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'Move heaven and earth': President-elect Joe Biden's COVID-19 plan calls for 100 million shots in first 100 days

Ken Alltucker
USA TODAY

President-elect Joe Biden wants Americans to get 100 million COVID-19 vaccine shots during the first 100 days of his administration, a lofty goal to reverse a slow start to the nation's vaccine rollout.

Biden offered few details on how his administration would achieve the ambitious timeline during a Thursday night speech on his proposed $1.9 trillion economic recovery package. He plans to share more details Friday on his vaccine plan.

"This will be one of the most challenging operational efforts we’ve ever undertaken as a nation," Biden said. "We’ll have to move heaven and earth to get more people vaccinated, to create more places for them to get vaccinated, to mobilize more medical teams to get shots in peoples’ arms."

Biden proposes $20 billion for a national vaccination program with states, local government and tribes and will include community vaccination centers and mobile vaccination units to reach remote areas. 

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The plan also calls for hiring 100,000 public health workers in roles such as vaccine outreach and contact tracing. Those newly-hired workers would move into broader public health roles in low-income and underserved communities.

Biden also wants to invest $50 billion to expand testing for coronavirus – the money would be used to purchase rapid tests, expand lab capacity and aid school and local government testing programs.

Despite much fanfare and hope the vaccines would bring a close to the pandemic, immunization has started slowly. In December, the Food and Drug Administration authorized two vaccines in a two-dose regimen, with the Pfizer-BioNTech doses given 21 days apart and Moderna's 28 days apart.

Registered nurse Lindsey Meyer prepares to administer the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday at the Davis County Legacy Center in Farmington, Utah.

Of 30.6 million doses distributed as of Thursday, more than 11.1 million have been administered, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Last Friday, Biden’s transition team announced plans to prioritize the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, getting as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible.

The Biden camp said too many people were dying during the darkest days of the pandemic to keep second doses in reserve to guarantee access later.  Instead, they want to get shots into more arms, then follow up with second doses later as manufacturing ramps up.

On Tuesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the government would release all available vaccine and urged states to expand vaccinations to people 65 and older and young adults with medical conditions that put them at higher risk for complications from COVID-19. He said restrictions by states on who is eligible to get the vaccine slowed access.

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Federal officials had been keeping vaccine in reserve to guarantee second doses but Azar said increased vaccine supply and the pace of manufacturing will ensure everyone who gets a first dose will get a second dose on schedule.

Azar also announced a change in dose allocation. Instead of allocating vaccines based on the number of adults in each state, the HHS secretary said states will receive vaccines based on how quickly shots are administered, and their number of people 65 and older. 

This new allocation system will go into effect in two weeks to give states time to prepare, Azar said Tuesday.  

U.S. officials also are asking states to expand the locations where people can be vaccinated by adding community health centers, pharmacies and mass vaccination sites.

He said the federal government will deploy teams to support states doing mass vaccinations efforts. The government has partnered with pharmacy chains such as Walgreens and CVS and is ready to ship vaccine to their locations.

Contributing: Adrianna Rodriguez, USA TODAY