© 2021 KALW
KALW Public Media / 91.7 FM Bay Area
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Coronavirus

White House COVID-19 Adviser Andy Slavitt Says There Are No Vaccine 'Silver Bullets'

Andy Slavitt, senior adviser to the White House COVID-19 Response Team, speaks during a White House briefing on Jan. 27. Slavitt talked with NPR about the vaccine rollout.
Andy Slavitt, senior adviser to the White House COVID-19 Response Team, speaks during a White House briefing on Jan. 27. Slavitt talked with NPR about the vaccine rollout.

The U.S. is currently administering about 1.4 million vaccination shots a day. About 9.5% of people in the U.S. have already gotten one dose.

But demand still outstrips supply in cities across the country, while anecdotes abound about difficulties of trying to get appointments.

Scientists say vaccinations need to be as fast as possible to prevent more contagious coronavirus variants from taking over.

Andy Slavitt, a White House senior adviser on the COVID-19 response, says "people are going to have to probably continue to be more patient than they want to be," as the government works to get more doses out.

On All Things Considered, Slavitt said the government is working to make getting appointments easier and is considering mobile vaccination centers. Here are excerpts of the interview:

This is the week that some 6,500 pharmacies across the country are going to get doses of the vaccine, which is great. But it's got a lot of people already wondering how they're going to access those doses because getting appointments has been such a scramble for so many people. What is the plan to keep this rollout to pharmacies from making an already chaotic process more chaotic?

We're in a situation, and we will be for a little while, of undersupply. ... But the good news is we are increasing production every week. We've increased production that we've delivered to states by over 20%. We're opening 100 community vaccination centers, including two that are open already. We are, as you said, starting to move directly into what we're calling a federal retail pharmacy program so that there will be more places for the vaccine to be available. And, you know, I think people are going to have to probably continue to be more patient and they want to be. But in the meantime, they should know that 40 million plus shots have gone out.

Are you working toward any kind of more unified system where we're not all trying to register at every pharmacy and the hospital and the local health authority and everywhere else?

Look, if we were designing a system with a clean sheet of paper, we might have done it differently. That's not where we are.

Today, many of the pharmacies have their own websites. ... We're looking at various options to make it easier for someone who wants to know: hey, if there's a vaccine near me, maybe it's not at my nearest pharmacy, maybe it's at a pharmacy that's two pharmacies away, or maybe it's at a hospital or a clinic. How do we help people find the answer to that? And so we're working on that.

We're hearing reporting saying that in Tennessee, the advice is register in every single county. I'm just thinking of how time consuming it is and how frustrating it is.

One of the things that's happening, and it's a little bit concerning and it should be concerning to all of us, is that people who are more tech savvy and more time on their hands, maybe they have more kids or grandkids, they're the ones that are locking up a lot of these appointments. And people who perhaps don't have as much technology or maybe aren't as fluent with technology and don't have all of those kinds of resources or time are getting locked out.

Can the White House do anything about that?

The things that we are doing are, No. 1, we are working with the two manufacturers. I think people know that there's two manufacturers, Pfizer and Moderna, to increase their supply and increase it every week. And each week so far, we've been able to announce additional volume. And we've been growing that volume. We've been using the Defense Production Act as we talked about last week.

And these are all small steps. None of them are silver bullets. ... And then at the end of February, beginning of March, we'll hope to hear what the FDA has to say about a third vaccine, which is a very promising vaccine from Johnson and Johnson.

The chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Raul Ruiz, is sounding the alarm about low vaccination rates in Latino communities. He's calling for vaccination sites to be set up at, say, meatpacking plants. Is that something that you're considering, vaccination sites at workplaces?

I'll tell you what we are considering, which is mobile vaccination centers that can move from place to place. They can go to workplaces, they can go to churches, they can go to communities. Because he's exactly right. We shouldn't make people who, like this, have to chase vaccines. The vaccines have to chase people. And when we talk to, you know, behavioral economist people who study this stuff, they say exactly what the congressman says: that if you eliminate friction, if you make it easier for people, you'll increase that vaccination rate.

Andrea Hsu and Courtney Dorning produced the audio interview. James Doubek produced for the Web.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.