Biden releases national COVID strategy, will order agencies to use Defense Production Act

President Biden released his national strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic Thursday, which will include using the Defense Production Act (DPA) and other powers to speed up the manufacturing of testing and vaccine supplies and other items needed to fight COVID-19. 

The Trump administration had resisted calls to release a comprehensive plan to fight COVID-19, instead deferring significant authority to the states. The plan released by the Biden administration Thursday aims to instill confidence in the U.S. pandemic response by accelerating the vaccine rollout, boosting testing and access to treatments and protecting those at most risk, including communities of color.

“For almost a year now, Americans could not look to the federal government for any strategy, let alone a comprehensive approach to respond to COVID,” said Jeff Zients, Biden’s COVID-19 response coordinator. 

“This is a plan that is driven by science data and public health. It’s not driven by politics.” 

Invoking the DPA is a key part of the Biden administration’s national strategy for defeating the coronavirus, though officials did not say when it would be used.

Biden administration officials signaled they would be more aggressive than the previous administration in invoking the DPA, which allows the federal government to force companies to increase production of critical supplies during national emergencies. 

“Where we can produce more, we will. Where we need to use the Defense Production Act to help more be made, we’ll do that too,” said Tim Manning, Biden’s COVID-19 supply coordinator, in a call with reporters Wednesday. 

Manning said his team has identified 12 immediate supply shortfalls, including for N95 masks, isolation gowns, gloves and swabs needed for tests. 

The administration will also use the DPA to accelerate production of syringes, raw materials used in vaccines and other items needed to quickly get shots in arms, officials said. 

“The team will work with the states and the manufacturers to ensure that we’re using the DPA as aggressively as needed to accelerate the supply of the vaccine,” said Bechara Choucair, Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine coordinator. 

While the Trump administration used the DPA to increase the supply of ventilators, masks and other supplies, critics argued he was not being aggressive enough to close shortages.

“President Trump has not used his DPA authority sufficiently enough to award adequate medical supply contracts for the nation’s needs. We must immediately do more to re-shore the most in-demand PPE, such as nitrile gloves, nearly all of which are manufactured in China,” a group of Democratic senators wrote in a letter this week to Biden, urging him to invoke the DPA. 

Former President Trump was also routinely criticized by Democrats for not formally releasing a national strategy on the COVID-19 pandemic. 

According to the plan, Biden’s strategy is centered around seven goals: restoring trust with the American people; mounting a safe and effective vaccination campaign; expanding masking, testing, data and treatments; building the health care workforce; safely reopening schools, businesses and travel while protecting workers; protecting those most at risk for serious illness, including people of color; and restoring U.S. leadership globally. 

The strategy aligns with several of the executive orders Biden will be signing Thursday, including one that will require mask-wearing in airports and on trains, airplanes and other modes of interstate travel. 

The plan also lays out goals to establish an “effective, comprehensive” and “aggressive” vaccination campaign but did not offer timetables for when shots will be available to the general public. 

In addition to using the DPA to ramp up vaccine supply, the plan also calls for releasing most doses to states as they become available, encouraging states to quickly open up eligibility for who can get shots, creating more venues where people can get vaccinated, with a focus on hard-to-reach and high-risk populations, and recruiting more people to serve as vaccinators, the plan reads. 

“We must do this equitably. We cannot miss vaccinating communities that are hit hardest by the pandemic. This is going to have to be critical to our success,” Choucair told reporters. 

The administration had already set a goal of getting 100 million people vaccinated within the first 100 days of Biden’s first term. 

“More people, more places, more supply. That’s what this boils down to,” Choucair said. 

Biden will also sign executive orders Thursday increasing federal reimbursement to states and tribes from 75 percent to 100 percent of the cost for National Guard personnel and emergency supplies, like personal protective equipment, cleaning and sanitizing efforts and opening mass vaccination centers.

Another executive order will create a Pandemic Testing Board, which will aim to increase testing capacity, expand the public health workforce, support COVID-19 screening in schools and ensure access to tests in underserved communities, according to the White House. 

Biden will also sign an executive order directing studies to identify COVID-19 treatments and ensure those studies address the needs of diverse populations. 

Other orders intend to improve the collection of COVID-19 data, direct federal agencies to provide guidance on school reopenings and to establish worker safety guidelines.

Biden will sign another executive order creating a COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, which will provide recommendations to the president for allocating resources and funding in communities that are disproportionately impacted by the virus. 

Biden officials stressed the administration will need more funding from Congress for the plan to work. Biden has proposed a $1.9 billion stimulus package, which would also go toward boosting the U.S. response. 

“While we will urgently execute the strategy, we do need Congress to act, and act quickly,” Zients said. 

–Updated at 10:20 a.m.

Tags Coronavirus COVID-19 Defense Production Act Donald Trump DPA Executive Order Jeff Zients Joe Biden

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