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Biden orders new actions to combat COVID-19, joins global effort on vaccines

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President Joe Biden is issuing 10 executive orders aimed at addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.
Source: Adam Schultz/Biden Campaign

President Joe Biden is calling on the U.S. federal government to take new actions to combat the COVID-19 crisis under 10 new executive orders aimed at carrying out his strategy to expand testing; get vaccines into Americans' arms faster; and open businesses, schools and child care centers.

Biden's new National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness is intended to serve as a "roadmap to guide America out of the worst public health crisis in a century," the White House said in a Jan. 21 statement.

The president is calling on federal agencies to exercise all appropriate authorities, including using the Defense Production Act, or DPA, to accelerate manufacturing and other activities to address shortages in equipment and supplies needed for the COVID-19 response, such as N95 masks, isolation gowns, testing swabs and reagents, and vaccine components and materials.

The DPA is a 1950 wartime law used to direct private companies to manufacture certain products in times of emergency.

"It's past time to fix America's COVID-response supply shortage problems for good," the White House stated.

The details came one year to the day after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed the first U.S diagnosis of COVID-19 in a Washington state man who had traveled to Wuhan, China — the epicenter of the outbreak. The same day, Jan. 21, 2020, U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci revealed that his agency was working with Moderna Inc. on a vaccine for the virus.

A year later, over 406,000 Americans are dead from COVID-19. Moderna and Pfizer Inc. received U.S. emergency use authorization in December 2020 for their coronavirus vaccines, with other authorizations soon expected for products from Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca PLC.

Shortly after being sworn into office Jan. 20, Biden sent a letter to United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres telling him the U.S. intends to remain a member of the World Health Organization — reversing an action launched by former President Donald Trump to withdraw from the global health group.

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NIAID Director Anthony Fauci
Source: U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

"The WHO plays a crucial role in the world's fight against the deadly COVID-19 pandemic as well as countless other threats to global health and health security," Biden said in his Jan. 20 letter. "The United States will continue to be a full participant and a global leader in confronting such threats and advancing global health and health security."

At WHO's Jan. 21 board meeting, Fauci also said the U.S. will join the global COVAX collaboration and will support the group's ACT-Accelerator to advance multilateral efforts for COVID-19 vaccine, therapeutic and diagnostic distribution, equitable access, and research and development.

"The United States plans to work multilaterally to respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic," Fauci said. "We are committed to transparency, including those events surrounding the early days of the pandemic."

Fauci told ABC's "Good Morning America" Jan. 21 that the response he was getting from his global counterparts was "very, very refreshing."

Executive orders

Biden's orders build on the details he unveiled Jan. 15 ahead of entering the White House to have the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, and U.S. National Guard troops help set up thousands of federally supported COVID-19 vaccination centers across the U.S. in an effort to more quickly get the shots into Americans' arms. On Jan. 20, Biden directed FEMA to start that process and have 100 sites up by the end of his first month in office.

The president plans to seek $400 billion from Congress for COVID-19 programs, including $20 billion to carry out vaccinations in the U.S., as part of his proposed $1.9 trillion pandemic and economic relief package.

Biden has pledged to get 100 million shots into arms by the end of his first 100 days in office. "We will manage the hell out of this operation," Biden said Jan. 15.

The president has called on the CDC to launch a federal pharmacy program to make vaccines available to communities in their local pharmacies starting in February.

Biden also tasked the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps with expanding its workforce and preparing for deployment.

Central to that effort will be expanded support and collaboration with state, local, tribal and territorial governments, including the establishment of COVID-19 response liaisons for each state — a model based on the response to Hurricane Sandy, the White House said Jan. 21.

In addition, Biden is issuing an order directing new studies, including large-scale randomized trials, to identify novel treatments for the disease. Those studies must address the needs of diverse populations, the White House said.

The order also outlines steps aimed at improving clinical care, providing assistance to long-term care facilities and intermediate care facilities for people with disabilities, increasing healthcare workforce capacity, expanding access to programs designed to meet long-term health needs of patients recovering from COVID-19, and supporting access to therapies for those without coverage.

Among the actions Biden is taking through his executive orders is establishing a COVID-19 pandemic testing board "to bring the full force of the federal government's expertise to expanding testing supply and increasing access to testing," the White House said.

The president has called for the federal government to increase testing capacity by using the DPA and other authorities to procure more tests and expand manufacturing capacity. Under an executive order, Biden said the U.S. should promote surge capacity for testing in the U.S. through onshoring test manufacturing, expanding the public health workforce and supporting COVID-19 screening for schools.

Biden is also establishing a COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force to ensure testing, vaccines and treatments are available in communities of color and other underserved locations in the U.S. and meet the needs of diverse populations.