In a development that critics say provides additional evidence of former President Donald Trump's incompetence and malfeasance, newly sworn-in President Joe Biden learned soon after Wednesday's inauguration that his administration will have to develop a coronavirus vaccine distribution strategy from "square one" because the previous administration departed without a federal inoculation plan in place.
"What we're inheriting from the Trump administration is so much worse than we could have imagined."
—Jeff Zients, White House
"There is nothing for us to rework. We are going to have to build everything from scratch," one source with knowledge of the Biden team's pandemic response told CNN.
With more than 406,000 people having died from Covid-19 in the U.S. alone, and with seven-day averages of nearly 200,000 cases and more than 3,000 deaths per day, Biden has pledged to ramp up the production and distribution of vaccines—vowing to inoculate 100 million Americans in the first 100 days of his administration.
But the failure of the Trump administration to leave behind any national rollout plans has made that task more challenging. Describing the moment when it dawned on Biden's team that there was no vaccine strategy for them to build upon, another source told CNN: "Wow, just further affirmation of complete incompetence."
One source described their moment of really realizing that Trump admin really had no federal vaccine plan to speak of: "Wow, just further affirmation of complete incompetence." https://t.co/u2hwMVMt10
— MJ Lee (@mj_lee) January 21, 2021
Along with many others, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) noted how unsurprising the news was, considering the Trump administration's penchant for dishonesty—including previous lies about vaccine distribution.
The Trump Administration lied about so much and did it often. https://t.co/0EAsOIbXNg
— Rashida Tlaib (@RashidaTlaib) January 21, 2021
Biden's advisers had endured hostility from the Trump administration during the transition, but according to Jeff Zients, coordinator of the White House's Covid-19 task force, "What we're inheriting from the Trump administration is so much worse than we could have imagined."
"We don't have the visibility that we would hope to have into supply and allocations," Zients said.
The Daily Beast reported Thursday that as the Biden administration "begin[s] to strategize on how best to remedy the situation they are finding that the foundation on which the Trump administration built its vaccine distribution program is more flawed than previously understood... From the accounting to the way vaccines are allocated and scheduled for delivery—the system doesn't allow for the quick movement of vaccines off the manufacturing line to state vaccine distribution points."
According to reporting from CNN, "Biden's Covid advisers had wanted to be careful not to be overly critical in public of the Trump administration's handling of the virus and vaccine, given that the Biden transition team was already having a hard time getting critical information and cooperation from the outgoing administration."
"Now that the transition of power has taken place, the Biden administration is hoping that they can quickly start to get a clearer picture of where things actually stand with vaccine distribution and administration across the country, going through something of a 'fact-checking' exercise on what exactly the Trump administration had and had not done," CNN noted.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Zients said that "for almost a year now, Americans could not look to the federal government for any strategy, let alone a comprehensive approach to respond to Covid. And we've seen the tragic costs of that failure."
"That'll change" now that Biden is in office, he added.