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Vaccinations hit record as officials squabble over blame

Updated February 17, 2021 - 5:42 pm

WASHINGTON — The White House said Wednesday that a record 13.5 million coronavirus inoculations were administered this week, one day after President Joe Biden said he expects there will be enough shots to vaccinate the entire country by July.

Biden and others in his administration have pointed fingers at former President Donald Trump for problems dispensing the shots. During a CNN Town Hall Tuesday, Biden said that there were “only 50 million doses” when he took office.

“I mean, there was nothing in the refrigerator, figuratively and literally speaking, and there were 10 million doses a day that were available,” he said.

Vice President Kamala Harris told Axios something similar.

“There was no national strategy or plan for vaccinations,” she said. “We were leaving it to the states and local leaders to try and figure it out. And so in many ways, we’re starting from scratch on something that’s been raging for almost an entire year.”

But that seemingly contradicts what National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Jan. 21: “We certainly are not starting from scratch because there is activity going on in the distribution.”

Fact checking timelines

In March, when Trump predicted there would be a vaccine available in three or four months, experts scoffed at the notion that a vaccine could be developed within a year — if at all.

At the time, Fauci said it would take 12 to 18 months before a vaccine might be available, and there was no guarantee it would be effective.

“They been looking for an AIDS vaccine for 30 years and don’t have one,” renowned bioethicist Arthur Caplan cautioned at the time.

Trump nonetheless launched Operation Warp Speed, his plan to develop, manufacture and distribute Food and Drug Administration-approved vaccines before the end of the year. While Trump said some 20 million doses would be administered by year’s end, only 14 million doses were delivered in 2020.

Evaluating Harris’ remarks, Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler wrote, “A large part of how you look at this depends on your definition of “plan” or “starting from scratch.”

Noting that under Trump, officials had reached a seven-day average of administering 980,00o shots, Kessler gave Harris “two Pinocchios,” which means her remarks included “significant omissions and/or exaggerations. Some factual error may be involved but not necessarily.”

In January, Politifact rated White House chief of staff Ron Klain’s assertion “mostly false,” after he said the Biden administration inherited a vaccine distribution plan that “particularly outside of nursing homes and hospitals out into the community as a whole, did not really exist when we came into the White House.”

Mixed reviews

An source who worked on the Trump task force and would only speak on background gave the Trump effort mixed reviews.

“So I think it was pretty harsh to say there was no plan and nothing in the fridge,” the source said, but Trump left too much to states and “dropped the ball” on the number of doses the administration contracted to purchase. He added he was pleased to see the Biden administration bought an extra 200 million doses from Moderna and Pfizer.

Since the two FDA-approved vaccines require two shots per person, the expected total of 600 million doses could inoculate some 300 out of 330 million Americans, enough for everyone in the country who wants to get the vaccine.

A Kaiser Family Foundation survey in late January found 6 percent of Americans had been vaccinated, 41 percent wanted to be vaccinated as soon as possible, 31 percent want to wait to see how the shots work, 7 percent will get inoculated only if required and 13 percent who said they definitely do not want to be vaccinated.

The 13.5 million shots in arms this week reflects a 57 percent boost in distribution during the first four weeks of the Biden-Harris administration.

Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.

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