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Biden's COVID-19 Response Team: 'We want to be a step or two ahead'

By
Jean Lotus
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks at the White House last Thursday during a news conference in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room. Photo by Al Drago/UPI
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks at the White House last Thursday during a news conference in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room. Photo by Al Drago/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 27 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden's White House COVID-19 Response Team gave its first news briefing Wednesday in what the administration hopes will be a new focus on "letting science speak" in the fight against the pandemic.

Medical and public health professionals including Dr. Anthony Fauci and new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky gave the first of what will be updates multiple times each week to communicate the federal response.

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Walensky said that the CDC now projects between 479,000 and 519,000 total COVID-19 deaths in the United States within the next month.

"Our case rates remain extraordinarily high and now is the time to remain vigilant," Walensky said, adding that the odds of dying from COVID-19 in the United States is about 16,500 per 1 million cases.

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Fauci said that vaccines developed and tested in South Africa, particularly one in development at Johnson & Johnson, are giving researchers data to be "well within the cushion of protection" to address viral variants as they pop up.

"We will always want to be a step or two ahead of what might be a problem in the future," Fauci added.

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Biden plans to administer 100 million vaccines over the first 100 days of his administration. Senior adviser Andy Slavitt said that means boosting distribution.

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Officials have said the administration will increase weekly shipments to states and territories to at least 10 million doses, starting next week.

"We are releasing more supply, and are activating FEMA and deploying more personnel," Slavitt said.

The goal, White House officials said, is to administer more than 500 million doses -- two for every American over age 16 -- by the summer.

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"It's the right thing to do to make sure that those who are hardest hit or at highest risk have the opportunity to stay healthy through this pandemic," said Marcella Nunez-Smith, director of Biden's health equity task force.

"Also there's the science of it: We cannot beat this virus without making sure we're executing a plan that works for all communities."

Nunez-Smith said there will be no charge for coronavirus vaccinations.

"Your ability to pay should not limit your decision about whether or not to receive this vaccine," she said.

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