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How the Biden administration is trying to ramp up the pace of vaccinations

About 1.5 million people in the U.S. are getting a shot of the COVID vaccine each day, and about 10 percent of Americans have received at least one dose so far. But the pace and the supply remain far too low. Andy Slavitt, a White House senior adviser on the COVID-19 response who has been at the center of the Biden administration's efforts to increase those numbers, joins Amna Nawaz to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The White House said today that the U.S. is on track to meet President Biden's pledge of 100 million COVID-19 vaccinations in his first 100 days.

    But, as Amna Nawaz reports, demand is greater than the federal supply, frustration is building, and questions about and the equity of vaccine distribution persist.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That's right, Judy.

    About 10 percent of the country has so far gotten at least one dose of the COVID vaccine, and about 1.5 million Americans are now getting a shot every day. But the pace and the supply of vaccinations remain low.

    Andy Slavitt has been at the center of the Biden administration's efforts to increase those numbers. He's a White House senior adviser on the COVID-19 response. And he joins me now.

    Andy Slavitt, welcome back to the "NewsHour." And thank you for making the time.

    I want to begin by asking you about the registration process. To sign up to get those vaccines is a bit of a Hunger Games situation going on. Right? If you can afford a smartphone and the time to sit and refresh your browser all the time, if you can afford to, you can get one of those slots.

    Is there a federal fix to that process in the works, or is this just the way it is?

  • Andy Slavitt:

    Hi, Amna. Thank you for having me on the show.

    And you're right. There's a couple of things we're concerned about right now. One is that, for the next little while, we will be in an undersupply situation. And it's — that won't be the case forever, but that will be the case for the next at least few weeks, if not a couple of months.

    And while that's happened, one of the things that we are very worried about is people with the savvy and the resources, whether it's their ability to smile and dial or use the Internet, or they have kids, they have transportation, but there are people who are clamoring for these vaccines, and we are worried that they will be able to get ahead of the people who are, quite frankly, at greater risk, the people in communities of color and low-income people, people who are essential workers.

    So, we have a big effort, as you know and as you talked about, to make sure we do things to combat that. One of those things is, we announced yesterday, is, we're going to be distributing vaccines in federally qualified health centers, community health centers, setting up mobile clinics.

    And we have just announced today five more federally funded clinics in low-income neighborhoods and low-income communities. And we're asking people also to reserve appointments for the people who live in these communities and not allow people to swoop in.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    I think that's probably, folks would agree, a lot to ask people, right?

    Everyone is clamoring. Everyone who's eligible is just trying to get a slot where they can.

    But you mentioned getting the vaccine directly to those community health centers. Those serve tens of millions of poor Americans, communities of color. That will begin next week.

    But when you look at where the vaccines are going so far, I just want to point out to people, there's limited data. A CDC report has shown that the federal government has only gathered race and ethnicity center for 52 percent of the people vaccinated so far. That's just over half.

    And the limited data that exists show it has gone overwhelmingly to white Americans. So, even if you put the vaccine into these community health centers, as you say, how do you make sure people from wealthy communities don't just come in and get those slots, especially if you're not tracking right now?

  • Andy Slavitt:

    Well, I will give you an example.

    In North Carolina, there was an event at Panthers' stadium, and the people who put on the event, including Atrium Hospital, Honeywell, the state of North Carolina, they reserved appointments for people in communities of color early in the morning, and they were — they located themselves on a bus line and made sure there was adequate transportation.

    If people make the effort — and those folks are writing up a playbook on how they did it, because they oversampled. They had twice as much participation from communities of color than had been going on — than was the state's population.

    But the key here is, you have to make an effort, because you said it exactly right. If you do nothing, then you can just assume and you need to just assume that you're going — your distribution is going to be inequitable.

    So, when I talked about reserving appointment times, it wasn't that I was asking individuals. We have been talking to pharmacies. We have been talking to hospitals. We have been talking to others who have vaccine supply. And what we're suggesting to them is that they have to make sure that, if they want to continue to get increase in doses, they're not only efficiently moving out vaccines, but also equitably.

    And over time, the places that are going to get more and more doses are places that are both efficient and equitable.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, I hear you saying you are suggesting to states and pharmacies that they put those tracking mechanisms into place.

    But let me ask you about the supply, because the Biden administration has been able to increase the supply that's going to states. The state leaders we talk to say they welcome everything they can get, but they could be doing more.

    When you look at the map across the country right now, every state right now, except for Kansas, has administered at least 60 percent of the allocated vaccine. Ten states have already administered more than 75 percent of their vaccines. And some folks say they could be doing or three or four or five-X times what they're doing now.

    So, you talk to the pharma companies regularly. When is that supply going to meet the capacity to deliver?

  • Andy Slavitt:

    Yes. And they can.

    And I think, for quite a while, we will be able to get the vaccines more and more efficiently to people, as we get — as we increase that supply. So far, we have been here three weeks. And, as you said, we have increased the vaccinations going to states by 28 percent. That doesn't count the additional vaccine that they're able to get out of the Pfizer tubes, now that we have enclosed the ability to get that sixth dose that people may have heard about out.

    We have also just started this week the retail pharmacy program. We're starting the federally qualified health center program and these community health clinics.

    So, we are getting both more places, more vaccinators and more vaccines. I think we will see over the next weeks us, we feel confident, be able to continue to take that up.

    And we will get to take that up more and more. And I think, at some point, we will be out of the situation where we have people chasing vaccines, and we will be into a situation — it's hard to imagine today — but where vaccines are chasing people, and we will be talking about people who are unsure if they want to take the vaccine.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Andy Slavitt, if I can — and I'm sorry — I have a few seconds left.

    When will that be? When will we have more vaccine than we need?

  • Andy Slavitt:

    I think, over the spring, we will be — I expect most states will be able to invite people from across the state to come in and get vaccines.

    And I think, by the end of the summer, we believe we will have enough supply to get all Americans vaccinated. And we're going to do everything we can to beat that, but we're not going to overpromise things that we haven't been able to do yet.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Andy Slavitt, senior adviser to the White House COVID-19 task force, thank you so much for being with us.

  • Andy Slavitt:

    Thanks for having me, Amna.

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