U.S. Will Have Enough Vaccine for All Americans by Summer: Biden

By Ernie Mundell and Robin Foster HealthDay Reporters
HealthDay News

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FRIDAY, Feb. 12, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- The United States will have enough COVID-19 vaccines to inoculate 300 million Americans by summer, President Joe Biden announced Thursday.

During a tour of the National Institute of Health's Viral Pathogenesis Laboratory, where the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine was created, Biden said his administration had secured the delivery of 600 million doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines over the next five months, the Associated Press reported.

"We're now on track to have enough supply for 300 million Americans by the end of July," he announced.

The country is already on pace to exceed Biden's goal of administering 100 million vaccine doses in his first 100 days in office, with more than 26 million shots delivered during his first three weeks in office, the AP reported.

"That's just the floor," Biden said. "Our end goal is beating COVID-19."

If a third coronavirus vaccine, from drugmaker Johnson & Johnson, is approved for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration at the end of February, the pace of vaccinations should accelerate even further.

Biden emphasized that his administration is doing everything possible to increase vaccine supply and the country's capacity to deliver injections into arms.

To date, the Biden administration has deployed active-duty troops to man mass vaccination sites in several states, as it looks to lay the groundwork for increasing the rate of vaccinations once more supply is available.

On the NIH tour, Biden was shown the lab bench where researchers sequenced the coronavirus and developed the precursor of the Moderna vaccine, the AP reported.

Just days after Chinese scientists shared the genetic blueprint of the new coronavirus in January of last year, the NIH had sent instructions to Moderna to brew up doses and scientists were already setting up the key lab and animal tests that would eventually prove they were on the right track, the AP reported.

COVID vaccines likely available to all Americans by April: Fauci

Any American will be able to start getting vaccinated by April, the nation's leading infectious diseases expert predicted Thursday.

During an interview on the "Today Show," Dr. Anthony Fauci said that month will be "open season" for vaccinations, as increased supplies of the vaccines will allow most people to get shots to protect against COVID-19.

Fauci, who serves as science adviser to President Joe Biden, added that the rate of vaccinations will greatly accelerate in the coming months. Why? He credited forthcoming deliveries of the two approved vaccines, the potential approval of a third vaccine and measures taken by the Biden administration to increase capacity to deliver doses.

"By the time we get to April," it will be "open season, namely virtually everybody and anybody in any category could start to get vaccinated," Fauci noted.

Despite that good news, he cautioned it will take "several more months" to actually deliver shots to Americans, but herd immunity could be achieved by late summer.

Meanwhile, fully vaccinated Americans can now skip quarantines if they are exposed to someone infected with COVID-19, new federal guidelines say.

"Fully vaccinated persons who meet criteria will no longer be required to quarantine following an exposure to someone with COVID-19," the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in updated guidance posted Wednesday on its website.

There was one caveat: At least two weeks must have passed since the second shot, because it takes that long to build full immunity. But the CDC says it's not known how long protection lasts, so people who had their last shot three months ago or more should still quarantine if they are exposed or show symptoms, the agency added.

"This recommendation to waive quarantine for people with vaccine-derived immunity aligns with quarantine recommendations for those with natural immunity," the CDC said. People who have been vaccinated should still watch for symptoms for 14 days after they have been exposed to someone who is infected, the agency added.

That doesn't mean vaccinated people should stop practicing social distancing, the CDC noted.

"At this time, vaccinated persons should continue to follow current guidance to protect themselves and others, including wearing a mask, staying at least 6 feet away from others, avoiding crowds, avoiding poorly ventilated spaces, covering coughs and sneezes, washing hands often, following CDC travel guidance, and following any applicable workplace or school guidance, including guidance related to personal protective equipment use or SARS-CoV-2 testing," the agency said.

British COVID variant spreading rapidly across U.S.

The highly contagious coronavirus variant that drove Britain into lockdown in December is now spreading quickly across the United States, a new study shows.

What has been dubbed the B.1.1.7 variant is doubling its prevalence every nine days in this country, according to a report posted on the preprint server MedRxiv this week and not yet peer-reviewed or published in a journal. The findings, from a large collaboration of scientists, buttresses a forecast issued last month by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that showed the variant becoming dominant in this country by late March.

The researchers scrutinized genomic analyses of the virus samples from 10 states, including from 212 infections involving the variant, and concluded that the variant has been 35% to 45% more transmissible than other variants in the United States.

"It is here, it's got its hooks deep into this country, and it's on its way to very quickly becoming the dominant lineage," study co-author Michael Worobey, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona, told the Post.

In the study, Florida stands out as the state with the highest estimated prevalence of the variant. The new report estimated the doubling time of B.1.1.7 prevalence in positive test results at just over nine days.

Florida leads the nation in reported B.1.1.7 cases, with 347 as of Friday, followed by much more populous California with 159, according to the CDC. A total of 981 cases have been reported in 37 states, according to the CDC.

Mary Jo Trepka, an epidemiologist at Florida International University, told the Post she is not surprised by the spread of the variant in Florida, because the state has not been strict about mask mandates or other restrictions, while at the same time it is a hub for international travel.

"The message is that we have to work harder to prevent transmission of all these cases of COVID," she said. "If we don't, we'll potentially see more variants. We need to get everybody vaccinated and we need to do a much better job at preventing transmission."

The variant first appeared in genomic surveys in the United Kingdom in September, but did not get tagged as a "variant of concern" until early December when its rapid spread stunned scientists and prompted lockdowns in southern England.

"What concerns me is the exponential growth in the early stages doesn't look very fast," Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Irvine, who was not part of the new study, told the Post. "It kind of putzes along -- and then goes boom."

U.S. health officials say they are in a race against time to increase the number of Americans vaccinated as more contagious variants of the virus spread across America. By Thursday, more than 46.4 million Americans had been vaccinated, while nearly 68.3 million doses have been distributed. Just over 11.2 million people have had their second shot, according to the CDC.

A global scourge

By Friday, the U.S. coronavirus case count passed 27.4 million while the death toll passed 475,000, according to a Times tally. On Friday, the top five states for coronavirus infections were: California with over 3.4 million cases; Texas with more than 2.5 million cases; Florida with over 1.8 million cases; New York with more than 1.5 million cases; and Illinois with over 1.1 million cases.

Curbing the spread of the coronavirus in the rest of the world remains challenging.

In India, the coronavirus case count was nearly 10.9 million by Friday, a Johns Hopkins University tally showed. Brazil had over 9.7 million cases and more than 236,000 deaths as of Friday, the Hopkins tally showed.

Worldwide, the number of reported infections passed 107.8 million on Friday, with nearly 2.4 million deaths recorded, according to the Hopkins tally.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the new coronavirus.

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