As experts say Biden should pivot on COVID, Harris sees current strategy making progress

Vice President Kamala Harris stood by the White House’s approach to COVID-19 pandemic response on Thursday, saying the Biden-Harris administration has made progress over the last year and “we have, still, work to do.”

While acknowledging that the pandemic at this moment “is extremely frustrating” for everyone, Harris told PBS NewsHour anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff that vaccines, boosters and masks have helped schools and businesses reopen, noting, “We have seen progress… but there are still steps to go.”

Watch the full interview with Vice President Kamala Harris.

“We have tools available to us to address this pandemic in a way that we can, at the very least, mitigate the harm to the greatest number of people,” Harris told Woodruff.

On Thursday, six leading public health advisers from the Biden-Harris transition team asked the administration to change its strategy by planning for and communicating a “new normal,” in public letters signed and published in the journal JAMA.

They also pleaded for a permanent, national system for “testing, surveillance, and mitigation measures that does not currently exist” in order to lower transmission and prevent future suffering.

The highly transmissible omicron variant has been fueling a fifth surge of COVID cases in the United States, with the nation recording more than 620,000 new infections per day, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, amid widespread testing shortages and delays. This latest wave has created critical staffing shortages at hospitals and schools, and pushed back plans for many Americans to resume in-person work.

Though Harris did not specifically address COVID testing, the administration plans to send 500 million at-home tests to American homes, by setting up a website to coordinate distribution. Critics have said the plan does not include enough tests to adequately track potential outbreaks and that requiring online signups poses an insurmountable barrier for some Americans, as was seen early on during COVID-19 vaccine rollout when people struggled to get appointments.

Despite having authorized vaccines for more than a year, one-third of Americans ages 5 and older are not fully vaccinated. With evidence of waning immunity and more transmissible variants, public health experts have urged eligible members of the public to get boosted to heighten both individual and community protection.

Harris signaled that vaccines and masks were two areas where the U.S. needs to do work. “We want to make sure that everyone is taking advantage of all the tools that we do have available to us right now.”

In the public pleas published Thursday, the medical experts who have supported the Biden team’s COVID response warned that if the White House fails to build and sustain a better system for monitoring the virus, “More people in the U.S. will unnecessarily experience morbidity and mortality, health inequities will widen, and trillions will be lost from the US economy.”

“This time, the nation must learn and prepare effectively for the future,” the authors wrote.

Harris in the interview acknowledged a national sense of malaise, saying that after two years, people “want to get back to normal, we all do.”

“We have to then do the tough and hard work of pushing through with solutions, understanding that there are going to be challenges, but let’s meet the challenges where they are.”