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Biden issues 5 executive orders to ramp up COVID-19 vaccine and supply response

One data-driven response requires the heads of all executive departments and agencies to share COVID-19 data with the coronavirus czar.

Susan Morse, Managing Editor

Win McNamee/Getty Images

On his second day in office President Joe Biden issued five promised executive orders to ramp up production and supply of vaccines, testing equipment and personal protection equipment and to mandate mask-wearing on planes, trains and intercity buses.

By executive order, Biden authorized the use of the Defense Production Act to secure supplies necessary for health workers responding to the pandemic.

He issued a memorandum to extend federal support to the governors' use of the National Guard to respond to COVID-19 and to increase reimbursement and other assistance to states.

He issued an executive order to ensure a data-driven response to COVID-19 and future high-consequence public health threats. Consistent with this policy, the heads of all executive departments and agencies are to facilitate the gathering, sharing and publication of COVID-19-related data in coordination with the Coordinator of the COVID-19 Response.

Another executive order improves and expands access to care and treatment for COVID-19.

The executive order on mandatory mask wearing extends to certain travel, including planes and trains and intercity bus services.

U.S. infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, who continues to serve the Biden Administration, said the country is now committed to working with the World Health Organization, following the Trump Administration's withdrawal from WHO.

Amazon has reached out to Biden to offer logistical and technical support for his goal of vaccinating 100 million Americans within his first 100 days in office, according to STAT.

A Johnson & Johnson vaccine that requires only one dose is still on target for distribution in the near future.

WHY THIS MATTERS

Biden has promised to deliver 100 million vaccines in 100 days but his coronavirus czar has reportedly found that no distribution plan exists from the Trump Administration to build upon.

Jeff Zients, coordinator of Biden's COVID-19 task force, told reporters Thursday that what the team is inheriting is much worse than what they could have imagined, according to NBC News. Zients said he and the Biden team do not have exact supply projections from vaccine manufacturers, other than knowing there is enough supply for the administration's goal of 100 million shots in the first 100 days, the report said.

The Biden team is inheriting a vaccine strategy that relied on the states for distribution. 

The organization Public Citizen said it believes that Biden should use his power to accelerate global vaccine manufacturing, including by sharing the vaccine recipe with qualified manufacturers around the world. 

"There are not nearly enough vaccine doses to meet global needs. The result will be that, even as rich countries finally vaccinate their populations, the pandemic will continue to rage in developing countries for years," said Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen's Access to Medicines program.

"But the president must go even bigger. The Defense Production Act can be used not only to secure vaccine ingredients and supplies by prioritizing contracts. It can be used to expand production capacity by enlisting new manufacturers. It can be used to retrofit factories and share know-how so that each vaccine benefits from the best available technology. It can also be used together with other laws to share vaccine technology with the world. That is how we beat the pandemic."

THE LARGER TREND

As of Thursday, over 37 million vaccine doses have been distributed and over 17 million administered, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Former Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said last week that Operation Warp Speed would encourage states to start vaccinating people 65 and older and those younger with comorbid health conditions. Doses would not be held in reserve for that second dose, Azar said, but later said there were no federal stockpiles of the vaccine.

Fewer vaccines were getting into arms than OWS had originally projected.

The American Hospital Association told the Trump Administration that miscommunications and a lack of effective planning and coordination have resulted in hospitals and others having to work extra hard to get the job done without letting vaccines go to waste. 

"They have had to scramble to line up staff to receive vaccines when shipments have arrived without prior notice; experienced confusion over where healthcare workers not associated with a hospital should go to receive their vaccine; seen scheduling websites crash; received too little vaccines in some locations and an abundance in others; and witnessed a host of other issues that have slowed the pace of vaccine administration," said AHA CEO and president Rick Pollack.

ON THE RECORD

The American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association both commended Biden's actions.

"Since March, the AMA has called on the federal government to implement a coordinated national strategy and pull every lever to ramp up PPE production for N95 masks, gowns, gloves, as well as testing supplies – and coordinate distribution. We commend the new Administration for moving swiftly to implement a desperately needed national strategy to combat COVID-19, including a health equity task force to address the inequities that have been exacerbated during the pandemic," said Dr. Susan R. Bailey, president of the American Medical Association.

Pollack said, "We also applaud the Administration for implementing a government-wide approach to examining and addressing inequities affecting racial and ethnic groups, religious minorities, the LGBTQ community, rural Americans and others facing economic insecurity and inequality. This new approach includes reversal of the executive order the AHA opposed during the previous administration that prohibited federal agencies from conducting and funding diversity, inclusion and racial reconciliation trainings. We also support today's move to restore non-discrimination protections based on gender identity or sexual orientation."

Twitter: @SusanJMorse
Email the writer: susan.morse@himssmedia.com