President-Elect Joe Biden plans to invoke federal law to increase the production of vaccines to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, a Biden advisor said Monday on CNBC.
“You will see him invoking the Defense Production Act,” Dr. Celine Gounder said on Squawk Box in response to a question about what “policy levers could be pulled that haven’t yet already been tried.”
“The idea there is to make sure the personal protective equipment, the test capacity and the raw materials for the vaccines are produced in adequate supply,” Gounder said. She also said there would be a “major increase in testing” to ferret out “invisible . . . mild and asymptomatic cases” which are helping drive the spread of the oftentimes deadly virus.
Gounder further opined that “genomic surveillance” of the various “mutations” of the virus would also increase. “We did not do that routinely,” she said, because the government previously “chose not to spend the money on that kind of public health surveillance.” The technology exists to undertake such surveillance, she said, but it was simply not used.
The New York Times reported recently that Pfizer, the makers of one of two approved emergency vaccines, “first started asking for the government’s help in obtaining supplies as early as September and has been unhappy about the lack of response.” That’s according to documents reviewed by the Times. But the Times also said the Trump Administration was already “close to a deal” with Pfizer which would add tens of millions of dozes of the vaccine to America’s supply chain next year. The deal was to include “a government directive giving [Pfizer] better access to manufacturing supplies, people familiar with the discussions said” to the Times.
The government’s current operation to render the vaccine available across the country has been dubbed “Operation Warp Speed.” President Donald Trump took credit for the vaccine in a Sunday message about the signing of a coronavirus-related stimulus bill:
Under my leadership, Project Warp Speed has been a tremendous success, my Administration and I developed a vaccine many years ahead of wildest expectations, and we are distributing these vaccines, and others soon coming, to millions of people.
Broadly speaking, the Defense Production Act “mobilizes—even coerces—the private sector in the production of emergency materials for the purposes of America’s national defense and national security, including in cases of natural or man-caused disasters,” Law&Crime previously noted earlier in the pandemic.
Trump previously used the Act several times to purchase ventilators and personal protective equipment. Though the directives involved many companies, such as General Electric, Hill-Rom, Medtronic, ResMed, Royal Philips, and Vyaire Medical, one was specifically aimed at General Motors. Trump accused the company of “wasting time” during the “give-and-take of the contracting process” which was previously allowed “to run its normal course.”
Invoking the act would “help ensure the quick production of ventilators that will save American lives,” Trump said at the time.
He also said that the invocation of the Act was not a windfall for industry but rather a preventative measure to prevent a windfall for industry. Per an April statement about the Act:
Unfortunately, the outbreak of the virus has led to wartime profiteering by unscrupulous brokers, distributors, and other intermediaries operating in secondary markets. This wartime profiteering is leading to hoarding and soaring prices for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) like masks, gloves, and N-95 respirators, all of which are needed to protect American citizens, including our heroic healthcare professionals, battling on the front lines.
[ . . . ]
Today’s order is another step in our ongoing fight to prevent hoarding, price gouging, and profiteering by preventing the harmful export of critically needed PPE. It will help ensure that needed PPE is kept in our country and gets to where it is needed to defeat the virus.
[Photo by Joshua Roberts/Getty Images]
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