When he assumes office, President-Elect Joe Biden will be invoking the Defense Production Act (DPA) to spur the production and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine to the American population, something his incompetent predecessor should have done months ago.
As reported by CNBC:
“You will see him invoking the Defense Production Act,” Dr. Celine Gounder, a member of Biden’s Covid-19 advisory board, said during an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “The idea there is to make sure the personal protective equipment, the test capacity and the raw materials for the vaccines are produced in adequate supply.”
Most Americans are unaware that the Trump administration has actually invoked usage of the DPA over 300,000 times—in connection with prioritizing orders for military contracts.
Chemicals used to construct military missiles. Materials needed to build drones. Body armor for agents patrolling the southwest border. Equipment for natural disaster response.
A Korean War-era law called the Defense Production Act has been used to place hundreds of thousands of orders by President Trump and his administration to ensure the procurement of vital equipment, according to reports submitted to Congress and interviews with former government officials.
But because he has surrounded himself with pro-corporate sycophants for whom the very idea of “nationalizing” American business sends their hearts into a state of near-cardiac agitation, and because he prioritizes business interests over the interests of the American people, Trump’s use of the Act, providing a president emergency powers to compel private companies to prioritize their manufacturing activities in the interests of national security, has been virtually non-existent with respect to this unprecedented health crisis. As noted in this March report by the New York Times, the response from the administration has invariably been the same Fox-News-tinged litany:
[A]s governors and members of Congress plead with the president to use the law to force the production of ventilators and other medical equipment to combat the coronavirus pandemic, he has for weeks treated it like a “break the glass” last resort, to be invoked only when all else fails.
“You know, we’re a country not based on nationalizing our business,” Mr. Trump said earlier this month. “Call a person over in Venezuela, ask them how did nationalization of their businesses work out? Not too well.”
Even now, after proven vaccines have been in the pipeline for nearly two months, the Trump administration has continued to dither whether to invoke the Act to speed up their distribution, despite the fact that Pfizer, one of the manufacturers of the new vaccine, asked the administration for assistance in obtaining the equipment for the vaccine’s production as early as September of this year.
As the CNBC article states:
The New York Times reported last week that Pfizer, which manufactures one of the two Covid vaccines approved for emergency use in the U.S., began asking the Trump administration in September to help the pharmaceutical giant obtain some supplies needed for production but was disappointed by a lack of response.
In fact, as that Times report confirmed, it was only last week that Pfizer was able to secure the necessary commitment by the Trump administration to invoke the DPA as a condition of the agreement to supply an additional 100 million doses of their vaccine. Still, the Act has yet to be invoked by Trump, while thousands of Americans continue to die and become infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Historians will doubtlessly debate for years whether it was sheer grotesque incompetence, an abysmal reliance on standard Republican “free market” ideology, or some toxic combination of both which caused this administration’s failure to appropriately implement and distribute a readily available vaccine to the American people before millions of additional Americans became infected.
For many Americans, however, all of that debate will be moot.