Walensky made the remarks amid low vaccination turnout in the country. According to CDC data, only 1.6 million people across the country have completed both doses of the Wuhan coronavirus vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna. Israel has registered the highest vaccination rates for COVID-19 at 28.52 percent, compared to the U.S. only registering 4.48 percent. As a result, President Joe Biden announced his plan to vaccinate 100 million Americans Jan. 14 on his first 100 days in office.
According to Walensky, the 100 million target could be achieved with the Biden administration's "really ambitious but doable plan." The plan also involved getting more personnel on board to administer the vaccine to the public. "We need to make sure we have the people … on the ground. We're going to commission … military medical personnel … and retirees, we're going to look at upper level nursing students and medical students," she mentioned.
The incoming CDC director added that the Biden team is focused on ensuring the right supply reaches the right states and increasing the number of places where people can get the Wuhan coronavirus jab.
Under the plan, Americans can get the jab at "community vaccination centers, mobile vans and federally qualified health centers and pharmacies." Walensky remarked that the plan is "underpinned with equity" to ensure equal and equitable vaccine distribution nationwide.
Walensky started her term as CDC director upon Biden's Jan. 20 inauguration, as her position does not require Senate confirmation. She took a swipe at her predecessors, which included former President Donald Trump and the previous CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield.
"We need to reset the stage here … [and] make sure the country [and] the people understand: This pandemic is now going to be addressed with science, trust, transparency and communication of exactly where we are," she said. (Related: CDC errors caused crucial delays in the war on the Covid-19 coronavirus.)
She admitted that the outgoing Trump administration's refusal to cooperate with a peaceful transition made things more challenging. "I've been working closely with the agency review team … [and it] has really been helpful for me … to get up to speed with where we are," Walensky said.
The public health agency director seconded the Biden administration's rejection of a last-minute travel ban lifting, as she believed it was not yet the time for such bans to be lifted.
According to officials who talked to Reuters, former President Donald Trump had intended to remove current COVID-19 restrictions beginning Jan. 26. Travelers from the U.K., Brazil and Europe would be able to visit the U.S. when the flight ban is rescinded. Trump argued that removing the travel ban "is the best way to continue protecting Americans … while enabling travel to resume safely."
However, the Biden administration did a complete 180-degree turn with regard to the travel ban lifting. Incoming White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a tweet that President Joe Biden will shoot down the plan, adding that more stringent measures will be implemented.
"With the pandemic worsening and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel," the press secretary wrote. She added that the administration will not lift the restrictions – and will even plan on strengthening public health measures around international travel "to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19."
Walensky bolstered Psaki's statement, saying: "I don't think now is the time to encourage people to get on international flights. [If] anything, I think we can expect that they might tighten – especially in the context of variants that we are hearing about."
As of writing, the U.S. has recorded 107 cases of the more contagious B117 strain of the Wuhan coronavirus. The variant first discovered in the U.K. is said to be up to 70 percent more infectious than the standard strain. The CDC has warned that the mutated variant could become dominant in the U.S. by March 2021. (Related: Israeli authorities to lock down country for the THIRD time despite a coronavirus vaccination drive.)
Data collated by Johns Hopkins University shows the U.S. with a 24.4 million COVID-19 caseload and 406,147 deaths.