The Journal Gazette
 
 
Monday, November 16, 2020 1:00 am

Biden team wants vaccine data

Virus spread accelerating; US tops 11 million cases

RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR and WILL WEISSERT | Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Joe Biden's scientific advisers will meet with vaccine makers in coming days as the presidential transition remains stalled because of President Donald Trump's refusal to acknowledge he lost the election. That delayed handoff is especially problematic during a public health crisis, 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.”

“We're going to start those consultations this week,” said Biden's chief of staff, Ron Klain, citing Pfizer and other pharmaceutical companies.

The president-elect's outreach to the vaccine manufacturers comes as the coronavirus pandemic in the United States has entered perhaps its most dangerous phase. More than 11 million cases of have now been reported in the United States since Jan. 20, with the most recent million coming in less than a week, according to Johns Hopkins University.

COVID-19 is spreading more rapidly across the U.S. than it has at any time since the pandemic started. Deaths are also on the rise, although not at the record high numbers reached in the spring. The seven-day rolling average for daily new deaths was more than 1,080 as of Saturday, more than 30% higher than it was two weeks earlier.

COVID-19 has now killed more than 246,000 people in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins.

Pfizer's announcement that preliminary data indicates its vaccine is 90% effective lifted financial markets last week and gave people worldwide hope that an end to the pandemic will be coming.

Klain said Biden's experts also need a detailed understanding of distribution plans being finalized by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Pentagon. In some ways, that's the more critical issue, 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.”

Fauci stressed the arrival of vaccines won't be like flipping a switch to return to normal life. The first doses will become available for people in high-risk groups later this year. He said Americans will have to keep up preventive measures such as wearing masks, observing social distancing and frequently washing their hands well into next year.

“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 makers are also in the final phase of testing their formulations, and Fauci said he expects those vaccines will also be highly effective.

The government has launched a program called “Operation Warp Speed,” backed by the White House, to quickly manufacture and distribute tens of millions of doses of vaccines. The shots will be free to Americans, and the goal is to have most people vaccinated by about this time next year. Many people will need two doses.

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 20 million doses could be available by the end of this month, and an additional 20 million by the end of the year.

But Adm. Brett Giroir, assistant HHS secretary, seconded Fauci's admonition that Americans must keep following basic public health precautions.

“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 real. Around the country, hospitals report that doctors and nurses are being stretched to cope with rising numbers of hospitalized COVID-19 patients requiring special care. In some communities, hospitals have started limiting elective procedures in order to conserve resources.

A leading adviser, former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, sought to tamp down speculation that Biden as president would order a national lockdown, 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.”

Also

Indiana reports 22 additional deaths

Public health officials Sunday reported an additional 6,844 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 22 additional deaths in Indiana.

The Indiana State Department of Health reported 53,776 administered tests with an 11.3% average positive test rate over seven days. Since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been 251,597 confirmed cases in Indiana and 4,660 deaths.

The Allen County Department of Health said 459 residents tested positive in the county Sunday, with 292 confirmed PCR cases and 167 probable antigen cases, bringing the total to 14,269 cases and 264 deaths.

Also Sunday, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration ordered high schools and colleges to stop in-person classes, closed restaurants to indoor dining and stopped organized sports – including the high school football playoffs – in a bid to curb Michigan's spiking coronavirus cases. The restrictions will begin Wednesday and last three weeks.

– Staff, Associated Press


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