Trump hails vaccine ‘miracle,’ with millions of doses soon

Trump hails vaccine ‘miracle,’ with millions of doses soon

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump celebrated the expected approval of the first U.S. vaccine for the coronavirus Tuesday as the White House worked to instill confidence in the massive distribution effort.
Trump said the expected approvals are coming before most people thought possible. “They say it’s somewhat of a miracle and I think that’s true,” he declared.
Trump led Tuesday’s White House event celebrating “Operation Warp Speed,” his administration’s effort to produce and distribute safe and effective vaccines for COVID-19. The first vaccine, from drugmaker Pfizer, is expected to receive endorsement by a panel of Food and Drug Administration advisers as soon as this week, with delivery of 100 million doses — enough for 50 million Americans — expected in coming months.
“Every American who wants the vaccine will be able to get the vaccine and we think by spring we’re going to be in a position nobody would have believed possible just a few months ago,” Trump said.
Trump and his aides hope to tamp down skepticism among some Americans about the vaccine and help build the outgoing Republican president’s legacy.
However, Trump’s administration was also facing new scrutiny Tuesday after a report said it failed to lock in a chance to buy millions of additional doses of Pfizer’s vaccine, which has been shown to be highly effective against COVID-19. That decision could delay the delivery of a second batch of doses until Pfizer fulfills other international contracts. The Trump Administration denied the report.
Trump used Tuesday’s event to sign an executive order in which the secretary of Health and Human Services is directed to ensure that Americans have priority access to the vaccine.
A senior administration official said the order would restrict the federal government from delivering doses to other nations until there is excess supply to meet domestic demand, but it was not immediately clear what the practical impact would be.
Tuesday’s “Operation Warp Speed” event featured Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and a host of government experts, state leaders and business executives, as the White House looked to explain that the vaccine is safe and lay out the administration’s plans to bring it to the American people.
President-Elect Joe Biden, who was rolling out his senior health team on Tuesday, said last week that in meetings with Trump administration officials his aides have discovered that “there’s no detailed plan that we’ve seen” for how to get the vaccines out of containers, into syringes and then into people’s arms.
Trump administration officials insist that such plans have been developed, with the bulk of the work falling to states and local governments to ensure their most vulnerable populations are vaccinated first. In all, about 50,000 vaccination sites are enrolled in the government’s distribution system.
But career officials insisted it was still too early to declare victory.
“”We don’t want to get out in front of ourselves,” said Army Gen. Gustave Perna, responsible for overseeing the logistical and distribution efforts. “As my father used to say, ‘You can only spike the football when you’re in the end zone.’ Well, what is the end zone described to us here? Shots in arms.”
Speaking in Wilmington, Delaware, Biden promised to distribute “100 million shots in the first 100 days” of his administration — roughly on pace with Trump’s projections for vaccination.
Introducing his pandemic response team on Tuesday, Biden laid out his priorities for the start of his new government. He repeated his previous calls for all Americans to wear masks for 100 days to prevent the spread of the virus and said he’d mandate doing so in federal buildings and on public transportation. Biden also said he believed the virus could be brought under enough control to reopen “the majority of schools” within his first 100 days as president.
Those pledges came even as Biden struck a somber tone about the toll the coronavirus has already taken. He said that, after about nine months of living with the pandemic, the U.S. is “at risk of becoming numb to its toll on all of us” and “resigned to feel that there’s nothing we can do.”
The Trump administration insists that between the Pfizer vaccine, the vaccine from Moderna and others in the pipeline, the U.S. will be able to accommodate any American who wants to be vaccinated by the end of the second quarter of 2021.
The Food and Drug Administration’s panel of outside vaccine experts is to meet Thursday to conduct a final review of the Pfizer drug, and it will meet later this month on the Moderna vaccine.
FDA decisions on the two drugs are expected within days of each meeting. Both have been determined to be 95% effective against the virus that causes COVID-19. Plans call for distributing and then administering about 40 million doses of the two companies’ vaccines by the end of the year — with the first doses shipping within hours of FDA clearance.
Each of the vaccines has unique logistical challenges related to distribution and administration. The Pfizer vaccine must be transported at super-cooled temperatures, and comes in batches of 975 doses. Each vial contains five doses, requiring careful planning. The administration has prepared detailed videos for providers on how to safely prepare and administer doses, to be posted after the FDA issues its emergency use authorization.
Pharmacy chains CVS and Walgreens plan a “mobile vaccination service” ready to vaccinate people in every nursing home and long-term care facility in the country. The roughly 3 million residents of those facilities are among the most vulnerable for COVID-19 and have been placed at the front of the line to access the vaccine, along with more than 20 million healthcare workers. So far 80-85% of the facilities have signed on to the service, the officials said.
The decision not to secure additional Pfizer purchases last summer was first reported by The New York Times. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told NBC the administration is “continuing to work across manufacturers to expand the availability of releasable, of FDA-approved vaccine as quickly as possible. … We do still have that option for an additional 500 million doses.”
Dr. Moncef Slaoui, who is leading the government’s vaccine effort, noted the Trump administration had been looking at a number of different vaccines during the summer. He told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Tuesday that “no one reasonably would buy more from any one of those vaccines because we didn’t know which one would work and which one would be better than the other.”