Biden transition, U.S. coronavirus vaccine teams to meet amid surge, distribution questions

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The chief adviser for U.S. efforts to develop a coronavirus vaccine said on Sunday he planned to meet with President-elect Joe Biden’s team this week to discuss the program before the expected first round of vaccinations this month.

Moncef Slaoui, chief adviser to the U.S. government’s Operation Warp Speed initiative, said he has not yet met with Biden, who last week criticized the Trump administration’s vaccine distribution plan.

“We really look forward to it because actually things have been really very appropriately planned,” Slaoui said in an interview with CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Biden said on Friday his team had not seen a detailed outline from the Trump administration to distribute a vaccine to states, which he called an expensive and difficult process.

“There is no detailed plan that we’ve seen, anyway, as to how you get the vaccine out of a container, into an injection syringe, into somebody’s arm,” Biden said.

Slaoui said the government’s plan relies on state health agencies to deliver the vaccine.

“I think the plans are there and I feel confident that once we will explain it, everything in detail. I hope the new transition team will understand that things are well planned,” he told the CBS program.

It was not clear if Biden would attend the meeting himself.

The United States is struggling with a resurgence of the virus, with record infections and a daily death toll that has exceeded 2,000 in recent days. More than 281,000 Americans have died from the COVID-19 disease, according to a Reuters tally.

FILE PHOTO: Former GlaxoSmithKline pharmaceutical executive Moncef Slaoui, who will serve as chief adviser on the effort to find a vaccine for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, waits to speak as President Donald Trump holds a coronavirus disease response event in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 15, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

President Donald Trump’s refusal to acknowledge his loss to Biden in the Nov. 3 presidential election caused a delay in the transition process that allowed White House health advisers to communicate with the new Biden health advisory team.

Biden was due to announce members of his public health team this week.


First-responders, health care workers and nursing home residents will be the first groups to receive the vaccine once the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves it, which is expected in the next week or two. The FDA’s outside advisers are scheduled to meet on Thursday to review Pfizer’s emergency use application for its vaccine.

FDA approval does not assure smooth sailing. Slaoui told CNN’s “State of the Union” the vaccine manufacturing effort has been more complicated and difficult than expected.

“We probably are six or eight weeks later than an ideal scenario, where we had 100 million doses by the end of this year,” he said. “But we are not far.”

The people most susceptible to coronavirus would start seeing the impact of the vaccine in January or February, Slaoui said on CBS.

“But on a population basis, for our life to start getting back to normal, we’re talking about April or May,” he said.

With the winter holiday season approaching, U.S. health experts have been pleading with Americans to not let up on their coronavirus safety protocols - wearing masks, social distancing and avoiding large gatherings.

Dr. Deborah Birx, who serves on the White House coronavirus task force, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that public health officials have had to battle incorrect messages from the Trump administration about masks and other mitigation measures.

“I want to be very frank to the American people. The vaccine is critical. But it’s not going to save us from the current surge,” she said. “Only we can save us from this current surge.”

Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Paul Simao