What’s the news: As the nation surpasses the tragic mark of 400,000 lives lost to COVID-19 since the first case was identified in the U.S. 12 months ago, the new presidential administration is detailing its plan to speed up vaccination, expand testing capacity and bolster the public health workforce.

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President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief proposal includes $400 billion to directly address the pandemic, AMA Chief Health and Science Officer Mira Irons, MD, explained in a recent episode of the “AMA COVID-19 Update.”

That includes $20 billion to boost the nation’s COVID-19 vaccination program, which includes launching community vaccination centers and mobile units in harder-to-reach areas. This portion also would raise federal support for vaccinating patients enrolled in Medicaid.

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Another $50 billion would go to expand COVID-19 testing, cover the purchase of rapid tests, boost laboratory capacity and aid local governments and schools with their protocols for testing. Another element of Biden’s plan would help hire 150,000 public health workers—nearly tripling a national public health workforce that was considered underfunded long before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why it’s important: The AMA “has been asking for a coordinated, comprehensive approach to the pandemic,” Dr. Irons said. “There are resources in the plan to provide the states the resources they need in order to do this, and the focus is on the right things: getting shots in arms, expanding testing and also continuing the public health mitigation measures that we know we need to continue to do.”

Earlier this month, AMA President Susan R. Bailey, MD, delivered a virtual address to the National Press Club (watch video; read transcript) in which she urged an energetic, harmonized response to help patients and physicians navigate the long road ahead for the pandemic in 2021.

Read more from Dr. Bailey about why our nation needs a unified and comprehensive pandemic response.

The Biden plan comes amid widespread frustration with the slow rollout of COVID-19 vaccination, about which “there are still more questions than answers,” Dr. Irons said. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 vaccination data tracker, nearly 17 million doses had been administered at this article’s deadline. That’s less than half of the doses distributed.

“The reality is that it’s far short of the goal that federal officials set to have 20 million people vaccinated before the end of 2020,” Dr. Irons said. Biden’s goal, which he announced in December, is to have “at least 100 million covid vaccine shots into the arms of the American people in the first 100 days.”

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Another cause for hope, Dr. Irons said, is the preliminary trial results shared for the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. The company’s early phase “interim data shows that their vaccine did get a good response in terms of neutralizing antibody and T-cell development,” Dr. Irons said.

The company is expected to do an interim analysis of this phase 3 clinical trial sometime this month and possibly apply for emergency use authorization in February. Notably, the J&J vaccine is a single dose. “That’s something new to look forward to this month and next,” Dr. Irons said.

Learn more: Stay updated with the AMA to get the latest information on COVID-19 vaccination. The AMA has developed documents to answer frequently asked questions about COVID-19 vaccination: one is aimed at physicians, and other addresses patient queries.

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