WASHINGTON – President Biden’s coronavirus tsar said Wednesday that the United States had lagged behind other nations in tracking potentially dangerous variants of the virus and used the White House’s first public health brief to send out a sharp warning, that Americans will remain vulnerable to the deadly pandemic unless there is an act of Congress.
“We’re 43rd worldwide in genome sequencing – totally unacceptable,” said Jeffrey D. Zients, Biden’s Covid-19 response coordinator, citing December data from the GISAID initiative, which provides a global database of coronavirus genomes. In a brief interview later, he corrected himself and said he had since learned that the United States is now behind 31 other nations.
Mr Biden has repeatedly promised that his government will hold regular briefings and be transparent about its efforts to fight the virus, and Wednesday’s virtual meeting was an attempt to deliver on the president’s promise. However, it was troubled by technical difficulties as the audio was intermittently interrupted.
During the hour-long session, which was attended by 500 attendees, Mr. Zients also warned that the federal government would still face a shortage of personal protective equipment and other essential supplies that it could not purchase when Congress approved Mr. Biden’s coronavirus relief plan do not say goodbye. His request for more money was received from Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, confirmed.
The White House has sent Mr. Zients and other senior officials to meet with lawmakers on Capitol Hill to argue for support for a comprehensive $ 1.9 trillion package that includes billions of dollars in distribution Vaccines, schools, unemployment benefits and another direct round would provide payments. Top Democrats have announced that they hope to approve another package with mutual support.
However, with several senators already opposed to the scope and size of the package, the Democrats are leaving open the option of using a legislative process known as budget balancing, which would allow the legislature to pass law by simple majority rather than the usual majority be -voice threshold.
Scientists have warned that without a robust system for identifying genetic variations of the coronavirus, the United States is ill-equipped to track down dangerous new mutants, leaving health officials blind as they attempt to combat the grave threat.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert and Mr Biden’s chief medical officer on the pandemic, said the National Institutes of Health worked with the C.D.C. about research aimed at adapting vaccines so that they “have the ability to neutralize these mutants”. A variant of the coronavirus that has risen sharply in the UK and has burdened hospitals with cases has been increasingly discovered in the US.
Federal health officials have warned that this variant, which is more contagious, could become the dominant source of infection in the United States by March and would most likely result in a sharp spike in cases and deaths that would further overwhelm hospitals. Other variants that are spreading in South Africa and Brazil have also been a cause for concern.
“I’m looking at the data from the UK and how quickly they got really bad about their contagion and how much they could cause an increase and I’m really worried about that,” said Dr. Ashish K. Jha, the dean of Brown University School of Public Health, in an interview on Tuesday. “It’s widespread in the US too – 20 some odd states have already identified it. That’s the big one I’m worried about.”
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On Monday, drug makers Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech reported that their vaccines are effective against variants discovered in the UK and South Africa. However, they protect a little less against the variant in South Africa, which may be better able to avoid antibodies in the bloodstream.
On Wednesday, Mr. Zients said the Department of Health and Human Services would apply the Public Preparedness and Emergency Preparedness Act, a law passed in 2005 that gives the Minister of Health emergency powers to give retired doctors and nurses the right to administer and dispense vaccines by doctors and upholds the right to vaccinate people across national borders.
And Mr. Zients said the president’s commitment to “get 100 million shots into the arms of the American people” does not depend on Congress passing laws. But he ticked off a list of other priorities that he said Congress must act.
“To get all Americans vaccinated, Congress must allocate funding for vaccination,” Zients said, adding, “We need Congress to fund more testing, to reopen schools and businesses, and to get around people in congregational environments To take care of.” Believe it or not, we still have a shortage of P.P.E. and other critical materials. We need emergency resources to make sure we have these materials. “
The CDC. said on Wednesday that approximately 20.7 million people have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine and that approximately 3.8 million people have been fully vaccinated. An average of more than a million people a day have received a shot in the past week to protect them from Covid-19 in the United States.
As the introduction of vaccines accelerates, the number of new cases every day in the US, which has the world’s worst outbreak, has declined in recent weeks. However, deaths in the US remain high, averaging more than 3,000 a day for the past few days.
Emily Cochrane Contribution to reporting.