Ron Klain warns Trump will mismanage vaccine distribution

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Presumptive President-elect Joseph R. Biden’s team on Sunday warned that President Trump will mismanage the distribution of vaccines the same way he botched getting coronavirus tests to Americans.

The charge added new urgency to Mr. Biden’s demand for formal transition meetings with the Trump administration.

Democrats have made the pandemic, which is flaring out of control, the focus of their grumbles with Mr. Trump, who is contesting the election results despite a string of court losses and diminishing support among Republicans.

Ron Klain, who Mr. Biden tapped as his White House chief of staff, said Sunday that fewer than 1-in-3 Americans got a coronavirus test on the Trump administration’s watch, which he said was a forecast of problems to come with the distribution of vaccines.

“Now the question is how can we get 100% of Americans a vaccine in short order and that is a challenge that I think the American people are right to be skeptical about in terms of the way in which the Trump administration would handle it and that’s a challenge that is largely going to fall on the Biden administration,” Mr. Klain said on ABC’s “This Week” program. “The sooner we can get briefed on those plans, the sooner we can get our experts in with their experts, I think the more confidence everyone can have that those plans will proceed apace in 2021.”

Mr. Biden’s team is simultaneously applying pressure on Senate Republicans to work with them on new coronavirus relief legislation in a lame-duck session.

Kate Bedingfield, Mr. Biden’s deputy campaign manager, said Mr. Biden would “absolutely” meet with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on coronavirus relief legislation and intends to push for the legislation as a priority before the New Year.

“He believes that we need to get a relief bill done in the lame duck,” Ms. Bedingfield said on “Fox News Sunday.” “People are hurting all over the country, people need money in their pockets to make rent, they need money in their pockets to afford groceries. Small businesses need that money, teachers need that money. Tough decisions about layoffs of firefighters and essential workers are being made all over this country because Congress won’t move forward on a package.”

The Trump administration repeatedly made entreaties to House Democrats to pass a relief package as soon as possible.

Debates over the vaccine handoff and economic relief are unfolding while the coronavirus spreads through much of the country.

Over 83,000 people are hospitalized for COVID-19 in the U.S., which is more than double the number of hospitalizations a month ago and worse than the springtime crush in the Northeast or summer surge across the Sun Belt.

The seven-day rolling average of daily reported cases is at 170,000 — by far the highest of the pandemic — and over 1,400 Americans are dying from the disease each day, adding to the world-leading death toll of over 256,000.

The situation forced Republican governors in North Dakota, Iowa and elsewhere to back off previous resistance and mandate masks in their states. Other governors are trying nighttime curfews to slow the spread of the virus, saying they’re less damaging than lockdowns.

At the federal level, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention implored Americans not to travel over Thanksgiving or take precautions if they do mix households. They’re worried the holiday will allow the virus to spread even more.

Mr. Trump has emphasized pharmaceutical interventions instead of mitigation measures.

The Food and Drug Administration over the weekend approved the “antibody cocktail” from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals that Mr. Trump received during his bout with the virus in early October. Mr. Trump was so impressed that he dubbed it a “cure.”

The administration and Regeneron struck a $450 million agreement to scale up the production of the drug.

“Importantly, the administration has already invested nearly half a billion dollars to support large-scale manufacturing of Regeneron’s antibody treatment so that it can reach U.S. hospitals quicker for those who need it — free of charge — to help prevent infection, speedup recovery times, and reduce symptoms,” White House spokesman Michael Bars said.

The monoclonal antibodies help people with mild-or-moderate illness avoid hospitalization. Eli Lilly and Co. is distributing a similar drug, though both versions are of finite supply, so doctors need to prioritize patients.

Scientists are hoping the mix of new therapies and other mitigation measures will keep the virus in check as the world waits on vaccines.

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said forthcoming versions from Moderna and Pfizer — the latter drugmaker asked the FDA for emergency-use authorization on Friday — should be an incentive to double-down on basic precautions for a few more months.

“Recognize the difficulty of the situation we’re in. Do the public health measures, but be prepared for some serious help that we will get from the vaccines,” Dr. Fauci told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Moncef Slaoui, who oversees vaccine development for the White House, said Sunday on CNN that he thinks the first group of Americans could begin getting immunized in about three weeks. Mr. Slaoui said the government will begin shipping vaccines to state distribution hubs within 24 hours of the vaccines’ receiving emergency-use approval from the FDA, likely next month.

State plans call for health care workers to be vaccinated first, followed by other essential workers, older adults and people with high-risk medical conditions. The general public should get access to the shots by late March or April.

Pressed about whether the Trump administration working with Mr. Biden’s team would produce greater success for widespread immunization, Mr. Slaoui said that he was available to explain the federal government’s approach to Mr. Biden’s team if they contacted him.

“We are focused frankly on making sure that the vaccines are made available as quickly as possible and distributed as efficiently as possible, regardless of the political complex that surrounds us,” Mr. Slaoui said on the ABC News show. “Of course, we would hope that transition happens quietly and smoothly and we are here to serve the American people and the American population, and we will do our best.”

Precisely who in a Biden administration would handle the different agencies’ response to coronavirus is unknown but clues could come early this week. Mr. Klain said Mr. Biden will announce his first nominees for Cabinet positions on Tuesday.

Mr. Klain also sought to elevate the importance of the Biden team’s role in distributing the vaccine over the Trump administration’s role in overseeing vaccine development.

“Vaccines don’t save lives, vaccinations save lives,” said Mr. Klain. “And so the scientific work that’s been done to get this vaccine to the place where it can be approved by the FDA hopefully very very soon is just the first step. The much bigger step is actually getting those vaccinations to the American people.”

⦁ Tom Howell Jr. contributed to this report.

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