The Biden Administration has a “theme” for each day of January. Thursday’s focus was Covid-19 response.
As outlined in the national strategy released this week, the Biden Administration will utilize the Defense Production Act (DPA) to boost the manufacturing of gloves, masks, swabs, syringes, and other items necessary for COVID testing and vaccine distribution.
The DPA, enacted at the start of the Korean War, authorizes the president to force businesses to accept and prioritize contracts for supplies deemed necessary for national defense – regardless of any losses incurred. Any business owner that refuses to obey could face fines, felony charges, and imprisonment.
“The team will work with the states and the manufacturers to ensure that we’re using the DPA as aggressively as needed to accelerate the supply of the vaccine,” says Bechara Choucair, Biden’s COVID vaccine coordinator. “More people, more places, more supply. That’s what this boils down to.”
Present Trump also utilized the DPA to increase production of needed supplies. But critics say he was not aggressive enough to prevent shortages. Choucair and other Biden officials have accused the previous administration of refusing to share information regarding vaccine distribution.
Another key difference between Trump’s COVID response and Biden’s is that the current strategy places vaccine rollout in the hands of the federal government, rather than the states. This centralized approach is designed to boost Americans’ trust in the government and protect high-risk groups, including people of color.
“For almost a year now, Americans could not look to the federal government for any strategy, let alone a comprehensive approach to respond to COVID,” argues Jeff Ziens, head of the Biden Administration’s COVID response. “This is a plan that is driven by science data and public health. It’s not driven by politics.”
Additional goals include:
- Expand eligibility for vaccines to high-risk groups, including people of color.
- Vaccinate 100 million Americans by the end of April.
- Make COVID vaccines available at local pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens by the start of February.
- Get all K-8 schools open by the end of April.
Biden’s strategy depends on Congress approving a $1.9 trillion stimulus package, which includes aid to state and local governments, another round of stimulus checks, and a $15 minimum wage. The package would also give states the authority to use FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund to help reopen schools.
Biden has already signed executive orders mandating social distancing and face masks for all federal employees nationwide and requiring masks on public transportation, including airplanes, buses, ships, and trains.
“We are entering what may well be the toughest and deadliest period of the virus,” said Biden during his inaugural address. To date, more than 400,000 Americans have died from COVID.