The first known U.S. case of a highly infectious coronavirus variant was detected in Colorado on Tuesday, and President-elect Joe Biden said that it could take years for most Americans to be vaccinated for the virus at current distribution rates.
Biden's prediction of a grim winter appeared aimed at lowering public expectations that the pandemic will be over soon after he takes office on Jan. 20, while also sending a message to Congress that his new administration wants to significantly increase spending to expedite vaccine distribution, expand testing and provide funding to states to help reopen schools.
Biden, a Democrat, said some 2 million people have been vaccinated, well short of the 20 million that outgoing Republican President Donald Trump had promised by the end of the year. Biden defeated Trump in a November election.
"As I long feared and warned, the effort to distribute and administer the vaccine is not progressing as it should," the Democrat added. At the current rate, "it's going to take years, not months, to vaccinate the American people," Biden said in Wilmington, Delaware.
Shortly after his remarks, Colorado's Governor Jared Polis announced on Twitter that his state had discovered a case of a highly infectious coronavirus variant B.1.1.7 first detected in the United Kingdom.
Frequently Asked Questions
A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.
There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.
Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.
Biden's goal of ensuring that 100 million shots are administered by the end of his 100th day in office would mean "ramping up five to six times the current pace to 1 million shots a day," Biden said, noting that it would require Congress to approve additional funding.
"Even with that improvement, even if we boost the speed of vaccinations to 1 million shots a day, it will still take months to have the majority of the United States' population vaccinated," he said. He predicted that the situation may not improve until "well into March."
Biden also said he plans to invoke the Defense Production Act, which grants the president the power to expand industrial production of key materials or products for national security or other reasons, to “accelerate the making of materials needed for the vaccine.”
Trump has himself invoked the law during the pandemic.
To reopen schools safely, Biden said Congress will need to provide funding for such things as additional transportation so students can maintain social distancing and improved ventilation in school buildings.
Congress also needs help make COVID-19 tests more easily available and help pay for protective equipment for healthcare workers, Biden added.Earlier in the day, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris received a COVID-19 vaccination live on television in a bid to boost confidence in the inoculation even while warning it will be months before it is available to all.