Biden sets top pandemic goals of masking, schooling and vaccination in introducing health team
By Simon Lewis WILMINGTON, Del. (Reuters) -President-elect Joe Biden introduced the team to lead his administration's response to the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday, emphasizing the mass distribution needed to achieve his goal of 100 million vaccinations in his first 100 days in office. Biden said he needed Congress to fully fund delivering vaccines to all corners of the United States.
By Simon Lewis
WILMINGTON, Del. (Reuters) -President-elect Joe Biden introduced the team to lead his administration's response to the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday, emphasizing the mass distribution needed to achieve his goal of 100 million vaccinations in his first 100 days in office.
Biden said he needed Congress to fully fund delivering vaccines to all corners of the United States. Getting children back to school will be a national priority in the first 100 days, Biden told a briefing in Wilmington, Delaware.
"In 100 days we can change the course of the disease and change life in America for the better," said Biden. "Whatever your politics or point of view, mask up for 100 days."
The coronavirus has killed more than 283,000 Americans and caused millions to lose their jobs.
Effective vaccines would help the Biden administration turn its focus to healing the ailing U.S. economy. There was more positive news on Tuesday in the form of U.S. Food and Drug Administration documents showing that the regulator did not raise any new issues about Pfizer Inc's vaccine safety or efficacy.
"My first 100 days won't end the COVID-19 virus. I can't promise that," said Biden, who takes office on Jan. 20. "But we did not get into this mess quickly. We're not going to get out of it quickly. It's going to take some time."
Biden introduced California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a Latino former congressman, as his nominee for secretary of health and human services. Becerra has a long record of supporting the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. Biden chose Dr. Rochelle Walensky, chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, to run the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was named as Biden's chief medical adviser on the virus and Dr. Vivek Murthy as surgeon general, reprising a role he held in the Obama administration.
'HELP IS ON THE WAY'
Biden picked Jeff Zients, an economic adviser known for his managerial skills, as coronavirus "czar." Zients will oversee the pandemic response, including the vaccine distribution.
"Help is on the way," Vice President-elect Kamala Harris added after Biden's new healthcare team members introduced themselves. "And it is long overdue."
Biden, a Democrat, defeated Republican President Donald Trump in the Nov. 3 election.
Trump, who has made unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud, is getting help from Texas to try and overturn the results in a lawsuit at the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is not obligated to hear the case.
The lawsuit filed by Republican-governed Texas on Tuesday accused state election officials in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin of failing to protect mail-in voting from fraud amid a surge of mailed ballots during the pandemic. State officials have said they have found no evidence of such fraud that would change the results.
Members of Biden's transition team were not invited to a White House event on vaccines, also on Tuesday afternoon. Biden said a preliminary review of the Trump administration's vaccine distribution plans showed that "without urgent action by this Congress, this month to put sufficient resources in the vaccine distribution and manufacturing ... there's a real chance, that after an early round of vaccinations, the effort will slow and stall."
Trump, asked by a reporter why there was no invitation to Biden officials to the vaccine event, repeated falsehoods that there was fraud.
"But whichever the next administration is will really benefit by what we have been able to do with this incredible science," Trump said in part.
Biden will nominate retired Army General Lloyd Austin to be his defense secretary as soon as Tuesday, a person familiar with the decision said.
The expected choice of Austin as defense secretary raised a complication for Biden as some Democratic lawmakers may be unwilling to support a waiver he needs from Congress because he has been out of the military less than the required seven years. Austin retired in 2016.
Trump's first defense secretary, Jim Mattis, needed a waiver, which is rarely used.
Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal told reporters on Tuesday that a waiver of the requirement "would contravene the basic principle that there should be civilian control over a nonpolitical military."
Austin, 67, a former head of U.S. Central Command who oversaw forces in the Middle East under President Barack Obama, would be the first Black American secretary of defense if the U.S. Senate confirms him.
Separately, Democratic Senator Jon Tester also said he would not back a waiver for Austin: "I didn't for Mattis and I don't think I will for him."
(Reporting by Simon Lewis in Delaware and Phil Stewart in Washington; Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt, Andrea Shalal, John Whitesides, Makini Brice, Doina Chiacu, Jason Lange; writing by Grant McCool;Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)
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