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Biden’s Covid Czar: We’ll Need Billions More to Fight Pandemic

Michael Rainey
·2 min read

President-elect Joe Biden has promised a more robust federal response to the Covid-19 pandemic, with a set of ambitious goals that include delivering 100 million vaccine shots in his first 100 days in office.

To get a sense of how the effort will play out, The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent spoke to Jeff Zients, the former director of the National Economic Council in the Obama administration who Biden has selected to coordinate the Covid-19 response.

Some highlights from the conversation:

A “whole of government” effort: Zients said he plans to deploy all the available tools of the federal government, including a more aggressive use of the Defense Production Act to increase vaccine production. "We will use the DPA wherever necessary,” he said, citing other areas where the law could be deployed to provide needed supplies, including testing equipment and medical gear.

A focus on the whole country: Zients said that getting vaccines to rural parts of the country presents a major challenge. The Biden administration may deploy mobile units to reach hard-to-reach locations, and could lean more heavily on federally funded community health centers to deliver the vaccine.

It will cost more money: The $28 billion Congress provided in the most recent Covid relief bill -- $20 billion for acquisition and $8 billion for distribution – is just a “down payment” on what it will take, Zients said. Although he didn’t cite a specific figure, he said the government will need “significantly more funding” before all is said and done.

Speaking in Georgia Tuesday, Biden addressed the need for more federal effort on the pandemic, as well as the need for more money. “There’s no planning,” Biden said of the vaccine rollout so far. “The federal government has done virtually no planning. I’m going to need their help in making sure that we establish thousands of federally run and federally supported community vaccination centers. We can do this, but it costs money.”

Biden also vowed that citizens would be able to get vaccines and treatments for free – another effort that will require additional funding. “I guarantee you that in my administration, there will be no question – the vaccination is free . . . Treatment for COVID will be free . . . across the board,” he said.

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