The nearly yearlong coronavirus pandemic has been full of gloomy numbers but Wednesday brought an encouraging one — more than 1 million people have received their first shot of a COVID-19 vaccine.
And that reported number is low, because many doses administrated in recent days have yet to be tabulated in the figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the agency said.
“With cases of COVID-19 continuing to surge nationwide, this achievement comes at a critical time and will help to protect those on the frontlines — our healthcare providers treating COVID-19 patients — as well as our most vulnerable: elder individuals living in nursing homes and assisted living facilities,” CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said.
The government has said it intends to distribute 20 million first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines in the coming weeks. So far, about 9.5 million doses have been distributed.
“It’s been a big week of delivery of vaccines,” Gen. Gustave Perna, chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, told reporters Wednesday. “Over 7,800 deliveries by the end of tomorrow, as we are delivering the 7.9 million doses of vaccine that were allocated for this week around the country — really a tremendous feat.”
Perna said about 15.5 million doses of vaccine have been allocated and another 4.5-5 million will be allotted next week.
“We’ll finish those deliveries in the first week of January,” he said.
Health officials like Dr. Anthony Fauci, long-time director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have said vaccines will help put the pandemic behind us — but most Americans, who won’t get vaccinated until next year, need to be vigilant with mask and social distancing measures for the next few months.
Nursing home vaccinations expected to rise
Thanks to coordinated efforts among the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and two major drugstore chains, Covid-19 vaccines have reached 238 long-term care facilities in 12 states, Perna said.
“Walgreens and CVS are being received by cheering crowds, and they’re operationalizing their efforts to make sure everybody gets the shots,” Perna said during a media briefing.
Perna said 13 more states and another 1,000 facilities with residents requiring long-term care will receive vaccine doses next week.
“Every week we’re just building on that as we go,” he said.
The chief scientific adviser for Operation Warp Speed predicted officials will start to see a decline in the number of people dying as more of the most vulnerable people are inoculated.
“Within two weeks from starting to immunize subjects that are living in long-term care facilities, we should start to see a decrease in the overall mortality in the country,” Moncef Slaoui said.
It is reasonable to assume the protection against severe disease provided by both Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines will translate into prevention of death, Slaoui said.
He said the priority should be to maximize the number of people in long-term care facilities who are vaccinated.
“There are enough vaccine doses to immunize more or less 3 million individuals that are living in such facilities,” Slaoui said.
Surge saw cases and now deaths and hospitalizations spike
Thousands more families just lost a loved one this holiday season as the U.S. reported its second-highest number of coronavirus deaths in one day — 3,401 on Tuesday, according to Johns Hopkins University.
And by Wednesday evening, another 3,300 deaths were announced.
Hospitalizations were at an all-time high at 119,463.
In nine states, more people are hospitalized with COVID-19 than at any other point in this pandemic: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Georgia, Mississippi, New Hampshire and North Carolina, according to the COVID-19 Tracking Project.
Doctors say many deaths happening now were likely fueled by Thanksgiving travel and gatherings, since COVID-19 deaths typically happen weeks after infection.
“We were bracing for this and hoping that we were wrong,” said Dr. Esther Choo, a professor of emergency medicine at Oregon Health & Science University.
“But every holiday has been similar. And Thanksgiving, we saw the kind of travel that happened then. And people who are hospitalized in ICUs and dying now — many of them are because of the Thanksgiving surge.”
Health experts like Choo and Fauci, say the next 10 days could spark even more infections, hospitalizations and deaths than Thanksgiving did.
“Now we have an extended holiday between Christmas and New Year’s. And according to AAA estimates, even though this year’s travel is about 30% less than last year, it still means that 84 million people are going to be traveling over the holidays,” Choo said.
“And it’s not just the travel, it’s what’s happening on the other end — where they’re traveling to — which is a lot of family-and-friend gatherings. So I think we are already bracing for the outcome of that, which will be well into the end of January, into February. … And I have no doubt it will be surge on top of surge on top of surge.”
A new strain has probably already spread in the U.S.
Around the world, a mutated strain of the novel coronavirus is prompting concerns — including whether it’s more transmissible and whether current Covid-19 vaccines will work against it.
“I think I can be mostly reassuring,” said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
“First of all, this is not a surprise. This virus is an RNA virus. RNA viruses tend to change their instruction books slowly over time, which results in these kinds of variants emerging,” he said.
“The good news is that the antibodies that these vaccines generate are quite effective in terms of attaching to multiple parts of the spike protein. And so if there’s a change in it — which is what the mutant has done — we would expect that the vaccine should still be effective against that.”
Pfizer and Moderna, makers of the two vaccines currently being deployed in the U.S., said they’re testing their vaccines to see if they work against the new strain, which was first detected in the U.K.
Scientists advising the U.K. government estimated the new strain could be up to 70% more transmissible than other variants.
Peter Horby, chair of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG), said Monday that experts “now have high confidence that this variant does have a transmission advantage” over other variants.
The U.K. variant doesn’t appear to cause more severe disease, and it appears that the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines will still be effective.
So far, the strain “has not been identified through sequencing efforts in the United States, although viruses have only been sequenced from about 51,000 of the 17 million U.S. cases,” the CDC said Tuesday.
“Given the small fraction of U.S. infections that have been sequenced, the variant could already be in the United States without having been detected.”
Some researchers think the strain likely arrived in the US in mid-November, and that many people in the U.S. could already be infected with it.
“If I had to guess, I would say it’s probably in hundreds of people by now,” said Michael Worobey, head of the University of Arizona’s department of ecology and evolutionary biology.
“It’s very possible it’s arrived multiple times in multiple places.”
Trudeau speaks to Pfizer CEO as delays to vaccine shipments get worse – BNN
OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke to Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla by phone Thursday, the same day the company informed Canada delays to its shipments of COVID-19 vaccines are going to be even worse than previously thought.
Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the military commander now overseeing the vaccine logistics for the Public Health Agency of Canada, said last week a factory expansion at Pfizer’s Belgium plant was going to slow production, cutting Canada’s deliveries over four weeks in half.
In exchange, Pfizer expects to be able to ship hundreds of millions more doses worldwide over the rest of 2021.
Tuesday, Fortin said Canada would receive 80 per cent of the previously expected doses this week, nothing at all next week, and about half the promised deliveries in the first two weeks of February.
Today, I spoke with the CEO of Pfizer Global, Dr. Bourla, about the timely delivery of COVID-19 vaccines to Canada. He assured me that we’ll receive 4 million doses by the end of March. We’ll keep working together to ensure Canadians can get a vaccine as soon as possible.
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) January 22, 2021
Thursday, he said the doses delivered in the first week of February will only be 79,000, one one-fifth of what was once expected. Fortin doesn’t know yet what will come the week after, but overall, Canada’s doses over three weeks are going to be just one-third of what had been planned.
Trudeau has been under pressure to call Bourla, as the delayed doses force provinces to cancel vaccination appointments and reconsider timing for second doses.
Fortin said some provinces may be hit even harder than others because of limits on the way the Pfizer doses can be split up for shipping. The vaccine is delicate and must be kept ultra frozen until shortly before injecting it. The company packs and ships specialized coolers, with GPS thermal trackers, directly to provincial vaccine sites.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said earlier this week he doesn’t blame the federal government for the dose delays but wanted Trudeau to do more to push back about it.
“If I was in (Trudeau’s) shoes … I’d be on that phone call every single day. I’d be up that guy’s yin-yang so far with a firecracker he wouldn’t know what hit him,” he said of Pfizer’s executives.
Trudeau informed Ford and other premiers of the call with Bourla during a regular teleconference to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic. Until Thursday, all calls between the federal cabinet and Pfizer had been handled by Procurement Minister Anita Anand.
Ford also spoke to Pfizer Canada CEO Cole Pinnow Wednesday.
Trudeau didn’t suggest the call with Bourla made any difference to the delays, and noted Canada is not the only country affected.
Europe, which on the weekend thought its delayed doses would only be for one week after European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen spoke to Bourla, now seems poised to be affected longer. Italy is so angry it is threatening to sue the U.S.-based drugmaker for the delays.
Mexico said this week it is only getting half its expected shipment this week and nothing at all for the next three weeks. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain also reported delays getting doses. Pfizer Canada spokeswoman Christina Antoniou said more countries were affected but wouldn’t say which ones.
Fortin said Pfizer has promised to deliver four million doses to Canada by the end of March and that is not going to change with the delay. With the current known delivery schedule, the company will have to ship more than 3.1 million doses over 7 1/2 weeks to meet that commitment.
Deliveries from Moderna, the other company that has a COVID-19 vaccine approved for use in Canada, are not affected. Canada has received about 176,000 doses from Moderna to date, with deliveries arriving every three weeks.
Moderna has promised two million doses by the end of March.
Both vaccines require first doses and then boosters several weeks later for full effectiveness. Together Pfizer and Moderna intend to ship 20 million doses to Canada in the spring, and 46 million between July and September. With no other vaccines approved, that means Canada will get enough doses to vaccinate the entire population with two doses by the end of September.
Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine delays worsen, deliveries see more than 60-per-cent cut so far – The Globe and Mail
Provinces will not get a per-capita share of COVID-19 vaccine doses while the country grapples with a dramatic slowdown in shipments from Pfizer-BioNTech that continues to worsen.
Major-General Dany Fortin, who is leading Canada’s vaccine logistics, told reporters Thursday the delivery from Pfizer for the week of Feb. 1 will be cut to just 79,000 doses, amounting to a 79-per-cent drop. On Tuesday, he said Canada will get none of the 208,650 doses originally expected next week.
Last week, Maj.-Gen. Fortin said the country’s shipments from Pfizer would drop by 50 per cent over a four-week period and the company would make up the missed deliveries by the end of March. On Thursday, he said Pfizer has not yet disclosed what Canada’s shipment will be the week of Feb. 8, but so far the drop in deliveries amounts to a more than 60-per-cent cut.
“Despite this bump on the road, Pfizer continues to assure us that they’re on track to meet the total allocation of four million doses to Canada by the end of March,” Maj.-Gen. Fortin said.
Experts say the slowdown will have a double impact: in the short term, risking the ability of provinces to deliver the second shot on time, and in the long term, forcing a more cautious approach in the vaccine rollout as they hold back more vaccine to create a buffer against future delivery interruptions.
Last week Pfizer said it needed to slow production to retool its Belgian manufacturing plant. The company said the temporary slowdown would allow it to nearly double production capacity. The federal government initially said all countries would be equally affected by the slowdown, but Pfizer announced later that the supply to the European Union would return to normal on Jan. 25.
Late Thursday, the Prime Minister announced on Twitter that he had spoken with Albert Bourla, the chief executive officer of the American multinational. He said he spoke about the “timely delivery” of vaccines.
Other world leaders have said they are in direct contact with him.
Last week, the Public Health Agency of Canada told The Globe and Mail the slowdown would hit Canada between Jan. 25 and Feb. 21. On Thursday, it said it would instead affect Canada’s shipments between Jan. 18 and Feb. 14.
This week Canada had a 9 per cent cut to its deliveries, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. Maj.-Gen. Fortin said the overall drop is minimal, but due to “shipping decisions made by the manufacturer,” some provinces would have a more severe impact.
Its on-the-ground implications have not yet been communicated to provinces. In an e-mailed statement, a spokesperson for Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Ivana Yelich, said the province needs the details “sooner rather than later so we can make further adjustments to our vaccine rollout plan after multiple changes to distribution numbers over a few short days.”
Mr. Ford told reporters Thursday he had spoken with the CEO of Pfizer Canada and told him, “Pfizer has let us down.” The Premier is hoping Pfizer will ship some of the doses from its Michigan plant north, but the first 100 million doses from that plant have already been promised to the United States.
Toronto Mayor John Tory said he has been in touch with Pfizer executives, but he wouldn’t disclose who and his office would only say they are outside the country.
With reports from Laura Stone, Jeff Gray and Oliver Moore
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