Coronavirus Roundup: Biden Promises Vaccine Transparency with States and Localities; White House COVID Team Gives First Briefing
There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.
While giving remarks on his administration’s coronavirus vaccine strategy on Tuesday afternoon, Biden said, “I've said in the past, we want to give credit to everyone involved in this vaccine effort and the prior administration and the science community and the medical sphere” for starting the vaccine program. “But it's also no secret that we have recently discovered, in the final days of the transition—and it wasn't until the final days we got the kind of cooperation we needed—that once we arrived, the vaccine program was in worse shape than we anticipated or expected.” Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed.
Biden announced on Tuesday that he directed the Health and Human Services Department to purchase 200 million more vaccine doses (100 of Moderna’s and 100 of Pfizer’s.) “We expect these additional 200 million doses to be delivered this summer,” he said. “The order—and that increases the total vaccine order in the United States by 50%—[will go] from 400 million ordered to 600 million. This is enough vaccine to fully vaccinate 300 million Americans by the end of the summer, beginning of the fall.”
Biden also said his administration is increasing transparency with states, tribes and territories on vaccine distribution. “From this week forward, God willing, we'll ensure [they] will now always have a reliable three-week forecast on what the supply they're going to get,” he stated. “So they'll know, three weeks ahead of time, what's going to be there in the third week.” He signed an executive order requiring the advance notice.
Moncef Slaoui, co-head of the Trump administration’s “Operation Warp Speed,” told Science Magazine that “for sure,” President Trump’s refusal to concede the election made it more challenging to brief the incoming administration. “It was at least very, very unfortunate, to use a polite word,” Slaoui said. His resignation will take effect on February 12. “I am very supportive of the new administration,” he said. “I don’t want to turn my back and leave.”
Biden’s coronavirus team gave its first briefing on Wednesday. Andy Slavitt, White House senior adviser for the COVID response, said that the administration's goal of administering 1 million vaccine doses a day is the “floor not the ceiling.”
Upon getting sworn in on Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen wrote in a message to staff that “it's an incredible honor to join this team of 84,000 public servants” and praised their work since the start of the pandemic and recession. “Now we must complete the task,” she said. “We must help the American people endure the final months of this pandemic by making sure they have roofs over their head and food on the table. Then, we must assist them in getting back to work safely. But even as we work to recover from this pandemic, we cannot forget about the department’s usual business; the essential work that ranges from overseeing financial markets, to managing the nation’s finances, to strengthening the global economy and fighting illicit finance in partnership with America’s allies.”
In his first remarks to staff, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said on Wednesday, “the pandemic has claimed the lives of five State Department Americans and 42 locally employed staff around the world.” He added, “Many more have gotten sick.”
President Biden will name Susan Orsega, a career-commissioned officer in the U.S. Public Health Service corps, as acting surgeon general, who will be among the first nurses to serve in the role, The Washington Post reported.
An investigation by the Health and Human Services Department’s inspector general and overseen by the Office of Special Counsel, found that “federal officials repeatedly raided a fund earmarked for biomedical research in the years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, spending millions of dollars to pay for unrelated salaries, administrative expenses and even the cost of removing office furniture,” The Washington Post reported on Wednesday. This was based on a whistleblower complaint that claimed this occurred from fiscal 2010-2019, spanning both the Obama and Trump administrations.
Over the last ten years, the Health and Human Services Department has “misappropriated millions of dollars Congress intended to fund vaccine research and emergency preparedness for public health threats like Ebola, Zika, and COVID-19,” the Office of Special Counsel announced on Wednesday. A whistleblower submitted a complaint to OSC, which then referred it to the HHS inspector general for investigation. OSC said:
“While the report does not contain a specific estimate for total funds misappropriated, it contains evidence that as recently as FY 2019, approximately $25 million was taken from [Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority] programs and improperly provided to [Office of Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response]. Moreover, from FY 2007 to 2016, ASPR's reporting to Congress failed to account for $517.8 million in administrative expenditures. The report found that ‘ASPR is unable to demonstrate that the[se] BARDA funds were used for their appropriated purposes.’ ”
The Defense Department gave a status update on Wednesday on COVID-19 travel restrictions at military installations. Restrictions have been lifted at 86 of 231 installations (37%).
The nonprofit Partnership for Public Service published a report on Wednesday about the government’s resiliency during the pandemic and lessons learned. “We found that the majority of agencies navigated the pandemic effectively, continuing to deliver on their missions amid the uncertainty,” the report said. “The Internal Revenue Service, for example, distributed billions of dollars in stimulus payments to millions of individuals in only two months. The Department of Veterans Affairs handled an almost fifteenfold increase in telehealth appointments for veterans’ physical and mental health services. Other agencies stumbled. Federal public health agencies, for example, struggled to collect and share accurate health care data with states, local governments and private partners. For some agencies, the coronavirus highlighted the challenges already posed by government struggles with antiquated technologies, retention of high performers and cumbersome rules for budgeting and procurement.”
Upcoming: White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, and National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy will hold a press briefing at 12:15 p.m.
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