump administration and Congress to help them staff up and handle
administration of the shots.
Congress in December approved a vaccine relief package that
includes about $8 billion for states. But some states may have to
hire and train staff, which some public health officials have said
can take five to six weeks.
"Public health has been scaled up to deal with it, but vaccine
allocation has not gone up," said Claire Hannon, executive director
of the Association of Immunization Managers, which works with
states and territories on immunization. "We keep thinking it's
going to ramp up and it isn't."
Mr. Biden said Friday he will seek a significantly larger
coronavirus relief package upon taking office, which would include
more funding for local and state officials as they grapple with the
pandemic and vaccine distribution. "The price tag will be high,"
Mr. Biden said.
A Pfizer spokeswoman said the company is confident in its
ability to deliver 200 million doses of the vaccine to the U.S.
government by the end of July.
"We are committed to collaborating with the Biden administration
on common-sense solutions to the challenges in vaccine distribution
so that as many Americans as possible have access to our vaccine as
quickly as possible," the spokeswoman said.
Mr. Biden will get his second dose of the vaccine next week, his
incoming White House press secretary Ms. Psaki said Friday. He
received his first dose last month before cameras in a bid to
instill public confidence in the vaccine. Ms. Psaki said the
vaccine was also being administered to other top officials who will
be close to the president-elect in the administration.
News of the Biden administration's release plan was first
reported by CNN.
The release plan follows a letter from a group of Democratic
governors to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and
Operation Warp Speed Chief Operating Officer Gen. Gustave Perna
asking the federal government to immediately begin distributing
Mr. Biden has promised a more robust response to steering the
nation out of the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more
than 21 million people across the U.S. and claimed more than
The decision could help increase the number of people who
receive the vaccine. But it also raises the risk of not having
reserves to provide booster shots and could strain some states that
lack the staffing or infrastructure to meet potential demand.
Some state public health officials said they haven't yet
received information from Mr. Biden's transition team on changes to
the vaccine rollout that may be planned, which they say they need
to anticipate any hiring or workflow changes.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services leaders who have
been overseeing the coronavirus response team are preparing to
leave, and some staff who handle communication and coordination
have been told they will be replaced after they offered to stay in
their roles to help during the transition. Concerns are mounting
that the vaccine rollout could be further disrupted by the
changeover, according to two people familiar with the planning.
"If President-elect Biden is calling for the distribution of
vaccines knowing that there would not be a second dose available,
that decision is without science or data and is contrary to the
FDA's approved label," said Michael Pratt, a spokesman for
Operation Warp Speed.
"If President-elect Biden is suggesting that the maximum number
of doses should be made available, consistent with ensuring that a
second dose of vaccine will be there when the patient shows up,
then that is already happening," he added. "Second-dose management
was always about ensuring supply-chain availability."
The vaccine rollout has been sluggish. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the
U.S. government's top infectious-diseases official, said this week
that the U.S. will soon be able to give one million vaccinations a
day. But even that stepped-up pace would put the country on track
to fully immunize 80% of the population by June of 2022.
"We really should be at at least three million a day," said
Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health,
who on Friday praised the decision to release more of the second
Pressure has been growing from public-health officials and
Democratic state leaders to release the second doses, and the
urgency has risen because a new, more transmissible strain of the
virus has been found in the U.S. California Democratic Gov. Gavin
Newsom and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, also a Democrat, this week
pressed HHS to release second doses.
The White House coronavirus task force this week had discussed
possible changes to the vaccine rollout, including whether more
vaccines should be sent to states that are making more rapid
progress on getting shots administered, according to a person
familiar with the discussions.
They also discussed possibly allowing second shots to be given
at five or seven weeks after the first, instead of at three or four
weeks, the person said. The decision to hold back second doses
wasn't made by the task force, the person said.
--Jared Hopkins and Tarini Parti contributed to this
Write to Sabrina Siddiqui at Sabrina.Siddiqui@wsj.com and
Stephanie Armour at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
January 08, 2021 16:59 ET (21:59 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.