President-elect Joe Biden has called for urgent action on the coronavirus pandemic as he introduced his healthcare team.
Mr Biden laid out three Covid-19 priorities for his first 100 days in office: a call for all Americans to mask up, a commitment to administer 100 million vaccines and a pledge to try to reopen a majority of the nation’s schools.
“Out of our collective pain, we are going to find a collective purpose,” Mr Biden said.
“To control the pandemic, to save lives and to heal as a nation.”
Topping the roster of Biden picks was health secretary nominee Xavier Becerra, a Latino politician who rose from humble beginnings to serve in Congress and as California’s attorney general.
Others include a businessman renowned for his crisis management skills and a quartet of medical doctors, among them Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious-disease specialist.
But the usual feel-good affirmations that accompany such unveilings were overshadowed by the urgency of the moment, with new cases of Covid-19 averaging more than 200,000 a day and deaths averaging above 2,200 daily as the nation struggles with uncontrolled spread.
Vaccines are expected soon. Scientific advisers to the government meet on Thursday to make a recommendation on the first one, a Pfizer shot already being administered in the United Kingdom.
But having an approved vaccine is one thing, and getting it into the arms of 330 million Americans something else altogether. Mr Biden will be judged on how well his administration carries out the gargantuan task.
On Tuesday, he warned that his team’s preliminary review of Trump administration plans for vaccinations has found shortcomings. And he called on Congress to pass legislation to finance administration of vaccines as they become more widely available next year.
The rest of Mr Biden’s extensive healthcare agenda, from expanding insurance coverage to negotiating prices for prescription drugs, will likely hinge on how his administration performs in this first test of competence and credibility.
Mr Becerra, Mr Biden’s pick to head the Department of Health and Human Services, will be backed in the White House by businessman Jeff Zients, who will assume the role of coronavirus response co-ordinator. Running complex, high-risk operations is his specialty.
Alongside Dr Fauci, the other medical doctors selected include infectious-disease specialist Rochelle Walensky to run the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Vivek Murthy as surgeon general and Yale epidemiologist Marcella Nunez-Smith to head a working group to ensure fair and equitable distribution of vaccines and treatments.