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Biden’s COVID-19 Vaccine Plan Expands Priority Groups and Vaccination Sites

Joe Biden announces COVID vaccination plan

Alex Wong / Staff / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Joe Biden's COVID-19 vaccination plan calls for an expansion of the priority groups originally established by the CDC.
  • A commitment to increased vaccine production will be necessary to get more high-priority people vaccinated.
  • Federal resources like FEMA will aid in vaccine distribution at the state level, since not all states have the same ability to quickly get people vaccinated.

On Friday, January 15, President-elect Joe Biden laid out his COVID-19 vaccination plan for the U.S., emphasizing the need to act quickly.  

“The COVID-19 pandemic is getting worse by the day; more people are hospitalized with [the virus] than ever before, the death rate is up almost 20%, and we’re nearing 400,000 deaths total,” the President-elect said in remarks he made in Wilmington, Delaware, adding that “we are woefully behind on vaccinating the U.S. population.”

The plan is to work on a “whole-of-society” effort that mobilizes every resource available across public and private sectors.

Biden Plans To Expand Who Is Currently Eligible For the Vaccine

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended priority groups for vaccination last December, placing healthcare workers and long term care facility residents in phase 1A. While the original priority groups made sense in theory, Biden says in practice, they’ve slowed vaccine distribution. 

“The process of establishing priority groups was driven by science…[but] the implementation has been too rigid and confusing,” Biden said. “We now see doses of vaccines sitting in freezers. unused, while people who want the vaccine cannot get it.” 

According to the CDC, as of January 15, 31 million doses of vaccine had been released, but only 12 million distributed.

Biden is encouraging states to extend vaccine eligibility to frontline essential workers like teachers, first responders, grocery store employees, and anyone who is 65 and older. “It won’t mean that everyone in these groups will get vaccinated immediately, as supply is not where it needs to be,” he said. “But it will mean that as vaccines become available, they will reach more people who need them.”

Aren’t People 65 and Older Already Eligible? 

On January 12, outgoing Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Alex Azar recommended that states begin vaccinating people age 65 and older, as well as younger people who have health conditions that put them at risk for severe COVID-19. Azar also said that the federal government would be releasing additional supplies of vaccine to help facilitate this recommendation. However, there is virtually no vaccine left in the stockpile to release.

After Azar’s announcement, some state governors announced expanded eligibility before learning they would not be getting additional vaccine supplies, and many have had to tell citizens that there will still be a long wait. In Oregon, for example, Governor Kate Brown said she was “shocked and appalled that [the Trump Administration] set an expectation on which they could not deliver, with such grave consequences.”

As a result, it will be essential for the Biden administration to facilitate the ramp up of vaccine production. 

What Else Does Biden’s Vaccination Plan Include? 

More Vaccination Sites

Biden plans to rely on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Guard to set up federally-supported community vaccination centers, since not all states are able to roll out vaccine programs at a fast enough rate. 

Vaccines will also be made widely-available in pharmacies, since 90% of Americans live within five miles of a pharmacy.

To make good on a promise of equity throughout the vaccination process, Biden plans to launch mobile vaccination clinics to reach underserved urban areas and rural communities. His team also plans to target high-risk individuals living in homeless shelters, jails, and institutions for the intellectually and developmentally disabled. 

COVID-19 vaccines will not come with any out-of-pocket costs.

Enhanced Vaccine Production

If needed, Biden says he will rely on the Defense Production Act (DPA) to prioritize supplies that can cause bottlenecks in vaccine production and administration, including glass vials, stoppers, syringes, needles, refrigeration, transportation, and storage facilities.

Reliable Vaccine Supply Data 

Biden said his administration plans to provide states with “actionable data on vaccine allocation timelines and delivery.”  

The plan commits to releasing “the vast majority of the vaccines when they are available, so more people can get vaccinated quickly, while still retaining a small reserve for any unforeseen shortages or delays.”

To ensure availability and timeliness of second doses for vaccines that require two shots, the Biden administration will monitor development, production, and release of vaccines, and use the DPA as needed to ensure adequate supply.

More Personnel to Vaccinate  

The Biden administration plans to expand the workforce that can administer vaccines, including retired health professionals. 

The plan will also pay for 100,000 additional public health workers for jobs such as vaccine public education and contact tracing. The intention is for those new staffers to continue on in public health jobs even after the crisis is over to help improve quality of care for underserved and low-income communities. 

Addressing Vaccine Hesitancy 

The federal government plans to launch a public education campaign aimed at addressing vaccine hesitancy and building trust in local communities.

Biden said that transparency will be a key part of the vaccination plan. “We will always be honest and transparent about where we stand—both the good news and the bad,” he said. “We will make sure that state and local officials know how much supply they are getting and when to expect it so they can plan.”

 

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Article Sources
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  1. Biden-Harris Transition. Fact sheet: president-elect Biden outlines COVID-19 vaccination plan. Updated January 15, 2021.

  2. ACIP COVID-19 Vaccines Work Group. Phased allocation of COVID-19 vaccines. Updated December 20, 2020.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 vaccines. Updated January 15, 2021.

  4. Health and Human Services. Remarks at Operation Warp Speed briefing: Alex M Azar II. Updated January 12, 2021.

  5. State of Oregon Newsroom. Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine plan expands priority groups and vaccination sites. Updated January 15, 2021.

  6. Kelling SE. Exploring accessibility of community pharmacy services. Inov Pharm. 2015;6(3).

  7. Biden-Harris Transition. Remarks as prepared for delivery by president-elect Joe Biden on the COVID-19 vaccine plan in Wilmington, Delaware. Updated January 15, 2021.