Biden Eyeing Jeff Zients As COVID-19 Response Coordinator

Zients, who served as director of the National Economic Council under Barack Obama, would come to the post with a background in business and technology, rather than a traditional healthcare portfolio.

Editor's Note: After this appeared, President-elect Biden named Jeff Zients to be the incoming COVID-19 response coordinator.

As President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office, it is reported that a familiar face, Jeff Zients, will join his team as the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) response coordinator.

The former director of the National Economic Council under Barack Obama, Zients would come to the post with a background in business and technology, rather than healthcare. As response coordinator, Zients would seek to manage and curtail the COVID-19 outbreak by overseeing a surge of testing and the rollout of one or more vaccines.

Zients will have direct access to Biden and brief the president daily on the crisis. He will have a COVID-19 response team to help with vaccine distribution, manage supply chain logistics, and fix widespread access to testing, USA Today reported.

Vaccine distribution is the big challenge facing the incoming administration, as the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine could be approved as early as this week. HHS has announced that CVS and Walgreens will administer vaccines to residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. And an advisory committee to the CDC voted 13-1 to recommend that residents and employees of long-term care facilities be among the first to be vaccinated with healthcare workers.

“The most vulnerable must be protected from this unforgiving virus. We believe the distribution of a safe, effective, and clinically-proven COVID-19 vaccine should prioritize those most at risk for contracting and dying from the coronavirus, including healthcare and other frontline workers, the elderly, people of color, and other vulnerable populations. There should also be free access to the vaccine, so everyone—whether they have health coverage or not—can get the vaccine. We will continue working with the administration and Congress to ensure equitable vaccine distribution and to fight the pandemic,” Justine Handelman, senior vice president, Office of Policy and Representation for the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, said in a statement to Managed Healthcare Executive®.

To develop an efficient vaccine distribution policy, Zients will tap his knowledge of technology and a track record for improving performance efficiency. More than specific healthcare knowledge, fighting COVID-19 will rely on ensuring best practices in testing, contact tracing, and the production of personal protective equipment, as well as being able to respond to surges of cases.

Zients will come to the post with a record of cleaning up mistakes. He became known as “Mr. Fix It” when he helped undo the glitches in the Affordable Care Act’s enrollment site, healthcare.gov. In 2013, when it came time to roll out the website that was supposed to make it easy to apply for and purchase health insurance, healthcare.gov was slow to load and had people getting stuck on webpages. The Obama administration's signature policy achievement was threatened by a technology meltdown. A profile in The Washington Post chronicled how Zients took charge and demanded that one company be put in charge of site, and that he be given timely updates of major technology changes with specific people held accountable.

Aside from fixing the logjam on the site, Zients, who also spent time under Obama as the chief performance officer, along with Aneesh Chopra, the chief technology officer, and Vivek Kundra, the chief information officer, launched Recovery.gov, which contained information about the stimulus bill's grant. The team also fixed the Department of Homeland Security's website so it could update applicants on the status of their immigration via text message or email.

In 2018, Zients joined the board of Facebook following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, an incident where millions of users’ personal data were obtained by Cambridge Analytica for political advertising. Zients is currently on leave as chief executive officer of an investment firm called Cranemere.