The new CDC director shot down the prior claim from Trump’s health secretary that the vaccine would be widely available by late February

By Julie Mazziotta
January 22, 2021 03:59 PM
kid Covid-19 vaccination
Credit: Getty

As issues with COVID-19 vaccine distribution and availability continue, the new director of the Centers for Disease Control said that the vaccine likely will not be available to the general public for another few months.

In December, former Trump administration health secretary Alex Azar had told Today that he expected the vaccine to be widely available to the public in pharmacies by the end of February or early March. But on Friday, new CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said that after evaluating the U.S.'s vaccine distribution progress so far, she does not believe that will be possible.

"I don't think late February we're going to have vaccine in every pharmacy in this country," Walensky said, also on Today. Referencing the Biden administration's plan to distribute 100 million vaccine doses in the first 100 days of his presidency, she added that "we're going to stick to that plan, but also want to be very cognizant of the fact that after 100 days, there are still a lot of Americans who need vaccine, so we have our pedal to the metal to make sure we can get as much vaccine out there."

The new Biden administration faces an uphill battle to vaccinate the country and end the COVID-19 pandemic. Though there are millions of Americans waiting in lines and trying to sign up to get vaccinated, the U.S. stockpile of doses is low — on Friday, New York said that it has given out 97% of its first doses (the state has more doses, but they are holding them to ensure that people are able to get their second dose of the vaccine on time).

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"We recognize this as the most immediate emergency to get this country back to health," Walensky said, explaining that their current focus is on making sure that "the amount of vaccine that we have for the amount of people who are eligible so we don't have vaccine on the shelves and we don't see the footage of these long lines. So we really need to match that and expand our eligibility so it fits with the vaccine supply."

Walensky avoided answering questions from Today host Savannah Guthrie about whether they are currently enacting the vaccine distribution plans the Biden administration had laid out before taking office, instead mentioning what they are currently working on two days into his his tenure.

"Right now I think we still have vaccine on the shelves that we need to get into people so we're deploying places that we can get them into people," she said. "We are looking at community vaccination centers, stadiums and gymnasiums. We're looking at mobile units to really get to every corner of this country, federally qualified health care centers and pharmacies."

Another issue they need to work on, Walensky said, is convincing people who are hesitant to get vaccinated.

"Vaccine hesitancy comes in numerous different flavors, I will say," she said. "Some people just really need it to be convenient. Some people need to have permission to take the time to get the vaccine or enough leeway to be able to take the day off if they're feeling unwell the next day. Some of it is they just want to see how it's going to go. Some of it is education ... and we need to bring that science to them by their trusted people."

As of Jan. 22, 16,243,093 people in the U.S. have received at least one dose of either Pfizer's or Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine, according to the CDC. Both vaccines require a wait of either three or four weeks before the second dose, which brings the vaccine protection up to around 95%. Currently, 2,756,953 Americans have been fully vaccinated with both doses.

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