President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., racing against a surge in coronavirus cases and the emergence of a new variant that could worsen the crisis, is planning a vaccination offensive that calls for greatly expanding access to the vaccine while using a wartime law to increase production.
“We remain in a very dark winter,” Mr. Biden told Americans in a speech in Wilmington, Del., on Friday. “The honest truth is this: Things will get worse before they get better.”
But he also tried to offer hope for an end to a pandemic that has taken more than 390,000 American lives and frayed the country’s economic and social fabric.
Mr. Biden pledged to increase vaccination availability in pharmacies, build mobile clinics to get vaccines to underserved rural and urban communities, and encourage states to expand vaccine eligibility to people 65 and older. He also vowed to make racial equity a priority in fighting a virus that has disproportionately infected and killed people of color.
The president-elect’s expansive vision is colliding with a sobering reality: With only two federally authorized vaccines, supplies will be scarce for the next several months. Mr. Biden is clearly prepared to assert a role for the federal government that President Trump refused to embrace, using the crisis to rebuild the nation’s public health services and Washington’s money to hire a new health work force and deploy the National Guard. But many of his bold promises will be difficult to realize.
“It won’t mean that everyone in this group will get vaccinated immediately, as the supply is not where it needs to be,” he acknowledged. But as new doses become available, he promised, “we’ll reach more people who need them.”
The vaccine distribution plan comes one day after Mr. Biden proposed a $1.9 trillion rescue package to combat the economic downturn and the Covid-19 crisis, including a $20 billion “national vaccine program.” The president-elect has said repeatedly that he intends to get “100 million Covid vaccine shots into the arms of the American people” by his 100th day in office.