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Biden Announces Plans To Boost COVID-19 Vaccine Supply

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

President Biden announced a plan today to boost the supply of COVID-19 vaccines. He says the government is buying 200 million more and that it's working with states to get them out efficiently. Here to talk about these plans is NPR's Pien Huang.

Hey, Pien.

PIEN HUANG, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: So states have been complaining that vaccines have been in scarce supply. So what exactly is Biden doing to improve the situation?

HUANG: Well, Biden announced both a short-term and a midterm boost to vaccine supply today. In the short term, over the next three weeks, he says states will be getting a total of around 10 million doses per week, which is about an increase of 20% over what they have been getting. That boost comes mostly from the drug company Moderna ramping up its production. And the other big announcement he made today was that the government is in talks with Pfizer and Moderna to buy a lot more vaccines. Biden says a deal to purchase 200 million more doses of these vaccines will soon be finalized. That means that the U.S. should have a total supply of 600 million doses of these vaccines by the end of the summer, which is enough to give two shots to most of the U.S. population.

CHANG: OK. Well, I get that that helps with supply, but I thought part of the problem was getting shots into actual arms. What can Biden do to speed that up?

HUANG: Well, Biden said that one of the things that states have told him is that it's been really hard to plan when they don't know how many vaccines to expect from week to week. So today the administration is also pledging to give states a clear, reliable heads-up on how many vaccines they can expect over the next three weeks. And this is going to continue, as you know, three weeks ahead of time each time.

Claire Hannan from the Association of Immunization Managers told me in an email yes, yes, yes to more stable allocation information in advance. This is something that states have been asking for since the start of vaccine distribution, and there's been a lot of confusion because allocations have been changing week to week. But Jim Blumenstock from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials says there are three limiting (ph) factors in vaccine distribution.

JIM BLUMENSTOCK: The recipe for success in any type of campaign are the three S's - staff, stuff and space, OK? So when we talk about the stuff, that's principally the vaccine.

HUANG: And in terms of increasing staff and space, Biden has talked about hiring a lot more vaccinators to help staff vaccination sites and also launching FEMA-supported mass vaccination sites and mobile vans to get vaccines out to places that might not have, like, a huge hospital nearby. Biden said today that the first of those FEMA sites would launch soon and that thousands of local pharmacies will begin administrations come February.

CHANG: OK. Well, what do you think, Pien? Do you think the pace of vaccinations will noticeably pick up with these measures?

HUANG: I mean, I think these will certainly help, and Biden certainly hopes so. You know, he said that when his team arrived, the vaccine distribution program didn't look so good.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The vaccine program is in worse shape than we anticipated or expected.

HUANG: And he says that they've been spending the past week just diagnosing the problems. And even as he announced some concrete steps that he's taken to improve vaccine distribution today, he warns that there's a long way to go before the pandemic gets brought under control.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: But the brutal truth is it's going to take months before we get the majority of Americans vaccinated - months. In the next few months, masks, not vaccines, are the best defense against COVID-19.

HUANG: Biden and his administration have been big proponents of masking. You know, they've been encouraging Americans to engage in a hundred days of wearing masks in public, and they've been highlighting all the science that supports it, too.

CHANG: That is NPR's Pien Huang.

Thank you, Pien.

HUANG: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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