WASHINGTON, DECEMBER 8: The Trump administration’s top health officials outlined an ambitious timetable on Sunday for distributing the first Coronavirus vaccinations to as many as 24 million people by mid-January, even as the accelerating toll of the pandemic filled more hospital beds across the US and prompted new shutdown orders in much of California.
After criticism from President-elect Joseph R Biden Jr that the administration had “no detailed” vaccine distribution plan, Moncef Slaoui, the Chief Science Adviser of Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s vaccine development programme, said all residents of long-term care facilities and health workers could receive the first round of vaccinations by mid-January.
A vaccine manufactured by Pfizer could be available by the end of the week, after anticipated approval by the Food and Drug Administration, Dr. Slaoui said on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday. Alex M Azar II, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, was just as optimistic.
“Really within days,” Azar said on Fox News Sunday. “Within 24 hours of FDA green lighting with authorisation, we’ll ship to all of the states and territories that we work with. And within hours, they can be vaccinating.”
But the hopeful comments were met with some scepticism as they played out against an increasingly desperate backdrop, with the virus surging across the country and packing hospitals to near capacity with critically ill patients. On Friday, more than 229,000 new cases were reported in the US, a record, and several states hit new daily highs over the weekend.
More than 101,000 COVID-19 patients are in hospitals now, double the number from just a month ago.
Health experts said the timeline sketched out by Dr Slaoui and Azar was uncompromising and did not account for the possibility of delay during the many steps from vaccine manufacture to distribution at state and local levels, not to mention the hesitancy that many people might feel about taking a newly approved vaccine.
“To meet those kinds of aggressive timelines, all the stars would have to align,” said Dr Peter J Hotez, the Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.
Dr Slaoui said his team charged with distributing the vaccine was scheduled on Monday to brief advisers to Biden, who complained last week that there was “no detailed plan that we’ve seen, anyway, as to how you get the vaccine out of a container, into an injection syringe, into somebody’s arm”.
Azar disputed Biden’s remarks.
“With all respect, that’s just nonsense,” he said. “We have comprehensive plans from the CDC, working with 64 public health jurisdictions across the country, as our Governors have laid out very detailed plans that we’ve worked with them on.”
At a rally in Georgia on Saturday night, President Trump once again claimed that the country was “rounding the corner” in dealing with the pandemic, a statement at odds with scenes in communities across the country, where doctors and nurses are struggling to cope with more cases of the virus than ever before.
On Sunday afternoon, Trump announced on Twitter that his personal lawyer Rudolph W Giuliani, who has led the President’s efforts to overturn the results of the election, had tested positive for the virus.
In California, under orders issued on Thursday by Governor Gavin Newsom, residents across the southern and central parts of the state were directed not to leave their homes for 3 weeks starting at 11.59 p.m. (local time) on Sunday, joining parts of the San Francisco Bay Area in shuttering outdoor dining and bars, closing schools and roping off playgrounds. (NYTNS)