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Biden poised to name EPA chief, to get COVID-19 vaccine in public to build support

Doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine are ready to be administered at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., December 16, 2020.
REUTERS/Brian Snyder

By Trevor Hunnicutt and Jarrett Renshaw, Reuters

President-elect Joe Biden plans to nominate North Carolina’s top environmental regulator to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, sources said, the latest in a slate of nominees who will be central to a sweeping plan to fight climate change.

The expected nomination of Michael Regan, according to three sources with knowledge of the discussions, follows appointments to head the departments of Energy, Transportation and the Interior, as well as a new office leading domestic climate policy coordination at the White House.

On their shoulders will be Biden’s goal of moving the United States to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 – a once-unimaginable task that will require the world’s second-largest emitter to overhaul major parts of its economy, from cars, trucks and planes to power plants, farms and buildings.

Biden’s focus on confronting climate change marks a sharp change from the four years of President Donald Trump’s administration, which saw the United States exit the Paris climate accord and the federal government work to soften or dismantle climate regulations, saying they would hinder the economy.

The sources, who asked not to be named discussing the matter, told Reuters that Regan was in the final stages of vetting by the Biden team. If confirmed, he would be the first Black man to run the EPA, adding to a historically diverse administration.

Biden, who is set to take office on Jan. 20, has also vowed to make the fight against the coronavirus that has killed more than 307,000 Americans his top priority when he takes office.

He will be contending with the logistical challenges of a mass inoculation as well as overcoming some skepticism about the vaccine’s efficacy and safety among the general public.

A vaccine made by Pfizer Inc and German partner BioNTech SE is expected to become widely available next year.

Biden will publicly get the vaccine next week, according to transition officials. At age 78, Biden is in the high-risk group for COVID-19, which has proven particularly dangerous among the elderly.

Vice President Mike Pence, who has headed the White House coronavirus task force, will receive the vaccine in public on Friday, the highest-profile recipient to date.

Trump will get the vaccine when his medical team decides it is best, according to the White House.

Trump, who frequently downplayed the severity of the pandemic and feuded with top U.S. public health officials, was hospitalized in October after testing positive for COVID-19.

SECOND VACCINE

All over the United States, doctors, nurses and delivery people are wrestling with challenges in the vaccine rollout including delays, anxiety and keeping the vaccine at just the right level of cold.

A panel of outside advisers to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to endorse emergency use of a second vaccine by Moderna Inc in a meeting on Thursday.

Many Americans remain skeptical. Only 61% of respondents in a Reuters/Ipsos poll, conducted from Dec. 2 to 8, said they were open to getting vaccinated.

That is short of the 70% level that public health officials have said is needed to reach herd immunity – achieved when a large portion of a given population is immune to a disease – either through exposure or vaccination. Roughly 5% of Americans are believed to have been infected by the novel coronavirus.

One of those tasked by Biden with building support for the vaccination campaign, Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, told a Black civil rights group on Wednesday that the science was sound.

“The political interference risk was really, really removed,” Nunez-Smith said on a call with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

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