Welcome to Thursday's Overnight Health Care.
President Biden unveiled his comprehensive COVID-19 response plan, while his aides criticized what they said was inadequate planning from the Trump administration on vaccines. Speaker Pelosi plans to move quickly on more COVID relief, and Biden will soon rescind a controversial anti-abortion rule.
We'll start with Biden's COVID plan:
Biden unveils coronavirus plan, warns it will take months to 'turn things around'
President Biden on Thursday unveiled a comprehensive strategy to address the coronavirus pandemic while warning that it would take months for his administration’s actions to significantly alter the trajectory of the pandemic.
Biden, seeking to manage expectations as the United States confronts a dire period of infections, said that the COVID-19 death toll would likely top 500,000 in February and that it would take months to get Americans vaccinated against the virus.
“We didn’t get into this mess overnight and it’s going to take months for us to turn things around. But let me be equally clear — we will get through this,” Biden said in remarks from the State Dining Room.
“We will defeat this pandemic, and to a nation waiting for action, let me be the clearest on this point: Help is on the way,” he continued.
Biden on his first full day in office unveiled a 100-plus page national strategy to defeat COVID-19, which focuses on accelerating vaccinations while slowing the spread of the virus with increased mask wearing, more testing and other public health measures. He also signed 10 executive orders aimed at blunting the public health crisis.
Fauci says it's 'liberating' working under Biden
Anthony FauciAnthony FauciBiden reignites debate over travel bans Overnight Health Care — Presented by March of Dimes — Omicron sets off a flurry of responses Newsweek opinion editor: Fauci represents 'extremely arrogant and highly politicized elite' MORE is not exactly hiding the fact that he’s happy to be working under President Biden instead of President TrumpDonald TrumpPence: Supreme Court has chance to right 'historic wrong' with abortion ruling Prosecutor says during trial that actor Jussie Smollett staged 'fake hate crime' Overnight Defense & National Security — US, Iran return to negotiating table MORE.
Speaking at the White House press briefing, Fauci was asked if he feels "less constrained" in the new administration after clashing with Trump and eventually being sidelined last year.
“I can tell you I take no pleasure at all in being in a situation of contradicting the president, so it was really something that you didn’t feel you could actually say something and there wouldn’t be any repercussions about it,” he said. “The idea that you can get up here and talk about what you know, what the evidence and science is, and know that’s it — let the science speak, it is somewhat of a liberating feeling.”
Fauci became a national star as a public spokesman for the Trump administration’s coronavirus response.
Hydroxychloroquine split: Fauci eventually ran crossways with Trump, who often downplayed the virus and made unsupported claims about “miracle” drugs such as hydroxychloroquine. Trump at one point said he was taking the medication to prevent COVID-19.
“It was very clear that there were things that were said regarding things like hydroxychloroquine and other things like that, that was uncomfortable because they were not based on scientific fact,” Fauci said.
More from Fauci...
Biden not 'starting from scratch' on vaccine distribution
Fauci said the Biden administration is not starting from square one on its COVID-19 vaccine distribution, contradicting reports that Trump officials did not leave them with a plan.
"We're certainly not starting from scratch, because there is activity going on in the distribution," Fauci told reporters during an appearance in the White House briefing room.
The nation's top infectious disease expert indicated that the Trump administration left a blueprint, but Biden officials will build on it.
For example, Fauci touted President Biden's plans to open community vaccination centers, expanding access through pharmacies, pharmacy buy-in, and invoking the Defense Production Act in certain circumstances.
"We're coming in with fresh ideas, but also some ideas that were not bad ideas with the previous administration. You can't say it was absolutely not usable at all," Fauci said.
"It's taking what's going on, but amplifying it in a big way,” Fauci added.
The rollout of vaccines in the waning days of the Trump administration was choppy and inconsistent. But while it fell short of the "last mile" of distribution, Operation Warp Speed had a plan to allocate and distribute vaccines.
Pelosi says House will move immediately on COVID-19 relief
A House vote on Biden’s big coronavirus relief package could be coming soon.
House Democrats have rearranged their schedule over the next two weeks, scrapping votes next week to allow the relevant committees to consider the various provisions of their emerging COVID-19 relief package. Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiNews media's sausage-making obsession helps no one Klobuchar confident spending bill will be finished before Christmas Five reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season MORE (D-Calif.) suggested that package could hit the House floor as early as the week of Feb. 1.
"We're getting ready for a COVID relief package. We'll be working on that as we go," she told reporters in the Capitol. "We'll be doing our ... committee work all next week so that we are completely ready to go to the floor when we come back."
A Pelosi aide emphasized that no floor vote has been scheduled.
Biden last week had unveiled a $1.9 trillion emergency relief package, which features many of the wish-list items contained in earlier proposals from Pelosi and House Democrats.
That list includes hundreds of billions of dollars to develop and distribute COVID-19 vaccines, hike unemployment benefits, provide $1,400 in direct payments to qualified Americans and help state and local governments cope financially with the ongoing crisis, which has killed more than 400,000 people in the United States alone.
Biden to rescind controversial abortion rule in coming days
President Biden will rescind a controversial policy in the coming days that bans the use of U.S. funding for foreign organizations that provide or promote abortions.
The so-called Mexico City policy, first established by former President Reagan in 1984 and named for the city he announced it in, requires that foreign groups receiving family planning aid from the U.S. government agree not to provide or promote abortions — even with funding from other sources.
Described as a “global gag rule” by reproductive health advocates, the policy has been rescinded by Democratic presidents and reinstated by Republicans since Reagan, and has been in effect for 19 of the past 34 years.
“It will be our policy to support women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights in the United States, as well as globally,” Anthony Fauci said in remarks to the World Health Organization Thursday morning.
Trump reinstated the ban upon taking office in 2017 and later expanded it to cover all global health assistance, including funding for HIV, maternal and child health and malaria programs.
Biden’s expected rescission of the ban means foreign organizations will no longer have to certify that they don’t perform or promote abortions to receive U.S. global health aid.
Timing: A document circulated among White House allies and obtained by The Hill earlier this week indicates the order will likely be signed Jan. 28.
What we’re reading
Emerging evidence suggests new coronavirus variant could be problematic for vaccines (CNN.com)
In U.K. hospitals, a desperate battle against a threat many saw coming (New York Times)
After a decade of lobbying, ALS patients gain faster access to disability payments (Kaiser Health News)
Biden inherits a vaccine supply unlikely to grow before April (New York Times)
State by state
S.F. fears of running out of vaccines eased as paused Moderna batch is OKd for use (San Francisco Chronicle)
Dallas county axes plan to prioritize vaccinating communities of color after state threatens to slash allocation (Texas Tribune)
'We need more': Cities and hospitals feel pinch of Covid-19 vaccine shortages (NBC News)
Op-eds in The Hill