The Biden administration on Tuesday announced new steps intended to speed up America's Covid-19 vaccine rollout, including increasing states' weekly vaccine allocations, sending vaccine doses directly to community health centers, and ramping up efforts to staff thousands of federal vaccination sites countrywide.
Biden admin will increase weekly vaccine allocations, send doses directly to community health centers
CDC data shows that, as of Tuesday morning, the federal government had distributed about 62.9 million doses of the United States' two authorized Covid-19 vaccines, which are manufactured by Pfizer and BioNTech, as well as Moderna. Each of the vaccines require that patients receive two doses of the inoculations a few weeks apart.
According to CDC's data, a total of about 43.2 million doses of the vaccines had been administered to Americans as of Tuesday morning. Of those, about 32.9 million Americans had received "one or more doses," and about 9.8 million had received two doses, the data shows.
While America's vaccine rollout launched more slowly than expected, the Biden administration in recent weeks has taken several steps to speed the initiative. On Tuesday, the White House in a fact sheet announced additional steps intended to further accelerate the rollout.
For example, the White House announced that the federal government for the next three weeks will increase the supply of weekly vaccine doses the it ships to states, tribes, and territories to 11 million doses—which represents an increase of 5% from last week and 28% when compared with states' weekly supply levels from three weeks ago.
In addition, the White House said the federal government will launch the first phase of a program aimed at ensuring Covid-19 vaccines are distributed equitably. Under the program, the administration will begin directly shipping vaccine doses to federally qualified community health centers (FQHCs), where two-thirds of the patients served have annual incomes at or below the federal poverty level and 60% identify as racial or ethnic minorities, according to the fact sheet.
The White House said the federal government will incrementally increase the number of Covid-19 vaccine doses delivered to FQHCs as the country's vaccine supply grows. During the program's initial phase, the government will send vaccine doses to at least one FQHC in each state, with the goal of delivering at least one million doses to 250 clinics throughout the United States in the coming weeks.
During a press briefing on Tuesday, Jeff Zients, the White House's coronavirus response coordinator, said the Biden administration is working with manufacturers to increase the United States' Covid-19 vaccine supply "as quickly and as equitably as possible."
FEMA looks to hire medical personnel for vaccination sites
Separately, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced that it is seeking bids on two contracts to hire thousands of medical personnel to help administer Covid-19 vaccines at sites across the country.
According to a 13-page document obtained by CNBC that describes the contracts, FEMA plans to start accepting bids on the contracts—which are worth a total of $3 billion—as early as next week, and the agency hopes to award the contracts in early to mid-March.
CNBC reports that a FEMA representative confirmed the agency is "proactively engaging with industry" to prepare to help state- and federally run vaccination sites administer Covid-19 vaccines. According to FEMA, the contracts, called Delivery-Indefinite Quantity awards, will pay for an estimated 5,000 licensed medical workers and have a six-month term, though the term may be extended if needed.
FEMA said it intends to split the contracts into two territories covering the East and West, CNBC reports. Under the contracts, medical personnel would be responsible for handling, preparing, and administering all Covid-19 vaccine doses. However, administrative activities would not fall on the contractors
According to FEMA, local and community-based hospitals and state-managed sites, as well as federally supported and federally managed sites, could be eligible for extra staffing under the contracts.
Improvement in America's coronavirus epidemic on shaky ground
The announcements come as data from the past two weeks indicates America's coronavirus epidemic is improving when compared with the peak in new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths the country experienced last month. However, the reported rates of each of those metrics remain high, and experts say the epidemic's recent progress is on shaky ground because of newly emerging coronavirus variants and some states' moves to scale back restrictions intended to mitigate the virus's spread.
According to data compiled by the New York Times, U.S. officials on Tuesday reported about 96,460 new cases of the novel coronavirus, marking the third consecutive day that U.S. officials reported fewer than 100,000 new cases of the virus. As of Wednesday morning, officials had reported a total of about 27.2 million cases of the virus since America's epidemic began.
According to the Times, the United States' average daily number of newly reported coronavirus cases over the past week was 108,144—which is down by 35% when compared with the average from two weeks ago, when the United States was in the midst of its worst peak in newly reported cases.
As of Wednesday morning, data from the Times showed that the rates of newly reported coronavirus cases were "staying high" in Alaska, Colorado, South Dakota, and Vermont, which have each reported a daily average of at least 15 newly reported cases per 100,000 people over the past week. In contrast, rates of newly reported coronavirus cases were "staying low" as of Wednesday morning in Guam, Hawaii, North Dakota, Oregon, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
All other states and Washington, D.C., had been seeing comparatively higher rates of coronavirus transmission, but the daily average of newly reported coronavirus cases over the past seven days in those areas was "going down" as of Wednesday morning, according to the Times' data.
U.S. hospitalizations for Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, remained high as of Tuesday, but still were down significantly from record-highs reported last month. According to data from The Atlantic's COVID Tracking Project, there were 79,179 Americans with Covid-19 hospitalized for treatment on Tuesday, including 16,129 who were receiving care in an ICU and 5,216 who were on a ventilator. Tuesday marked the sixth consecutive day that fewer than 90,000 Americans with Covid-19 were hospitalized for treatment.
Similarly, the United States' rate of newly reported deaths linked to the novel coronavirus has declined over the past two weeks, though it also remains high. According to data from the Times, U.S. officials reported about 3,167 new deaths linked to the virus on Tuesday. As of Wednesday morning, officials had reported a total of about 468,088 U.S. deaths linked to the virus since the country's epidemic began.
(Armour/Siddiqui, Wall Street Journal, 2/9; Weixel, The Hill, 2/9; Roubein, Politico, 2/9; White House fact sheet, 2/9; Feuer, CNBC, 2/9; New York Times, 2/10; "COVID Tracking Project," The Atlantic, accessed 2/10; CDC Covid-19 vaccine data, 2/9).