Biden elevates science post to cabinet level

Darnell Taylor
January 17, 2021

Biden's plan emphasizes the need to jump-start a slow vaccine rollout he called "a dismal failure". Those range from mass vaccination centres to more sophisticated scientific analysis of new strains and squads of local health workers to trace the contacts of infected people. Biden has said he'll use part of his inaugural address to urge Americans to commit to wearing masks for at least 100 days to help slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic that has now killed nearly 400,000 Americans.

Biden's plan would continue that policy, while also seeking to improve coordination with states by providing "actionable data on vaccine allocation timelines and delivery".

The US is fast approaching 400,000 dead from the Covid-19 crisis and logging well over a million new cases a week as the coronavirus spreads out of control.

"Science will always be at the forefront of my administration - and these world-renowned scientists will ensure everything we do is grounded in science, facts, and the truth", Biden said in a statement announcing the appointment of Lander and other experts.

"This is going to be one of the most challenging operational efforts ever undertaken by our country", the 78-year-old Democrat said Friday from Wilmington, Delaware.

A key challenge for Biden and the nation: Vaccines are in too-short supply. Biden also plans a marketing campaign to encourage those sceptical of the vaccine to get inoculated.

"This is not a political issue", Biden said.

The Trump administration has already moved to release second doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that were being held in reserve, and is recommending to states to begin vaccinating everyone over the age of 65.

PRESS MIT and Harvard Broad Institute Founding Director Eric Lander
PRESS MIT and Harvard Broad Institute Founding Director Eric Lander

As Biden promised from the very beginning of his campaign, he will sign an order returning the United States to the Paris climate agreement, the global accord to lower greenhouse gas emissions that the Obama administration played a lead role in crafting.

The 1.9-trillion-dolar economic and health relief plan he unveiled on Thursday included more than $400 billion for the vaccine mobilisation effort, including multiple avenues for increasing the number of sites where vaccines can be distributed.

In his speech on Thursday, Biden said his plan would also extend eviction and foreclosure moratoria to September 30 and requested another $30 billion in rental, utility, energy and water assistance to underserved communities that continue to bear the economic brunt of the pandemic.

The political outlook for Biden's rescue plan remains unclear, although a powerful business lobbying group welcomed its focus on controlling the pandemic. We can not let nurses, educators and others lose their jobs when we so badly need them.

Two medical groups, the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the HIV Medicine Group, said Friday evening they "strongly support" the Biden plan.

As part of the relief package, he calls for hundreds of billions of spending for the national vaccination program as well as other public health measures to fight the virus, such as testing and contact tracing; new jobs for public health workers; and expanded USA manufacturing for protective gear.

The president-elect also called on Congress to increase the minimum wage to $US15 an hour, and said the package would include assistance to fight hunger.

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