Last month, President Biden inherited a nation that former President Trump left in crisis, experiencing its deadliest month of a pandemic he gave up trying to control. But what has become increasingly clear over the past few weeks is that President Biden has impressively started to turn around a vaccine distribution program that seemed set up for failure. The Government Accountability Office described the Trump administration’s failure simply in an uncharacteristically scathing report: “The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines has not met expectations.”
The Biden Administration has begun a dramatic turnaround that is already showing greater results. White House Covid coordinator Jeff Zients revealed in a briefing last week that, “When we came into office three weeks ago, the weekly delivery was 8.6 million [vaccine] doses. And today [February 3rd] we’re announcing that we will increase weekly vaccine doses going to states, tribes and territories to 11 million. So that is a total of a 28-percent increase in vaccine supply across the first three weeks.”
The comparison between what the Trump Administration accomplished over more than half a year with what the Biden Administration accomplished in its first few weeks is stark:
- Trump Administration: Prepared no plan to complete the “last mile” to get vaccinations in arms, instead blaming states, even as they actively lobbied against funding for states to prepare.
- Biden Administration: Quickly launch programs for mobile clinics, partnering with community health centers, and standing up community vaccination sites.
Defense Production Act
- Trump Administration: Consistently refused or resisted using the Defense Production Act, and never utilized in service of vaccine production despite known and predictable shortfalls in supply.
- Biden Administration: On President Biden’s second day in office, moved to utilize the Defense Production Act to assist in vaccine production as well as PPE and testing. Has continued to move forward on the process methodically.
Supply and Delivery Information
- Trump Administration: Consistently failed in communicating effectively with states, resulting in mass confusion and accusations of deception, and provided the number of vaccines being shipped mere days before they arrived.
- Biden Administration: Has given governors a three-week look-ahead so they can plan and manage local vaccination efforts.
- Trump Administration: Had no plan to surge vaccinators, even though a lack of people able to put shots into arms is a key bottleneck in the process.
- Biden Administration: Is mobilizing the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and amending the PREP Act as part of its plan to allow recently retired doctors and nurses to administer COVID-19 vaccines, and encouraging states to surge their vaccination workforce by allowing anyone currently licensed to vaccinate within their home state — doctors, nurses, EMTs — to administer shots across state lines.
Supporting All Governments
- Trump Administration: Left states to manage their own vaccine distribution programs with little federal support, actively lobbying against states receiving additional funding, lying to states about having vaccine reserves available, and allegedly failing to distribute COVID relief swiftly to territories and tribes that needed it most.
- Biden Administration: At the President’s direction, FEMA has increased its support to states, tribes and territories for vaccination sites. The agency is now providing nearly $1 billion to support vaccination sites in states and territories. More than 200 FEMA staff members are currently on the ground providing logistical support to nine states.
Releasing a Concrete National Plan
- Trump Administration: President Trump deflected blame for the lack of a national vaccination plan to states, tweeting “The Federal Government has distributed the vaccines to the states. Now it is up to the states to administer. Get moving!”
- Biden Administration: Quickly released a comprehensive 200 page National Strategy.
- Trump Administration: President Trump regularly mocked those wearing masks, and opposed governors who sought to follow the science and implement them.
- Biden Administration: Masks are now required on federal land, in federal buildings, and on planes, ships, and other forms of transportation entering the country. President Biden and Vice President Harris consistently wear masks themselves and promote their use.
Executing with Pharmacies
- Trump Administration: Put out a press release on leveraging pharmacies, but failed to create an execution strategy that contained details, as the Biden team found; “There was a concept to use pharmacies. There wasn’t any plan to exercise against that concept.”
- Biden Administration: Immediately began shipping directly to 6,500 retail pharmacies nationwide with plans for an additional expansion to 40,000 pharmacies as part of the new Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination.
Reinforcing Belief in Science
- Trump Administration: President Trump systematically sought to discredit his own leading public health experts when their assessments and advice ran counter to his perceived political interests. He directly and dismissively contradicted them on the danger of the virus, the number of cases, the need for masks, and the timeline for vaccines, creating a crisis of trust from the public in the US government.
- Biden Administration: Immediately supported scientific and public health experts, putting them forward to speak without political interference as the faces of the Administration response, in addition to signing an executive order to reinforce faith in science.
See a full timeline of the Trump administration’s vaccine distribution failures.