Patch Press Release
EXCLUSIVE OP-ED: President Joe Biden shares his national strategy to fight COVID-19 with Patch readers.
Written by President Joe Biden, Patch Community Contributor
We've been in the teeth of the COVID-19 pandemic for nearly a year now. Schools closed. Businesses closed. Millions of Americans infected and hospitalized, and tragically over 480,000 of our fellow Americans have lost their lives, and counting.
Overcoming this pandemic must be our top priority as a nation. And while scientists have come through for us by developing safe and effective vaccines in record time, we need more than just a medical miracle to come out of this pandemic. We need to pull off a manufacturing and logistical miracle, too. That's why my Administration hit the ground running on day one with a plan to purchase an adequate vaccine supply, work with providers to ramp up production, set up vaccine centers across the country, and mobilize a massive effort to administer shots in every community.
As a result, we are now on track to exceed our goal of administering 100 million shots in my first 100 days in office. We've increased vaccine supply to states by over 50 percent since my Administration began. We've seen the 7-day rolling average of vaccinations increase from 892,000 shots per day when I took office to 1.7 million shots per day in just four weeks. And where we were hundreds of millions of doses short on supply just one month ago, we're now on track to have enough supply for 300 million Americans by the end of July.
You can check out our national strategy here to see for yourself how we plan to bring an end to this crisis, but here are the key points.
We're increasing the supply and getting more vaccines out to states, tribes, and territories more quickly.
We're mobilizing more vaccinators, including retired doctors and nurses, and federal medical personnel that we use in disaster relief efforts.
We're creating more places where people can get vaccinated – new mass vaccinations sites at stadiums, community centers, and large parking lots across the country, and sending vaccines to pharmacies and community health centers in the hardest-hit and most underserved parts of America to ensure that the vaccine is administered equitably. That wasn't happening before; now it is.
There's a lot more work to do, and it'll take time to get back to normal. And as we make progress every day, I know people have a lot of questions and a lot of worry. That's why the most important part of our plan to beat this pandemic is to be honest about our successes and our setbacks. To that end, we want to make sure you hear directly from the experts, who can answer some of the most commonly asked questions about the vaccines.
Take a look:
1. When will I able to be vaccinated?
The short, probably unsatisfying answer is that it's going to vary state-by-state. We are working to vaccinate as many Americans as possible as quickly as possible, moving every day to increase the available vaccine supply, increase the number of places where people can get vaccinated, and increase the number of people available to administer vaccines. Right now, only prioritized populations can receive the vaccine. Check the vaccine website in your state to see if you're eligible. We purchased enough vaccine to have supply for every adult in the United States by the end of July, but the speed with which we can administer those vaccines will come down to how robust our vaccination program is. That's why there's another $20 billion for vaccine distribution in the American Rescue Plan.
– Jeff Zients, Coordinator, COVID-19 Response Team
2. Who's actually paying for the vaccines? Do they cost anything?
I want to be very clear: no one can be denied a vaccine because they can't afford it. That's true now, and it will be later. Equity is one of the key planks of our COVID strategy – we want to prevent disparities based on race, gender or income, and making the vaccine free is key to that. Right now, vaccine providers can charge administration fees, which are usually paid for by your insurance. If you don't have insurance, those fees are currently paid for by a special fund that is probably more technical than you're interested in. The upshot is that someone pays for the fees, and it's not you. However, the American Rescue Plan, if passed by Congress, has funds to ensure the vaccine is free for everyone – whether you have insurance or not.
– Andy Slavitt, Senior Advisor, COVID-19 Response Team
3. When I'm vaccinated, why can't I stop wearing a mask? And is it safe to be around my elderly parents once they're vaccinated?
Even if you've received both doses of vaccine, you need to continue to wear a mask and practice social distancing. While the vaccine is extremely effective at preventing you from getting sick from the disease, it is not yet clear that it's effective at stopping transmission of the disease. What that means is that you might spread COVID-19, even after you've been vaccinated. So, it's critical that you continue to wear a mask and social distance when in public or in your home with others that don't live with you – even when you're around others who have been vaccinated. We must all do our part to protect each other, and as the science matures and we learn more, we will provide information to the public on lessening requirements for people who have been fully vaccinated. For example, this past week, CDC issued new guidance that states people who have been fully vaccinated and meet certain criteria are no longer required to quarantine following an exposure to someone with COVID-19.
– Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director, CDC
4. Why do some vaccines require one dose but others require two? Do they work the same?
Both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are messenger RNA – or mRNA – vaccines that have been shown to be 94% to 95% efficacious is preventing symptomatic disease. They contain genetic material designed to generate a protein called the "spike" protein found on the surface of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The immune system recognizes the spike protein as part of the virus and mounts a robust immune response that protects against the virus. To be most effective, both of these vaccines require two shots. Multiple-dose vaccinations are not a new concept; for example, the vaccines for shingles, HPV, and hepatitis B also require multiple vaccinations.
The Janssen COVID-19 vaccine requires only a single shot and uses a harmless human adenovirus to express the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. The immune system recognizes the spike protein as part of the virus and launches an immune response that protects against the virus. That vaccine was found to be 85% effective at preventing severe COVID-19 and 100% effective at preventing death. The FDA is currently reviewing data on the Janssen vaccine to determine whether it should be authorized for emergency use in the United States.
The bottom line is that while the vaccines may use different technologies to teach the human immune system to recognize SARS-CoV-2, any authorized COVID-19 vaccine will be highly effective at preventing one from getting sick or dying from COVID-19. And so, regardless of whether it is a two-dose vaccine or a single-dose vaccine, get vaccinated as soon as any vaccine becomes available to you to protect against COVID-19.
– Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Advisor to the President
5. How are you making sure that these vaccines are being delivered fairly?
Equity underpins our entire pandemic response. The fact is that people of color, low-income communities, rural communities, and frontline workers are disproportionately impacted by this pandemic, so we need to make sure that they are given access to this vaccine at proportionate rates. That's why we're investing in community vaccination sites and mobile clinics, and distributing vaccines directly to pharmacies and community health centers in under-served communities. We want to bring the vaccine to where people are. It's going to take investments, but we believe we can deliver this vaccine both widely and fairly.
– Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, Chair, COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force
6. Should I be worried about these new variants? Can we stop them?
Emerging variants appear to spread more easily and may lead to an increase in cases; both are reasons for concern. Fortunately, the science to date suggests that the same prevention actions apply, but we must remain vigilant and do our part. This includes wearing a well-fitting mask that completely covers your nose and mouth, social distancing when around others who don't live with you, and avoiding travel, crowds, and poorly ventilated spaces. New variants underscore something critical: we must continue to reduce the number of COVID-19 cases in our communities. The more virus in the community, the more opportunity for new variants to emerge and spread. The best way to stop mutations is to vaccinate as much of the public as quickly as possible along with practicing prevention actions like mask wearing and social distancing. The more people we get vaccinated, the less likely these variants are to spread, which is among the very reasons we have laid out a robust vaccination plan.
– Dr. Walensky
7. When will we get our stimulus checks?
Right now, the House is negotiating the pieces of the American Rescue Plan package in their committees. After that, a similar process will happen in the Senate. Once that's done, the President is looking forward to signing it, and a few weeks following, people will begin receiving their stimulus checks.
– David Kamin, Deputy Director, National Economic Council
8. Has anything really changed in the last four weeks?
A lot has changed.
First, for the first time since the pandemic began, we have a comprehensive, whole of government national strategy to tackle this crisis. One that puts the full resources of the federal government to work with those on the ground fighting this pandemic. And one that puts equity at the center to ensure that our communities of color, our rural neighbors, those living with disabilities and seniors are not left behind in our efforts.
We are getting more shots in arms by allowing more people to get vaccinated for free, creating more places for people to get vaccinated, mobilizing more people to get shots in arms, and increasing vaccine supply.
We are for the first time ever standing up federally run mass vaccination sites that can do over 30,000 shots a week in our most disadvantaged neighborhoods. We have deployed mobile clinics and are making vaccines available in local pharmacies to reach the hardest hit communities.
We've authorized the use of the Defense Production Act to help manufacture more vaccines and vaccination supplies, which is one of the reasons why we're making progress on getting more people vaccinated every day. In fact, we've already increased supply to states by over 28 percent and by the end of July, we will have enough vaccine supply for every American adult.
We're protecting travelers by requiring masks on public transportation including planes, trains, and buses. We're also requiring testing for all incoming international travelers as well as self-quarantine and testing upon arrival.
For the first time in a year-long pandemic, we have given schools the scientific guidance they need to safely reopen and stay open.
We're not kidding ourselves: we have a lot of work still to do. But we're already seeing progress and we're going to keep working until we put this pandemic behind us.
– Natalie Quillian, Deputy Coordinator, COVID-19 Response Team
9. I'm waiting to see how the vaccine works. Has there been any new data since the study?
Both the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, which are authorized for emergency use in the United States, are highly effective (94%-95%) at preventing symptomatic COVID-19. As time goes on, we will learn how long that protective effect lasts. The most common side effects after vaccination have included injection site pain, fatigue, headache, muscle and joint pain, and some have reported running a fever. These side effects are more common after the second dose, and younger adults, who have more robust immune systems, have reported more side effects than older adults. Typically, these side effects resolve after a day or two. All the data so far indicate that that the vaccines are highly effective and that any serious side effects are very rare.
With the emergence by mutation of new variants of SARS-CoV-2, we are working to determine how the authorized vaccines protect against those variants. So far, the evidence suggests that both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines provide significant protection against the B.1.1.7 variant that first emerged in the United Kingdom and perhaps a somewhat reduced level of protection against the B.1.351 variant that first appeared in the Republic of South Africa. We are continuing to analyze the effects of the variants on the effectiveness of the vaccines to determine if future changes to the products will be needed to keep up with the evolution of the virus.
– Dr. Fauci
10. When do things go back to normal?
We can get back to some degree of normality, but it's going to take all of us working together to do our part – wearing well-fitting masks, social distancing, and getting vaccinated when it's your turn. The fact of the matter is that manufacturing, distributing, and administering the vaccine is going to be a herculean challenge. We've secured enough doses so that by the end of July, everyone who wants a vaccine will be able to get it. And, I'm pushing my team to be as aggressive as possible.
It's also why my American Rescue Plan is so critical. We have to mount a national vaccination program up to the scale of the challenge we face.
We have all got to do our part and pitch in to end this virus. We still need you to social distance, wear a mask, and get yourself and your loved ones vaccinated. The only way out is through. And the only way through is together.
There's simply nothing more important than getting the resources we need to vaccinate people in this country as quickly as possible. We're not going to get our economy back in shape and millions of people back to work and our schools and businesses fully reopened until we beat this virus.
We're in a national emergency. This will be one of the most difficult operational challenges we have ever undertaken as a nation. We have to stay vigilant. We have to stay focused. And we have to remember who we are: The United States of America. We have the resources. We just have to choose to use them.
We can do this.
So, thank you very much for your patience. We're going to get this done. And I'll always be open and honest about exactly where we are on this — you can count on that.
Keep the faith,