U.S. anti-COVID-19 strategy faces hurdles amid new virus mutations
Erin Blake, a resident of New York City in his 70s, said he received the COVID-19 vaccine last week.
Getting the shot was a relief, Blake told Xinhua, as the virus targets those aged over 65.
Sally, a retiree from the state of New Jersey who just gave her first name, said she has not yet received her shot. Neither has her boyfriend, Ryan, semi-retired and a heart patient.
These three cases illustrate what's happening now with the vaccine rollout in the United States which has recorded more than 25.86 million COVID-19 cases with over 435,000 deaths as of Friday afternoon.
The clock is ticking for President Joe Biden to deliver on his promise to vaccinate 100 million Americans in the next 100 days while new, mutant versions of the virus are spreading in the country.
NEW GOVERNMENT VS COVID-19
Biden has unveiled his national strategy for addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and signed several orders including improving supply chains for the pandemic, expanding treatment for COVID-19 and requiring masks and physical distancing in all federal buildings, on all federal lands and by federal employees and contractors.
"The first 100 days of the Biden presidency will be dominated by COVID and vaccination delivery," Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Darrell West told Xinhua.
"Biden has promised to vaccinate over 100 million people during this time and his administration will be judged on his ability to meet that target," West said.
Biden earlier this week said he expects the United States will be able to inoculate 1.5 million people per day -- around 500,000 per day more than initially planned -- within around three weeks.
The former administration's vaccine distribution plan was blasted as leaving it up to county and city administrators, who have zero experience with vaccine distribution plans, especially not one of this magnitude.
Clay Ramsay, a senior research associate at the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland, noted that the vaccine distribution has ramped up steadily since it began in December.
Across the Trump administration there were "elements of a plan, but there was no White House effort at coordination. So Biden's own team is starting from a low baseline, and they can certainly improve on Trump's performance rapidly," Ramsay told Xinhua.
VARIANTS INCREASE CONCERN
The spread of more infectious variants of the coronavirus has increased concern over a new surge across the country and heightened the urgency of vaccinations.
The first cases of a coronavirus variant that recently emerged in South Africa have been confirmed in South Carolina, the state's Department of Health and Environmental Control said on Thursday.
It is a "wake up call" that new clinical trial results from Johnson & Johnson showed that its vaccine is less effective against the variant circulating in South Africa, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country's top infectious-disease expert, during the White House's coronavirus briefing on Friday.
The level of protection of Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine candidate against moderate to severe COVID-19 infection was 72 percent in the United States, 66 percent in Latin America and 57 percent in South Africa, 28 days post-vaccination, announced the company earlier in the day.
"It is an incentive to do what we've been saying all along: to vaccinate as many people as we can, as quickly as we possibly can," Fauci told reporters.
Another variant, first identified in Britain, has now been confirmed in 379 cases in 29 states, said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who was also at the briefing.
Walensky also called on Americans to continue wearing masks and practice social distancing, and to avoid travel.
The virus will continue to mutate, and vaccine manufacturers will have to be "nimble to be able to adjust readily" to reformulating the vaccines if needed, said Fauci.
The first U.S. case of a coronavirus variant discovered in Brazil was also confirmed in the state of Minnesota.
A model developed by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington shows that the United States is projected to see more than 566,000 COVID-19-related deaths by May 1.
MORE HURDLES AHEAD
The vaccine will be the first of many hurdles the new administration must deal with as it addresses not only the pandemic, but also the economic damage that occurred due to nationwide lockdowns.
Christopher Galdieri, assistant professor at Saint Anselm College, told Xinhua that hitting the vaccine distribution target is an "early, major test, but it's not the only one."
"Along with getting more people vaccinated, there's also the question of what a relief bill looks like, how big that bill will be, and how many policy objectives can be bundled up in it," Galdieri said.
"I think an early stumble will be forgiven if they're corrected quickly and Americans' lives can begin to resemble what they were like pre-pandemic," Galdieri said.
Biden has unveiled a 1.9-trillion-U.S. dollar COVID-19 relief proposal, which draws opposition from a growing number of congressional Republicans. It's unclear whether the Biden administration would secure enough votes for a new massive relief package.
White House economic adviser Brian Deese has recently warned that the United States risks falling into a "very serious economic hole" without decisive action, urging the Congress to approve more COVID-19 relief as soon as possible.
The U.S. economy contracted 3.5 percent in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the largest annual decline in U.S. gross domestic product since 1946, according to data released by the U.S. Commerce Department on Thursday.
The Congress approved a 900-billion-dollar COVID-19 relief package at the end of last year following months of deadlock over the size and scope of the package. But economists and some lawmakers say it isn't enough to bolster a ravaged economy.