President Joe Biden kept to his word to announce plans to “establish clear federal leadership” to tackle the coronavirus pandemic on his first full day in office.
The White House issued a 200-page document on Inauguration Day detailing “full-scale, wartime” plans to harness the nation’s manufacturing and distribution capabilities to boost vaccine production, end shortages of medical and personal protective equipment (PPE) and ensure equitable distribution of pandemic supplies. (Sister site Pharmaceutical Processing World explains Biden’s core strategies to boost vaccination efforts.)
As the nation approaches its second year of COVID-19 — and tops 406,000 pandemic-related deaths — Biden pledged to unleash the power of the federal government on the virus. He signed several executive orders and unveiled plans to invoke the Defense Production Act and other measures to bring the virus under control, particularly among hard-hit populations. Here are some highlights of the plan:
1. Conduct an immediate, end-to-end inventory of vaccination and testing supplies and PPE to respond to shortfalls.
“This inventory will drive decisions about the scope, contracting, and replenishing of the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS), use of the Defense Production Act (DPA), budget requests, investments in manufacturing, decisions about prioritizing supply distribution, and commitments to the global COVID-19 response,” the plan says.
2. Fully use the DPA and ‘other appropriate authorities’
The plan is to initiate contracts, make purchase agreements and investments necessary to close critical supply gaps — meeting urgent supply needs for vaccination supplies, testing supplies, and PPE. This would include measures to accelerate manufacturing, delivery, and administration to meet shortfalls in 12 categories of critical supplies, including N95 masks, isolation gowns, nitrile gloves, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) sample collection swabs, test reagents, pipette tips, laboratory analysis machines for PCR tests, high-absorbency foam swabs, nitrocellulose material for rapid antigen tests, rapid test kits, low dead-space needles and syringes, and all the necessary equipment and material to accelerate the manufacture, delivery, and administration of COVID-19 vaccines.
3. Secure the pandemic supply chain and create a U.S. manufacturing base to fill the strategic national stockpile
The strategy avoids reliance on other countries for lifesaving medicines and supplies, allowing the speed and flexibility required to produce needed supplies and medicines for ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks and future biological crises. The plan calls for increased domestic manufacturing of antigen and molecular-based testing; PPE and durable medical equipment; vaccine development and manufacturing; and therapeutics and other important drugs.
4. Appoint a COVID-19 response supply coordinator
The coordinator will manage federal agencies’ acquisition, supply, industrial base expansion and DPA work under a single national pandemic supply process.
5. Use the DPA to ‘significantly increase testing availability and decrease state-to-state competition for supplies through loans to manufacturers.’
The administration will offer “attractive loans to manufacturers to dramatically increase capacity in the production of COVID-19 tests, expand testing availability, and decrease state-to-state competition for scarce supplies,” the plan says.
6. Identify and solve urgent COVID-19-related supply gaps
The federal government will strengthen the supply chain to procure supplies that will be critical to control the spread of COVID-19 by initiating contracts, entering into purchase commitments, making investments to produce supplies and expanding manufacturing capacity.
7. Improve distribution and expand the availability of critical materials, including addressing the pricing of COVID-19 supplies.
The plan is to identify and take steps to limit price gouging and promote reasonable pricing.
Reaction to the plan
The plan was good news to the International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA), which includes the major manufacturers of N95 masks. ISEA officials told reporters in December that they planned to ask the federal government to establish a new emergency PPE distribution system in coordination with the states.
“We commend Biden’s immediate action to create a federal coordinator of COVID-19 Response and counselor to the President to organize the White House in preparing for future pandemic threats,” said ISEA President & CEO Charles Johnson in a statement.
ISEA asked the administration to immediately begin to gather data from state and local governments and healthcare providers about their current supply, use of and demand for PPE. “This will aid manufacturers, distributors and the government to work cooperatively to send PPE to where it is needed most,” the group said. “This type of approach will have a strikingly positive effect in the very near term.”
However, the group asked for flexibility to continue producing PPE outside the U.S. “In other words, let them decide where and with what partners they will produce these products to meet high U.S. standards,” the trade group said.
You can download the entire White House plan here.