Publish: 16 Nov 2020, 11:30 am
In the coming days, Joe Biden's scientific advisors will consult with vaccine manufacturers as the presidential process remains delayed due to the reluctance of US President Donald Trump to admit that he lost the election. During a public health crisis, this delayed handoff is extremely troublesome, the government's top infectious disease expert said.
“Of course it would be better if we could start working with them,” said Dr Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who has been through multiple presidential transitions during 36 years of government service. He likened the process to runners passing on the baton in a relay race. “You don’t want to stop and then give it to somebody,” he said. “You want to just essentially keep going.”
The outreach of the president-elect to the vaccine manufacturers comes as the coronavirus pandemic has entered perhaps its most harmful period in the United States. According to data from Johns Hopkins University, the seven-day rolling average for new daily cases stood at 145.400 on Saturday. That means that the U.S. is adding around 1 million new cases a week and as of Saturday, deaths averaged 820 a day a 33 percent rise in just two weeks.
“We’re going to start those consultations this week,” said Biden’s chief of staff, Ron Klain, citing Pfizer and other pharmaceutical companies.
The announcement by Pfizer that preliminary results suggest that its vaccine was 90% successful last week in lifting financial markets and gave people worldwide hope that an end to the pandemic would come.
Klain said the experts at Biden would need a clear understanding of the distribution plans that the Department of Health and Human Services and the Pentagon are finalizing. That's the more important problem in some respects, he said.
“We need to be talking to them as quickly as possible,” Klain said. “It’s great to have a vaccine, but vaccines don’t save lives: vaccinations save lives. And that means you’ve got to get that vaccine into people’s arms all over this country. It’s a giant logistical project.”
The arrival of vaccines would not be like turning a switch to return to normal life, stressed Fauci. For individuals in high-risk communities, the first doses will become available later this year. He said that preventive measures such as wearing masks, observing social distance, and sometimes washing their hands well into next year would have to be maintained by Americans.
“Everyone is sensitive to what we call ‘COVID fatigue,’ “ Fauci said. “People are worn out about this. But we have got to hang in there a bit longer. ... We have got to hang together on this.”
Other vaccine manufacturers are also in the final stage of testing their formulations, and Fauci said that he expects the vaccines to be very successful as well.
In order to efficiently develop and deliver tens of millions of doses of vaccines, the government has initiated a program dubbed Project Warp Speed," supported by the White House. The shots will be free for Americans, and next year's goal is to get most individuals vaccinated by around this time. Two doses would be required by many individuals.
Initial access to the vaccine will be limited to high-priority groups such as hospital and nursing home workers.
A top Trump administration health official said that by the end of this month, 20 million doses will be available, and an additional 20 million by the end of the year.
But Adm. Brett Giroir, HHS assistant secretary, supported Fauci's admonition that Americans will continue to follow basic measures for public health, such as wearing masks.
“If we do these things combined with the testing that we have, we can flatten the curve,” he said. “If we do not do these things, the cases will continue to go up,” Giroir said the country is in a critical situation.
Pressed on whether the administration should be talking to the Biden team, Giroir responded: “Look, I want to be as transparent as possible with everybody. This is not a political issue. This is an issue of public health and saving American lives. And I think there’s nothing more important than that.”
The risks are genuine. Hospitals across the country say that doctors and nurses are being strained to deal with the increasing number of patients needing special treatment for COVID-19 hospitalized patients. Hospitals have begun restricting elective procedures in some communities in order to save cash.
Former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, a leading adviser, tried to tamp down speculation that Biden would order a national lockdown as president, calling that a measure of last resort.
“In the spring, when we didn’t know a lot about COVID, we responded in a sense with an on/off switch,” Murthy said. “We shut things down because ... we didn’t know exactly how this was spreading and where it was spreading.
“We learned a lot more since then,” he added. “The better way to think about these safety restrictions is more a dial that we turn up and down depending on severity, and that’s really the key here, is applying this, these restrictions judiciously and precisely.”
Fauci was on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Klain appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Giroir spoke on ABC’s “This Week,” and Murthy was interviewed on “Fox News Sunday.”