The Biden administration has identified critical supply shortages of 12 items needed to help fight the coronavirus pandemic and promised to use wartime powers to help solve them.
Joe Biden, who took office as president on Wednesday, will on Thursday sign an executive order instructing US government agencies to use the Defense Production Act to increase supplies of several items including coronavirus tests, N95 masks and vaccine syringes.
The order is one of several such documents the president is signing as he lays out what he promises will be a more robust and transparent strategy to bringing the pandemic under control.
Jeff Zients, Mr Biden’s Covid-19 task force co-ordinator, said: “We have identified 12 immediate supply shortfalls that are critical for the pandemic response right now, like N95 and high-quality surgical masks, isolation gowns, nitrile gloves, sample testing swabs, test reagents, pipette tips, additional laboratory analysis machines and more.”
He added: “Where we can produce more we will, where we need to use the Defence Production Act to help more be made we’ll do that too.”
Mr Biden has promised to make fighting Covid-19 his first priority as president, and will on Thursday give more details of how he intends to bring the spread of the disease under control.
The virus has killed nearly 400,000 people in the US since the start of the pandemic, and has left just under 123,000 currently in hospital, according to the Covid Tracking Project. On Mr Biden’s first day in office, the US tallied more than 4,400 fatalities, a new one-day record.
Mr Biden warned during his inaugural address on Wednesday that the US was entering “what may be the toughest and deadliest period of the virus” as the country attempts to boost vaccine supply while also controlling the spread of new variants. He subsequently signed an executive order mandating mask-wearing on all federal government property.
Mr Biden’s advisers criticised the Trump administration on Wednesday for not having co-operated fully during the transition, leaving incoming officials uncertain of basic information such as how many vaccine doses are being kept in reserve. The former administration announced last week it would release all available doses rather than holding on to some to ensure supplies of the second booster shot, but officials later admitted that reserves had already been largely depleted.
The list of executive orders on Thursday gives a clearer sense of how Mr Biden’s administration will tackle the pandemic over the coming months, including greater use of the Defense Production Act.
Donald Trump, the former president, had been criticised for his apparent reluctance to invoke the DPA, which was passed in 1950 during the Korean war and allows the government to force companies to make certain products.
Mr Biden’s aides did not spell out exactly how their administration would use the act, although boosting supplies of syringes is likely to be a top priority.
So-called low dead volume syringes are needed to extract a full six doses out of every vial of the vaccine made by BioNTech and Pfizer, and without them, vaccine supplies are likely to be reduced.
States have already said they were running low on the vaccine, with Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, saying on Wednesday that his state had only enough doses to last another two or three days.
Mr Biden will also make a series of other changes, such as restoring regular briefings by a team of government scientists and funding the production of more Covid-19 tests.
Mr Trump previously expressed frustration at how many tests were being carried out in the US, saying a high level of testing had led to an artificially inflated case count.