Jeffrey Zients, White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator
On Tuesday, January 26, the world recorded a staggering 100 million cases of COVID-19 – a figure once considered unfathomable. The number of people infected, ill, and dying continues to grow as countries around the world still struggle with containment. As we cross the one-year mark of the pandemic, the virus is evolving. The South Africa variant, B1351, is becoming prevalent in more countries and is potentially twice as contagious as the original Wuhan strain. Researchers are concerned that the U.K. variant, B117, now reported in 70 countries, may be 30-40 percent deadlier. And the Brazil variant, P1, has made its way to eight countries, including Germany, South Korea, and the United States. Together, these variants have the potential to inflict even greater loss of life.
Strong national and global leadership are sorely needed. New U.S. President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has pledged to get the U.S. on the road to recovery. But he faces a series of challenges as daily mortality rates continue to break records and new virus strains are gaining footholds across the country. More than 40 percent of Americans live in areas where hospitals are experiencing shortages of ICU beds – a situation that is compounding the ongoing stresses on local healthcare systems and providers.
This week’s edition of Rabin Martin’s COVID-19 Briefing explores key elements of President Biden’s COVID-19 recovery plans. Will Biden’s leadership reestablish the U.S. as a credible global health authority? Will the Administration have the necessary support and resources to make good on its pledge to control the pandemic? Our earlier COVID-19 Briefings are available here.
The U.S. accounts a quarter of global cases, reporting 25,651,968 cases and 430,643 deaths.
Global pandemic spread (Johns Hopkins University)
Mass vaccine distribution remains a key priority as countries strive to curb their epidemics. National health authorities are working to quickly approve vaccines and bring them to market as competition for doses intensifies. In the U.K., health regulators are facing tensions with their E.U. counterparts over scarce doses of the AstraZeneca and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines. Both vaccines are produced at factories in the E.U., resulting in export restrictions to the U.K. Meanwhile, in India – the country with the second highest number of recorded COVID-19 infections, behind only the U.S. – supply is outpacing demand as vaccine hesitancy threatens containment efforts. India’s COVID-19 vaccine campaign was expected to be one of the largest globally, but only 56 percent of those eligible have been vaccinated as of Monday, January 25.
A New Administration Under Scrutiny
Joseph R. Biden Jr., President, United States
Tackling the coronavirus epidemic in the United States will be a long journey, as President Biden acknowledged, “It’s going to take months to turn things around.” From day one of his Administration, the President began taking active steps to prioritize science and evidence-based approaches to help the country recover. On Thursday, January 21, the White House released the National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness, outlining the need for robust action to scale-up testing, treatment, and vaccines, underpinned by health equity. President Biden began enacting the first elements of the National Strategy by signing a series of executive orders to help curtail the spread of COVID-19 in the country. Key policies and actions include (but are not limited to):
- Establishing a White House COVID-19 Response Team | President Biden’s COVID-19 Response Team, headed by Jeffrey Zients, former Obama Administration economist, has been mandated to coordinate a whole-of-government response to the pandemic. As well, President Biden has asserted that he will base all COVID-19 related decisions on the guidance of experts. Scientific evidence will inform the Administration’s plans for testing, treatment, and vaccine distribution, among other critical areas.
- Bolstering vaccine distribution efforts | Widespread, equitable vaccine distribution is a cornerstone of the Administration’s COVID-19 response, and President Biden has pledged to ramp-up distribution. (The President’s goal of “100 million vaccines in 100 days” is described as “a floor, not a ceiling.”) On Tuesday, January 26, President Biden announced that his administration is working to buy an additional 100 million doses each of Pfizer/BioNTech’s and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines. The additional doses would boost the Administration’s total vaccine purchases from 400 million to 600 million doses: “It will be enough to fully vaccinate 300 million Americans to beat the pandemic,” said President Biden.
- Stepping up containment efforts | President Biden announced several measures to stem COVID-19 transmission. These include a federal mask mandate and travel restrictions that require all individuals coming into the U.S. to present a recent negative COVID-19 test and to quarantine upon arrival. The Administration also announced its intention to deploy the Defense Production Act to speed manufacturing of supplies for testing, treatment, and vaccination, as well as personal protective equipment.
- Rejoining the World Health Organization (WHO) | Among his first immediate actions as President, Biden reversed the Trump Administration’s plans to withdraw from WHO, instead pledging ongoing engagement and funding. He also committed the U.S. to participating in WHO’s global COVAX facility – a consortium aimed at equitable distribution of vaccines to countries across income levels. “This is a good day for WHO and a good day for global health,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, WHO. “The role of the United States [on the global stage] is very, very crucial.”
Andy Slavitt, Senior Advisor, White House COVID-19 Response
Prior to taking office, President Biden unveiled a $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue plan, with $1 trillion earmarked for direct aid to most Americans. The other $9 billion would support first responders, small businesses, tribal governments, among others, as well as bolster a national vaccination program, school reopenings, modernization of the U.S.’ cybersecurity infrastructure, and other recovery efforts. Experts say the U.S. is in a precarious position with the pandemic unless Congress passes the relief bill quickly, warning of shortages of essential supplies and challenges in tracking new mutations.
The global community is watching closely to see how rapidly the new Administration’s changes will take effect and the impact they will have on turning the tide on the country’s epidemic and saving lives.
From the Experts
“For almost a year now, Americans could not look to the federal government for any strategy, let alone a comprehensive approach to respond to COVID-19. This is a plan that is driven by science, data, and public health. It’s not driven by politics.”
Jeffrey Zients, White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator
Thursday, January 21
“[The pandemic’s toll is the direct result of] a failure to prepare adequately for a pandemic threat despite years of warnings that better preparation was necessary.”
Helen Clark, Former Prime Minister, New Zealand
Monday, January 25
“The more people infected, the more likely that we will see new variants. If we give the virus a chance to do its worst, it will.”
Dr. Michel Nussenzweig, Senior Physician, Rockefeller University, New York
Monday, January 25
“We believe strongly that we can ensure that every American gets the vaccine, but also help make sure that others around the world who want it have access to it.”
Antony Blinken, Secretary of State, United States
Tuesday, January 26
“How many health professionals and grandmothers will have to die before a vaccine is available here? How many frontline workers like them will suffer as they try to ease the suffering of others? We need the vaccine to come to Africa.”
Dr. Dixon Chibanda, physician, Zimbabwe
Tuesday, January 26
“In the past, ‘global health’ was rarely used to mean the health of everyone, everywhere. In practice, people in rich countries used this term to refer to the health of people in non-rich countries… In 2020, global health went local. The artificial distinctions between rich countries and poor countries collapsed in the face of a virus that had no regard for borders or geography.”
Bill and Melinda Gates, Founders, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Wednesday, January 27
“Science is succeeding, and solidarity is failing. The world’s political leaders are letting down the scientists, and everyone else.”
Robert Yates, Director, Global Health Program, Chatham House
Wednesday, January 27
What We’re Reading
- Are Vaccines Enough? To End COVID-19 We Need More Innovation – And More Access – Arnaud Bernaert and Elissa Prichep, World Economic Forum
- Why Kids Might Be Key to Reaching Herd Immunity – Sarah Zhang, The Atlantic
- With Painstaking Effort, Black Doctors’ Group Takes Aim at COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy – Eric Boodman, STAT News
- Help with Vaccination Push Comes from Unexpected Business – Gillian Friedman and Lauren Hirsch, The New York Times
- How Quickly We Need to Ramp Up Vaccinations to Get to Herd Immunity – Drew Altman, Kaiser Family Foundation
- What You Need to Know About the Future of Global Health – Samantha Sault, World Economic Forum
- How the CARES Act Forgot America’s Most Vulnerable Hospitals – Brianna Bailey, ProPublica
- COVID-19 Vaccine Basics: Why the Rollout Is So Slow, Who Can Get Doses, and What About Side Effects – Helen Branswell, STAT News
- Five Past Vaccine Drives and How They Worked – Jenny Gross, The New York Times
Reports from International Governments and Bodies
- WHO COVID-19 Information and Guidance
- WHO Weekly Epidemiological Update: January 27
- WHO Weekly Operational Update: January 26
- CDC Coronavirus Resource Page
- COVID-19 Health Systems Response Monitor
- NCD Alliance COVID resources relevant to NCDs
Funding and Policy Trackers
- International Monetary Fund Policy Tracker
- Kaiser Family Foundation Coronavirus Policy Tracker
- U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Corporate Aid Tracker
- Devex Interactive Funding Tracker
Resource Pages and Market Research Literature
- JAMA Resource Center
- The Lancet COVID-19 Resource Centre
- 2019 Novel Coronavirus Research Compendium (NCRC)
- National Academy of Medicine COVID-19 News and Resources
- WIPO COVID-19 IP Policy Tracker
- The COVID Tracking Project
- PharmaIntelligence: Coronavirus – What will the Impact Be?
- Health Affairs Resource Center
- STAT News COVID-19 Tracker
- Global Health NOW’s COVID-19 Expert Reality Check
- International Association of National Public Health Institutes COVID-19 Resources
- Center for Strategic and International Studies The Reopening and Take as Directed Coronavirus Crisis Update Podcast
- Primary Health Care Performance Initiative Forum
- U.S. Global Leadership Coalition COVID-19 Issue Briefs
- Prevent Epidemics Weekly Science Review
- COVID-19 Watch Weekly Updates
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About Rabin Martin
Rabin Martin is a global health strategy firm working at the intersection of private sector capabilities and unmet public health needs. Rooted in our mission to improve health for underserved populations, we design strategies, programs and partnerships that both deliver public health impact and drive business results. We leverage our deep knowledge and networks across a wide range of geographies and health areas to develop tailored solutions for every client engagement. We have helped many clients create bold global health initiatives and innovative multi-sector partnerships. Our specific areas of expertise include infectious disease and vaccines, non-communicable diseases, rare diseases, maternal and child health, and universal health coverage. Our clients and partners include multinational health care companies, multilateral institutions, government agencies, large foundations and leading NGOs. Rabin Martin is part of the Omnicom Public Relations Group.
About Omnicom Public Relations Group
Omnicom Public Relations Group is a global collective of three of the top global public relations agencies worldwide and eight specialist agencies in public affairs, marketing to women, fashion, global health strategy and corporate social responsibility. It encompasses more than 6,000 public relations professionals in more than 330 offices worldwide who provide their expertise to companies, government agencies, NGOs and nonprofits across a wide range of industries. Omnicom Public Relations Group delivers for clients through a relentless focus on talent, continuous pursuit of innovation and a culture steeped in collaboration. Omnicom Public Relations Group is part of the DAS Group of Companies, a division of Omnicom Group Inc. that includes more than 200 companies in a wide range of marketing disciplines including advertising, public relations, healthcare, customer relationship management, events, promotional marketing, branding and research.