(Corrects to show Biden spokesman made comments on vaccine, not the president-elect)
NEW YORK, Jan 8 (Reuters) - President-elect Joe Biden wants to release more available doses of coronavirus vaccines when he takes office, a spokesman said on Friday, as the United States capped the first week of the new year with a slew of grim records set by the raging pandemic.
The U.S. rollout of vaccines has begun slowly as hospitals have not been able to give the shots as quickly as they have received them. A federal program aimed at inoculating residents and staff at long-term care homes has also lagged.
There is no federal infrastructure in place for giving vaccines, and states are each designing their own plans, with little funding to do so.
The monumental effort has fallen far short of the 20 million vaccination goal the Trump Administration had vowed to reach by the end of 2020.
“The President-elect believes we must accelerate distribution of the vaccine while continuing to ensure the Americans who need it most get it as soon as possible,” TJ Ducklo, a spokesman for Biden’s transition, told Reuters.
The announcement marked a departure from the Trump administration’s strategy of holding back a supply to make sure second doses of the vaccines are available.
Biden, a Democrat, will succeed President Donald Trump at the helm of the nation in less than two weeks.
A group of Democratic governors, including those of California, New York, Washington, Illinois and Michigan, this week sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar urging Washington to distribute “the millions of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine doses that are currently being held back by the Trump administration.”
As of Thursday, roughly 6 million people across the United States had received a first injection of the vaccines, accounting for less than one-third of more than 21 million doses shipped to date, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Top health officials this week announced plans to increase vaccine distribution as pressure builds on healthcare systems.
Azar also told governors to not let vaccines go unused due to policies requiring healthcare workers to get the shots first.
The pandemic showed no sign of abating this week, claiming the lives of more than 4,000 people across the country for the second consecutive day on Thursday, or one life lost every 22 seconds, according to a Reuters analysis of public health data.
With a total of over 365,000 deaths, one in every 895 U.S. residents has died of COVID-19 since the pandemic started, according to Reuters calculations.
The latest virus surge has been compounded by the spread of a new, more infectious coronavirus variant first detected in the United Kingdom that has now been found in at least eight U.S. states.
More than 132,000 Americans were hospitalized due to the coronavirus as of late Thursday night and the total number of cases nationwide rose to a staggering 21.5 million as strict mitigation measures further taxed the fragile U.S. economy. The loss of 140,000 nonfarm payrolls in December, reported by the Labor Department on Friday, was concentrated in the leisure and hospitality sector, which have been especially hard-hit by the pandemic, with closures of bars and restaurants accounting for three-quarters of the job losses.
Even so, better-performing sectors such as retail, manufacturing and construction offered hope the nation would not slip back into recession, together with the prospect of more fiscal stimulus now that Democrats have gained control of the U.S. Senate. (Reporting by Trevor Hunnicut, Maria Caspani, Doina Chiacu and Peter Szekely; Editing by Dan Grebler)