WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Wednesday expanded its network to administer COVID-19 vaccines to doctors and nurses at the forefront of a pandemic that kills more than 3,000 Americans a day, even as a severe storm advances east coast threatened to slow down.
As medical professionals at a growing number of hospitals roll up their sleeves, lawmakers on Capitol Hill said they were nearing a long-elusive bipartisan deal on $ 900 billion in emergency economic aid for pandemic American workers and businesses.
The aid package, which would be tied to a massive spending bill to be passed Friday to avoid a federal shutdown, was not expected to include COVID support funds for state and local governments, as Democrats wanted, or protect businesses from pandemics . lawsuits, as requested by Republicans.
The roll-out of the first tranche of 2.9 million doses of a new authorized vaccine from Pfizer Inc and German partner BioNTech SE was in its third full day, with shipments to 66 more distribution centers nationwide.
A second vaccine from Moderna Inc could receive approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration this week.
Courier companies FedEx and United Parcel Service, which play a leading role in shipping vaccines, said they were monitoring the possible effects of heavy ice and snow that began to disrupt transportation along the East Coast.
US Army General Gustave Perna, who oversaw the government’s Operation Warp Speed campaign, said FedEx and UPS have developed contingency plans to keep delayed vaccine shipments safe until they can be delivered “ the next day. ”
“We are on track with all the deliveries we said we were making,” Perna told reporters during a briefing. He cited a minor failure with four trays of vaccine – two to California and two to Alabama – arriving at temperatures lower than prescribed. The trays in question were returned to Pfizer and later replaced, Perna said.
About 570 other vaccine distribution centers received most of the first batch shipments on Monday and Tuesday, and an even larger wave should be delivered to 886 additional locations on Friday, Perna said.
From each distribution site, vaccine doses were distributed among the hospitals in the region and administered to health professionals designated first in line to be immunized. Some also went to residents and staff of long-term care facilities. Subsequent rounds of vaccination go to other essential workers, seniors and those with chronic health conditions.
US President-elect Joe Biden, who has said he would get the vaccine publicly to boost confidence in its safety, is expected to receive his first injection next week, according to his transition team.
Biden, 78, is in a risk category for the coronavirus due to his age.
‘NOT YET OVER’
It will be several months before on-demand vaccines are widely available to the public, and polls have shown that many Americans are reluctant to get vaccinated.
Political leaders and medical authorities in the meantime have launched a media blitz to assure Americans that the vaccines are safe, while urging them not to tire of social aloofness and wearing masks as the pandemic continues.
“It’s not over yet,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, told CBS News. “Public health measures are the bridge to get to the vaccine that will get us out of it.”
Data shows that rising infections and hospitalizations are driving health care systems to breaking point in much of the country, with many intensive care units at or nearly full.
The United States reported at least 3,459 additional deaths from the coronavirus on Wednesday alone, a record that marks the fourth time in a week that the daily toll has exceeded 3,000, according to a Reuters count. The seven-day average has surpassed more than 2,500 lives per 24 hours for the first time this week.
To date, there have been a total of more than 304,000 deaths in COVID-19 nationally, while the increasing number of 16.7 million known infections accounts for about 5% of the US population.
With hospital admissions setting a record for the 19th day in a row – nearly 113,000 patients undergoing treatment on Wednesday – health experts warn that the number of fatalities will be even higher in the coming weeks, even as the vaccination campaign grows steadily.
An additional 2 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 5.9 million doses of Moderna’s vaccine could be assigned next week, US Health Secretary Alex Azar told a conference call. Both require two doses, three or four weeks apart, for each person inoculated.
In total, the United States has options to buy up to 300 million doses of those vaccines, Azar said, plus hundreds of millions of additional doses of vaccines yet to be approved, including some single-use drugs.
The United States could have an oversupply of vaccines in the future, if all the vaccines it has obtained are allowed for use, Azar said, which could ultimately benefit other countries.
The Trump administration was also in talks to obtain additional doses of antibody treatment from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc, and Operation Warp Speed chief adviser Moncef Slaoui Eli Lilly and Co told the same conference call.
Reporting by Susan Heavey, Manas Mishra, Anurag Maan, Lisa Shumaker and Richard Cowan; Written by Daniel Trotta and Steve Gorman; Editing by Steve Orlofsky, Aurora Ellis and Grant McCool