Biden to meet with US vaccine programme head this week

The president-elect says he has not seen a detailed plan from the Trump administration on vaccine distribution.

A member of the Idaho National Guard checks in a patient for an outdoor COVID-19 test at Primary Heath Medical Group's clinic in Boise, Idaho [Otto Kitsinger/AP]

The head of the United States’s coronavirus vaccine effort has confirmed he plans to meet President-elect Joe Biden this week to discuss the distribution of the long-awaited inoculant.

Moncef Slaoui, chief adviser to the US government’s Operation Warp Speed initiative, in an interview on Sunday, said he has not yet met Biden.

“We really look forward to it because actually things have been really very appropriately planned,” Slaoui told CBS News.

“I think the plans are there and I feel confident that once we will explain it, everything in detail. I hope the new transition team will understand that things are well planned,” he said.

The statement comes after Biden on Friday said his transition team had not seen a detailed outline from the Trump administration on how it planned to distribute vaccines, which he called an expensive and difficult process.

“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,” Biden said.

The statements come as coronavirus cases and hospitalisations continue to surge in the US, a spike that officials say was likely compounded by travel and gatherings for the Thanksgiving holiday on November 26. The US recorded nearly 214,000 cases on Saturday and 2,554 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. To date, more than 13.4 million cases have been confirmed in the country, with about 281,00 deaths.

More than 100,000 people are currently hospitalised with the coronavirus in the US, according to the COVID Tracking Project, with many states warning their health systems could soon reach a breaking point.

Several regions in California have pre-emptively imposed stay at home orders to alleviate healthcare stresses. Such orders will be required when regional hospitals reach 85 percent capacity of their intensive care unit (ICU) beds.

Meanwhile, states including Idaho and Tennessee have deployed their National Guard to help alleviate pressures on healthcare workers.

‘Those are myths’

First-responders, healthcare workers and nursing home residents are set to be the first groups to receive the vaccine after it is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. That approval is expected as early as next week, with the FDA’s outside advisers scheduled to meet on Thursday to review Pfizer’s emergency use application for its vaccine.

Slaoui has said the second group of people to get the vaccine will likely include essential employees such as postal workers in February and March, and then the general population will follow.

Speaking on Sunday, Slaoui said the most susceptible people might feel the effects of the new vaccine in January or February.

“But on a population basis, for our life to start getting back to normal, we’re talking about April or May,” he added

The promising vaccine developments have health officials warning an inoculant will do little to change the trajectory of the current surge, which comes as the US enters its coldest months.

Instead, they have continued to urge social distancing, mask-wearing, and avoiding travelling and gatherings over the holiday season.

“That’s what’s gonna get us most through this,” Health Secretary Alex Azar told ABC News on Sunday. “We have these vaccines coming. There’s so much hope ahead, we just want to make sure everyone gets the benefit of it.”

Meanwhile, Dr Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, told NBC on Sunday she is worried about people “parroting” misinformation regarding masks and other mitigation precautions spread by the Trump administration.

“Our job is to constantly say those are myths,” she said. “They are wrong.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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