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Trump and Biden’s Vaccine ‘Promises’

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"Trump promised 20M vaccinations by Dec 31 [2020]—he delivered 2.8M Biden promised 100M vaccinations in 100 days—he's delivered 100M in just 58 days."

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On March 18 2021, u/Mech0T1 shared a screenshot to Imgur showing a tweet by Qasim Rashid (@QasimRashid), contrasting vaccine-related “promises” with purported vaccination  rates of vaccination between former United States President Donald Trump and current U.S. President Joe Biden:

Rashid shared a White House (@WhiteHouse) tweet, and stated:

Trump promised 20M vaccinations by Dec 31—he delivered 2.8M

Biden promised 100M vaccinations in 100 days—he’s delivered 100M in just 58 days.

Elections Matter.

Rashid’s tweet involved four easily verifiable claims:

  • President Trump promised that 20 million vaccines would be administered by December 31 2020;
  • Only 2.8 million vaccinations occurred at the time that deadline passed;
  • President Joe Biden pledged to deliver 100 million vaccinations in the first 100 days of his administration;
  • Biden reached the 100 million vaccine goal 58 days into his first term, and 42 days ahead of the target “100 days” date.

Here they are, one by one.

Trump Promised 20M Vaccinations by Dec 31 [2020]

A November 13 2020 Politico piece addressed the 20 million vaccines by December 31 2020 claim, but they used a lot of “mights” and “maybes”:

Roughly 20 million people could be vaccinated against the coronavirus in December [2020], the head of the Trump administration’s vaccine and drug accelerator said [in November 2020].

Americans can expect that about 25 to 30 million people could be vaccinated each month afterward, said Moncef Slaoui, co-lead of Operation Warp Speed, during a Rose Garden event with President Donald Trump and other top health officials.

In that context, it looked a bit less like a promise than optimism. However, a December 7 2020 item from medical site STATNews.com was headlined, “On the ground, the pledge to vaccinate 20 million against Covid-19 in December seems unrealistic,” and it referenced “repeated” projections for 20 million vaccinations by December 31 2020:

Leaders of Operation Warp Speed have repeatedly said they are on track to vaccinate 20 million people in December [2020], enough for nearly all the health care workers and long-term care residents who are first in line to get a vaccine. But those involved in vaccine planning at four health care systems, in California, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Kansas, told STAT they expect to still be giving staff their first shots in mid-January [2021]. These workers would then receive their second vaccine dose three to four weeks later, depending on the vaccine, and would receive the full immunization effects a week after that, in mid-February.

With hospitals across the U.S. filling up, as numerous states set daily records for Covid cases, federal officials have pledged a massive distribution push within days of the expected FDA approval this month [December 2020] of the first two vaccines. Moncef Slaoui, head of Operation Warp Speed, said in a briefing last week he was confident “we will be able to distribute … enough vaccine to immunize 20 million people in the U.S. in December [2020].” But on the ground, the reality is murkier.

A Defense.gov “Defense News” page published on December 3 2020 bore the headline, “Operation Warp Speed Leaders Say 20 Million COVID-19 Vaccines May Be Available This Month.” In it, the “promise” to vaccinate 20 million Americans before December 2020 concluded appeared:

Fortunately, [Slaoui] added, the investments [Operation Warp Speed, or OWS] has made in scaling up allows OWS to feel confident that it will be able to distribute 20 million vaccines in December [2020], followed by 60 million doses in January [2021], and 100 million doses by February [2021].’

‘So between mid-December [2020] and the end of February [2021], we will have potentially immunized 100 million people, which is really more or less the size of the significant at-risk population,” comprising the elderly, health care workers and firstline workers, Slaoui said.

According to Defense.gov, “Operation Warp Speed” felt “confident” that it would be able to distribute “20 million vaccines in December 2020.”

Trump’s Administration Only Vaccinated 2.8 Million People by December 31 2020

On December 31 2021, Reuters published “U.S. vaccinations in 2020 fall far short of target of 20 million people,” which began:

Only about 2.8 million Americans had received a COVID-19 vaccine going into the last day of December [2020], putting the United States far short of the government’s target to vaccinate 20 million people this month [of December 2020].

Shots are reaching nursing home residents at an even slower pace than others first in line even though they are most at risk of dying of the virus.

Some 170,000 people in long-term care facilities received a shot as of Dec. 30 [2020] although 2.2 million doses have been distributed for residents, according to data released from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About 14 million doses of Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines have been distributed to states so far, federal officials told reporters on [December 30 2020], shy of its goal to ship 20 million doses this month.

Both figures — the 20 million estimated vaccines by December 31 2020 and the 2.8 million vaccinated by that date — were accurate, according to various, independently published reports.

‘Biden Promised 100M Vaccinations in 100 Days’

On December 8 2020 (overlapping the timeframe of the tweet), Associated Press reported:

President-elect Joe Biden on [December 8 2020] called for urgent action on the coronavirus pandemic as he introduced a health care team that will be tested at every turn while striving to restore the nation to normalcy.

Biden laid out three COVID-19 priorities for his first 100 days in office: a call for all Americans to voluntarily mask up during those 100 days, a commitment to administer 100 million vaccines and a pledge to try to reopen a majority of the nation’s schools.

[…]

Vaccines are expected soon … But having an approved vaccine is one thing, and getting it into the arms of 330 million Americans something else altogether. Biden will be judged on how well his administration carries out the gargantuan task.

On January 20 2021, WebMD reiterated the figures Biden pledged with a skeptical headline: “For Biden, 100 Million Vaccinations in 100 Days Not Easy”:

It’s in the nature of presidential candidates and new presidents to promise big things. Just months after his 1961 inauguration, President John F. Kennedy vowed to send a man to the moon by the end of the decade. That pledge was kept, but many others haven’t been, such as candidate Bill Clinton’s promise to provide universal health care and presidential hopeful George H.W. Bush’s guarantee of no new taxes.

Now, during a once-in-a-century pandemic, incoming President Joe Biden has promised to provide 100 million covid-19 vaccinations in his first 100 days in office.

“This team will help get … at least 100 million covid vaccine shots into the arms of the American people in the first 100 days,” Biden said during a Dec. 8 news conference introducing key members of his health team.

When first asked about his pledge, the Biden team said the president-elect meant 50 million people would get their two-dose regimen. The incoming administration has since updated this plan, saying it will release vaccine doses as soon as they’re available instead of holding back some of that supply for second doses … Either way, Biden may run into difficulty meeting that 100 million mark.

WebMD indicated that Biden’s transition team waffled on whether it was 100 million total shots (two per vaccination), or 50 million people vaccinated. The outlet also predicted “that 100 million mark” would be a challenge “either way.”

But Biden did begin promising 100 million vaccinations in 100 days.

An Aside: Quantifying 100 Million Vaccines

WebMD mentioned the two-part vaccines; Moderna and Pfizer’s vaccines each involved two shots, while Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine was only one.

It would be difficult to locate granular data about which “shots” were “first doses” and which were “second doses” four or six weeks after the first, but the pledge was first reported as one to “administer 100 million vaccines.”

A table maintained by Our World in Data (@owid) in CSV format listed the following statistics as of March 18 2020 for the United States:

  • Total vaccinations administered in the United States: 115,730,008
  • Number of people vaccinated in the United States: 75,495,716

At 58 days in office, Biden’s administration oversaw more than 115 million doses administered, and nearly 75.5 million Americans had received the vaccine.

Biden ‘Delivered 100M’ Vaccines ‘in Just 58 Days’

Rashid’s first tweet indicated that Biden’s administration had attained its goal of 100 million vaccinations in 100 days, but ahead of schedule.

That information came from a White House tweet celebrating “100 million” vaccines administered:

On February 21 2021, Associated Press reported that the introduction of pharmacy partnerships to administer vaccines hastened the distribution of vaccines:

Governors, along with the CDC, identified specific retail chains to begin administering the vaccines in their states, with an eye on reaching underserved communities and also testing the pharmacies’ capacity to scale up injections.

In its first four days of operation, with about 15% of pharmacies nationwide participating, the pharmacy program administered more than 700,000 of the initial 1 million doses per week allotted by the federal government. That led the White House to quickly double it to 2 million doses this coming week.

Further increases are likely, as the White House monitors the pharmacies’ capacity to deliver injections. The National Association of Chain Drug Stores estimates its members alone have the capability to deliver more than 3 million doses per day.

The additional federal channels for delivering inoculations have drawn some grumbling from governors who want even more vaccines to flow through their state allocations. That figure has risen from fewer than 9 million doses per week to 13.5 million in Biden’s first weeks in office.

In the White House’s tweet, the Biden administration stated the benchmark occurred 42 days (or six weeks) short of Biden’s 100th day in office — which would take place on April 30 or May 1 2021.

Summary

A viral tweet contained four claims: that the Trump administration promised 20 million vaccines by December 31 2020, that the Trump administration only delivered 2.8 million vaccines in that time frame, that Biden pledged 100 million vaccinations by his 100th day in office (April 30 or May 1 2021), and that the Biden administration had surpassed 100 million vaccines on or around Biden’s 58th day in office, 42 days ahead of schedule. That tweet was largely accurate on all four points. The manner in which two-dose vaccines were administered and tracked meant that all of the more than 75 million Americans vaccinated by March 18 2021 were scheduled to receive a second shot within a month or so — and all 115 million vaccine recipients were partly vaccinated.