Joe Biden’s health team offers glimpse of his COVID-19 pandemic strategy | LIVE

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WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden is promising to distribute a coronavirus vaccine to 100 million people during the first three months of his incoming administration, pledging “100 million shots in the first 100 days.”

At an event from Delaware to introduce his pandemic response team on Tuesday, Biden laid out his top three priorities for the start of his new government. He repeated his previous calls for all Americans to wear masks for 100 days to prevent the spread of the virus and said he’d mandate doing so in federal buildings and on public transportation, while also making the new promise to distribute 100 million vaccines shots over the same period.

Biden also said he believed that the virus can be brought under enough control to reopen “the majority of schools” within his first 100 days.

Those pledges came even as Biden struck a somber tone about the toll the coronavirus has already taken. He said that, after about nine months of living with the pandemic, the U.S. is “at risk of becoming numb to its toll on all of us.” The president-elect specifically noted the virus’s “disproportionate” effects on Americans of color, calling it a “mass casualty” for many minority groups.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

President-elect Joe Biden’s choices for his health care team point to a stronger federal role in the nation’s COVID-19 strategy, restoration of a guiding stress on science and an emphasis on equitable distribution of vaccines and treatments.

With Monday’s announcement of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra as his health secretary and a half dozen other key appointments, Biden aims to leave behind the personality dramas that sometimes flourished under President Donald Trump. He hopes to return the federal response to a more methodical approach, seeking results by applying scientific knowledge in what he says will be a transparent and disciplined manner.

“We are still going to have a federal, state and local partnership,” commented Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the nonprofit American Public Health Association. “I just think there is going to be better guidance from the federal government and they are going to work more collaboratively with the states.”

SEE ALSO: Timeline of what happens between now and Inauguration Day 2021

In a sense, what Biden has is not quite yet a team, but a collection of players drafted for key positions. Some have already been working together as members of Biden’s coronavirus advisory board. Others will have to suit up quickly.

By announcing most of the key positions in one package, Biden is signaling that he expects his appointees to work together, and not as lords of their own bureaucratic fiefdoms.

“These are not turf-conscious people,” said Drew Altman, CEO of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, a clearinghouse for health care information and analysis. But “it’s up to the (Biden) administration to make it an effective team.”

A Washington saying, sometimes attributed to the late President Ronald Reagan, holds that “personnel is policy.” Here’s what Biden’s health care picks say about the policies his administration is likely to follow:


The selection of Becerra as health secretary and businessman Jeff Zients as White House coronavirus coordinator point to a more assertive federal coronavirus role.

Under Trump, states were sometimes left to figure things out themselves, as when the White House initially called on states to test all nursing home residents without providing an infrastructure, only to have to rectify that omission later.

Zients has made a name for himself rescuing government programs that went off course, such as the “Obamacare” website. Becerra has experience managing California’s attorney general’s office, which is bigger than some state governments.

Former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius knows both men from her service in the Obama administration and says she does not see them working at cross purposes.

A Secretary Becerra “can’t get up every morning and think only COVID,” she said. He’ll “work on COVID and coordinate the assets of the FDA, CDC and NIH, but he’ll have lots of other things to do.” Meanwhile “Zients will be the railroad engineer making sure the trains run on time.”

States are ready for the feds to take on a more assertive role, she said. “Governors – Republicans and Democrats – are eager to finally have a federal partner,” she said. “They have felt not only on their own, but unclear about what was coming out of the White House.”


Biden’s selection of infectious disease expert Dr. Rochelle Walensky to head the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the elevation of Dr. Anthony Fauci to medical adviser, and the return of Dr. Vivek Murthy as surgeon general are being read in the medical community as a restoration of the traditionally important role of science in public health emergencies.

“It means that the response plan will be grounded in health science,” said Dr. Nadine Gracia, executive vice president of the Trust for America’s Health, a nonprofit that works to promote public health.

Under Trump, “those of us who practice in medicine today have been dismayed,” said Dr. Wendy Armstrong, an infectious disease specialist at Emory University medical school. “The individuals with the greatest expertise have not had the voice many of us wish they would have had. … This to me signals that the government is ready to put expertise in place that can guide its plan.”

Walensky, a widely recognized HIV/AIDS expert, got her coronavirus experience first hand as chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston during the first wave this spring.

“She was a real leader when it came to COVID,” said Dr. Rajesh Gandhi, an infectious disease physician at Mass General. “She organized infection control policies within the hospital, she organized treatment studies, she was organizing testing and leading testing.”


Even more than the nomination of a Latino politician for health secretary, Biden’s selection of Yale University’s Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith is being read as a sign that his administration will work for equitable distribution of vaccines and treatments among racial and ethnic minorities, who have suffered a disproportionately high toll of COVID-19 deaths.

That challenge faces widespread skepticism among minorities that the health care system has their best interests in mind.

Early indications are that the vaccines are highly effective, said Altman of the Kaiser Foundation. But polling indicates a strong undertow of doubts, especially among African Americans.

“While states will be able to make the final decisions on who gets the vaccine, there has to be guidance around those decisions so that they are fair and equitable across the country,” Altman said. “You don’t want to have the kind of variations that people will look and say, ‘This just wasn’t fair.’ ”

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