Biden COVID-19 czar calls Trump vaccine planning ‘so much worse than we could have imagined’
President Biden’s coronavirus team is faulting the Trump administration for what it’s calling a lack of planning in the government’s COVID-19 response that is now forcing officials to ramp up federal action.
“What we’re inheriting is so much worse than we could have imagined,” Jeff Zients, Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator, said on a call with reporters.
Biden is slated to take several executive actions on Thursday, including directing agencies to make more aggressive use of the Defense Production Act (DPA) to direct companies to increase manufacturing of supplies for testing, vaccines and protective equipment for health workers.
Biden officials said they have identified “12 immediate supply shortfalls” in those areas that they would work to address.
Former President Trump was particularly disengaged from the coronavirus response near the end of his presidency as he focused instead on trying to overturn the election results. His administration from the beginning of the pandemic deferred many of the responsibilities to states, including the final stage of vaccine distribution: getting shots in arms.
The Biden team’s criticism of the Trump administration comes as they tamp down any expectations that the situation will immediately turn around.
A lack of visibility into vaccine allocation efforts during the transition period has forced the new administration to try to quickly get a handle where things stand with the government’s response to the pandemic, officials said.
“Allocation and supply are critical areas that we did not, unfortunately, have much visibility into and we’re focusing on that immediately,” Zients said.
He said the Biden team does not have exact supply projections from vaccine manufacturers, other than knowing there is enough supply for the administration’s goal of 100 million shots in the first 100 days.
“We also know that we need to increase supply, which is why you’re hearing about all this focus on the DPA and working closely with the manufacturers,” Zients said.
The Biden administration plans to use the Federal Emergency Management Agency to set up federally run vaccination sites, with the goal of 100 sites in the next month.
Officials also intend to improve communication with states that have complained that it is hard for them to plan their vaccine distribution efforts without clear messages from the federal government about how many vaccine doses they will be allocated and when.
“We hear over and over from governors and local leaders that they just don’t know what supply is coming in and can’t plan,” Zients said. “We will absolutely across the next few days [work] to get our arms around what’s going on.”
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