Biden introduces public health team, vows 100 million Covid-19 vaccinations in first 100 days

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President-elect Joe Biden introduced the team to lead his administration's response to the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday, emphasising the mass distribution needed to achieve his goal of 100 million vaccinations in his first 100 days in office.
President-elect Joe Biden said he needed Congress to fully fund delivering vaccines to all corners of the United States. PHOTO: NYTIMES

WILMINGTON (REUTERS) - US President-elect Joe Biden introduced the team that will lead his administration's response to the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday (Dec 8), emphasising the coordination needed to achieve his goal of 100 million vaccinations in his first 100 days in office.

At a briefing in Wilmington, Mr Delaware, 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, Mr Biden said.

"In 100 days, we can change the course of the disease and change life in America for the better," said Mr 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 US economy. There was more positive news on Tuesday in the form of US 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 Mr 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."

Mr Biden introduced California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a Latino former congressman, as his nominee for secretary of health and human services. Mr Becerra has a long record of supporting the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.

Mr Biden chose Dr Rochelle Walensky, chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, to run the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was named as Mr Biden's chief medical adviser on the virus and Dr Vivek Murthy as surgeon general, reprising a role he held in the Obama administration.

Mr Biden's transition team also announced his pick for defence secretary, retired Army General Lloyd Austin, despite pushback from some Democrats in Congress unhappy with the idea of a former military man running the Pentagon.

"With a distinguished record of military service spanning four decades, Secretary-designate Austin is a deeply experienced and highly decorated commander who has served with distinction in several of the Pentagon's most crucial positions," the team said in a statement.

Mr Austin, 67, a former head of US Central Command who oversaw forces in the Middle East under President Barack Obama, would be the first Black American secretary of defence if the US Senate confirms him.

Mr Austin's confirmation would require Congress to approve a waiver because he has been out of the military for only four years, fewer than the seven years mandated by law.

Mr Trump's first defence secretary, Jim Mattis, needed a waiver, which is rarely used.

Several Democratic senators, including Richard Blumenthal, Jack Reed and Jon Tester, said they would likely oppose a waiver, casting doubt on whether Mr Austin's nomination will pass a closely divided Senate.

'Help is on the way'

Mr Biden picked Jeff Zients, an economic adviser known for his managerial skills, as coronavirus "czar". Mr Zients will oversee the pandemic response, including the vaccine distribution.

"Help is on the way," Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris added after Mr Biden's new healthcare team members introduced themselves. "And it is long overdue."

Mr Biden, a Democrat, defeated Republican President Donald Trump in the Nov 3 election.

Mr Trump, who has made unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud, is getting help from Texas to try to overturn the results in a lawsuit at the US 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.

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