In one of his first official actions as the presumed President-Elect, Vice President Biden is establishing a new Coronavirus Task Force to formally advise the transition.
WHAT IT MEANS
Over the weekend, major news networks formally called the 2020 presidential election for Vice President Biden. While President Trump has not conceded and has indicated he intends to pursue legal challenges to the election, Biden offered a formal acceptance speech, and has begun to proceed with a transition.
In one of the first actions of his transition, Biden will establish a new coronavirus Task Force to inform the incoming Administration’s policy. Biden made the pandemic a focal point of the campaign, repeatedly challenging the current Administration’s approach to the pandemic. It is unsurprising to see an early action underscoring the incoming Administration’s intention to pivot the federal approach.
KEY POINTS ABOUT THE COMMISSION
- 13 Members – The Task Force will have 13 members.
- 3 Co-chairs:
- Vivek Murthy – Former Surgeon General appointed by President Obama and removed by President Trump. Murthy has been a key advisor for the Biden campaign on health issues and is widely considered to be in the running for a permanent role in the Administration.
- David Kessler – Former head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under Presidents George H W Bush and Bill Clinton. Like Murthy, Kessler has been advising the Biden campaign on the pandemic response.
- Marcella Nunez-Smith – Yale School of Public Health
- Other Members:
- Celine Gounder – Infectious disease specialist, New York University
- Zeke Emanuel – Center for American Progress, UPenn, former Obama White House aide
- Julie Morita – former Chicago Health Commissioner, current executive vice president at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
- Luciana Borio – former Assistant Commissioner for Counterterrorism and Emerging Threats and Acting Chief Scientist at FDA under President Obama
- Rick Bright – former Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) Director under President Trump
- Atul Gawande – surgeon and public health researcher, Brigham and Women’s Hospital
- Michael Osterholm – Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at University of Minnesota
- Loyce Pace – President & Executive Director at Global Health Council
- Robert Rodriguez – Emergency Medicine Physician, Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital
- Eric Goosby – former Clinton and Obama Administration leader on HIV/AIDS
ISSUES THAT THE TASK FORCE WILL NEED TO ADDRESS
- Masks – A Biden Administration is expected to fully embrace masks as a public health tool, encouraging more widespread adoption. Biden has made commitments to issuing national mask mandates on public transportation, on airlines, and in federal buildings. We do not expect a national mask mandate, as there is no enforceable authority by which to do so, and hinging certain federal funding for states on a mandate would require an act of Congress (unlikely with a Republican Senate). Look for the Task Force to underscore working with state and local health departments to establish mask policies and lead by example.
- Vaccine Distribution – For months, the Trump Administration has been developing infrastructure to rapidly distribute a COVID-19 vaccine once authorized or licensed by the FDA. For example, last month, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) signed agreements with several large pharmacies to provide vaccine distribution services to long-term care facilities, free of charge to the facility or patients, likely to be at the front of the line for vaccine prioritization. The Task Force will need to address how a Biden Administration will take over these plans and approach distribution.
- Vaccine Prioritization – Several broad stroke prioritization plans have been produced by leading bodies, including the World Health Organization and National Academies of Medicine. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has noted that official prioritization guidelines will be produced after a vaccine is authorized or licensed for that specific vaccine. Expect the Task Force to elevate the stature of the work at CDC and put focus on traditionally underserved communities. Look for the Task Force to being efforts to boost vaccine confidence.
- Note on vaccines: With the announcement today of positive Phase III results for a vaccine, we can anticipate an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) filing before the end of the year. That makes it possible a vaccine is authorized before the President-elect is sworn in.
- Personal Protective Equipment/Essential Drugs and Supplies –The Task Force will likely be responsible for establishing baseline priorities and supply chain issues (in the campaign President-elect Biden called for a 100 day review) the new Administration will address. Biden has repeatedly cited the need to invoke the Defense Production Act to ensure that front-line workers and others have access to the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) needed, and the need for surge capacity to produce critical medical products. He has also echoed the current Administration’s views that government procurement policy and incentives can being more production for these products back to the US.
- Schools – While the CDC has issued recommendations for schools, we expect the Task Force to create national standards for reopening schools and build the case for Congress to provide additional funding to states and localities to meet these standards.
- Bolstering Test and Trace Capacity – Biden and Congressional Democrats have repeatedly criticized the Administration for a lack of national testing strategy. The Task Force will be responsible for establishing what concrete actions a Biden Administration would take to bolster testing capacity. The Biden campaign has publicly pledged to grow the number of drive-through testing sites available to consumers (at least ten per state, per campaign plan), as well as to bolster support for development of at-home tests.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR YOU
No policy announced today, so nothing immediate to react to.
Remember, the Biden Administration does not take over until January 20th. Before that date, it’s very possible we see an increase in cases as the weather drives people indoors and many travel for the holidays. While the Task Force cannot directly impact these events, expect that they will be active in developing plans in preparation for the transition and communicating their plans with the public and major stakeholders.