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Moderna Vaccine Shipments Begin As US Reels under Covid surge

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Workers began processing shipments of the second US Covid-19 vaccine on Sunday, but across the country the situation remained severe.

Asked if the US could soon see “up to 5,000 deaths a day”, Trump administration vaccine adviser Dr Moncef Slaoui told CNN’s State of the Union: “I think, unfortunately, it will get worse, because we still are experiencing the outcome of the Thanksgiving holidays and the gatherings and unfortunately there may be more over the Christmas holidays, there will be a continuing surge.”

The Transportation Security Administration duly reported that about 1.07 million people passed through security checkpoints at US airports on Friday and Saturday.


“Exactly what the numbers may be I don’t know,” Slaoui said, “but unfortunately they’re going to be higher than what they are today, most likely.”

There were more cautionary words from Dr Vivek Murthy, Joe Biden’s incoming surgeon general. He told NBC the general population might not have access to vaccines until the autumn of 2021.

New Covid cases dipped from record highs on Saturday, with hospitalisations down for a second day. According to Johns Hopkins University, 196,295 new cases were recorded on Saturday, down from a record 249,709 on Friday. The same source recorded 2,571 deaths, down from 2,814 after highs over 3,000 earlier in the week. Reporting typically lags at weekends. The total US death toll was 315,921, from more than 17.6m cases. Some models predict more than 500,000 deaths by mid-January.

According to the Covid Tracking Project, 113,929 people were hospitalised with Covid-19 on Saturday, with 21,688 in intensive care.

In Washington, lawmakers closed on a direly needed economic stimulus and relief package, with a vote on the $900bn deal expected on Sunday.

Near Memphis, Tennessee, factory employees boxed up the first shipments of the vaccine developed by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health. Shots were expected to be given on Monday, just three days after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorised emergency rollout.

The Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine was shipped a week ago and started being used the next day, kicking off the biggest vaccination drive in US history. President-elect Joe Biden is due to receive his shot on Monday. On Saturday, public health expert Dr Anthony Fauci reassured American children, saying he vaccinated Santa Claus himself.


‘Santa Claus is good to go’: Dr Fauci says he vaccinated Father Christmas – video
The Pfizer and Moderna shots are nearly all going to healthcare workers and residents of care homes, based on the advice of the advisory committee on immunisation practices. There will not be shots for the general population until spring – at best.

‘I took a trip to the North Pole’: Anthony Fauci tells children he vaccinated Santa
“When it comes to the vaccine timeline,” Murthy told NBC’s Meet the Press, “we all want the vaccine to be delivered as quickly, as fairly as possible. And you can be sure that every day and night, myself and others on the Biden team are working toward that end. But we also want to be realistic, you know, about the timeline.

“If everything goes well, then we may see a circumstance where by late spring, you know, people who are in lower-risk categories can get this vaccine. But that would really require everything to go exactly on schedule. I think it’s more realistic to assume that it may be closer to mid-summer or early fall when this vaccine makes its way to the general population. So we want to be optimistic, but we want to be cautious as well.”

On Sunday the advisory committee recommended states should put adults over 75 and “essential workers” next in line, as bus drivers, grocery store clerks and others are infected most often. Other experts have said people 65 and older should be next, with people with certain medical conditions, because they are dying at the highest rates.

Both the Moderna vaccine and the Pfizer-BioNTech shot require two doses several weeks apart. In unfinished studies, both appeared safe and strongly protective. Moderna’s vaccine is easier to store and transport.

On Saturday, Gen Gustave Perna, in charge of the federal vaccine distribution, said the government was on track to get approximately 20m doses out by the first week of January but apologised for shortfalls in early shipments to states.

“It was my fault,” he said. “I gave guidance. I am the one that approved the forecast sheets. I am the one that approved the allocations, it was a planning error, and I am responsible.”

Slaoui commended Perna for taking responsibility. Adm Brett Giroir, a member of the White House Covid taskforce, told ABC’s This Week a third vaccine was on the way.

“The next vaccine that is coming up would be [Johnson & Johnson] or Janssen,” he said. “We would expect that authorisation to be submitted in January. Again, we don’t know the results of that. That has to be unblinded, go through all the processes. It will be very transparent, just like the first two.

“That is a one-dose vaccine. We don’t know the results. But we’re very hopeful, by January we’ll have at least three vaccines, with more to come.”

Americans need the help. As of Saturday, nearly 17,400 people were hospitalised in California, more than double the peak in July. A state model showed the number could reach 75,000 by mid-January.

More than 3,600 were in intensive care. All of southern California and the 12-county San Joaquin Valley to the north had exhausted intensive care capacity and some hospitals were using “surge” space. State ICU capacity was just 2%. Another 272 deaths were reported. In the last week, nearly 1,600 have died.

In Los Angeles, director of public health Barbara Ferrer implored people to stay home, not mingle outside their household and wear a mask and social distance.

“Places where people from different households gather and do not follow safety directives contributes to unnecessary Covid-19 spread that results in hospitalizations and deaths that could have been avoided,” she said. “Following the safety measures saves lives and is our only way to protect essential workers and our hospitals.”

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