US President-elect Joe Biden has criticised the Trump administration’s distribution of coronavirus vaccines, saying it was falling behind schedule.
Mr Biden said the vaccine drive was the “greatest operational challenge we’ve ever faced as a nation”.
The Trump administration had aimed to vaccinate 20 million Americans by the end of December.
So far, only 2.1 million have received shots, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“The Trump administration’s plan to distribute vaccines is falling far behind,” Mr Biden said in a speech on Tuesday. “I’m going to move Heaven and Earth to get us going in the right direction.”
Responding to Mr Biden in a tweet, President Donald Trump said it was “up to the states to distribute the vaccines” once they had been delivered by the federal government.
“We have not only developed the vaccines, including putting up money to move the process along quickly, but gotten them to the states,” he wrote.
Mr Biden has pledged to vaccinate 100 million Americans during the first 100 days of his presidency when he takes office on 20 January.
To hit that target, the number of vaccines administered would have to be ramped up “five to six times the current pace to one million shots a day”, Mr Biden said.
“Even with that improvement… it will still take months to have the majority of the United States’s population vaccinated,” he said.
Vaccines are considered the best way to end the pandemic, in which more than 19.4 million have been infected by and 337,000 have died with Covid-19 in the US.
Mr Biden said he would invoke a Korean War-era law to force private industry to step up vaccine production for the US government.
In the meantime, Mr Biden warned of a “tough period for our nation” in which “things are going to get worse before they get better”.
“Turning this around is going to take time,” Mr Biden said. “We might not see improvement until we’re well into March.”
In other developments:
- Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked initial attempts to increase aid to Americans under the latest coronavirus stimulus package. The raise, from $ 600 (£445) to $ 2,000, was approved by the House of Representatives on Monday, a move backed by US President Donald Trump. Mr McConnell is expected to come under increasing pressure to hold a vote on the measure this week
- Health authorities in the state of Colorado confirmed the country’s first-known case of a highly transmissible variant of Covid-19 that was first detected in the UK
- Vice President-elect Kamala Harris received her first dose of a Moderna vaccine live on TV on Tuesday. Her vaccination follows that of Mr Biden and other political leaders, including Vice-President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Where is the US at with its vaccine roll-out?
Two coronavirus vaccines – one by Moderna and one by Pfizer – are currently being distributed and administered across the US after being approved by regulators.
There is no real-time tracking of how quickly those vaccines are being given to Americans.
The Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed said it was aiming to produce and deliver 300 million doses of vaccines, with an initial 20 million doses administered by the end of 2020.
But the latest data from the CDC shows that 11,445,175 vaccines have been distributed and 2,127,143 people have received the first dose of a shot.
To maximise their efficacy, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require a second shot several weeks after the initial dose.
When he received his jab, Mr Biden said the Trump administration “deserves some credit” for launching the country’s vaccine programme.
But there have been some teething problems in the early stages of the roll-out.
Earlier this month the army general in charge of distributing Covid-19 vaccines in the US apologised for a “miscommunication” with certain states over the number of doses to be delivered. More than a dozen states had expressed concern at a cut in the expected number.