President Joe Biden to create interagency task force focused on long COVID

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra will lead it.

April 5, 2022, 2:36 PM

The White House is attempting to speed up the nation's response to long COVID by establishing a new task force to coordinate research efforts across the government.

President Joe Biden appointed Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra as the interagency task force leader in a memorandum issued Tuesday.

The task force will deliver two reports over the next four months, a senior administration official told ABC News.

The first report will lay out existing government services for people struggling with long COVID. The second report will plan for further research needs.

"The interagency will take 120 days to put forward a comprehensive action plan that will lay out all of the work that's ongoing, the lessons that have been learned and the plan moving forward to make sure we continue to accelerate and move as fast as we can," the senior administration official said.

Biden's directive also called on the National Institute of Health to accelerate its ongoing $1.15 billion research project, moving quicker to fulfill its slow-moving pledge to enroll 40,000 Americans in long COVID studies.

Other White House efforts would require about $45 million in funding, all of which depends on congressional approval, which is expected to be an uphill battle for Biden. About $25 million would go toward long COVID research, and about $20 million would be allocated to fund centers that are making headway in long COVID treatment.

But experts who advocate for the government to do more on long COVID say money is not the chief concern. The government has already made a huge investment in long COVID research with the over $1 billion NIH project called the Researching COVID to Enhance Recovery (RECOVER) Initiative.

And Biden's memorandum on Tuesday didn't add many new policies to the federal response.

The top priority, experts say, is moving quickly on research that is already underway to get a clear picture of how widespread long COVID is and how urgently the country needs to respond.

PHOTO: President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid in the East Room of the White House, April 5, 2022.
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid in the East Room of the White House, April 5, 2022.
Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

"I think the frustration is they're taking their time," said former White House Health Policy Advisor Dr. Zeke Emanuel, reacting to Biden's announcement.

Emanuel, who co-wrote a recent report on the path out of the pandemic, called for NIH to enroll people quicker in its studies and "turbocharge" the process. Recent reporting found the NIH had so far enrolled 1,366 people, or just 3% of its goal.

"This is not rocket science. These are desperate people and it should be easy to enroll hundreds of thousands of them," Emanuel said.

He criticized the four-month timeline, though commended the White House for announcing Becerra as "the point person" and "realizing they have to do more."

The White House, for its part, said on Tuesday that results would come out "every day" of the four-month period.

"We're not going to wait 120 days to share our results. We're coming out with our results every single day, as soon as we have them," a senior administration official said.

"We feel the urgency of this moment. We want to make sure that we're sharing lessons and learnings as we have them and that is our commitment," the official added.