Remarks on Efforts To Contain the COVID-19 Pandemic
Thank you for taking the time to be here. Good afternoon.
I'm accompanied by Jeff Zients, who is heading up our whole COVID team. And today what I'd like to do is to upgrade—update you on where we are. Tomorrow we're going to begin the briefings that are going to occur on a regular basis with Mr. Zients and his team. So we're bringing back the pros to talk about COVID in an unvarnished way. Any questions you have, that's how we'll handle them, because we're letting science speak again.
And so I'd like to update you on the aggressive steps we're taking to meet our goal of administering 100 million COVID-19 vaccine shots within a hundred days and to ramp up the vaccine supply as fast as we can. This will be one of the most difficult operational challenges we've ever undertaken as a nation. I've said that before, but I must say it again because we're going to do—we're going to do everything we can to get it done. But a lot of things can go wrong along the way.
And so I've—as I've said in the past, we want to give credit to everyone involved in this vaccine effort and the prior administration and the science community and the medical sphere——
[At this point, technical equipment falling to the floor could be heard off camera.]
——for getting the program—I didn't do it, I promise—[laughter]—for getting the program off the ground. And that credit is absolutely due.
But it's also no secret that we have recently discovered, in the final days of the transition—and it wasn't until the final days we got the kind of cooperation we needed—that once we arrived, the vaccine program is in worse shape than we anticipated or expected. A lot of you who follow this—and nobody is—I mean this sincerely, the press is the smartest group of people in town; you hone this stuff down, clearly—I think you found the same thing.
Even before I took office, I announced a new vaccine—a vaccination strategy which centers on Federal leadership and execution for our whole country. And that's why I directed my COVID team to go to work immediately on how we could step up the vaccination efforts and the vaccinations.
I'm pleased to announce the first progress in that work today on day 7 of my Presidency. First, after review of the current vaccine supply and manufacturing plants, I can announce that we will increase overall weekly vaccination distribution to States, Tribes, and Territories from 8.6 million doses to a minimum of 10 million doses, starting next week. That's an increase of 1.4 million doses per week.
And you all know—if I may note, parenthetically—you all know that the vaccines are distributed to States based on population. They're based on population. And so the smaller the State, the less vaccine; the bigger the State, the more they get. And so this is going to allow millions of more Americans to get vaccinated sooner than previously anticipated. We've got a long way to go though.
The second thing: We're increasing the transparency with States, cities, and Tribes, and local partners when it comes to the vaccine supply. This is something we've heard over and over again from both Democrats and Republicans, State and local leaders: that they need a plan in order to what—they didn't know what they had to plan on. They need to know what the order is going to be. Jeff had a meeting with the Governors on Zoom and—and others. And I think we're getting this coordinated in a way that there's increased cooperation and confidence.
But until now, we've had to guess how much vaccine to expect for the next week. And that's what the Governors had to do: "How much am I getting next week?" This is unacceptable. They—you know, the lives are at stake here. From this week forward, God willing, we'll ensure that States, Tribes, and Territories will now always have a reliable 3-week forecast on what the supply they're going to get. So they'll know, 3 weeks ahead of time, what's going to be there in the third week.
This is going to help make sure Governors, mayors, and local leaders have greater certainty around supply so they can carry out their plans to vaccinate as many people as possible. So we will both increase the supply in the short term by more than 15 percent and give our States and local partners more certainty about when the deliveries will arrive. These two steps are going to help increase our prospects of hitting and—or exceeding, God willing, the ambitious goal of 100 million shots in 100 days.
But I also want to be clear: 100 million shots in 100 days is not the endpoint; it's just the start. We're not stopping there. The end goal is to beat COVID-19. And the way we do that is to get more people vaccinated, which means we have to be ready, after we hit the ground—we have to hit the goal of 100 million shots in 100 days.
Now, that means fewer than 100 million people getting totally vaccinated; it means 100 [million]* shots, and it means somewhere between 60—maybe less, maybe more—million people will have the—because it requires two shots in many cases, not always.
So today I'm directing COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients, here, to work with the Department of Health and Human Services to increase our total supply of vaccine for the American people. And we believe that we'll soon be able to confirm the purchase of an additional hundred billion [million]* doses for each of the two FDA-authorized vaccines: Pfizer and Moderna. That's 100 million more doses of Pfizer and 100 million more doses of Moderna, 200 million more doses than the Federal Government had previously secured. Not in hand yet, but ordered.
We expect these additional 200 million doses to be delivered this summer. And some of it will come as early—begin to come in early summer, but by the mid—by the midsummer, that this vaccine will be there. And the order—and that increases the total vaccine order in the United States by 50 percent—from 400 million ordered to 600 million.
This is enough vaccine to fully vaccinate 300 Americans by the end of the summer, beginning of the fall. But we want to make—look, that's—I want to repeat: It will be enough to fully vaccinate 300 [million]* Americans to beat this pandemic—300 million Americans. And this is aggregate plan that doesn't leave anything on the table or anything to chance, as we've seen happen in the past year.
I've said before: This is a wartime effort. When I say that, people ask, "Wartime?" I say, "Yes, more than 400,000 Americans have already died." I think it's four-hundred-eleven or -twelve [thousand]* have died in one year of this pandemic—more than all the people who died in all of—Americans who died in World War II. This is a wartime undertaking; it's not hyperbole. And as such, I directed the team to be ready to exercise all the authorities I have under the Defense Production Act, and expedite these vaccines. And we're using the Defense Production Act to launch a full-scale, wartime effort to address the supply shortages we inherited from the previous administration.
We're going to be working across the Government, with private industry, to ramp up production of vaccine and protective equipment—the syringes, the needles, the gloves, the swabs, the masks—everything that's needed to protect, test, vaccinate, and take care of our people. Well, we've already identified suppliers, and we're working with them to move our plan forward.
The biggest problem—I hope you're all asking me by the end of the summer that: "You have too much vaccine left over. You have too much equipment leftover." That's not my worry. I hope that becomes the problem, rather than we somehow find interruptions in supply or access.
These aggressive steps to increase vaccine supply come on top of the steps we took last week to get more people vaccinated for free, to create more places for them to get vaccinated, and to mobilize more medical teams to get shots in people's arms.
We've directed FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to stand up the first federally supported community vaccination centers, and that work is underway. We're working to make vaccines available to thousands of local pharmacies, beginning in early February; it's a couple weeks off. And we—that will enormously expand our reach.
Last week, I also signed a declaration to immediately begin reimbursing States 100 percent for the uses of their National Guard to help the COVID relief effort, both getting people—getting the sites set up and even using some of their personnel to administer some of the vaccines. And I think it's something Democrats and Republicans and Governors alike have called for.
We're also expanding testing, which will help schools and businesses reopen safely and protect the most vulnerable.
And we formalized the Health Equity Task Force to ensure that equity is at the core of everything we do in urban and rural communities alike, to make sure those people most significantly damaged have—have access. Access. We have to change. We have to move in a direction for those communities that are hard to get to.
But the brutal truth is: It's going to take months before we can get the majority of Americans vaccinated. Months. In the next few months, masks—not vaccines—are the best defense against COVID-19. Experts say that wearing masks from now just until April would save 50,000 lives who otherwise will pass away if we don't wear these masks. That's why I'm asking the American people to mask up for the first hundred days. I've issued Executive orders requiring masks on Federal property and interstate travel: trains and planes and buses.
One Congressman pointed out—I could—well, he used a very, anyway, colorful term to say wearing a mask—"I tell him to kiss my ear; I'm not going to wear a mask." Well, guess what? Not very American. The fact is, you want to be patriotic; you're going to protect people. And new COVID-19 variants are—we are instituting new measures to deal with these individuals flying into the United States from other countries.
You've all hold—if you could hold a second—you've all heard about the strain—the British strain, the Brazilian strain, the South African strain. And they are—they seem to be more transmittable more easily. So, in addition to wearing masks, everyone flying to the United States from another country, we need to test before they get on that plane and self-quarantine when they arrive in America.
I'm going to close with this: I now have a national—we now have a national strategy to beat COVID-19. It's comprehensive. It's based on science, not politics. It's based on truth, not denial. And it is detailed. It's going to require Congress to pass the American Rescue Plan to provide funding to administer the vaccines, to ramp up testing, to help schools and businesses reopen, and to deliver immediate economic relief to Americans who are in—badly in need of it through no fault of their own.
And our plan will take time. Progress from our plan will take time to measure, as people getting infected today don't show up in case counts for weeks, and those who perish from those—from the disease die weeks after that exposure. You know, despite the best—our best intentions, we're going to face setbacks, which I will always explain to you and acknowledge.
And let me be clear: Things are going to continue to get worse before they get better. The death toll, experts tell us, is likely to top 500,000 by the end of next month—this February—and cases will continue to mount. We didn't get into this mess overnight, and it's going to take months for us to turn things around. But let me be equally clear: We're going to get through this. We will defeat this pandemic.
And to a nation waiting for action, let me be clearest on this point: Help is on the way. We can do this if we come together, if we listen to the scientists. And as I said: Tomorrow, I say to the press, the entire team will be back in the business of—my COVID team—of answering all your detailed questions.
So thank you very much for your patience. Keep the faith. We're going to get this done. And I'll always level with you about the state of affairs.
NOTE: The President spoke at 4:50 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Rep. Charles E. "Chip" Roy.
* White House correction.
Joseph R. Biden, Remarks on Efforts To Contain the COVID-19 Pandemic Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/347880