Covid-19

The Bad, the Hopeful, the Political: Covid News

president-elect-biden-has-promised-to-stem-the
The new president-elect has made confronting the coronavirus head-on as his first priority. AFP / Angela Weiss

Covid news from the past few days has not been totally depressing. 

While the coronavirus numbers continue to hit record numbers, Joe Biden, two days into his new title of President-Elect, announced his Covid advisory team.  And new, but limited results from Pfizer’s Covid phase 3 trial prompted a mixture of delighted and cautionary comments.

The nation’s Covid-19 numbers continue to go the wrong way. On October 1, 46,418 cases were reported; on November 9, 130,553. The death toll hit 1,616 November 4; there is usually a reporting lag. Infectious disease experts have been warning the country recently that the wrong way will likely be the only way, at least mid-January or so.

Anthony Fauci, MD, the infectious disease expert, is one. He has said that the upcoming winter season will be a dangerous period. Scott Gottlieb, MD, former head of the FDA, is another; he also has been issuing warnings about the extent of the virus’ impact. 

The transition team news

As for Mr. Biden’s transitional advisory team, notable critics of the Trump Administration have been asked to serve, such as fired whistleblower Rick Bright, MD and Vivek Murthy, MD, who was ousted from his role as surgeon general in 2017. He held that role in the Obama Administration.

Mr. Biden has named the coronavirus crisis as his first priority in his new role.  He is urging Americans to wear masks and practice safe distancing. "The goal is to get back to normal as fast as possible, and masks are critical to doing that. It won't be forever,” he said after announcing the new transitional team members. 

While inauguration is still months away, Mr. Biden has promised to enforce basic measures to control the virus and said he will only promote a vaccine with assurance from scientists. Along with masks and social distancing, Mr. Biden also said he will implement a national system for testing and tracing those who come into contact with the coronavirus.  

The testing would be free. He also wants to initiate emergency paid leave for families and small businesses that have been impacted by the pandemic. On his website, he acknowledges that a whole lot of money will be needed to pay for the emergency paid leave. “This will require an immediate set of ambitious and progressive economic measures, and further decisive action to address the larger macro-economic shock from this outbreak,” his website says.

Other members of the Biden transition team, besides Dr. Bright, former head of the vaccine development agency BARDA and Dr. Murthy are: Atul Gawande, MD, the well known author, researcher and surgeon; former Obama White House adviser Ezekiel Emanuel, MD, vice provost, Global Initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania and chair, Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy; David Kessler, Md, JD, who served as head of the FDA in the George W. Bush Administration;  Celine Gounder, MD, clinical associate professor, NYU Langone; Luciana Borio, MD, FDA acting Chief Scientist;  Marcella Nunez-Smith, MD,  associate professor, Internal Medicine, Yale Medicine; and Julie Morita, MD, executive vice president, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in New Jersey.

The vaccine news 

Pfizer and BioNTech announced Monday that a vaccine candidate was more than 90% effective in preventing the coronavirus. The first set of results from the phase 3 Covid-19 vaccine trial of 43,538 participants provided some evidence of its effectiveness. Protection was achieved 28 days after the vaccination was administered; the vaccine has a 2-dose schedule given 21 days apart. All the results are not in, however. 

In an interview with the Associated Press, Dr. Fauci called the vaccine’s 90 percent effectiveness rate “just extraordinary,” adding that “Not very many people expected it would be as high as that.” 

“It’s going to have a major impact on everything we do with respect to Covid,” Fauci told the AP. 

The company cautioned that the final vaccine protection may vary as the study continues. The 90 percent efficacy is considered outstanding. By comparison, two doses of the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps and rubella) achieve 97 percent efficacy, while the seasonal flu vaccine varies anywhere from 10 percent to 60 percent, according to the CDC. 

The company cautioned that the final vaccine protection percentage may vary as the study continues.

Pfizer is continuing to manage safety data. It has an estimated two months of data from the second dose schedule. This vaccine candidate should be available by the third week of November,  Pfizer has said. Participants will be monitored for an additional two years after their second dose. 

Pfizer and BioNTech expect to produce 50 million vaccinations in 2020 and 1.3 billion in 2021 globally. 

More news

On Sunday, Scott Gottlieb, MD, made his customary appearance on “Face the Nation.” He discussed what steps this country should take to confront the pandemic now and in the near future. While Joe Biden has promised to prioritize virus control with increased testing and so on, by the time he takes office the country will likely have reached the climax of the pandemic, Dr. Gottlieb said. 

“This is going to play out over the next couple of months,” he said. “And I think as the [new] president takes office, we'll be coming down the other side of the epidemic curve, hopefully.”

Dr. Gottlieb added that achieving full control of the virus isn’t likely.  However, he said, the country must take more precautions because the virus, on its own without people wearing masks and social distance, should be spreading as much as it is. 

“We don't need to shut down the country, close businesses, tell people they need to stay at home to get some measure of control over this virus,” he said. 

White House news

Mr. Trump had promised he would roll out a vaccine before election day.  

With Pfizer's announcement, President Donald Trump and his son, Donald Trump Jr, accused the company of withholding the information until after the presidential election. Neither the president nor his son offered any evidence to support the allegation, according to Business Insider.

A Pfizer spokesperson told Business Insider that the timing of the announcement had nothing to do with the election. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, DVM, PhD, told CNN that he first heard about the results Sunday, adding that the data were released “when the science told us the data was available.”

If anything, the results came earlier than expected.  CNN reported that in October Dr. Bourla said that based on the trial's current enrollment and dosing pace, it didn’t estimate it would “reach this milestone in the third week of November.” 

Pfizer pushed back after Vice President Mike Pence, in a tweet, credited  “the private-public partnership” that President Trump  had established for vaccine development. The company clarified that while the government has placed an order for a potential vaccine, Pfizer never took funding from the administration’s “Operation Warp Speed” initiative to develop one. 

 

Loading...
Join the Discussion