Health and Science

Biden on ambitious Covid rescue plans: 'I will always be honest with you'

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Key Points
  • President-elect Biden unveiled a sweeping plan to combat the pandemic in the U.S., which includes investing billions in a nationwide Covid-19 vaccine campaign.
  • The plan, which Biden is expected to discuss in detail Thursday night, would invest $20 billion in a national vaccination program in partnership with states, localities, tribes and territories.
  • The pace of vaccinations is going much slower than U.S. officials had hoped, and states are blaming insufficient funding and inconsistent communication from the federal government for the slow rollout.
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Biden's $1.9 trillion relief plan unveiled

President-elect Joe Biden on Thursday unveiled a sweeping plan to combat the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, massively scaling up testing to support school reopenings, creating more health-care jobs and investing billions in a nationwide Covid-19 vaccine campaign.

The plan, which Biden discussed Thursday night from his transition headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, would invest $20 billion in a national vaccination program in partnership with states, localities, tribes and territories. The pace of vaccinations is going much slower than U.S. officials had hoped, and states are blaming a lack of funding and inconsistent communication from the federal government for the slow rollout.

"Here's the deal: The more people we vaccinate, the faster we do it, the sooner we can save lives and put this pandemic behind us and get back to our lives and loved ones," Biden said during his speech. "We won't get out of it overnight and we can't do it as a separated nation."

"My fellow Americans, the decisions we make in the next few weeks and months are going to determine whether we thrive in a way that benefits all Americans, or whether we stay stuck in a place where those at the top do great while economic growth for almost everyone else is just a spectator sport," Biden said.

"It's going to take time to get where we need to be. There will be stumbles, but I will always be honest with you about both the progress we're making and what setbacks we meet," he said.

In response to a question from a reporter during a briefing earlier Thursday about vaccine readiness and how quickly they could scale up, a senior Biden official noted that the current infrastructure in place for mass vaccinations was not enough: "What we're hearing from the Trump administration is worse than we could have imagined ... They still don't have the basics down."

In the 19-page document explaining the plan, Biden's administration says current vaccination efforts are not sufficient to quickly and equitably vaccinate the vast majority of the U.S. population, adding, "We must ensure that those on the ground have what they need to get vaccinations into people's arms."

Here's a quick look at what Biden's proposal would also do:

  • Invests $50 billion to expand testing
  • Fund 100,000 new public health worker jobs
  • Identify and address emerging strains of Covid and invest in new treatments
  • Protect vulnerable groups, health workers and boost the supply of gloves, masks and other supplies
  • Rejoin international efforts to stop Covid
  • Provide $170 billion to reopen schools and universities

Biden would also scale up testing to support safely reopening schools and protect at-risk populations, like the elderly and people with preexisting conditions. His administration said testing is a "critical" strategy for controlling the spread of the virus, but added tests are still not widely available, and the U.S. is still not using the ones it has effectively.

The president-elect's plan invests $50 billion in testing, providing funds for rapid tests, investments to expand lab capacity and help states implement regular testing protocols.

Notably, the plan includes investing in new treatments for Covid-19. Earlier in the day, a member of Biden's Covid-19 advisory board, Dr. Celine Gounder, said public health officials have been focusing too much on treatments such as monoclonal antibodies and Gilead Sciences' antiviral drug remdesivir. Monoclonal antibodies, in particular, have had a lukewarm response from health-care providers, often sitting unused, according to U.S. officials.

"We need to think about other" therapies, Gounder told the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health during a webcast, adding "monoclonal antibodies may not be the solution here."

The plan also calls for creating a fund to support 100,000 new health-care jobs as well as using the National Guard to boost the nation's supply of vials as well as gloves and masks for health workers already on the frontlines.

Biden's administration plans to invest $30 billion in the Disaster Relief Fund to ensure sufficient supplies of protective gear. It will also provide 100% federal reimbursement for critical emergency supplies to states, local governments and tribes, including deployment of the National Guard, according to an outline of the plan. Biden plans to request an additional $10 billion to manufacture pandemic supplies.

Biden would "restore U.S. leadership globally" and provide support to the international health and humanitarian response efforts. It's unclear if that means the U.S. will rejoin the World Health Organization after President Donald Trump withdrew the nation from the international agency last year. However, Biden has said in the past that he intends on returning the U.S. to the WHO.

The new plan from the president-elect comes as the coronavirus continues to rapidly spread across the U.S. and deaths sharply rise. The nation is now recording at least 245,300 new Covid-19 cases and at least 3,360 virus-related deaths each day, based on a seven-day average calculated by CNBC using Johns Hopkins University data. The U.S. reported a record 4,327 coronavirus fatalities on Tuesday, the second time in just a week the nation's daily death toll has surpassed 4,000.

Trump's response to the pandemic has been criticized, including his handling of distributing Pfizer's and Moderna's Covid-19 vaccines.

As of Thursday at 9 a.m. ET, more than 30.6 million doses of vaccine had been distributed across the U.S., but just over 11.1 million shots have been administered, according to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number is a far cry from the federal government's goal of inoculating 20 million Americans by the end of 2020 and 50 million Americans by the end of this month.

The Trump administration on Tuesday adopted Biden's plan to release most of the doses it had held back for the second round of shots of Pfizer's and Moderna's two-dose vaccines.

In an attempt to speed up the pace of vaccinations, the Trump administration also changed the way it allocates vaccine doses to states and the CDC expanded the vaccine eligibility to everyone 65 and older as well as to those with comorbid conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease.