In State of the Union, Biden walks a fine line on Covid optimism

WASHINGTON — President Biden on Tuesday vowed that the U.S. won’t become complacent in its Covid-19 response, even as he attempted to project optimism about returning to normal life.

Biden devoted a sizable chunk of his first State of the Union address to highlighting the country’s progress on Covid-19, arguing that the virus “need no longer control our lives” and touting new guidance that allows most American communities to eliminate mask restrictions. But the federal government, he said, isn’t letting down its guard.

“I know some are talking about ‘living with Covid-19,’” he said. “Tonight, I say that we will never just accept living with Covid-19.”

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Biden announced that people who already ordered free coronavirus rapid tests through a federal website will soon be allowed to order more. And he reiterated his administration’s pledge that it will be able to develop and ship vaccines specially tailored to new viral variants within 100 days of their detection.

“We will continue to combat the virus as we do other diseases,” Biden said. “And because this is a virus that mutates and spreads, we will stay on guard.”

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The pandemic has killed over 950,000 Americans, and with death rates still close to 2,000 each day, the country is likely to hit the grim milestone of 1 million total Covid-19 deaths within weeks.

In addition to the public health measures, Biden announced that the Department of Justice would soon appoint a chief prosecutor for pandemic fraud, with the intention of “going after the criminals who stole billions in relief money meant for small businesses and millions of Americans.”

The address also touched on a number of other major health care topics: namely, the price of prescription drugs, the addiction and overdose crisis, and the federal government’s role in biomedical research.

Biden doubled down on his longstanding call to allow Medicare to directly negotiate the price of prescription drugs with pharmaceutical manufacturers, to a standing ovation from Democrats but silence from most Republicans.

“We pay more for the same drugs produced by the same company than any other country in the world,” he said, slamming pharmaceutical companies’ immense profit margins and endorsing a bill from Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) to cap patients’ insulin costs.

“Let’s cap the cost of insulin at $35 a month so everyone can afford it,” Biden said. “Drug companies will still do very well.”

Biden also called on Congress to increase funding for addiction treatment and harm reduction efforts, and to repeal laws and regulations that make it difficult for doctors to prescribe medications used to treat addiction.

He also touted his administration’s recently relaunched “Cancer Moonshot,” a research effort aimed at cutting the cancer death rate in half within 25 years.

One element of the moonshot, Biden said, is his proposal to create a new biomedical research agency known as ARPA-H, focused on high-stakes projects that university researchers and large drug companies wouldn’t have the resources or financial incentive to take on.

Source: STAT