Tag Archives: ‘Wartime

Biden outlines ‘wartime effort’ to boost distribution of COVID-19 vaccines

The Biden administration says it plans to boost purchases of coronavirus vaccines to deliver enough to protect 300 million Americans by the end of the summer or early fall.

The effort will include a surge in deliveries to states over the next three weeks following complaints of shortages and inconsistent supplies.

U.S. President Joe Biden also announced that the federal government is purchasing an additional 100 million doses each of the two approved coronavirus vaccines. With existing purchases, the White House expects to be able to deliver enough of the two-dose regimens to meet its goal.

“This is enough vaccine to vaccinate 300 million Americans by end of summer, early fall,” Biden said, calling the push to increase supply a “wartime effort.”

The purchases from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna come as the Biden administration is trying to ramp up vaccine production and states’ capacities to inject them into arms. Even more vaccine could be available if federal scientists approve a single-dose shot from Johnson & Johnson, which is expected to seek emergency authorization in the coming weeks.

Biden also announced a roughly 16 per cent boost in deliveries to states over the coming weeks amid complaints of shortages so severe that some vaccination sites around the U.S. had to cancel tens of thousands of appointments with people seeking their first shot.

‘Lives are at stake’

The increase comes amid complaints from governors and top health officials about inadequate supplies and the need for earlier and more reliable estimates of how much vaccine is on the way so that they can plan accordingly.

WATCH | Biden ramps up vaccination efforts:

U.S. president says 200 million more vaccine doses have been ordered, potentially enough to inoculate every American by the end of this summer. 1:46

Seeking to allay those concerns Tuesday during their first virus-related call with governors, Biden’s team pledged to provide states with firm vaccine allocations three weeks ahead of delivery to allow for accurate planning for injections.

“Until now, we’ve had to guess how much vaccine” each week,” Biden said. “This is unacceptable. Lives are at stake.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the government plans to make about 10.1 million first and second doses available next week, up from this week’s allotment of 8.6 million. The figures represent doses of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. It was not immediately clear how long the surge of doses could be sustained.

U.S. Vice-President Kamala Harris receives her second dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in Bethesda, Md., on Tuesday. Hundreds of White House staffers are receiving vaccines in a bid to keep the president safe. Joe Biden has already received the required two doses. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Biden’s announcement came a day after he grew more bullish about exceeding his vaccine pledge to deliver 100 million injections in his first 100 days in office, suggesting that a rate of 1.5 million doses per day could soon be achieved.

“We appreciate the administration stating that it will provide states with slightly higher allocations for the next few weeks, but we are going to need much more supply,” said Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican.

The administration has also promised more openness and said it will hold news briefings three times a week, beginning Wednesday, about the outbreak that has killed more than 420,000 Americans.

The vaccination setup inherited from the Trump administration has been marked by miscommunication and unexplained supply bottlenecks.

States struggle to deliver vaccines

Officials in West Virginia, which has had one of the best rates of administering vaccine, said it has fewer than 11,000 first doses on hand even after this week’s shipment.

“I’m screaming my head off” for more, Republican Gov. Jim Justice said.

Farm workers wait in line to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in Mecca, Calif., on Jan. 21. The state announced a new, centralized vaccine system to make it easier for residents to access the shots. (Jae C. Hong/The Associated Press)

California, which has faced criticism over a slow vaccine rollout, announced Tuesday that it is centralizing its hodgepodge of county systems and streamlining appointment sign-up, notification and eligibility. Residents have been baffled by the varying rules in different counties.

And in Colorado, Democratic Gov. Jared Polis said the limited supply of vaccine from the federal government is prompting the state to repurpose second doses as first doses, though he expects that people scheduled for their second shot will still be able to keep their appointments.

The weekly allocation cycle for first doses begins on Monday nights, when federal officials review data on vaccine availability from manufacturers to determine how much each state can have. Allocations are based on each jurisdiction’s population of people 18 and older.

States are notified on Tuesdays of their allocations through a computer network called Tiberius and other channels, after which they can specify where they want doses shipped. Deliveries start the following Monday.

A similar but separate process for ordering second doses, which must be given three to four weeks after the first, begins each week on Sunday night.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the CDC reported that just over half of the 44 million doses distributed to states have been put in people’s arms.

The U.S. ranks fifth in the world in the number of doses administered relative to the country’s population, behind No. 1 Israel, United Arab Emirates, Britain and Bahrain, according to the University of Oxford.

The reason more of the available shots in the U.S. haven’t been dispensed isn’t entirely clear. But many vaccination sites are apparently holding large quantities of vaccine in reserve to make sure people who have already gotten their first shot receive the required second one on schedule.

The vaccine rollout across the 27-nation European Union has also run into roadblocks and has likewise been criticized as too slow. Pfizer is delaying deliveries while it upgrades its plant in Belgium to increase capacity. And AstraZeneca disclosed that its initial shipment will be smaller than expected.

The EU, with 450 million citizens, is demanding that the pharmaceutical companies meet their commitments on schedule.

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‘Wartime president’ Trump isn’t calling all the shots in U.S. battle against COVID-19

U.S. President Donald Trump’s “15 Days to Slow the Spread” coronavirus guidelines — mostly advice to stay home if you’re sick and avoid social gatherings — would have expired by now had he not extended them to April 30.  

“We have reason to believe that it’s working,” Vice-President Mike Pence announced at Tuesday’s COVID-19 briefing. He held out the revised one-page bullet point guidelines — “30 Days to Slow the Spread” — and solemnly explained that by extending them, the president was asking the American people to follow the advice for another 30 days.

It’s understandable the White House would try to appear on top of this most formidable challenge of the Trump presidency — especially after repeatedly downplaying the severity of COVID-19 when it first showed up in the U.S. more than two months ago.

The evidence is documented in Trump’s televised statements and his own Twitter feed. He said the outbreak was under control when it wasn’t. He said tests were available for all who needed them when they weren’t.

Now deep into the COVID-19 crisis, with more than 211,000 confirmed infections in the U.S. and more than 4,700 deaths, Trump is finding the levers of presidential power aren’t always perfectly aligned with what’s required.

The White House guidelines are much weaker — advisories, really — compared to the state laws now directing the behaviour of more than 265 million Americans.

In Virginia, for instance, Gov. Ralph Northam proclaimed on Monday a statewide stay-at-home order until June 10 — a decree that is much stricter, more confining and six weeks longer than the White House guidelines, and with the actual force of law behind it.

Just as Virginia’s new rules kicked in, Maryland and the District of Columbia announced their own similar orders that effectively shut down all sectors of their economies that are not essential to the health and welfare of the citizenry. More than half the states in the U.S. now have something like that in place, including California, New York and parts of Texas.

Cyclists ride through a nearly empty Times Square in New York earlier this week. New York has been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. (Brendan Mcdermid/Reuters)

At Trump’s daily White House press briefings, he claims he is a “wartime president” battling an “invisible enemy,” as though he were in command of the fight against the coronavirus. He is not. No single person nor branch of government is.

He might like to have more authority. Trump is keenly aware that a bustling economy with a hot stock market is the cornerstone of his re-election plan. Just last week, he was clearly itching for people to get out of their homes and back to work by Easter lest the economy grind from a slowdown to a stop between now and November.

But it is the individual states that decide whether to impose or lift the shelter-in-place decrees across the country, not Trump — and he can’t change that, say legal scholars citing both the constitution and court precedents.

“No, the president cannot simply order state and local governments to change their policies,” says University of Texas law professor Robert Chesney, writing in the Lawfare blog.

Constitutionally legitimate federal laws do supersede state and local laws, he says, but there isn’t a federal law that fits these circumstances. Without one, “it does not follow that President Trump can therefore override state and local rules on matters like shelter-in-place.”

Still, Trump does bring some unique powers to the fight against COVID-19. At the end of January, for instance, Trump barred entry by foreign nationals travelling from China — the original epicentre of the outbreak — to the US. Only a president has the authority to do that.

Limits of president’s power

Both the public health and the economic health of the country are, to a large degree, in the hands of all governments — federal, state and local.

State governors estimate both their economic and health-supply needs in the battle against the virus and make demands on the federal government for funds and the co-ordination of scarce supplies of equipment — but again, the president is often not the decisive player.

Sometimes that’s by choice. Trump has told states to look after themselves in the marketplace for medical equipment.

“Respirators, ventilators, all of the equipment — try getting it yourselves,” he reportedly told governors in a conference call last month.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference last Tuesday against a backdrop of medical supplies at the Jacob Javits Center that will house a temporary hospital in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Cuomo has received widespread praise for his handling of the health crisis in New York. He has called on the federal government to play a leading in procuring medical supplies and equipment. (John Minchillo/The Associated Press)

And the states complain that this essentially puts them in a bidding war with each other for equipment the federal government could buy and distribute.

Sometimes when the president does want to take charge he’s overruled by lawmakers.

Take, for example, his initial emergency funding plan a few weeks ago.

Trump proposed to Congress a $ 2.5-billion bill to combat the coronavirus. Congress came back to him with a rewritten bill for more than $ 8 billion instead.

“I’ll take it,” Trump said, and, really, how could he not? But the message was clear: Congress wouldn’t just rubber-stamp urgent funds based on the president’s say-so. It recalculated the scope of the emergency and decided for itself what was needed. 

And from that eventually followed the $ 2-trillion relief package negotiated by the White House, House Democrats and Senate Republicans. A key part of the bill gives Congress oversight of how the money is spent, something the White House had resisted in the hope it could dole out some of the money as it pleased. Congress didn’t allow that.

A man wears a face mask while the USNS Comfort and New York’s Empire State Building are seen from Weehawken, N.J. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

Most health services are provided at the state and local level, but as commander-in-chief, Trump has sent a hospital ship to New York and another to Los Angeles. Again, a unique authority put into action by the president.

He has also, after much urging from governors, used the Defence Production Act. The act gives the president power to direct private companies to manufacture whatever is needed. Trump used it last week to order General Motors to speed up production of the ventilators used at hospitals. GM says it was already doing the best it could.

In some ways, the most powerful tool of the presidency is what President Theodore Roosevelt dubbed the bully pulpit — the platform of the office itself. A president’s voice is the loudest and most influential in the country. It can excite people and inspire them to action; it can calm people and bring them together; it can lead a national conversation. It can also fail to do any of that.

At the moment, Trump is cautioning Americans, telling them the worst is yet to come and that limiting the COVID-19 death toll in the U.S. to 100,000 might be a win.

“We’re going to go through a very tough two weeks,” he said at Tuesday’s briefing.

But the record tells an even grimmer story of Trump downplaying the coronavirus threat in the U.S., declaring the outbreak all but over before it had really begun, and dismissing contrary views as a “hoax.”

It is a record that suggests precious time was squandered.

His opponents have already strung together clips of Trump’s bursts of misinformation and posted them online as election-style ads. They will presumably play them from now until November.

And no, Trump doesn’t have the power to stop that either.

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