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Biden Covid advisers say transition delay hurts pandemic prep beyond vaccines

The leaders of President-elect Joe Biden’s coronavirus advisory board said Tuesday the Trump administration’s continued refusal to allow the transition to move forward is hurting their preparedness planning on multiple fronts, from addressing mask shortages to recommending targeted closures in hot spots and laying the groundwork to distribute prospective vaccines.

The transition team is unable to consult with federal health officials or access real-time data on available hospital beds, the status of the National Strategic Stockpile and therapeutics, among other things. For now, they said that's forcing them to rely on piecemeal data from state and local officials and public sources like the Covid Tracking Project.

“Not only do we need cooperation in order to ensure that we have a good vaccine delivery plan — we really need it across the board,” said Vivek Murthy, one of the co-chairs of the advisory board. “That cooperation will impact how effective we are at closing the testing gap, ensuring that hospitals and doctors and nurses have enough protective equipment like masks and gloves and make sure we have enough syringes and swabs to proceed with a vaccination campaign.”

Biden has previously warned that the General Services Administration’s delay in recognizing him as the winner of the election could hamper his team’s ability to create a national vaccination campaign should one or more of the promising candidate vaccines gain emergency authorization — a warning echoed by top federal infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci, who is so far barred from any communication with Biden’s team.

Former FDA Commissioner David Kessler, another co-chair of the group, said Biden's advisers also lack the information they need to move forward on Biden’s call for investing in rapid, at-home coronavirus tests.

“Scaling that up, as the President-elect has talked about, is going to take planning,” he said .

Yale University’s Marcella Nunez-Smith, the third co-chair, said Biden also needs access to the non-public federal data in order to recommend the more targeted shutdowns he believes are needed to curb the recent surges across the country.

“He’s already said he’s not going to shut down the economy, that’s not his plan, he’s going to shut down the virus,” she said. “But in order to do that we need to be precise and follow the data in dialing up and dialing back and reopening.”

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