President Joe Biden and his top advisers have derided the Trump administration’s playbook for distributing coronavirus vaccines, but so far have made only modest changes to the plan that’s meeting their target pace of more than one million shots a day.
Biden has said vaccine distribution was in “worse shape than we anticipated.” White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain said a Trump administration plan “did not really exist.” Adviser Cedric Richmond said they “didn’t leave a plan.” Xavier Becerra, Biden’s choice for health secretary, said it was like taking over a plane in a nosedive.
But while Biden’s approach to the virus — frank warnings about the pandemic, mask mandates on federal property — is a reversal from Trump’s policies, his administration’s distribution of vaccines so far looks little different from that of its predecessor. Before Biden was sworn in, vaccines already were being delivered at a pace to meet his goal of 100 million doses in his first 100 days as president.
The new administration has said they’ll order new doses, but will do so by exercising options in contracts negotiated by the previous administration, which thought it premature to do so. They say they’ll use the Defense Production Act, which Trump used repeatedly. Rather than a total overhaul, they have otherwise made course corrections and modest shifts.
Biden’s ability to sharply change direction is inherently limited. The sheer magnitude of the distribution efforts would make any major changes costly and risk backsliding, even if temporarily. Some aspects of the program don’t offer much wiggle room to begin with, while the trickiest parts are yet to come — and entirely on Biden’s shoulders.
Any efforts by Biden to shape the program also were undercut by Trump, who delayed the transition as he disputed the results of the election and refused to concede. Trump’s team said more than 300 transition briefings were held with health officials, though Biden officials have said the information exchange was limited until just days before the inauguration.