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Biden's Plan To Expand Coronavirus Vaccine Access

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

More now on President-elect Biden's plans to try to speed up vaccines in the U.S. It boils down to more shots and less red tape. Mr. Biden made those promises yesterday. But tackling the coronavirus will take time, money and a lot of work.

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JOE BIDEN: We didn't get into all this overnight. We won't get out of it overnight either.

SIMON: NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin has been following the vaccine developments and joins us now. Selena, thanks so much for being with us.

SELENA SIMMONS-DUFFIN, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: We have been hearing a lot from Mr. Biden over the past few days about how he wants to ramp up vaccinations. What about this latest statement?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Yeah, that's right. Yesterday, Biden gave a speech in Wilmington, Del., specifically about his plan to scale up the vaccination campaign. And he summarized some of the key points.

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BIDEN: 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.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: So those are the broad brush strokes. But he also dug into some details. He said they would use mobile vaccination clinics to get to hard-to-reach communities. He said FEMA would help set up 100 mass vaccination sites in his first month in office. He said he would use the Defense Production Act for supplies like tubes and syringes and protective equipment.

There aren't a lot of surprises in the plan. This is really what Biden has been campaigning on. And in some ways, this is what he feels he was elected to do - get a handle in the pandemic.

Public health experts who've reviewed it seem to be overall pleased with the sense of direction and the vision that Biden is laying out. But there are still some big question marks, like will Congress provide the funding needed to follow through on a lot of these ideas? Twenty billion dollars is a lot of money. Democrats have the majority, but it's tight, so it's not a sure thing. And will these changes move the needle fast enough? The virus is surging. There's a sense that we're in a race against time, and the rollout has been sluggish so far.

SIMON: Selena, President-elect Biden, of course, says he wants 100 million COVID-19 vaccinations in his first 100 days. How realistic does that sound to you?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Well, you know, Biden addressed that. He said that he'd heard some people doubting it, but he defended the goal.

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BIDEN: I'm convinced we can get it done. And this is a time to set big goals, to pursue them with courage and conviction because the health of the nation is literally at stake.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: So the public health experts I've asked about this say that it may be doable, but it is ambitious. And there are advantages to setting lofty goals and pushing to get there. But we also saw the danger of overpromising with the current administration because they said that there would be 20 million people vaccinated by the end of the year, and instead, it was more like 4 million. And that has a big effect on public confidence. So another big promise comes with those same risks.

SIMON: So let me ask you, obviously, about the state of vaccinations right now. There's still an enormous gap between the number of vaccine doses that are delivered and the shots that are given. Why?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Yeah, that's right. At last check, there had been more than 31 million doses distributed and only 12 million administered. That's about 40%. It's a slightly higher percentage than we saw - up until now, it's been hovering around 30%. But there has yet to be that sudden acceleration in vaccinations that some federal officials had been promising now that we're clear of the holidays and the initial provider learning curves that was blamed for slowing the launch. It is not clear why these problems seem to be dragging on. There's definitely a lot for the Biden team to try and improve on.

SIMON: NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin, thanks so much.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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