WASHINGTON (AP) – Scientific advisers to President-elect Joe Biden plan to meet with vaccine manufacturers in the coming days, even at a stalemate in the presidential transition keeps them out of the circle of government plans to inoculate all Americans against COVID-19.
President Donald Trump’s refusal to accept that he lost the election means that Biden’s team does not have a clear picture of the foundations in the government for a mass vaccination campaign that will continue for most of next year, says Biden’s chief of staff, Ron Klein..
“Now we have the option … of a vaccine starting maybe in December or January,”
The lack of coordination between the outgoing and incoming administrations would be particularly problematic in a deteriorating public health crisis, said the best government expert on infectious diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci.
“Of course, it would be better if we could start working with them,” said Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who has gone through many presidential transitions in 36 years of public service.
He likened the process to runners passing the baton in a relay race. “You don’t want to stop and then give it to someone,” he said. “You want to continue on the merits.”
The president-elect’s reach for vaccine manufacturers comes as the US coronavirus pandemic enters perhaps its most dangerous phase. According to data from Johns Hopkins University, the seven-day moving average for new daily cases was 148,725 on Sunday.. This means that the United States adds about 1 million new cases a week. Deaths averaged 1,103 a day on Sunday, an increase of 33% over two weeks.
Pfizer’s announcement that preliminary data show that the vaccine is 90% effective raised financial markets last week and gave people around the world hope the pandemic would end. On Monday, another company, Moderna, said its vaccine appeared to be 94.5% effective, according to preliminary data.
“We will begin this consultation this week,” said Klein, including Pfizer and other pharmaceutical companies.
But in some respects, the more critical issue is to gain a detailed understanding of the distribution plans, which are being finalized by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Pentagon.
“We need to talk to them as soon as possible,” Klein said. “It’s great to have a vaccine, but vaccines don’t save lives: vaccinations save lives. And that means you have to put this vaccine in the hands of people all over the country. This is a giant logistics project. “
Fauci stressed that the arrival of vaccines will not be like switching the switch to return to normal life. The first doses will be available to people at high risk later this year. He said Americans would have to continue to implement preventative measures such as wearing masks, adhering to social distancing and frequent hand washing next year.
“Everyone is sensitive to what we call ‘COVID fatigue,'” Fauci said. “People are exhausted by this. But we need to stay there a little longer. … We need to stick to this together. ”
Other vaccine manufacturers are also in the final stages of testing their formulations, and Fauci said he expects these vaccines to be highly effective as well.
The government has launched a White House-backed operation called Operation Warp Speed to rapidly produce and distribute tens of millions of doses of vaccines. The shots will be free for Americans, and the goal is for most people to be vaccinated at that time next year. Many people will need two doses.
Initial access to the vaccine will be limited to high-priority groups such as workers in hospitals and nursing homes.
A senior health official in the Trump administration said 20 million doses could be available by the end of this month and another 20 million doses by the end of the year. Administrator Brett Giroard, HHS’s assistant secretary, backed Fauci’s warning that Americans must follow basic public health precautions, such as wearing masks.
“If we do these things in combination with the tests we have, we can level the curve,” he said. “If we don’t do these things, cases will continue to rise.” Giroard said the country was in a critical situation.
Pressed about whether the administration should talk to Biden’s team, Giroare replied: “Look, I want to be as transparent as possible with everyone. This is not a political issue. It’s a matter of public health and saving American lives. And I don’t think there’s anything more important than that. ”
The risks are real. Hospitals across the country report that doctors and nurses are stretched to cope with the growing number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in need of special care. In some communities, hospitals have begun to restrict elective procedures to save resources.
Fauci was on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Klain appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” and Giroir spoke on ABC’s “This Week.”
Weissert reports from Wilmington, Delaware.