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Incoming Biden chief of staff warns transition delay puts vaccine distribution at risk

"Joe Biden is going to become president of the United States in the midst of an ongoing crisis. That has to be a seamless transition," Ron Klain said Sunday.
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WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden's incoming chief of staff, Ron Klain, urged the Trump administration Sunday to reverse course and begin working on a presidential transition so "nothing drops in this change of power" that would jeopardize the new administration's ability to distribute a coronavirus vaccine.

President Donald Trump and his campaign continue to pursue legal challenges in several states contesting results and making unfounded allegations of widespread fraud.

In the meantime, the federal government has not yet gotten a key determination from the General Services Administration that would allow agencies to begin to cooperate with a transition, which Klain said on NBC News' "Meet the Press" has left the Biden team unable to speak to current administration officials or begin planning for how to take over during a crisis that has killed more than 240,000 people in America alone.

"Joe Biden is going to become president of the United States in the midst of an ongoing crisis. That has to be a seamless transition," he said.

"We now have the possibility, we need to see if it gets approved, of a vaccine starting perhaps in December, January. There are people at [the Department of Health and Human Services] making plans to implement that vaccine," he said. "Our experts need to talk to those people as soon as possible so nothing drops in this change of power."

Last week, the drug manufacturer Pfizer announced that its vaccine appears to be 90 percent effective and the White House touted "Operation Warp Speed," which it said will have enough vaccine to begin vaccinating about 20 million people a month in December.

But Biden's transition effort says it has begun to plan its own distribution for the vaccine because the federal government is still blocking it from working with its public health officials.

Klain described the effort to get an effective vaccine from a laboratory to manufacturing, distribution and ultimately into the arms of Americans as a "giant logistical project" that requires careful cooperation.

"It's great to have a vaccine, but vaccines don't save lives. Vaccinations save lives," he said.

He called on congressional leaders to get "urgent" help to people and governments during the latest spike in case numbers, which could ultimately lead to serious health and economic repercussions.

And he echoed Biden's call last week for all Americans to wear masks, adding that Biden will seek to "impose" a mask mandate on a "nationwide basis."

"The very first business day of his transition, Monday of this week, the president-elect met with his Covid task force and made a public statement afterwards where he called on all Americans to mask up, he urged governors to impose masking mandates now and reiterated the fact that when he becomes president, he will impose one on a nationwide basis," Klain said of Biden's speech Monday.

Biden repeatedly entertained the idea of a federal mask mandate during his campaign, saying in September that he believes the president does have the "legal authority" to issue one.

Last week, a senior adviser said Biden plans to push governors and mayors to implement mask mandates and to weigh a mask mandate for federal buildings. Biden did not explicitly address a federal mask mandate in his speech Monday — he framed the practice as an urgent measure of public health and American unity.

"So please, I implore you, wear a mask. Do it for yourself. Do it for your neighbor. A mask is not a political statement, but it is a good way to start pulling the country together," he said. "The goal of mask-wearing is not to make your life less comfortable or take something away from you. It's to give something back to all of us, a normal life."