Covid-19 Live Updates: Chief of Operation Warp Speed Sets Ambitious Timetable for U.S. Vaccinations
Official says vaccine could reach the general population by May or June, but Biden has sounded a considerably more skeptical note. A once-infamous waste site in New Jersey will become a Covid memorial, and the pandemic may be creating a sales bump for Christmas trees.
Here’s what you need to know:
- California, besieged by the coronavirus, is ordering many residents to stay home.
- A Covid memorial will rise from a former toxic waste site in New Jersey.
- Christmas tree sales are booming as pandemic-weary Americans seek solace.
- Some colleges plan to bring more students to campus next semester.
- China peddles falsehoods to push the idea that the virus came from somewhere else.
Vials of coronavirus vaccine at the Pfizer manufacturing facility in Kalamazoo, Mich. Widespread vaccination of the elderly could begin in days, an administration official said. Credit…Pfizer, via Reuters
Hewing to a startlingly ambitious timetable for rollout of the first coronavirus vaccine, Dr. Moncef Slaoui, the chief science adviser of Operation Warp Speed, said on Sunday that residents of long-term care facilities, who in some states account for about 40 percent of deaths from the coronavirus, will receive the first round of vaccinations by mid-January, perhaps even by the end of December.
The timing assumes that the Food and Drug Administration authorizes the vaccine, made by Pfizer, this week or shortly thereafter. An advisory committee to the agency will meet on Thursday to review the data on safety and efficacy.
If the agency authorizes the vaccine, distribution could begin as soon as the end of this week, Dr. Slaoui added. “By end of the month of January, we should already see quite a significant decrease in mortality in the elderly population,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Barring unexpected problems with manufacturing the vaccine, most Americans at high risk from coronavirus infection should be vaccinated by mid-March, and the rest of the population by May or June, he added.
President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. sounded a considerably more skeptical note on Friday, saying that there was “no detailed plan that we’ve seen, anyway, as to how you get the vaccine out of a container, into an injection syringe, into somebody’s arm.”
Dr. Slaoui said his team expected to meet Mr. Biden’s advisers this week and brief them on details of the plan for the vaccines’ distribution.
Britain has already approved the Pfizer vaccine and expects to begin immunizing its population this week. Like the F.D.A., European regulators are still examining data on the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness.
A second vaccine, made by Moderna, also has been submitted to the F.D.A. for emergency authorization.
Dr. Slaoui was optimistic about long-term protection from the vaccine. The elderly or people with compromised immune systems might need a booster in three to five years, he said, but for most people the vaccine should remain effective for “many, many years.”
Still, it’s unclear whether those who have been immunized may still spread the virus to others. “The answer to that very important question” should be known by mid-February, he said.
Up to 15 percent of those receiving the shots experience “significant, not overwhelming” pain at the injection site, which usually disappears in a day or two, Dr. Slaoui told CBS’s “Face the Nation,” also on Sunday.
Vaccines have not yet been tested in children under 12, but Dr. Slaoui said that clinical trials in adolescents and toddlers might produce results by next fall.
Operation Warp Speed was expected to have 100 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine by December, a number that has since been slashed by more than half.
Although the clinical trials were completed faster than expected because of the high level of virus transmission in the United States, manufacturing problems scaled down the expected number of available doses to 40 million.
Dr. Slaoui warned of possible further delays. “This is not an engineering problem. These are biological problems, they’re extremely complex,” he said. “There will be small glitches.”
Where cases per capita are highest
Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles on Saturday. The governor has warned that without drastic action, California faces a catastrophic shortage of intensive care beds.Credit…Philip Cheung for The New York Times
Much of California will be under stay-at-home orders as of late Sunday night — with outdoor dining and bars shuttered, schools closed and playgrounds roped off — as the state tries to control an accelerating coronavirus surge and head off a catastrophic shortage of intensive care beds.
Under orders issued Thursday by Gov. Gavin Newsom, regions are to be placed under the new restrictions once their intensive care unit availability falls below 15 percent. The governor has warned that without drastic action, hospitals will soon be overwhelmed.
On Saturday, two regions hit the I.C.U. threshold and learned that at 11:59 p.m. Sunday they would have to begin complying with the stay-at-home orders for at least three weeks: Southern California was at 12.5 percent, and the San Joaquin Valley at 8.6 percent. Together, the regions are home to more than half of California’s population of 40 million.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, local officials announced Friday that the region would adopt the new limits before hitting the threshold.
California’s new measures are its strictest since the beginning of the pandemic, when it became the first state to issue a stay-at-home order. That order helped the state gain control of an early outbreak, but daily case reports have tripled in the last month. More than 25,000 new cases were reported statewide on Saturday, the fourth straight single-day record. Los Angeles County, with more than 8,900 new cases, broke its record for the third straight day.
Nationally, the news is also grim. On Friday, more than 229,000 cases were reported and the seven-day rolling average of new cases passed 183,700, both records. More than 101,000 Americans are in hospitals now, double the number from just a month ago.
Delaware, Michigan, Oregon, Washington State and cities from Philadelphia to Los Angeles have reimposed restrictions.
Much of California was already under a curfew prohibiting nearly all residents from leaving their homes to do nonessential work or to gather from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.
The new order includes prohibitions on private gatherings and requires retail businesses to operate at a limited capacity. Any open businesses must require everyone inside to wear masks and distance themselves. Among the facilities that must close: hair salons and barbershops; museums, zoos, and aquariums; indoor movie theaters; wineries and breweries.
“We are at a point where surging cases and hospitalizations are not letting up,” Dr. Salvador Sandoval, a public health officer for the San Joaquin Valley city of Merced, told The Associated Press. “I can’t emphasize this enough — everyone must take personal steps to protect themselves and protect others.”
Many people are weary after nine months of shifting rules about where they can go, whether they can eat indoors or outdoors and whether their children can go to school. Questions remain about the level of compliance with the new restrictions and about how strictly they will be enforced.
Sheriff Don Barnes of Orange County said in a statement on Saturday that his deputies would not enforce them because compliance with health restrictions was “a matter of personal responsibility and not a matter of law enforcement.”
Mr. Newsom has emphasized that California will withhold funding from counties that refuse to enforce the new stay-at-home order. After some counties pushed back on prevention measures during a summer surge, the governor appointed an enforcement task force that through November has levied more than $2 million in fines against businesses, issued 179 citations and revoked three business licenses.
For residents, such as David White, a senior pastor at Porterville Church of God in the San Joaquin Valley city of Porterville, these new restrictions are a blow to residents who have taken the virus seriously from the start.
“We look back and think we’ve given up so much for so long, and in hindsight it was nothing,” he said. “Statistically, nothing compared to now.”
— Allyson Waller and Ron DePasquale