The unprecedented obstruction of the transition process by the outgoing Trump administration represents a serious, significant and urgent danger to the American people. As covid-19 cases continue to surge, the incoming Biden administration must immediately be given access to all necessary information and all government departments.
Both of us have served as part of the federal government’s response to public health threats, such as H1N1, Ebola and Zika. We know firsthand the challenges facing our nation when it comes to this pandemic. Simply put, if President Trump continues to block the full operation of the Biden transition, more people will die, and the president’s failures will continue to harm this nation well past Inauguration Day.
The consequences of the delay in the transition permeate every single part of the response. Biden transition officials need to know all the data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about how states and local health systems are being impacted and what’s likely to come next. We know there’s likely to be a huge shortage of protective equipment for health-care workers, but the Biden team is being denied visibility into the supply chain for these critical materials. We need a national plan for testing, but incoming Biden officials are unable to connect with the Food and Drug Administration, CDC and other agencies to understand the current status of tests, how well they work and the status of testing supplies and their distribution. We know that therapeutics, especially monoclonal antibodies, are in short supply, yet there is very little information about their supply chain or how to guide fair allocation.
And then there are vaccines. Yes, the Department of Health and Human Services and states have put together the beginnings of a vaccine distribution plan. But, as similar vaccine efforts have taught us, plans are not perfect, and much can go wrong even under the best of circumstances. There has been no visibility at all about how potential problems might be avoided or addressed. One big issue is the status of safety monitoring, which must be ready to go when the first doses of vaccine are administered.
HHS is also sitting on additional information that could help state and local officials better understand, at a very granular level, who is in priority vaccination groups. This data could also help track vaccine uptake, including for populations especially at risk. None of this information is yet available to the incoming team, even though it will have to make major decisions on distribution, such as the best way to reach nursing homes, rural America and underserved areas without adequate health-care infrastructure.
States and localities — especially heartland states — are stretched beyond the limit. Health-care workers all over the country are absolutely exhausted; some are quitting practice, and some have taken their own lives. State and local governments don’t have the resources and personnel to keep up with basic public health functions and now are being tasked with planning and executing a vaccine campaign without effective federal support and guidance.
Given the failure of the Trump administration to protect Americans from the coronavirus, it is essential that President-elect Joe Biden be given full access to information and to the dedicated career staff across the government. Without that access — which is required by law — protective equipment and diagnostics likely won’t get where they need to go or be used appropriately. Nor can we be sure that vaccines will be distributed equitably and efficiently, or that needles, syringes, alcohol swabs, gloves and protective equipment show up at the same time and in the same place for vaccines to be properly administered. This administration has no national education campaign for public vaccine literacy, and we know there is already significant skepticism about vaccines that might delay use. The Biden team must be allowed to do its job.
The pandemic is raging across the country, setting record numbers for cases, hospitalizations and deaths — and the situation is expected to get worse. The presidential transition must commence without further delay so that when Biden stands before the American people as president and says, “This is what we’re going to do,” the people and plans needed to do it are ready to go. Every additional day of obstruction means more people will get sick and die. Those who delay this transition will bear the responsibility for that.