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White House aims to have "greater" vaccine availability in the spring, press secretary says

Biden's new vaccine goals
Biden's new vaccine goals 02:19

Washington — White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday that President Biden's COVID-19 vaccine distribution goal is to have "greater availability in the spring." Mr. Biden said on Monday that any American who wants a COVID-19 vaccine will be able to get one "this spring," perhaps the most ambitious target mentioned publicly by his administration. 

"I think it'll be this spring. I think we'll be able to do that this spring," Mr. Biden said Monday when a reporter asked him when any American who wants a vaccine should be able to obtain one. "But it's going to be a logistical challenge that exceeds anything we've ever tried in this country. But I think we can do that. I feel confident that by summer we're going to be well on our way to heading toward herd immunity and increasing the access for people who aren't on the first, on the list, all the way going down to children and how we deal with that. But I feel good about where we're going and I think we can get it done." 

Psaki would not provide an expected date for when the U.S. would reach herd immunity — the threshold at which enough people have been vaccinated or infected by the virus to curtail its spread.

"It will take months and months for a broad swath of population to be vaccinated," she said. 

Questions about the nation's vaccine stockpile were directed to White House's COVID-19 response team, led by Jeff Zients, which will begin to hold briefings three times a week, according to Psaki. "Our concerns and our focus is not just on the supply," she said. "That's part of the issue, it is also about ensuring that states have the number of vaccinators that they need."

The president has spent the first week of his administration signing a slew of executive actions focused on combating the coronavirus, boosting American manufacturing and responding to the economic crisis brought on by the pandemic. Mr. Biden is scheduled to sign a package of executive actions targeting equity later this afternoon. 

Domestic policy adviser Susan Rice joined Psaki in the briefing room to preview the actions, including efforts to advance the nation's fair housing laws and a directive to the Department of Justice not to renew contracts with private prisons. The directive, however, does not apply to the Department of Homeland Security, which operates the controversial privately operated immigration detention centers.

Mr. Biden is also expected to use his executive authority to disavow racism and xenophobia toward Asian Americans, which have been targeted because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, CBS News reported Monday. The forthcoming action follows weeks of preparation from Mr. Biden's transition team and the new White House Domestic Policy Council.

Former President Donald Trump repeatedly referred to the coronavirus as the "China Virus" and the "Kung Flu" as he sought to tie the pandemic to the Chinese government, and part of Mr. Biden's efforts are centered around ensuring such references are not in any existing policies, directives or government websites.

"These aren't feel-good policies, the evidence is clear: Investing in equity is good for economic growth," Rice said, adding that it's "critical we don't get anywhere near the March cliff," when tens of millions of Americans would lose unemployment insurance. "Nobody wants to be having a conversations in May about why our schools are not open and why millions of people have been kicked off of unemployment insurance," she said. 

Across Washington on Capitol Hill, the Senate has been steadily confirming members of Mr. Biden's Cabinet, including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines. The Senate is expected to vote to confirm Tony Blinken, Mr. Biden's pick for secretary of state, Tuesday.

Mr. Biden had his first phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday. According to Psaki, the two leaders discussed a slew of topics, including "the Solar Winds hack, reports of Russia placing bounties on United States soldiers in Afghanistan, interference in the 2020 election, the poisoning of Alexey Navalny, and treatment of peaceful protesters by Russian security forces."

Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny was jailed upon his return to Moscow earlier this month. Navalny spent five months in Germany recovering from a severe nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin, and which Russian authorities deny. Tens of thousands have rallied in support of Navalny. 

Psaki said Mr. Biden's "intention was also to make clear that the United States will act firmly in defense of our national interests in response to malign actions by Russia." 

The Senate is also proceeding with the impeachment trial of former President Trump, who was charged by the House with incitement of insurrection for his role in the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol.

Mr. Trump's trial is not expected to begin until the week of February 8, allowing the Senate more time to approve members of Mr. Biden's Cabinet.

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