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Ex-Obama official who helped fix botched rollout to join Biden’s Covid-19 team

Andy Slavitt, the former acting chief of Medicare and Medicaid under the Obama administration, is expected to join President-elect Joe Biden’s Covid-19 team in a senior advisory role, CNN has learned.

Slavitt’s role is expected to be temporary, sources said, as the incoming Biden administration is days away from inheriting the daunting task of getting the spread of Covid under control and quickly vaccinating the country. The expected hire underscores the all-hands-on-deck approach the Biden team appears to be taking when it comes to the coronavirus, as it looks to meet its goal of administering 100 million vaccine shots during Biden’s first 100 days in office.

Slavitt declined to comment.

Notably, prior to being named acting head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Slavitt had been brought on to help the Obama administration fix the botched rollout of its website. That effort to fix the Obamacare enrollment website was spearheaded by Jeff Zients, who is now Biden’s Covid coordinator.

Zients confirmed to CNN Thursday night his decision to bring Slavitt onto the Biden Covid team as a senior adviser.

In an interview, Zients said the decision to add Slavitt to the team was a clear sign that the incoming administration was “pulling out all the stops” to get Covid under control.

“He’s totally battle-tested and I think he’ll be invaluable in helping to deliver a clear and consistent message to the American people,” Zients said. “The reason we need to pull out all the stops is that this program is really not on track. What we’re inheriting from the Trump administration is much worse than what we could have imagined. There’s no existing infrastructure on vaccine distribution, so we’ll have to start from Day One.”

Zients also told CNN that while the Affordable Care Act rollout problems had presented a significant challenge, the coronavirus pandemic and vaccine distribution were in a different league altogether.

“While I am proud of the effort on, this is a different in kind challenge for the American people and the world,” Zients said, “and we need as many experienced people as possible to get this in a better position.”

Working hand-in-hand with Zients, Slavitt is expected to focus in part on messaging around Covid and vaccine distribution — a challenge that incoming Biden officials have described as unprecedented — including trying to build up public trust about the vaccine. A source familiar added that Slavitt will also engage medical providers, pharmacies and other major players as the new Biden administration works to vaccinate the American population as quickly as possible.

CNN has previously reported that the incoming Biden administration is concerned about Covid vaccine supply issues and the speed of distribution. Complicating matters has been what the Biden team has described as a lack of full cooperation and transparency on Covid from the outgoing Trump administration. Biden laid out the details of his Covid relief proposal Thursday evening in Wilmington, Delaware.

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