President Joe Biden signed 10 new executive orders Thursday to implement a strategy for the U.S. to battle COVID-19 and curb the pandemic, as variants of the virus threaten to cause a new surge.
The orders include testing expansion, a plan for vaccine distribution, strategies to reopen schools and businesses, and invoking the Defense Production Act to produce more protective gear, testing equipment and vaccine supplementals, such as tubes and syringes.
“We are in a national emergency, it’s time we treated it like one,” Biden said.
Biden also plans to reimburse states, through Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), for their testing and vaccination efforts, as well as any deployment of the National Guard as part of the strategy to expand vaccinations.
FEMA is already beginning to set up vaccination centers, according to Biden, with a goal of 100 being set up by next month.
Another key area of focus is an international effort to fight the pandemic, through the World Health Organization and its COVAX Facility vaccine program. Dr. Anthony Fauci lead the U.S. delegation in a meeting with the WHO early Thursday, officially announcing Biden’s actions Wednesday to reverse course of drawing down staffing and withdrawing support for the agency as directed by the Trump administration.
“The United States also intends to fulfill its financial obligations to the organization. The United States sees technical collaboration at all levels as a fundamental part of our relationship with WHO, one that we value deeply and will look to strengthen going forward,” Fauci said.
The slow rollout of vaccines has been an ongoing concern as states were left confused by the Trump administration’s messaging of how many were being allocated and how quickly they would be delivered. While distribution has slowly been ramping up — with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting more than 16 million first and second doses have been administered, and nearly 36 million doses have been delivered — there appears to still be a disconnect between what vaccine makers like Pfizer (PFE) have available and what has been bought, distributed and allocated.
New York attempted to purchase directly from Pfizer but was denied, on account of the vaccine still being only authorized for emergency use.
“Pfizer is open to collaborating with HHS on a distribution model that gives as many Americans as possible access to our vaccine as quickly as possible. However, before we can sell directly to State governments, HHS would need to approve that proposal based on the EUA granted to Pfizer by the FDA,” Pfizer said in a statement.
Both Pfizer and Moderna (MRNA) have agreements with the federal government. The U.S. has purchased 200 million doses from Moderna and has an option to purchase an additional 200 million. Meanwhile, both companies are also selling to other countries.
New CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told TODAY the new government needs to better understand how and where to distribute the vaccine.
Walensky also said, “I don’t think (by) late February we’re going to have vaccine in every pharmacy in this country.”
But Biden noted at his briefing Thursday afternoon that the pharmacy program could begin as early as February 7 or 8.
Meanwhile, hopeful news came from Eli Lilly (LLY) Thursday that its monoclonal antibody treatment showed 80% reduced risk of symptomatic COVID-19 in nursing home patients. The company announced the results, but data is yet to be released.
SVB Leerink analyst Geoffrey Porges called the news potentially game-changing, but logistics remain a hurdle.
“This hinges on quick, targeted distribution of antibodies to high-risk individuals by the U.S. government, which is a significant unknown factor, and infused administration continues to post a challenge to distribution,” Porges said in a note Thursday.
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