Trump's vaccine team will not brief Biden administration: U.S senators

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Officials working on vaccine distribution planning under President Donald Trump have no intention of briefing anyone on President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team, Democratic senators said on Thursday, as Biden warned the failure to share information would cost lives.

A woman holds a small bottle labeled with a "Coronavirus COVID-19 Vaccine" sticker in this illustration taken, October 30, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

“Just off a conference call with Trump Administration vaccine distribution team,” Senator Chris Murphy said on Twitter. “They confirmed that they have not briefed anyone on President-elect Biden’s team and have no plans to do so. This is potentially catastrophic.”

The call, for all senators, was conducted on Thursday morning by General Gustave Perna and Dr. Moncef Slaoui, leaders here of "Operation Warp Speed," the administration's COVID-19 vaccine-development effort, congressional aides said.

Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris met with Democratic and Republican governors on Thursday to discuss the health crisis. Asked at a news conference afterward about the impact of the current administration’s failure to coordinate on vaccine distribution, Biden responded by saying projections show the death toll could be 400,000 by February.

“It’s going to put us behind the eight ball by a matter of a month or more, and that’s lives. How many would be lost as a consequence of that I can’t tell you,” Biden said.

The Trump team’s unwillingness to share its plans with the incoming administration “risks President-elect Biden’s team not being ready on day one to implement the plan or make adjustments to it,” Murphy said in an emailed statement.

Asked for comment, White House spokesman Brian Morgenstern did not address whether Biden’s team would be briefed, saying vaccine distribution plans from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state governors were publicly available.

“Manufacturing is well under way, and Dr. Slaoui confirmed that 20 million Americans are on track for vaccinations in December with tens of millions per month thereafter,” Morgenstern said.

A wave of coronavirus infection has gripped the United States and the death toll surpassed 250,000 this week. A vaccine may be available in the coming months, but distributing it to over 300 million Americans might be complicated by special storage and transport conditions.

Biden said on Wednesday that a range of information had not been made available to his campaign, including the distribution plan for COVID-19 vaccines. His administration is scheduled to take office on Jan. 20, when he is inaugurated.

Failure to promptly share critical COVID-19 data with Biden’s team will cause needless, deadly delays in tackling the pandemic, leaders of the U.S. medical establishment said in a letter to Trump on Tuesday.

Emily Murphy, administrator of the General Services Administration, a generally little-known agency that keeps the U.S. government running, has so far refused to “ascertain” the winner of the Nov. 3 presidential election between Biden and Trump, a condition for releasing funds and resources to the winner.

Despite a clear margin of victory for Biden, Trump has refused to concede. His legal challenges are fizzling, but he has been backed by many of his fellow Republicans, both in Washington and across the country.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Steve Holland, additional reporting by Simon Lewis; Editing by Heather Timmons, Alistair Bell, Peter Cooney and Tom Brown