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Biden moves up vaccine timeline in the U.S., vows to expand global supplies

President Biden moved up the timeline for vaccine allocation Thursday by ordering all states, tribes and territories to make every U.S. adult eligible for the COVID vaccines by May 1. And on Friday, he also vowed to expand the vaccine supply globally in an unprecedented meeting with world leaders from India, Japan and Australia. Nick Schifrin and William Brangham join Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Biden moved up the timeline last night for vaccine allocation by ordering all states, tribes and territories to make all adults eligible for the vaccine by May 1. That, he said, could allow for smaller gatherings by the Fourth of July.

    But it means that vaccine distribution will have to ramp up even further. Mr. Biden also vowed this morning to expand vaccine supply globally during an unprecedented meeting of world leaders.

    William Brangham and Nick Schifrin are here now to break it down.

    So, hello to both of you.

    And, William, I'm going to begin with you.

    Give us a sense of where we are with vaccine distribution now in the United States, a sense of the progress that's been made.

  • William Brangham:

    Judy, we're at about 81, 82 million shots that have been administered so far. And if you remember, the president promised 100 million shots within his first 100 days. It looks like he's certainly going to hit that deadline.

    And, as you mentioned last night, as we all heard, he said that eligibility for all adults should be opened up by May 1. And this comes from the administration's confidence that they — we are suddenly going to have a large supply of vaccines in our hands. And then the issue, of course, as we have seen thus far, is, how do we get those out of vials and into people's arms?

    And we are still struggling — although the pace is getting better, we are still struggling with this issue of getting people their appointments. We have seen a lots of confusion with Web sites and registrations. And there's been still sort of gum in the works, but the pace is definitely picking up.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Tell us, William, what has the administration been doing to try to speed things up?

  • William Brangham:

    Well, there's a lot of money in the COVID relief bill that was just signed into law.

    And that bill is going to allow a bunch of new things. Today, the COVID administration task force announced that vaccines will be going to close to more than 700 more community health centers. Vaccines will also be made available at another 20,000 pharmacies. The administration said they'd also double the number of federally run mass vaccination centers.

    This is everything from these big stadiums, to drive-through shots, to more mobile clinics that travel around the country. And they're also going to expand the pool of vaccinators, the people who are eligible to actually administer these shots.

    And the president promised a new Web site last night too to help coordinate some of these sort of confusing, Byzantine process that people have been navigating.

    The question then comes, of course, if we stay at our current pace, when does the country reach herd immunity? When do enough people have vaccines that we really feel confident that this pandemic is getting behind us?

    And at the current pace of about two million doses being administered every day — again, there's lots of caveats to this — but we could be close to 75, 80 percent of the population being vaccinated by mid to late summer. Again, lots of caveats. There's other things that could interrupt that process, but mid to late summer, we could achieve something close to herd immunity.

    The hope is then that, if we get to that point, that many other nations around the world would hope that the U.S. would start sharing its supply of surplus vaccine with them.

    Today, the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, admitted that there were countries had been asking the U.S. for that extra supply. But until Americans were fully vaccinated, she said they have not been sharing anything so far.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, let's pick up on that.

    Nick, let's look globally. Tell us what the world leaders announced today.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Today was the first leaders summit of the Quad, President Biden on one side of the room, prime ministers of Japan, India and Australia on big screens.

    And their main announcement, a coordinated investment to make a billion additional vaccines by next year. Those vaccines will be manufactured in India, which is already a leading manufacturer. And it will be paid for by the U.S. and Japan. And they will use Australian logistics to distribute those vaccines.

    And that will help accelerate what every global health expert says, and Dr. Tedros, the director general of the World Health Organization, repeated today. And that is the pandemic will not be over until everyone everywhere is vaccinated.

  • Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus:

    We're all interdependent. And no country can simply vaccinate its way out of this pandemic. We cannot end the pandemic anywhere unless we end it everywhere.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Another step to accomplish that goal, Judy, William mentioned that the White House finally admitted today it had blocked requests to export vaccines.

    U.S. officials tell me that they will begin to export vaccines this summer, after the entire United States is vaccinated, not only because the administration has purchased more vaccines, but also the Trump administration's Warp Speed program increase the manufacturing capacity inside the United States.

    Now, I talked to a senior official close to the COVAX vaccine group earlier today. And he said that this kind of high-income country investment in vaccine distribution and development is the only way this pandemic will end.

    But he said he was disappointed that the Biden team had declined these export requests. And he said the U.S. could have and should have done more. I talked to other humanitarian officials who urged Biden to go further, to push companies to give up intellectual property rights and also to focus not only on Asia, but Africa.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Nick, do we know where these vaccines announced today by these leaders are going to be distributed?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The Quad said that the vaccines were for the world, but the clear focus according, to senior U.S. and Quad officials I spoke to today, is the Indo-Pacific. That is from India to the Pacific Ocean.

    And the hub for production will be India, which is already exporting millions of vaccines, as India's ambassador to Washington, Taranjit Singh Sandhu told me earlier today.

  • Taranjit Singh Sandhu:

    India has already opened its door. Many have called India the pharmacy of the world. And we have believed in sharing our capabilities. And you are again aware that India's robust private sector had been stepping in and expanding capacity to address this challenge.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Quad officials do not say this out loud, but independent experts point out that the context for this vaccine diplomacy, Judy, is countering Beijing.

    Southeast Asia is where Beijing has focused its vaccine diplomacy efforts. And a billion vaccines, they point out, is enough to achieve herd immunity for the entire region.

    And the Biden administration, according to the experts I talk to, trying to send a message to Beijing, not only with today, but also these trips coming up, Judy, secretary of defense, secretary of state going not only to East Asia next week, but also to India.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Such important reporting.

    Nick Schifrin, William Brangham, thank you both.

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