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U.S. vaccine chief says "we need to improve" pace of COVID-19 shots

CBS News logo CBS News 1/3/2021 Melissa Quinn
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Washington — With the administration of coronavirus vaccines moving slowly, sparking frustration from state and local leaders, Moncef Slaoui, the chief adviser to Operation Warp Speed, acknowledged Sunday that the pace of getting shots into the arms of the American people needs to accelerate.

"We need to improve," Slaoui said in an interview with "Face the Nation," as the nation weathers another surge in coronavirus cases that is expected to worsen following the holidays.

Slaoui said that 17.5 million doses of vaccines have shipped thus far, and 1.5 million vaccine doses have been administered over the last 72 hours, amounting to 500,000 per day.

"We are optimistic as we go beyond this holiday season that the numbers will go up, and we are standing ready to do what we are asked," Slaoui said. "Where there is help to be given, we're standing by to help."

Vaccine distribution began last month after two coronavirus vaccines, one from Pfizer and Germany's BioNTech, and another from Moderna, received authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use. Healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities were first to receive the vaccines, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended front-line essential workers and people age 75 and older, followed by those ages 65 to 74 and people ages 16 through 64 with underlying medical conditions, should be next to get vaccinated.

President Trump has heaped praise on himself and his administration for fostering the development and approval of two coronavirus vaccines in less than a year through Operation Warp Speed. But rollout of those vaccines to Americans has slowed because of logistical challenges. The holidays have only compounded those issues, as already-burdened hospitals and health departments did not have enough staff to administer the shots.

The Trump administration initially set a goal to vaccinate 20 million people by year's end, but fell far short. As of Saturday, 4.2 million people have received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, according to the CDC

Still, officials with Operation Warp Speed expect the rate of administering the vaccine to pick up once pharmacies like Walgreens, CVS and Walmart start offering them to people in their locations.

Slaoui said that for states encountering challenges with distributing their allocation of coronavirus vaccines or administering them to the American people, "we stand by here to help."

"We will do the best we can, as we have done over the last eight months, to make these vaccines indeed make it into the arms of people," he said.

The rollout of the coronavirus vaccines is coming alongside a spike in infections, with more than 20.4 million confirmed cases in the U.S. and more than 350,000 deaths. Adding to concerns about the ongoing spread of the virus is the detection of a new, more contagious variant that was first identified in the United Kingdom and has since been detected in Colorado, California and Florida.

Slaoui said it is normal to expect there will be new strains of the coronavirus, but said the key to fighting its spread if vaccination.

"We think that these viruses, these various variants should be under control with this vaccine," he said. "Fortunately, they are not more deadly to the population. They are more infectious, and therefore they will further exacerbate the surge that we are having."

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