Trump officials actively hampered state and local efforts to get people vaccinated, a new report shows.
The slow rollout of coronavirus vaccines across the United States could've been avoided, according to experts and a new report on the Trump administration's botched handling of the public health crisis.
Throughout the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, Donald Trump refused to implement an appropriate national response plan, which left states struggling to get Americans inoculated.
"The Federal Government has distributed the vaccines to the states. Now it is up to the states to administer," Trump tweeted in December.
But states were struggling. Peter Hotez, a vaccine expert, wrote in the Washington Post on Jan. 11, "In large metro areas such as Boston, Washington, D.C., and Houston, we need to be vaccinating at least 10,000 people every day for the next eight months to stay on target. We are not even close to that."
The lack of federal support forced at least 16 states to turn to National Guard troops for assistance with vaccine distribution, the New York Times noted.
On Sunday, a STAT News report revealed things were even more troubling than they had initially seemed.
According to the outlet, there were deliberate efforts from the Trump administration to hamper states' vaccine distribution, with at least two Trump officials lobbying Congress behind the scenes to deny states additional federal funding intended for the vaccine rollout.
Paul Mango, the Department of Health and Human Services' former deputy chief of staff for policy, reportedly argued that states had not used the $200 million previously allocated to them, and refused to issue more funding to avoid wasting taxpayers' money, according to STAT. A Republican Senate aide told STAT that Russ Vought, who headed the White House budget office at the time, had also put forth a similar argument.
"The political people very much believed that it wasn’t their responsibility and it should be left up to the states," a former senior adviser to then-Surgeon General Jerome Adams told STAT.
During that time, the National Governors Association warned the HHS that "without additional state and local funding to implement COVID-19 vaccine plans, we will be hampered in what we can accomplish."
According to STAT, states had not tapped into the $200 million allocated to them previously because they had not yet started to vaccinate anyone at the time, and were trying to first spend other funding that was set to expire soon.
States were also "reluctant" to draw from the previous funds "because they were unsure when new funding would be appropriated by Congress," the outlet added.
Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said the drawn out crisis that ensued could have been avoided altogether.
"A lot of that could have been avoided or smoothed," he told STAT. "Having more money would have allowed them to devote more resources to planning for the vaccine, making sure they had enough vaccinators … and get in place venues to do mass vaccinations."
Other experts and officials have echoed those sentiments, stressing the substantial logistical issues with administering the vaccines after they were sent to the states, which more funding may have solved.
"The federal government seemed to have ceded its responsibility at the point the vaccines were given to the states," Dr. Leana Wen, a public health professor at George Washington University, told BBC News in January. "The state and local health departments have been asking for months for additional funding and have not been given the funding that they need."
County officials across the nation told Reuters that the funding crisis curtailed critical inoculation efforts.
"Officials in counties across the United States [say] the funding crisis has limited the hiring of needed vaccine staff, delayed the creation of vaccination centers, and undermined efforts to raise public awareness," the outlet reported in early January.
For now, the new administration has pledged to do what it can to remedy the situation.
President Joe Biden has said he plans to get "at least 100 million COVID-19 vaccine shots into the arms of Americans in 100 days." He additionally called on Congress to fully fund the distribution of those vaccines.
"I think we may be able to get that to 1.5 million a day, rather than 1 million a day," Biden said last Monday. "But we have to meet that goal of a million a day."
White House press secretary Jen Psaki also pointed to Biden's 200-page vaccine distribution plan released on Jan. 21 when discussing the administration's plan to tackle the crisis.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.