President Joe Biden delivered a factually accurate Thursday speech about the coronavirus pandemic. But then, after he signed a series of executive actions intended to address the crisis, he was asked by a reporter whether the vaccination goal he announced in December – 100 million doses administered in 100 days – is sufficiently ambitious.
The question of whether the goal is too modest has arisen in part because the US is approaching a 1-million-doses-administered-per-day level even before Biden gets to implement his plans. The US has averaged 914,000 doses administered per day over the last week, according to data published Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But Biden defended the 100 million goal. He told the reporter: “When I announced it, you all said it’s not possible. Come on, give me a break, man. It’s a good start – 100 million.”
Facts First: Biden’s claim is false; it’s not true that there was an initial media consensus that the 100 million goal was impossible. Some of the early news coverage of the goal did not even question whether it was plausible. Some experts featured in the early coverage, including CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, said the goal was achievable. And while some journalists and experts were more skeptical, cautioning that the goal was ambitious, they did not go so far as to say it was impossible.
Gupta said on CNN on the day of Biden’s announcement in December that the 100 million goal was “very doable” given what we had heard from vaccine manufacturers Moderna and Pfizer. The next morning, CNN medical analyst Dr. Jorge Rodriguez said on air that “it is a realistic goal” given that Biden has a plan.
A brief CNN analysis article said that achieving the goal would be a “massive undertaking” and that Biden generally faced a “wildly daunting” first 100 days in office. But this article, too, did not say that meeting the goal was impossible or even improbable.
There might well be someone at some media outlet who did say that administering 100 million doses in 100 days was not possible. But Biden told the journalists in the State Dining Room that “you all said” it was impossible, and that’s clearly not true.
The White House declined to comment on the record. A Biden aide said on the condition of anonymity that the President was referring to early media coverage that was skeptical about the goal, not saying the goal had been described by the media as “literally impossible.”
Biden could have accurately said that some of the early coverage was skeptical.
Citing production challenges faced by vaccine manufacturers, science journalist Laurie Garrett said on MSNBC on the day of the announcement that it was “unclear” whether Biden could achieve the goal. A New York Times article that day described the goal as “ambitious,” said its fulfilment would “require no hiccups in manufacturing or distributing the vaccine and a willingness by Americans to be vaccinated,” and added: “Mr. Biden’s vaccine timeline is achievable, experts say, but it may be optimistic.”
The Times article went on to quote former Baltimore health commissioner Dr. Leana Wen, a CNN medical analyst, who said: “Distribution has to be seamless all across the U.S., and that means every state and local health department coordinating. And there’s the issue of public trust. So I certainly hope that it happens, but (it’s) very optimistic.”
Still, neither the article nor Garrett declared the goal impossible. And the same day, The Atlantic staff writer Conor Friedersdorf tweeted that the goal was not ambitious enough.
More recent coverage has also conveyed a mix of views. CNN reported last week that state officials were “skeptical” about Biden meeting the goal. But Gupta said Thursday, after Biden spoke, that he continues to believe the goal is realistic – and added that some could argue the 100 million figure is “undershooting, under-targeting a fair amount, in terms of what is possible.”
Given Biden’s plans to expand vaccine availability, Gupta said, “I think you can get to some significant numbers higher than even what they are suggesting, higher than 100 million doses in 100 days.”