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Trump blocking Biden team from accessing coronavirus data is 'criminal': ex-HHS secretary

As the U.S. death toll rises above 250,000 and the number of hospitalizations hit another record, former United States Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius warns the country is in a “very, very dangerous” situation as the Trump administration blocks President-elect Joe Biden’s team from accessing critical coronavirus data.

“It's criminal. We are in a life-and-death situation for far too many people,” said Sebelius. “This is not about a petulant president who can't admit that he lost an election. This is about people's lives every day and refusing to share information, refusing to allow the team coming in to get ready for what would be under the best circumstances a massive logistics effort, a massive national undertaking.”

President Trump’s refusal to concede the 2020 presidential election is slowing the transition process, and as a result delaying the transfer of information and critical resources. In a news conference Monday, Biden warned that “more people may die” if his team, including his 13-member coronavirus task force, is not given access to data.

“Joe Biden has a view that the federal government has to take the lead, but he can't even get the information to find out where the gaps are right now from the outgoing administration,” said Sebelius. “I think the Biden team is trying to do what they can to prepare for the enormous logistics of vaccinating an entire country. But frankly, they need outgoing President Trump to cooperate. They need to get into the key agencies. They need to see what plans are already in place in terms of logistics and distribution.”

‘Worst of all worlds’

Pfizer (PFE) announced Wednesday it plans to submit a request “within days” for emergency use authorization of its vaccine after final data showed it is 95% effective. The announcement comes just over a week after the pharmaceutical giant initially reported late stage trial data, and days after Moderna (MRNA) announced its vaccine had an efficacy rate of 94.5% in early analysis.

While the high efficacy rates of Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines are encouraging news, Sebelius said it won’t mean a thing without proper communication between the outgoing and incoming administrations.

Clinical Trial - Vaccine: Covid-19, Coronavirus in vial with syringe on white background. Fake label.
Credit: Getty

“They need to start a very clear communications message because the worst of all worlds is to have a safe and effective vaccine and either not be able to get it to the right people at the right time, or have people say we don't believe it's safe, we don't believe it's effective,” she said. “We've heard so many mixed messages over the months that we're actually not going to get vaccinated.”

Health experts have been working for months to reassure the public that an FDA-approved vaccine is safe. A new poll from Gallup shows more Americans are willing to get a coronavirus vaccine than earlier this fall. The poll released this week found 58% of adults are willing to be vaccinated, up from 50% in September.

The need to act now

The total number of COVID-19 infections in the U.S. rose to more than 11.5 million as the death toll reached a grim milestone Wednesday, surpassing 250,000. The recent surge has prompted local and state governments across the country to implement restrictions. On Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said New York City schools will close Thursday after the city’s seven-day average reached a 3% positivity rate, while Minnesota Governor Tim Walz ordered gyms, movie theaters, museums, and bowling alleys to close in his state.

As the COVID-19 outbreak worsens across the country, Sebelius is calling for more preventative measures to be enacted.

“We have to take some steps now to not lose a couple hundred thousand more people. That's what we're on track to do — 200,000 more Americans could die if we don't take steps immediately, and that's a very scary situation...The president has to acknowledge we are in a dangerous time. People are dying…,” she said. “We need some straight communication coming out of this administration: wear a mask, social distance, keep calm as much as you can, don't gather with relatives or friends and family for holidays. And as difficult as that may be, you want to see future holidays with them.”

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