After a Thanksgiving weekend when the number of people traveling through US airports reached its highest since mid-March, a top government official said on Monday some Americans could begin receiving coronavirus vaccinations before Christmas.
US Health Secretary Alex Azar said Pfizer Inc's COVID-19 vaccine could be authorized and shipped within days of a Dec. 10 meeting of outside advisers to the Food and Drug Administration tasked with reviewing trial data and recommending whether it warrants approval. A vaccine from Moderna Inc could follow a week later, he said, after the company announced on Monday that it would apply for US and European emergency authorization.
"So we could be seeing both of these vaccines out and getting into people's arms before Christmas," Azar said on CBS' "This Morning."
The federal government will ship the vaccines. State governors will decide how they are distributed within their states.
"They will be determining which groups to be prioritized," Azar said, adding that he and Vice President Mike Pence will speak to all the nation's governors later on Monday to discuss the vaccines and how to prioritize them for distribution.
Frequently Asked Questions
A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.
There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.
Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.
The United States has reported more than 4 million new COVID-19 cases so far in November and more than 35,000 coronavirus-related deaths, according to a Reuters tally. Hospitalizations are at a pandemic high and deaths the most in six months.
As the virus rages across the country, overwhelming hospital systems and pushing already exhausted medical staff near a breaking point, US officials pleaded with Americans to avoid travel and limit social gatherings as the nation entered the winter holiday season.
Many appear to have disregarded those pleas over the long Thanksgiving weekend as the Transportation Security Administration screened 1.18 million airline passengers on Sunday, the highest since mid-March.
That number is still about 60% lower than the comparable day last year when 2.88 million passengers were screened, the highest ever recorded by the agency.
"There almost certainly is going to be an uptick because of what has happened with the travel," Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the nation's top infectious diseases experts, told ABC's "This Week" program on Sunday.
With the latest wave of the virus spiking across the country and no federal blueprint to combat it, more than 20 states have issued new or revamped restrictions on businesses, schools and social life.
But in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio reversed course on Sunday, announcing that public schools would start to reopen for in-class instruction five days a week for students who want to attend full time. Previously, students were offered a mix of online and in-person instruction.
The schools in the country's largest system were closed less than two weeks ago after the citywide rate of coronavirus tests coming back positive exceeded a 3% benchmark agreed to by the mayor and the teachers' union.
De Blasio said schools would begin to reopen for in-person learning on Dec. 7, starting with elementary schools for students whose parents agree to a weekly testing regimen for the novel coronavirus.
On Monday, the mayor said he hoped to reopen middle school and high school buildings early next year, as the schools system needed time to ramp up its testing program, which will be done weekly instead of monthly.
"We've proven the schools could be extraordinarily safe, and the schools are some of the safest places to be right now in New York City," de Blasio told CNN.Follow our full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here.