U.S. seeks to secure vaccine supply as Britain starts first COVID-19 shots

Woman holds a vial labelled “COVID-19 Coronavirus Vaccine” over dry ice in this illustration taken, December 5, 2020.
REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

By Daniel Trotta, Reuters

The Trump administration sought to shore up the U.S. vaccine supply on Tuesday as a 90-year-old British woman became the first person outside of trials to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

Progress toward a vaccine has offered a ray of hope in a pandemic that killed 15,000 people in the United States last week alone and has overwhelmed hospitals with intensive care patients.

Pfizer is on the cusp of winning U.S. approval for the vaccine it developed with Germany’s BioNTech, but Britain has already authorized the Pfizer vaccine, enabling Margaret Keenan to receive the first jab at her local hospital in Coventry, central England.

While China and Russia have gone forward with their own vaccines, Britain is the first Western nation to begin mass-inoculations.

The United States could soon follow as a U.S. Food and Drug Administration panel of outside advisers will meet on Thursday to discuss whether to recommend emergency use authorization of the Pfizer vaccine. U.S. health officials predict a swift green light with inoculations starting days or weeks later.

Outgoing President Donald Trump will sign an executive order on Tuesday to ensure that priority access for COVID-19 vaccines procured by the U.S. government is given to the American people before assisting other nations.

The signing follows a New York Times report that Pfizer may not be able to provide more of its vaccine to the United States until next June because of its commitments to other countries.

The Washington Post also reported that the Trump administration months ago passed on the chance to buy twice as many as the 100 million they agreed to. Pfizer had urged the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed program to purchase 200 million doses, enough for 100 million people as the vaccine is administered in two shots, the Post reported.

Administration officials described Trump’se order as part of his “America First” policy and noted that the government secured advanced deals to acquire multiple other vaccine candidates.

Besides Pfizer, other global pharmaceuticals are advancing toward a vaccine including Moderna, which is a week behind Pfizer in the approval process, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.

While the Trump administration has faced criticism for its handling of the pandemic, it has won some accolades for aiding the development of a vaccine through Operation Warp Speed.

President-elect Joe Biden, who takes over for Trump on Jan. 20, unveiled his nominations to run his coronavirus response on Monday, picking California Attorney General Xavier Becerra for secretary of health and human services.

Out in the country, hospitals are buckling under heavy patient loads as another 203,474 infections were reported on Monday, and another 1,582 people died.

Some three-fourths of California’s nearly 40 million people are under strict orders to close shop and stay at home, while New York’s governor threatened to ban indoor restaurant dining in New York City.

Pennsylvania’s healthcare systems are “precariously close to being overwhelmed,” state officials warned on Monday as the state sets daily records for new cases.

“This is a significant challenge for our healthcare system. … Sadly, we have now seen deaths from COVID-19 in every county in the state, and our hospitals in many locations are at or near capacity,” Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said in a statement.

Nationally, the number of new coronavirus cases rose 19% to 1.4 million in the week ending Sunday, leading top health officials to sound the alarm of further spread when people gather for the year-end holidays.

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