The U.S. government’s leading infectious disease expert warns that the lack of coordination between outbound and inbound administrations is putting Americans’ lives at greater risk with the rapidly spreading coronavirus.
Top aide to President-elect Joe Biden said Sunday that President Donald Trump’s refusal to begin a transition could jeopardize the fight against the pandemic and hinder vaccine distribution planning.
The number of U.S. coronavirus cases was 11 million on Sunday, a million more new cases than a week ago and the fastest increase since the pandemic began. The number of COVID-19 patients in American hospitals has also reached an all-time high.
“Of course it would be better if we could work with them,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, who has made several presidential transitions during 36 years of government service.
He compared the process with runners who passed the baton in a relay race. “You don’t want to stop and then give it to someone,” he said. “You just essentially want to keep going.”
Trump’s refusal to accept that he lost the election means the Biden team lacks a clear picture of the fundamentals within the government for a mass vaccination campaign that will last for most of the next year, says Biden’s chief of staff Ron Klain.
“We now have an opportunity … to get a vaccine that might start in December or January,” said Klain.
“There are people at HHS who are making plans to implement this vaccine. Our experts have to speak to these people as soon as possible so that nothing subsides in this change in power that we will have on January 20th. “
Most dangerous phase
Klain said consultations with drug companies, including Pfizer and others, will begin this week.
Pfizer’s announcement last week that preliminary data suggests the vaccine is 90 percent effective lifted financial markets and gave hope to people around the world that the pandemic will end.
Biden’s contact with vaccine manufacturers comes as the coronavirus pandemic in the United States has entered what is perhaps its most dangerous phase. The US is adding about a million new cases each week, and as of Saturday, an average of 820 people died a day – a 33 percent increase in just two weeks.
Klain said in a way that the more critical problem is getting a detailed understanding of the distribution plans that are being finalized by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Pentagon.
“We need to speak to them as soon as possible,” he said. “It’s great to have a vaccine, but vaccines don’t save lives: vaccines save lives. And that means you have to get this vaccine into the arms of people across the country. It’s a huge logistical project. “
Fauci stressed that the arrival of vaccines isn’t like flicking a switch to get back to normal life. The first doses won’t be available to people in risk groups until later this year, and Fauci said Americans must follow preventive measures like wearing masks, physical distancing, and frequent hand washing well into next year.
“Everyone is sensitive to what we call ‘COVID fatigue’,” said Fauci. “People are exhausted about it. But we have to hold on a little longer … We have to hold on to it together. “
Other vaccine manufacturers are also in the final stages of testing their formulations, and Fauci expects these vaccines to be highly effective as well.
High priority groups
The US government, with support from the White House, has launched a program called Operation Warp Speed, which will quickly manufacture and distribute tens of millions of vaccine doses. The shots will be free for Americans, and the goal is to get most people vaccinated by around this time next year. Many people need two doses.
Initial access to the vaccine will be limited to high priority groups such as hospital and nursing home workers.
A senior health official in the Trump administration said 20 million doses could be available by the end of this month and an additional 20 million by the end of the year.
The states of Michigan and Washington on Sunday imposed sweeping new restrictions on gatherings, including the suspension of indoor restaurant service, to help slow the spread of the virus.
“We are at a very dangerous time,” said Dr. Michael Osterholm, member of Biden’s COVID-19 Advisory Board and director of the Center for Research and Policy on Infectious Diseases at the University of Minnesota.
If no action is taken now, “those numbers will grow significantly,” warned Osterholm. “Our future is in our hands.”