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COVID-19 vaccine distribution needs to be ‘centralized’: Biden adviser

·3 min read

President Biden has directed states to make every adult in the U.S. eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine by May 1, an initiative put forward to accelerate the mass vaccination effort to end the pandemic.

The new directive comes after states established their own criteria to determine who is eligible for a vaccine, an effort which has left many Americans confused and frustrated.

The "patchwork system" has proven to be "less than effective," Dr. Ezekiel "Zeke" Emanuel, a former health policy adviser under former President Obama and member of Biden's COVID transition team, told Yahoo Finance. To fix it, he said a more "centralized approach" is necessary.

“This is a very bad way to communicate and a bad way to do it. We really need to have a much more centralized and unified structure,” Emanuel said. “It also means that over time we could get each state’s infrastructure upgraded more uniformly instead of leaving it up to each individual state.”

BAY SHORE, NEW YORK - MARCH 03: A medical worker at South Shore University Hospital administers the newly available Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to Susan Maxwell-Trumble on March 03, 2021 in Bay Shore, New York. The new vaccine from the American pharmaceutical company is a single shot vaccine that has shown 85 percent protection against severe disease and can be stored at regular refrigeration temperatures. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
BAY SHORE, NEW YORK - MARCH 03: A medical worker at South Shore University Hospital administers the newly available Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Biden on track

As Biden marked 50 days in office this week, Emanuel touted the administration’s progress with COVID-19 vaccinations, describing the efforts to end the pandemic as “excellent.”

Nearly 34 million Americans, about 10% of the population, are fully vaccinated, according to recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data. Meanwhile, 64 million people, about 19% of the population, have received at least one vaccine dose.

“Look where Trump was, he promised us millions of people would get vaccinated, but he didn’t succeed. President Biden said 100 million doses would be delivered in 100 days, and he is going to far exceed that level,” Emanuel said.

“If we continue on the current path of about 2 million vaccinations a day, we’ll get 70% of the American population vaccinated by the middle of July. That’s a major, major accomplishment.”

In addition to unveiling a national response to COVID, Biden signed his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package on Thursday, one of the largest rescue bills in U.S. history. The legislation includes $7.5 billion in funding for vaccine distribution and $48 billion for contact tracing and testing.

Trump administration's 'huge mistake’

COVID-19 will not be the nation’s last pandemic, and that's why health officials are stressing the importance of taking steps now in order to better prepare a response.

That means having the right leaders in place on the national security team, according to Emanuel. A position created by the Obama administration in response to the Ebola outbreak, head of Global Health Security and Biodefense, was eliminated by the Trump administration amid a reorganization overseen by former national security adviser John Bolton in 2018. Bolton has since defended that decision, tweeting that streamlining the national security council's structure did not impair the nation's bio defense response.

Emanuel disagrees. He said the decision to disband the group, led by Rear Admiral Timothy Ziemer at the time, was a ‘huge mistake’ and left the country vulnerable to the virus.

“When President Trump took over, I met with him and said, among other things, a pandemic is a worry. You need a head of global health and I recommended Admiral Ziemer to him,” said Emanuel. “I thought he was very competent, nonpartisan…. And then John Bolton got rid of him. Huge mistake.”

“We now fully realize that pandemics are a potential national security threat and we need someone monitoring them to coordinate a response,” said Emanuel. “If we had that, we’d be more like Taiwan and less like a place that has 20% of all the world’s COVID-19 deaths.”

Biden reinstated the position when he took office, naming Elizabeth Cameron as senior director for global health security and biodefense on the White House National Security Council.

Seana Smith anchors Yahoo Finance Live’s 3-5 p.m. ET program. Follow her on Twitter @SeanaNSmith