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100 Million Shots In 100 Days: Is Biden's COVID-19 Vaccination Goal Achievable?

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

One hundred million vaccine doses in 100 days - that is President Joe Biden's goal. Health experts say it sounds ambitious, but it is within reach. NPR's Pien Huang reports.

PIEN HUANG, BYLINE: From now through the end of April, the country will need to average a million vaccines a day to reach Biden's goal. Jim Blumenstock of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials says the good news is that we're not far off.

JIM BLUMENSTOCK: You know, we have already seen a couple of days where we've hit a million mark. And I guess, on average, we're somewhere between 700-, 800,000 per day.

HUANG: That's in recent weeks, according to a tracker from Bloomberg News. And in the last few days, that average has increased to over 900,000 a day. Blumenstock says the early days of vaccine rollout were hampered by holidays and working out the details involved with training up vaccinators and giving out a new vaccine. But now, around 40 days into vaccine distribution...

BLUMENSTOCK: You know, we're stepping out of that startup phase and broadening our capabilities and capacities. And hopefully, we will be able to administer more doses to larger groups of people over time.

HUANG: Claire Hannan is head of the Association of Immunization Managers. To get to 100 million doses in 100 days, she says states need a major surge in vaccine supply and reliable projections on what to expect a few weeks out. Biden's plan includes better communication on allocations and working to increase supplies of the vaccine, along with the other things needed to administer it. In the meantime, Hannan says, changes have been made that are making vaccine administration go faster. States have been slammed for being slow to give out the doses they've received, but that's shifting.

CLAIRE HANNAN: We're not prioritizing it as finely as we were. The majority of states have opened it up to either over 65 or over 75.

HUANG: Nationwide there are around 50 million adults 65 and older, which means that the pool of vaccine-eligible people is now way bigger than the supply. Hannan says that many places are also scheduling appointments ahead of time without knowing for sure they'll have enough vaccines to cover them. That's annoying for people whose appointments get canceled or pushed back, but it does mean there's always someone ready to fill a no-show spot.

HANNAN: We have to be vaccinating the maximum amount we can per day. And the only way to do that is to overschedule.

HUANG: Julie Swann, a supply chain expert at North Carolina State University, says 100 million shots won't actually cover that much of the population.

JULIE SWANN: At a very high level, we might expect that these 100 million doses might fully cover 40 million people with another 10 million or so getting a second dose or a first dose.

HUANG: If you add it to the number of people who've already been vaccinated, it still means less than 20% percent of the U.S. population would be getting shots in 100 days. Some people are now saying 100 million doses in 100 days is not ambitious enough. Here's Luciana Borio, who served as a COVID-19 adviser on Biden's transition team.

LUCIANA BORIO: I don't even see it as a target. I see it as a floor. And I think that you'll see a lot of activity around fixing the distribution of vaccines to make sure that there's very little delta between what's available for use and what's actually being administered.

HUANG: What's clear, experts say, is that vaccine distribution needs to increase rapidly well beyond the first hundred days.

Pien Huang, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.