- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 6, 2020

White House officials said Sunday they are ready to roll out the novel coronavirus vaccine the same day it receives final approval, while Dr. Deborah Birx warned that the inoculations are “not going to save us from this current surge.”

“I want to be very frank to the American people: The vaccine’s critical. But it’s not going to save us from this current surge,” Dr. Birx said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Only we can save us from this current surge. And we know precisely what to do. So if you have loved ones you want to protect, you have to follow these guidelines now.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Friday that weekly novel coronavirus hospitalization rates “have been climbing sharply and are now at an all-time high,” reporting Friday an additional daily increase of 214,099 cases and 2,439 deaths.

“I think what’s really critical for people to understand that our hospitals normally in the fall and winter run between 80 to 90% full, just caring for our routine health,” Dr. Birx said. “So when you add 10, 15, 20% COVID-19 patients on top of that, that’s what puts them at the breaking point.”

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II dismissed presumptive President-elect Joseph R. Biden’s claim that there was “no detailed plan” for delivering the vaccines.

“With all respect, that’s just nonsense,” Mr. Azar said on “Fox News Sunday.” “We have comprehensive plans from the CDC working with 64 public-health jurisdictions across the country.”

He also said the rollout would be rapid. “What we’ve said is within 24 hours of FDA greenlighting with authorization we’ll ship to all of the states and territories that we work with,” said Mr. Azar. “And within hours they can be vaccinating.”

Moncef Slaoui, chief scientific adviser for Operation Warp Speed, said that administration officials plan to brief the Biden transition team later this week on the plans to deliver the vaccines and inoculate Americans against COVID-19.

“There are plans. There are videos that describe how to do it, because these are special conditions, given the cold chain — very cold, particularly with the Pfizer vaccine,” said Mr. Slaoui on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Mr. Biden took a jab Friday at the Trump administration’s vaccine plan, saying, “There is 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. And it’s going to be very difficult for that to be done.”

The Food and Drug Administration is scheduled to meet Thursday to review the vaccine, and “the minute it’s approved, the shipments will start,” Mr. Slaoui said.

“It should take them about 24 hours to make it to the various immunization sites that the various jurisdictions and states have told us to ship vaccines to them,” Mr. Slaoui said. “And within, I would say, 36 hours from approval, potentially the first immunization could be taking place.”

He said that older adults in nursing homes and their caregivers should be vaccinated by the end of December to the middle of January, and that most of the most highly susceptible population should be vaccinated by mid-March.

“By the middle of the month of March, we should have really covered most of the highly susceptible population, about 100 million people,” Mr. Slaoui said.

That figure is fewer than his initial goal in May, when he assumed the job of vaccine czar, but he stressed that manufacturing biological products is more difficult than making “a watch or a little phone.”

“This is not an engineering problem. These are biological problems, they are extremely complex,” Mr. Slaoui said. “We don’t control 100% of everything as it happens. There will be small glitches. That’s what happens all the time.”

He also supported Mr. Biden’s call to wear masks for 100 days, calling it a “good idea,” given that the pandemic “is ravaging the country.”

“We have a vaccine, there is light at the end of the tunnel, but we will not all have the vaccine in our arms before May or June, so we need to be very cautious and vigilant,” Mr. Slaoui said.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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