President Biden is using his first full day in office on Thursday to go on the offensive against the coronavirus, promising to make aggressive use of his executive authority to tame, and perhaps bring to an end, the worst public health crisis in a century.
In a 200-page document released Thursday called “National Strategy for the Covid-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness,” the new administration outlines the kind of centralized federal response that Democrats have long demanded and President Donald J. Trump refused.
To carry it out, Mr. Biden will sign a dozen executive orders or actions in an afternoon White House ceremony. Soon after he was sworn in on Wednesday, he signed an order requiring masks to be worn on all federal property and by all federal employees. And he urged all Americans to take this most basic of precautions for 100 days.
But the Biden plan is in some respects overly optimistic and in others a little timid. His promise to inject 100 million vaccines in his first hundred days is aiming low, since those 100 days should see twice that number of doses available. Because the currently approved coronavirus vaccines require two doses, Mr. Biden is promising only to vaccinate 50 million Americans.
Beyond that 100-day mark is where the problem lies. Federal health officials and corporate executives agree that it will be impossible to increase the immediate supply of vaccines before April at the earliest, because of lack of manufacturing capacity. And no use of federal authority can quickly change that.
On Capitol Hill, the No. 2 House Republican, Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, said Mr. Biden’s promise to get “100 million shots into the arms of the American people” within his first 100 days in office was insufficient.
“Comments made about vaccine supply and distribution by the White House’s coronavirus czar are old Washington spin,” Mr. Scalise said in a statement. “The fact is the Biden administration inherited contracts for 300 million doses of vaccines for two approved vaccines and two in the final stage of clinical trials.”
The Biden team has been quick to point fingers at what they see as the Trump administration’s failures.
“What we’re inheriting is so much worse than we could have imagined,” said Jeff Zients, the new White House Covid-19 response coordinator, adding, “The cooperation or lack of cooperation from the Trump administration has been an impediment. We don’t have the visibility that we would hope to have into supply and allocations.”
Efforts to untangle and speed up the distribution of vaccines — perhaps the most pressing challenge for the Biden administration that is also the most promising path forward — will be a desperate race against time, as states across the country including New York and California have warned that they could run out of doses as early as this weekend.
Local officials have expressed a hope that the Biden administration would step up vaccine production to make second doses available for the expanded pool of eligible people. Production of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines authorized in the United States are running flat out, and it is not clear whether the administration could significantly expand the overall supply any time soon.
Though Mr. Biden has indicated his administration would release more doses as they became available and keep fewer in reserve, he said last week that he would not change the recommended timing for second doses: 21 days after the first dose for Pfizer’s vaccine, and 28 days for Moderna’s.
The administration is asking Congress for $1.9 trillion for pandemic relief, and White House officials said they would need much of that money to put their Covid-19 plan into place.