(Headline USA) President-elect Joe Biden on Monday cheered news about the promising development of a coronavirus vaccine but cautioned Americans need to be aggressive about mask wearing and social distancing as infections allegedly surge around the country.
The Democrat’s transition team also unveiled members of Biden’s coronavirus working group tasked with developing his administration’s pandemic response — something Biden says he wants to put in motion, as he assumes he will take office in January.
As Biden unveiled his coronavirus advisory board — led by former Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner David Kessler and Yale University public health care expert Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith — Pfizer announced promising results from a vaccine trial.
The company, which developed the vaccine with the German drugmaker BioNTech, said it is on track to file an emergency use application with U.S. regulators later this month.
“Even if that is achieved, and some Americans are vaccinated later this year, it will be many more months before there is widespread vaccination in this country,” Biden said in a statement, noting that the vaccine does not change the “urgent reality” that Americans will have to rely on masking, distancing, and other mitigation in the months ahead.
While Biden greeted the news with cautious optimism, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to herald the moment with all caps exuberance: “STOCK MARKET UP BIG, VACCINE COMING SOON. REPORT 90% EFFECTIVE. SUCH GREAT NEWS!”
An interim analysis of the Pfizer vaccine, from an independent data monitoring board, looked at 94 infections recorded so far in a study that has enrolled nearly 44,000 people in the U.S. and five other countries.
Pfizer says an early peek at its vaccine data suggests the shots may be 90% effective at preventing COVID-19, indicating the company is on track later this month to file an emergency use application with U.S. regulators.
Trump throughout his campaign said that the nation — even as the infection rate has surged to record highs — was rounding the corner on the coronavirus and that a vaccine was imminent. Vice President Mike Pence was set to hold a meeting of the White House coronavirus task force on Monday. Pence in a tweet called Pfizer’s reported progress “HUGE NEWS.”
Public health officials warn that the nation is entering the worst stretch yet for COVID-19 as winter sets in and the holiday season approaches, increasing the risk of rapid transmission as Americans travel, shop and celebrate with loved ones.
“The next two months are going to be rough, difficult ones,” said Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious disease specialist and department chairman at the Yale School of Public Health. “We could see another 100,000 deaths by January,” he added, despite nearly everyone who contracts the virus recovers, unless they have extenuating health problems which become co-morbidities.
Like Trump, Biden pledged during the campaign to make testing free and widely available; to hire thousands of health workers to help implement contact-tracing programs; and to instruct the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide clear, expert-informed guidelines, among other proposals.
Establishing some consensus with state leaders on a national response, including a nationwide mask mandate, should be a top priority, she said. Opposition to wearing masks remains a stubborn issue, particularly in some of the hardest-hit states.
During his first remarks as president-elect, Biden said Saturday that his COVID-19 task force will create a plan “built on bedrock science” and “constructed out of compassion, empathy and concern.”
There’s also hope in the wider medical community that a Biden presidency will help restore U.S. leadership on global public health challenges, including the development and distribution of a vaccine when it becomes available.
Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, the chief scientist of the World Health Organization, said she was more optimistic that a Biden administration would join Covax, a WHO-led project aimed to help deploy vaccines to the neediest people worldwide, whether they live in rich or poor countries.
“Everyone recognizes that for a pandemic, you cannot have a country-by-country approach. You need a global approach,” Swaminathan said.
But in Kansas, one of the states seeing a significant surge in virus cases in recent weeks, at least one hospital official remains skeptical about what a new president can do to turn the tide of the pandemic in the U.S.
“I think the damage is done,” said Kris Mathews, the administrator of Decatur Health, a small hospital in the rural northwest part of the state. “People have made up their minds about how they react to it.”
Adapted from reporting by Associated Press.