WASHINGTON: The United States entered the final month of the year with expectations that promising vaccine candidates will soon be approved to halt the rapidly spreading coronavirus after 4.2 million new cases were reported in November.
The new COVID-19 cases were more than double the previous monthly record set in October, as large numbers of Americans still refuse to wear masks and continue to gather in holiday crowds, against the recommendations of experts.
With outgoing President Donald Trump’s coronavirus strategy relying heavily on a vaccine, a Food and Drug Administration panel of outside advisers will meet on Dec. 10 to discuss whether to recommend that the FDA authorize emergency use of a vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc.
The advisers will consider a second candidate, from Moderna Inc, a week later, officials have said, raising hopes that Americans could start receiving inoculations before the end of the year, although it could take months to vaccinate people widely across the country.
Other global pharmaceutical companies, including AstraZeneca PLC and Johnson & Johnson also have vaccines in the works, leading a member of the Trump administration’s “Operation Warp Speed” program to predict the country could be vaccinated by June.
“One hundred percent of the Americans that want the vaccine will have the vaccine by (June). We will have over 300 million doses available to the American public well before then,” Paul Ostrowski, the vaccine program’s director of supply, production and distribution, told MSNBC television on Monday.
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine said officials in his state have identified 10 hospitals that will receive the first doses of vaccine, which he said should arrive around Dec. 15.
In the next several days, the state will inform the federal government of other places where the shipments should be made, he said. DeWine, interviewed on CBS’ “This Morning” show on Tuesday, added that the National Guard might get involved in moving vaccines out to smaller counties.
First responders, nurses and doctors will be first in line for the vaccines, as well as nursing home patients, he said.
“That December 15 date just can’t come soon enough. We’re very excited about it and very happy about it,” DeWine said
In the meantime, leading health officials are pleading with Americans to follow their recommendations and help arrest a pandemic that killed more than 36,000 people in November, pushing hospitalizations to a record high of nearly 93,000 on Sunday, according to a Reuters tally.
The widespread impact of the outbreak has led Merriam-Webster to choose “pandemic” as the Word of the Year after it racked up the most online dictionary lookups of any word.
With more than 10,000 people dying and 1.1 million contracting the coronavirus in the week ended Sunday, Republican Trump has remained focused on overturning the results of the Nov. 3 election won by Democratic President-elect Joe Biden, denying Trump a second term.
Biden has pledged to make combating the coronavirus his top priority upon taking office on Jan. 20, saying he will rely on the best scientific evidence.
Millions of Americans defied experts’ advice and traveled over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, traditionally one of the busiest periods of the year in the United States for flying.
The number of travelers passing through U.S. airports reached 981,912 on Monday, down from 1.18 million on Sunday, which marked the most since government restrictions began to sharply depress travel in March, the Transportation Security Administration said.
Both days’ travel figures were less than half of their year-ago levels, the TSA said.
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