‘Take the vaccine’: Biden tells Americans to get Covid-19 shot as he blames ‘predecessor’ for failing to mobilise

President urges swift passage of $1.9 trillion relief package as House Democrats unveil legislation

Alex Woodward
New York
Friday 19 February 2021 23:07 GMT
Trump failed to mobilise vaccine distribution, says Biden

President Joe Biden has pledged that a massive Covid-19 vaccine manufacturing and distribution effort underway has not undermined its safety, as he renewed his administration’s timeline to have shots available to most Americans by the end of July.

“It takes more time to do the check for safety than it does to make the vaccine. That’s how fastidious they are,” the president said after a tour of a Pfizer facility in Michigan to promote the effort.

“The vaccines are safe,” he said. “Please, for yourself, your family, your community, your country, take the vaccine when it’s your turn and available.”

The president said that his predecessor Donald Trump had left “no plan to vaccinate most of the country” and “failed to order enough vaccines, failed to mobilise the effort to administer the shots, failed to set up vaccine centres.”

Read more: Follow live updates from the Biden administration

“That changed the moment we took office,” he said, adding that “you can’t build a wall or a fence high enough to keep a pandemic out.”

His remarks followed a tour of a the drug manufacturer’s facility in Michigan, where he was joined by Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, as the nation’s death toll from the public health crisis approaches 500,000 American lives lost within a year of the outbreak.

The 1,300-acre facility contains 350 freezers, each containing 360,000 doses of vaccine, according to Pfizer, which has developed one of two vaccines currently available in the US. The facility employs 2,240 full-time employees and 540 contract workers, working to produce, package, freeze and ship vaccines.

“I came here because I want Americans to understand the extraordinary work that’s being done to undertake the most difficult operational challenges this nation has ever faced,” the president said.

Extreme weather across the US has delayed vaccine shipments as the administration has pledged to accelerate its distribution plan. The president said the government should have roughly 600 million vaccine doses available by the end of July, enough for all Americans, though he has stressed that won’t necessarily mean every American will be innoculated by then, pending distribution schedules.

Pfizer is on track to provide 120 million doses by the end of March and 200 million doses by the end of May, according to Mr Bourla and White House press secretary Jen Psaki. An additional 100 million doses will help “put us on track to have enough vaccines for all Americans by the end of July,” she told reporters on Friday.

The president said he “can’t tell you a date when this crisis will end, but I can tell you we’re doing everything possible to have that day come sooner rather than later.”

He said that the US should be “approaching normalcy by the end of the year.”

“But I can’t make that commitment to you,” he added, pointing to the emergence of more-contagious variants and potential changes to production rates.

Following winter weather, the US is behind by roughly three days’ worth of vaccine doses, or about 6 million shots. Administration officials are confident that the pace will recover as governments work to make up for lost time and clear their backlogs.

His tour also follows campaigns with state and local governments to support the congressional passage of a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, critical to his administration’s plans to combat the pandemic, including billions of dollars for vaccine deployment, school re-openings, and direct payments and extended federal unemployment assistance for millions of Americans.

House Democrats unveiled a package on Friday that includes a federal minimum wage increase of $15 per hour, $1,400 in direct payments for Americans making $75,000 or less a year, and an extension of $400 weekly federal unemployment benefits, among other provisions.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Thursday that that legislation will be ready for a vote “some time at the end of next week, is my hope.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the Senate will approve legislation and send it to the president for his signature ahead of a 14 March deadline when current unemployment benefits expire.

In a passionate plea during his remarks, the president urged passage of the legislation, swatting back Republican criticism for its costs.

“This is the United States of America, for God’s sake,” he said. “We invest in people, who are in need.”

He said he is “open” to negotiating to improve the legislation, but “we have to make clear who is helped and who is hurt.”

“Let me ask them, what would they have me cut?” he said. “What would they have me leave out?”

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