Trump to sign vaccine decree after questions raised on supply

608

WASHINGTON, Dec 8, 2020 (BSS/AFP) – President Donald Trump plans to
issue a decree Tuesday aimed at granting Americans priority access to
certain vaccines, but faced questions over whether the White House
missed an opportunity to shore up sufficient doses in the months
ahead.

President-elect Joe Biden will meanwhile announce his appointments
and nominations for his health team as he continues to push ahead with
the transition process despite Trump’s refusal to concede.

With Covid-19 inoculations expected to begin within days in the
United States, the outgoing president will host what the White House
is calling a “vaccine summit” to hail their rapid development and
spell out details of the process.

The event follows a raft of positive news related to vaccines,
including US regulators calling the Pfizer-BioNTech immunization —
which Britain began rolling out on Tuesday — safe and effective in a
briefing document.

The document further raised expectations that Pfizer will soon be
granted emergency approval in the United States, with a meeting on the
topic set for Thursday.

A meeting on emergency approval for US firm Moderna’s vaccine
candidate is scheduled for December 17.

As coronavirus cases soar across the United States and states
reinstitute varying levels of closures in response, the vaccines have
provided hope to a country weary and grieving over the world’s highest
pandemic death toll.

On Monday, an overwhelming majority of California’s residents went
into lockdown, putting 33 million people under stay-at-home orders.

In the meantime, complex preparations are being made across the
supply chain to be able to quickly deliver vaccines at the frigid
temperatures required.

But while Trump has sought to take credit for vaccine development
and eventual availability, The New York Times reported Monday that the
White House had missed a chance to lock in the purchase of more Pfizer
doses over the summer.

The US government has purchased 100 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine
in advance, with two doses required per person.

With the White House unwilling to extend that over the summer —
before late-stage trials showed it was 95 percent effective — Pfizer
sealed deals with other nations, the Times reported.

– ‘Sufficient number’ –

The report raised the question of whether the United States as a
result will have enough doses for the entire population by the end of
the second quarter of 2021 as the administration hopes.

Senior administration officials have called the report false and
note other promising vaccines are also in development, particularly
from Moderna.

Negotiations with Pfizer are also ongoing, and on Tuesday Oxford
University and AstraZeneca became the first Covid vaccine makers to
publish final-stage clinical trial results in a scientific journal.

“But we feel absolutely confident we will get the vaccine doses for
which we’ve contracted, and we’ll have sufficient number of doses to
vaccinate all Americans who desire one before the end of the second
quarter of 2021,” a senior administration official said on condition
of anonymity.

Pfizer and Moderna are not planning to attend Tuesday afternoon’s
“vaccine summit,” but the White House says that’s because a top
regulatory official will be there, which could pose a conflict of
interest.

It is unclear what effect if any the executive order prioritizing
Americans that Trump is planning to sign at the event will have.

Another part of the order may prove more practical as it is expected
to address a process for how to assist other countries in need of
vaccines.

A senior administration official described the executive order as
“ensuring access to US government Covid-19 vaccines” and a
“reaffirmation of the president’s commitment to America first.”

While Britain has moved ahead quickly on approving and distributing
the Pfizer vaccine, the United States is likely to be close behind.

US health secretary Alex Azar has said he expects distribution could
be possible within days after Thursday’s regulatory meeting, with
priority populations receiving the first doses.

He expects the United States to have 40 million doses of both the
Pfizer and Moderna vaccines available in December — enough for 20
million people.

Distribution will however be taking place as the country changes
leadership, with Biden to be sworn-in on January 20 even though Trump,
who has repeatedly downplayed the seriousness of the virus, continues
to make baseless claims of electoral fraud.