“It’s the quote from Mike Tyson,” Everyone has a plan until they’re put in the mouth, “said one person with knowledge of vaccination efforts who is not authorized to discuss the work.” You plan. You are competent. It’s just the weight of everything when you sit in that chair. It’s heavy. “
Biden officials who led the coronavirus response launched a series of regular briefings this week to keep the public updated on the state of the pandemic and government efforts to contain it, and to give vaccines to as many Americans as possible.
However, the briefings contained few details. And behind the scenes, authorities said the team was still struggling to get a grip on basic information, connect with the career government officials who carried out the response, and develop a long-term strategy to do that Bringing virus and then keeping it under control.
“One of the virtues of a well-managed transition is that by the time you take the reins you have built a relationship and trust with the career professionals you work with,” said the person in charge of administration is familiar. The “advertisement was unnaturally short,” added the person.
“Nobody had a complete picture,” said Julie Morita, member of the Biden transition team and executive vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “The plans that were made were made with the assumption that more information would be available and will be revealed once it gets to the White House.”
It’s a major challenge that Biden officials have been expecting for weeks, amid a rocky transition period as they struggled to put vaccine distribution plans together and coordinate with state health officials.
However, in the days since its takeover, the Covid response team has faced a situation that officials have described as far worse than expected – and which has resulted in public reviews so boring that it surprised some, the one in the former The administration’s transition team had worked.
On Tuesday, Biden warned that the “vaccination program was in worse shape than expected or expected” and repeated complaints from his chief of staff, Ron Klain, that a “plan doesn’t really exist”.
Biden’s Covid response team has since made a concerted effort not to blame the Trump administration, an official said – although their vague allusions to a situation that was worse than expected have sparked speculation about what specific problems they encountered are.
However, people with knowledge of the reaction raised new concerns, mostly centered around the federal government’s vaccine supply. Biden’s team is still trying to keep a tight grip on the fate of more than 20 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine that the federal government bought and distributed to states, but has yet to note that it was given to patients.
Only a small percentage of those for whom no doses were reported – about 2 million, said two officials – are due to delays in data reporting, the Biden team believe. That would mean the rest of the crucial supplies are packaged in warehouses, idle in freezers, or floating elsewhere in the complex distribution pipeline that runs from administration to individual states.
This is a dilemma ahead of the Biden team’s arrival, where Biden himself hammered the first few weeks of the vaccine rollout under the Trump administration as a “dire failure”.
However, the response team initially underestimated how difficult it would be to fix the problem.
The Biden transition only received high-level information about sales efforts in the run-up to the January 20 inauguration, a transition official said, and was largely kept out of detailed discussions about operations on site. The team was not given detailed access to Tiberius – the central government’s system of tracking vaccine distribution – until the final days of transition.
It was only after Biden was sworn in that the Covid response team found that the system was blind to much of the route vaccines traveled from government distribution centers to people’s arms.
Once the vaccine shipments were made to the states, responsibility for tracking them was left to the individual public health systems of the states. Administration will not receive an update until the doses have actually been administered and an official record has been submitted.
“I think they were really surprised,” said one agent. “It’s a mess.”
Senior Biden officials have stressed that the missing doses are being shared among the states that remain largely responsible for getting them to the health care providers tasked with vaccinating the tens of millions of people who stand in line Shots are waiting.
Since then, the Covid team has had to spend hours on the phone with various state officials to manually track down the unused cans. This is a time consuming task that wastes resources and does not yet give officials a full picture of exactly where deliveries are going.
They have also tried to convince health care providers to stop holding doses in reserve. This practice is based on concerns that people would not be able to get the second intake of their two-dose regimen – but one that is no longer necessary and has only added to the confusion, said two people with knowledge of the discussions .
On a call with White House officials Tuesday, Arkansas Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson announced that some states are primarily to blame for the uneven introduction because of these reserves – a nuance that the call records do not reflect in the federal numbers received from POLITICO.
The complaint prompted Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for clearer guidance on how states should manage their assigned vaccines.
The Democratic Governor of Illinois, J.B. Pritzker, later accused a Trump administration program that hired pharmacies to distribute vaccines to long-term care facilities “cutting our numbers” because it was so slow to get shots in the arms.
The White House has since given states permission to remove unused doses from the pharmacy program and reassign them elsewhere.
“There’s no doubt they are doing a better job,” said George Helmy, chief of staff for Democratic governor of New Jersey Phil Murphy, of the Biden administration. “We have a real partner who is transparent and cooperative.”
While addressing the immediate distribution issues, federal officials have also sought detailed plans for the eventual distribution of the shots to a wider non-healthcare population and older Americans – a project the Trump administration claims has never done has started on.
And although the Biden team had planned to increase the pace of vaccine production over time, some Biden officials said they were shocked to learn shortly after inauguration day that there was little in the federal vaccine reserve – and that the companies that made the vaccines were nowhere close to producing as many doses as the Trump administration had projected in the past few months.
Biden’s government has since warned that supplies will remain limited until the summer, increasing the possibility of persistent shortages even as the country’s daily vaccination rate increases.
The White House on Friday welcomed promising data on a new single-dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson. However, the barriers to production have dampened expectations for the immediate impact. A federal official compared the expected early flow of gunfire to “a trickle”.
That made the first days of the Covid team something that comes closer to a triage operation than the more orderly rollout hoped for by the administration, especially since a large part of the Federal Ministry of Health works with a skeletal staff made up of career officials and a handful of early-stage political representatives .
And while the Biden government is still pushing ahead with building mass vaccination sites and long-planned preparations for the long-term response effort, the time wasted in addressing these early difficulties has set a response that is likely to consume much of Biden’s first year in office.
“It’s not over anytime soon,” said Craig Fugate, a former FEMA administrator with the Obama administration who worked on the transition. “There may not be a bright red line we’re done in, if we cross that line, be done and everything will be great.”
Rachel Roubein contributed to this report.