President Joe Biden toured a state-of-the art coronavirus vaccine plant Saturday, intent on showcasing progress even as extreme winter weather across the U.S. handed his vaccination campaign its first major setback, delaying shipment of about 6 million doses and causing temporary closures of inoculation sites in many communities.
While acknowledging the weather is “slowing up the distribution,” Biden said at the Pfizer plant in Michigan that he believes “we’ll be approaching normalcy by the end of this year.” His speech melded a recitation of his administration’s accomplishments in its first month confronting the pandemic, a vigorous pitch for his $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill and criticism of his predecessor.
The disruptions caused by frigid temperatures, snow and ice have left the White House and states scrambling to make up lost ground as three days” worth of vaccine shipments were temporarily delayed. Even the president’s trip to see Pfizer’s largest plant was pushed back a day due to a storm affecting the nation’s capital.
Before the trip, White House coronavirus response adviser Andy Slavitt said the federal government, states and local vaccinators are going to have to redouble efforts to catch up after the interruptions. The setback comes just as the vaccination campaign seemed to be on the verge of hitting its stride. All the backlogged doses should be delivered in the next several days, Slavitt said, still confident that the pace of vaccinations will recover.
Biden has set a goal of administering 100 million shots in his administration’s first 100 days, and he said Friday that’s still on track and it’s only a beginning.
He went on to say that by the end of July his administration can deliver 600 million doses for Americans. Still, Biden cautioned that timetable could change, citing the current weather delays and concerns about new strains of the virus as well as the possibility that production rates could fluctuate.
“I believe we’ll be approaching normalcy by the end of this year,” he said. “God willing, this Christmas will be different than last, but I can’t make that commitment to you.”
Taking a swipe at former President Donald Trump, whom he did not cite by name, Biden allowed that the previous administration shepherded the approval of two highly effective vaccines. But “it’s one thing to have a vaccine available, the problem was how to get to people’s arms.”
The Pfizer plant Biden toured, near Kalamazoo, produces one of the two federally approved COVID-19 shots. Introducing Biden before the speech, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla called his administration “a great ally” and cited a range of actions that helped the company increase production.
Biden walked through an area of the plant called the “freezer farm,” which houses some 350 ultra-cold freezers, each capable of storing 360,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine. Double-masked, the president stopped to talk with some of the workers.