Its mission will be “to provide federal support for existing or new municipal vaccination centers and mobile clinics across the country.”
The involvement of FEMA, an agency of the Department of Homeland Security, is among the clearest signals that Biden intends to involve the federal government more directly in the administration of vaccines, instead of leaving the final step in the mass efforts of state and local authorities.
“FEMA … will mobilize thousands of clinical and non-clinical staff and practitioners to work hand in hand with the National Guard and state and local teams to support, increase and accelerate the spread and administration of coronavirus vaccines,”
If requested by states and other jurisdictions, the project notes that “the U.S. government will develop, equip, provide information management, and provide staff and manage the site.”
The shots fired at these locations are expected to benefit from the supply of vaccines provided to individual countries and territories, and some large cities instead of relying on a new federal flow for distribution. The lack of an abundance of vaccines will remain the most pressing problem, probably until March.
The Trump administration, which has seen rapid progress in developing half a dozen vaccine candidates, has faced criticism in recent days for not planning enough for ground-level barriers to immunization, from labor shortages to aging computer systems. Many countries have already set up mass vaccination clinics, but officials say help will be needed to ensure that as many people as possible are vaccinated.
Others opposed the Biden administration’s efforts, signaling that greater federal coordination was becoming politically charged. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (P), a close ally of Trump, ridiculed the plan this week, citing expected centers such as “FEMA camps.”
“I can tell you that’s not necessary in Florida,” he said.
But the plan was welcomed by FEMA officials across the country, who spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to take action.
One employee said he was moved to tears by the new sense of purpose. “It’s amazing what we can do when we take off our gloves,” the official said. Another recounted a regional planning conversation in which emergency managers discussed how to obtain additional information from states about gaps in their existing infrastructure. Biden administration officials have begun calling on state leaders to consult with them on how federal aid can increase their capacity, according to people familiar with the calls.
The project outlines four possible sizes for federally administered sites. The largest, called the Mega Model, could administer 6,000 doses per day, but requires a space of at least 15,000 square meters. The smallest will cover only 2,500 square meters and will be able to handle 250 doses per day.
At the same time, the planning document outlines the obstacles to the immediate involvement of FEMA staff in some aspects of immunization, especially in the administration of shots, due to licensing requirements. Biden’s strategy encourages states to strengthen their workforce, including by “expanding the scope of practical laws and waiving licensing requirements, if appropriate.” It also aims to enable state and local governments to receive greater reimbursement for the administration of vaccines through the FEMA Disaster Relief Fund.
The draft FEMA initiative notes that federal managers will need to review local regulations “when defining clinic staff and allocating roles and responsibilities.”
“Depending on the situation and permission from the state health commissioner, non-medical staff can be used for positions that usually require a medical license / certificate,” the draft states.
FEMA played a leading role in the Trump administration’s early efforts to find and deliver medical equipment to the front line of the pandemic, an initiative known as Project Airbridge. However, those efforts were scrapped last summer, and the agency’s role in responding to the pandemic became highly uneven, especially as the Trump administration insisted on delegating responsibility to states.
Biden covid-19 supply coordinator Tim Manning is a former FEMA employee. The president’s electorate that will lead the agency, Dean Criswell, is a commissioner for emergency management in New York. She will be the first woman to run the agency.