Biden advisers to meet vaccine firms as Trump stalls handoff

“Of course it would be better if we could start working with them,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who has been through multiple presidential transitions during 36 years of government service. He likened the process to runners passing on the baton in a relay race. “You don’t want to stop and then give it to somebody,” he said. “You want to just essentially keep going.”

“We’re going to start those consultations this week,” said Biden’s chief of staff, Ron Klain, citing Pfizer and other pharmaceutical companies.

Pfizer’s announcement that preliminary data indicate its vaccine is 90% effective lifted financial markets last week and gave people worldwide hope that an end to the pandemic will be coming.

Klain said Biden’s experts also need a detailed understanding of distribution plans being finalized by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Pentagon. In some ways, that’s the more critical issue, he said.

“Everyone is sensitive to what we call ‘COVID fatigue,’ “ Fauci said. “People are worn out about this. But we have got to hang in there a bit longer. … We have got to hang together on this.”

Other vaccine makers are also in the final phase of testing their formulations, and Fauci said he expects those vaccines will also be highly effective.

The government has launched a program called “Operation Warp Speed,” backed by the White House, to quickly manufacture and distribute tens of millions of doses of vaccines. The shots will be free to Americans, and the goal is to have most people vaccinated by about this time next year. Many people will need two doses.

Initial access to the vaccine will be limited to high-priority groups such as hospital and nursing home workers.

But Adm. Brett Giroir, assistant HHS secretary, seconded Fauci’s admonition that Americans must keep following basic public health precautions such as wearing masks.

“If we do these things combined with the testing that we have, we can flatten the curve,” he said. “If we do not do these things, the cases will continue to go up.” Giroir said the country is in a critical situation.

Pressed on whether the administration should be talking to the Biden team, Giroir responded: “Look, I want to be as transparent as possible with everybody. This is not a political issue. This is an issue of public health and saving American lives. And I think there’s nothing more important than that.”

The risks are real. Around the country, hospitals report that doctors and nurses are being stretched to cope with rising numbers of hospitalized COVID-19 patients requiring special care. In some communities, hospitals have started limiting elective procedures in order to conserve resources.

A leading Biden adviser, former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, sought to tamp down speculation about a national lockdown, calling that a measure of last resort.

“In the spring, when we didn’t know a lot about COVID, we responded in a sense with an on/off switch,” Murthy said. “We shut things down because … we didn’t know exactly how this was spreading and where it was spreading.

“We learned a lot more since then,” he added. “The better way to think about these safety restrictions is more a dial that we turn up and down defending on severity, and that’s really the key here, is applying this, these restrictions judiciously and precisely.”

Fauci was on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Klain appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Giroir spoke on ABC’s “This Week,” and Murthy was interviewed on “Fox News Sunday.”

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Weissert reported from Wilmington, Delaware.

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