President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday called for urgent action against the coronavirus pandemic as he presented a healthcare team that will be tested at every turn while working to restore the country to normalcy.
Biden has set three COVID-19 priorities for his first 100 days in office: a call for all Americans to voluntarily mask themselves during those 100 days, a pledge to administer 100 million vaccines, and a pledge to try to reopen the majority of schools from the country. .
“I know that out of our collective pain we will find our collective goal: to control the pandemic, save lives and heal as a nation,” Biden said.
The president-elect also said he would use the power of the federal government to require people to wear masks in federal buildings and when traveling from state to state by plane, train and bus.
Most of the time, this would codify the policies already in place. But Biden said he would urge governors and mayors to impose similar demands.
Topping Biden’s list of picks was Health Secretary candidate Xavier Becerra, a Latino politician who rose from humble beginnings to serve in Congress and as California’s attorney general. Others include a businessman renowned for his crisis management skills and a quartet of doctors, including Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease specialist.
The usual well-being affirmations that accompany such disclosures wereeclipsed by urgency, with new cases of COVID-19 averaging over 200,000 per day and deaths averaging over 2,200 per day as the country grapples with an uncontrolled spread.
The vaccines are expected soon.Government science advisers are meeting on Thursday to make a recommendation on the first, a Pfizer shot already administered in UK. Indeed, President Donald Trump hosted his own event on Tuesday, to take credit for his administration’s work to speed up vaccine development.
But having a vaccine approved is one thing, and getting it into the arms of 330 million Americans is another thing. Biden will be judged on how well his administration handles the gargantuan task.
On Tuesday, the president-elect warned that his team’s preliminary review of the Trump administration’s vaccination plans had revealed gaps. And he called on Congress to pass legislation to fund the administration of vaccines as they become more widely available next year. It would effectively close the loop, from the lab to the patient.
The rest of Biden’s vast healthcare agenda, from expanding insurance coverage to negotiating prescription drug prices, will likely depend on how well his administration performs in that first test of proficiency and credibility.
Becerra, Biden’s choice to head the Department of Health and Human Services, will be supported in the White House by businessman Jeff Zients, who will take on the role of coronavirus response coordinator. Leading complex and high-risk operations is his specialty.
Along with Fauci, other doctors selected include infectious disease specialist Rochelle Walensky to lead the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Vivek Murthy as general surgeon andYale Epidemiologist Marcella Nunez-Smithlead a working group to ensure a fair and equitable distribution of vaccines and treatments.
Participating via video, Fauci called Biden’s 100-day plan “bold but doable and essential in helping the public avoid unnecessary risk and helping us save lives.”
Always outspoken, he warned: “The road will not be easy. We still have a lot of difficult and demanding work to do. “
HHS is a more than a trillion dollar agency with 80,000 employees and a portfolio that includes drugs and vaccines, cutting edge medical research and health insurance programs covering more than 130 million Americans.
In choosing Becerra as health secretary, Biden brought in a prominent supporter of the affordable care law. But Becerra, 62, will face questions in his Senate confirmation as to whether he has sufficient experience in healthcare and management.
Becerra, as a congressman, played an insider role in helping steer “Obamacare” toward the passage, and as California attorney general he leads a coalition of Democratic states trying to block the latest attempt by the Trump administration to overturn it. He has been less involved in the daily work of fighting the coronavirus.
Becerra would be the first Latino to hold the post of US Secretary of Health. When announcing his choice on Tuesday, Biden first stumbled upon the Spanish pronunciation of Becerra’s name.
But Biden was drawn to Becerra’s working-class roots, his long-standing efforts to improve access to healthcare, and his willingness to work with Republicans to resolve issues such as patient access to COVID treatments. -19.
Accepting her nomination via a video link, Becerra called it a “breathtaking opportunity” to help shape the future of healthcare.
“I share the determination of the president-elect and the vice-president-elect to rebuild unity and civility in America,” he added.
Biden is under pressure from his fellow Democrats to make sure his cabinet is diverse.
Then-California Governor Jerry Brown appointed Becerra as California’s chief prosecutor at the end of 2016. Becerra immediately struck a combative tone against the new Trump administration.
Advocating for California’s implementation of the Affordable Care Act was a key priority, but he also focused on protecting young immigrants from deportation and defending California’s climate change laws.
As secretary of the HHS, Becerra would be responsible for overseeing the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which deals with unaccompanied minors who enter the United States illegally. Becerra has helped lead a coalition of fellow attorneys general who have pursued the Trump administration’s child separation policies.
Republicans immediately clarified their lines of attack. Senator John Cornyn of Texas argued that Becerra was unqualified because he had no ties to the health or pharmaceutical industries. Indiana Senator Mike Braun has lambasted his support for “Medicare for All,” which is not Biden’s policy. Opponents of abortion have called Becerra “unacceptable”.
The job of the secretary of the HHS requires political connections, communication skills, management skills, a willingness to learn about complex medical issues and a creative legal mind to use broad regulatory powers without getting lost in the law. lawsuits.
Becerra will need to establish links with the governors who will play outsized roles in the distribution of the coronavirus vaccine.
More health and Big Pharma coverage of Fortune:
- A depleted workforce with no end in sight: An inside look at the struggling healthcare industry in the United States
- Getting to the COVID-19 finish line: A drama in three acts
- the the science behind the main COVID vaccines will lead to faster manufacturing
- How? ‘Or’ What China’s COVID-19 vaccines could fill the gap leave by Pfizer, Modern, AstraZeneca
- Who receives the first COVID-19 vaccines? Historic UK rollout reveals who has priority