US President-elect Joe Biden has named the members of his coronavirus task force, highlighting his pledge to make tackling Covid-19 his top priority.
In his first appointments since his victory was announced on Saturday, he named three co-chairs and 10 members. Among the co-chairs named is Vivek Murthy, who was appointed US surgeon-general by President Barack Obama in 2014 and removed by President Trump in 2017.
He also set out the blueprints for his Transition Covid-19 Advisory Board. The focus of his policy will be on mask wearing, social distancing, contact tracing and hand washing.
In a statement, Biden said the board would help to get the virus under control, deliver relief for working families, address racial disparities and work to reopen schools and businesses.
He also said it would “elevate the voices of scientists and public health experts”.
It comes as company Pfizer announced that its vaccine data suggests the shots may be 90% effective at preventing COVID-19.
Biden on Monday hailed the announcement as a “breakthrough” and congratulated those involved in giving the country “such cause for hope.” But at the same time, he noted that the end of the battle against COVID-19 is still months away.
He said even if a vaccine is approved by the end of this month and some Americans are vaccinated later this year, it’ll be many more months before there’s widespread vaccination across the country.
Biden cited a warning by the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that for the foreseeable future, a mask remains a more potent weapon against the virus than a vaccine.
“Today’s news doesn’t change this urgent reality,” Biden said, adding that Americans will have to rely on masking, distancing, social tracing, hand washing and other measures to keep themselves safe well into next year.
He said the US is still losing over 1,000 people a day from COVID-19 and will continue to get worse unless progress is made on mask-wearing and other actions.
Coronavirus cases in the US since the pandemic began are nearing 10 million, and there have been more than 237,000 deaths recorded so far.