That’s because the transition is stalled while we wait for President Trump to accept his loss. This grew more absurd when news organizations called Georgia for Biden, putting him at 306 votes in the electoral college, with no way that Trump’s lawsuits will reverse this.
The Biden team is “concerned that it is being shut out of planning for the vaccine distribution,” the New York Times reports. “His advisers said they have not had access to the details of Operation Warp Speed, the project that has vaccine distribution planning well underway, and understand little about its workings.”
So how bad is this? I talked to Jake Sullivan, a senior Biden policy adviser. Short answer: It’s not a big problem yet. But, with the virus surging across the country, it could soon become one.
Here’s the situation. Before the election, numerous outside advisers to the Biden team had informal contacts with the administration about the program for rolling out the vaccine.
But after the election, this basically ground to a halt, Sullivan says. That’s because, with Trump refusing to concede, the head of the General Services Administration still has yet to formally release a huge amount of governmental resources and access to Biden’s team to start the transition.
There has since been no contact between Biden’s advisers and the Trump administration about the logistics of and ongoing planning for the vaccine rollout, Sullivan says.
“At present, the Trump administration is not engaging with us on any major components of the pandemic response,” Sullivan told me.
Sullivan stressed that this is not yet a big issue, because Biden’s team has a host of decisions to make on its own about how it will approach the pandemic, and because of the knowledge gained from the engagement with informal advisers before the election.
“Right now, it’s not holding us back,” Sullivan said. “It’s not a crisis today.”
What’s more, there are other things the Biden team can work on now without coordination, such as drawing up its own approach to social distancing guidelines.
But Sullivan added that the more time passes, the more of a “risk” this will become. “If weeks go by, it will be hard for us to do what we need to do,” Sullivan said.
The rub is basically this: The Biden team will need to be briefed on the problems that the current administration is running into as the rollout gets underway.
For instance, Sullivan said, when distribution starts, possibly before the end of the year — while Trump is still in office — Biden’s team will need to know what the challenges are proving to be on the ground, as they unfold.
Some examples: The Biden team will want to know if the rollout is running into problems with distribution, including in difficult-to-reach communities. They will want to know which states are doing well, and which are not, with their preparedness.
The Biden team will also want to know what the terms of contracts are with vaccine and supply companies and whether they are working out. And they will want to know what challenges are emerging when it comes to persuading the public to take the vaccine.
“We’re going to pick up the baton with the race underway,” Sullivan told me, adding that the Biden team would need to be briefed on “every aspect of the operational plan to get sticks in arms over the course of 2021.”
A great deal is at stake. Even the head of Trump’s Warp Speed program is now saying that he’d like to be able to brief the Biden team, and that the program’s success “is a matter of life and death for thousands of people.”
“Vaccination programs need to be coordinated and seamless,” Tom Frieden, a former head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told me. “There are enormous complexities to covid vaccination. In the case of our fight against covid, anything that slows momentum could cost American lives.”
It’s entirely possible that Trump will allow the transition to quietly proceed before long, even as he continues to publicly refuse to concede. But it’s also entirely possible that he will not. We can’t lose sight of how deeply abnormal all this is, and in the case of the vaccine rollout, how dangerous it could prove, for no good reason whatsoever.