WASHINGTON: As scientists and pharmaceutical companies work at breakneck speed to develop a vaccine for the novel coronavirus, public health officials and senior US lawmakers are sounding alarms about the Trump administration’s lack of planning for its nationwide distribution.
The federal government traditionally plays a principal role in funding and overseeing the manufacturing and distribution of new vaccines, which often draw on scarce ingredients and need to be made, stored and transported carefully.
There won’t be enough vaccine for all 330 million Americans right away, so the government also has a role in deciding who gets it first, and in educating a vaccine-wary public about its potential life saving merits.
Right now, it is unclear who in Washington is in charge of oversight, much less any critical details, some state health officials and members of Congress told Reuters.
Last week, a senior Trump administration official told Reuters that Operation Warp Speed, a White House task force first announced development in May, was “committed to implementing the (vaccine) plan and distributing medical countermeasures as fast as possible.”
However, Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told a Senate hearing on July 2 that his agency would spearhead the campaign to develop and distribute a vaccine for the new coronavirus. “This is really the prime responsibility of CDC,” he said.
Republican Senator Roy Blunt, who chairs a panel overseeing health program funding, is one of several lawmakers pushing for the CDC, which was founded in 1946 to counter malaria, to lead the effort.
“They are the only federal agency with a proven track record of vaccine distribution and long-standing agreements with health departments across the country,” Blunt said in a statement in mid-July.
The United States leads the world in Covid-related fatalities with more than 150,000 in five months. After underestimating the virus’ threat, President Donald Trump and his advisers are embroiled in internal battles over how to handle the crisis just three months before his re-election bid against Democratic candidate Joe Biden.
A July 15-21 Reuters/Ipsos poll showed that only 38% of the public supports Trump’s handling of the pandemic.
Health officials and lawmakers say they worry that without thorough planning and coordination with states, the vaccine distribution could be saddled with the same sort of disruptions that led to chronic shortages of coronavirus diagnostic tests and other medical supplies.
Washington should be educating people now about vaccination plans in order to build public confidence and avoid confusion, said Senator Patty Murray, the senior Democrat on the health program funding committee.
“What is the priority, who gets it first? First-responders, healthcare workers, those kinds of things,” Murray said in a telephone interview. On July 13, Murray published a road map for vaccine distribution.
A poorly executed rollout would mean “we will be sitting here two years from now, three years from now, in the same economic and health position we are today,” she said.
Some state public health officials, meanwhile, say their entreaties to the Trump administration have been unanswered.
“We have not heard anything from the federal government since April 23,” Danielle Koenig, health promotion supervisor for the Washington State Department of Health, said in an email.
That is when her agency received preliminary guidance on vaccine planning from the CDC.
Immunization experts along with state and local public health officials sent a letter to Operation Warp Speed on June 23 pleading for fresh guidance.
States need to know promptly if the federal government will pay for the vaccines, as it did during the H1N1 outbreak in 2009, the letter says. Will alcohol swabs, syringes and personal protective equipment be included? What about record-keeping and refrigeration to store the vaccine and who will deliver it?
So far, there’s been no official response, said Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers, one of four organizations that signed the letter.
“We urgently await federal, state and local collaborative discussions to identify challenges and plan solutions. A vaccination campaign of this magnitude is unprecedented and it’s going to take more than an army,” Hannan said on Tuesday, referring to Trump’s repeated statements that the US military stands ready to deliver vaccines.
Trump insists everything is in place.
“We’re all set to march when it comes to the vaccine,” Trump said at a White House briefing on Thursday. “… And the delivery system is all set. Logistically we have a general that’s all he does is deliver things whether it is soldiers or other items.
“We are way ahead on vaccines, way ahead on therapeutics and when we have it we are all set with our platforms to deliver them very, very quickly,” Trump said.
Stronachs settle family feud – CBC.ca
A high-profile feud among members of the Stronach family has been settled.
Under a settlement announced by The Stronach Group, control of the family fortune is basically split between two factions.
Former politician and business executive Belinda Stronach will remain chairwoman and president of The Stronach Group, with full control of its horse racing, gaming, real estate and related assets.
Her Austrian-born parents, Frank and Elfriede Stronach, will assume full ownership and control of a stallion and breeding business, all farm operations in North America and all European assets.
The family fortune was founded by Frank Stronach, who built the global Magna automotive manufacturing business — where Belinda worked for a time before entering federal politics.
Father and daughter issued a joint statement saying they were glad their disagreements had been settled.
Bank of Canada cuts benchmark mortgage rate for 3rd time in months – Global News
House-hunting Canadians saw their buying power increase this week as the benchmark five-year mortgage rate reported by the Bank of Canada fell for the third time this year, easing a key stress test faced by borrowers.
The central bank said the rate fell to 4.79 per cent, after decreasing to 4.94 per cent in May and to 5.04 per cent in March.
James Laird, the co-founder of Ratehub.ca and president of CanWise, said Thursday the lower rates will be a win for some.
“If you just barely couldn’t qualify (for a mortgage), you might now qualify for what you were looking for,” he said.
“It is a move that will allow you to qualify just a little more than you could before.”
Mortgage rates have been falling in recent weeks.
While most borrowers do not pay anything close to the benchmark posted rate for a mortgage, the rate is used when assessing borrowers as part of a financial stress test.
What you need to know before your deferring your mortgage payment
The check is meant to ensure homebuyers will be able to make their mortgage payments in the future if rates increase from the where they are today. The drop in the benchmark rate makes the test is easier.
According to Ratehub.ca’s mortgage affordability calculator, a family with an annual income of $100,000, a 10 per cent down payment and five-year fixed mortgage rate would have qualified for a home valued at $523,410 under the 4.94 per cent qualifying rate. Under the new rate, they can now afford $531,230.
Laird said the rate drop was hardly a surprise because when underlying rates have been dropping, eventually posted rates catch up.
Though the decrease will help many, he categorized it as “not a major change.”
“Anyone was qualifying for a mortgage no problem, they are unaffected,” he said.
“Anyone who was not close to qualifying, they are also not affected.”
© 2020 The Canadian Press
Number of new U.S. jobless claims dips below 1M for 1st time during pandemic – CBC.ca
About 963,000 Americans filed for government jobless benefits in the week up to Aug. 8, a decline of almost a quarter of a million people from the level hit at the end of July and the first time the figure has come in below the million mark since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March.
The Department of Labour said Thursday that the continuing claims figure — which tabulates those who were getting benefits before and continued to do so — fell by more than 600,000 to just over 15.4 million people.
While the lower numbers are encouraging, they should be taken with a grain of salt because they come from the first week after the U.S. government ended a previous program that paid out $600 US to Americans left jobless because of the virus.
That’s the equivalent of $15 an hour for full-time work and is far more generous than the payout now available in most places. On Saturday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that would make the payout $400, but it has yet to be implemented because of ongoing rancour in Washington.
So the lower number could be partly a result of fewer people filing because of the lower payout, not because they have found work. As Bank of Montreal economist Jennifer Lee put it, “Maybe there were more jobs available [or] maybe it was due to the expiration of the top-up in unemployment benefits.”
While a figure under 1 million is encouraging, it is still the 20th week in a row in which the jobless figure is higher than the previous record high of 650,000 hit back in the financial crisis in 2009. The new claims figure peaked in the fourth week of March at 6.8 million. In January, the figure started the year at 212,000.
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