“More people may die if we don’t coordinate,” with the Trump administration, said President-elect Joe Biden earlier this week.
President-elect Joe Biden and his transition team are sounding the alarm that the delayed formal transition could hinder the coronavirus vaccine distribution process and other measures to combat the pandemic that continues to rage throughout the country.
Almost two weeks after the news outlets called the presidential race for Biden, the General Services Administration has yet to “ascertain” him as the winner, which precludes his team from sending personnel into the agencies, obtaining briefing books and accessing millions in funds. Although Biden and the members of his transition team have vast government experience and are making the best of the situation, pandemic planning is posing a challenge. So far two vaccines have been shown to be over 90% effective and Pfizer and BioNTech said on Wednesday they plan to seek emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for theirs “within days.”
The deadlines for states to certify their election results vary before the Electoral College meets December 14; the inauguration is on January 20. It is unclear how long the Trump campaign’s ongoing lawsuits, which have been unsuccessful so far, and Trump’s refusal to concede, will affect the ascertainment process.
“Unfortunately because of the lack of … ascertainment by the GSA my transition team hasn’t been able to get access to information we need to be able to deal with everything from testing and guidance to the all important issue of vaccine distribution and vaccination,” Biden said during a meeting with a bipartisan group of governors on Thursday. “We haven’t been able to get into ‘Operation Warp Speed,’ but we will take what we learn today and build on that.”
Unless GSA gives the ascertainment soon, “we’re going to be behind by weeks or months being able to put together the whole initiative relating to the biggest promise we have with two drug companies coming along,” he said at a virtual event with frontline health care workers on Wednesday. Earlier in the week, Biden told reporters “more people may die if we don’t coordinate” with the Trump administration, according to The Hill.
Ron Klain, incoming White House chief-of-staff, made similar remarks on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “We're going to have meetings between our top scientific advisers and the officials of these drug companies;” however, the “bigger issue will be the mechanics of manufacture and distribution, getting this vaccine out,” he said. “That really lies with folks at the Health and Human Services Department. We need to be talking to them as quickly as possible...It's great to have a vaccine, but vaccines don't save lives; vaccinations save lives...It's a giant logistical project.”
Dr. Rick Bright, ousted federal vaccine director turned whistleblower who now serves on Biden’s coronavirus advisory board, explained further to Pix 11 News on Wednesday why it’s imperative the Biden and Trump officials work together.
“We know that vaccines don't deliver themselves. It takes a team of people,” he said. “It takes an entire immunization program to be able to receive a vaccine from the manufacturer and to make sure that the vaccine is kept in the right storage conditions and that it gets into the hands of health care providers who would administer that vaccine.”
The Trump administration launched the public-private partnership “Operation Warp Speed,” in mid-May with the goal of producing and delivering 300 million initial doses of a vaccine by early next year. It has also awarded multi-million dollar contracts to manufacturers not part of the initiative formally. The administration is counting on the vaccine to control the coronavirus, of which there have been 11,373,310 cases and 241,704 deaths in the United States this year. On Wednesday, there were 163,975 new cases and 1,869 new deaths, which was the highest daily death toll since May 7, according to The COVID Tracking Project.
The transition team has its own coronavirus advisory board, but also has to “rely on piecemeal data from state and local officials and public sources like The COVID Tracking Project,” Politico reported on Tuesday.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who has been through multiple transitions, said on CNN on Sunday “it would be better” if the Trump administration could start working with the Biden transition team.
The American Manufacturers Association is one of the recent groups to join the call on GSA to act, while the lawsuits continue. “Manufacturers have been on the front lines throughout this pandemic—producing protective equipment, stabilizing the food supply, encouraging safe practices and developing vaccines and treatments,” the organization said in a statement on Wednesday. “Now our attention turns to the distribution of safe and effective vaccines as quickly as possible, while continuing to protect against disruptions of the supply chain.”
HHS Secretary Alex Azar said on ABC on Monday morning that his agency will brief the Biden team on the vaccine plans if and when GSA makes the ascertainment, also noting that the department already published its vaccine strategy in September for public viewing. The plan puts a large burden on the states and Biden said he discussed with governors on Thursday the “difficulty” of doing so.
On Thursday evening the White House coronavirus task force held its first public briefing since July, and members spoke about many of the topics on which the Biden team is seeking information.
In his remarks on Wednesday, Biden pointed out that the law requires GSA to recognize an “apparent” winner not “absolute winner.” Therefore with 290 electoral votes, according to the Associated Press, he said he believes he’s entitled to the ascertainment. GSA ascertaining a winner has been an event largely outside of the spotlight, except during the 2000 election when there wasn’t a clear winner immediately.
When asked on Thursday if he’s considering taking legal action against GSA, Biden said “it would take time” and not speed up the transition process. However, when pressed, he said: “We haven’t ruled it out.”