Surge of coronavirus cases in 75% of US is a ‘distressing trend’ – but ‘hope is on the way’ with vaccines predicted to be available for vulnerable Americans by year-end, health officials say
- CDC and HHS officials held a now-rare COVID-19 press briefing on Wednesday
- Officials acknowledged a ‘distressing trend’ in rising coronavirus cases in 75% of US states, blaming it on pandemic fatigue and gatherings moving indoors
- HHS secretary Alex Azar said ‘hope is on the way’ in the form of vaccines getting emergency approval in a matter of ‘weeks or months’
- He said the US should have enough doses for all vulnerable people by year-end with enough shots for all Americans who want them by the end of March
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US health officials on Wednesday promised that ‘hope is on the way’ in the form of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments expected by year-end – but acknowledged a ‘distressing’ upward trend in cases across the US.
Dr Butler, CDC director Dr Robert Redfield and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar blamed this nationwide increase on gatherings moving indoors, and poor adherence to infection control guidelines, like masking.
They hung their hopes on the availability of vaccines in ‘weeks or months,’ as well as antibody treatments like the one that President Trump was given.
When pressed on whether Trump’s rift with top infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci would undermine trust in a vaccine, Azar said that the conflict had nothing to do with the reliability of science driving the vaccine research, and underscored the series of five vaccine safety ‘checks’ in place in the approval process.
Azar also defended against accusations that his own agency had undermined the CDC, saying that critics ‘have not lived in and [worked in] an agency like this and fail to appreciate that.’
CDC and HHS officials said during a Wednesday briefing that the rise of coronavirus cases is ‘distressing’ but said they anticipate a vaccine available to vulnerable Americans by year-end
Wednesday’s press briefing largely rehashed promises and warnings already made by the HHS and CDC.
‘The past week, we’ve seen nearly 60,000 cases a day as well as 700 deaths,’ said Butler.
Case increases were accompanying a sense of fatigue and perhaps false security after the relatively low case numbers of the late summer and early fall, with more people seeing friends and family, ‘especially as these gatherings are moving indoors and adherence to face coverings may not be optimal,’ Dr Butler added.
‘We are all getting tired with the impacts that COVID-19 has had on our lives, we get tired of wearing masks, but it continues to be as important as it’s ever been.’
Seconding his warning, Azar said: ‘While we are making exciting progress on vaccines and therapeutics, we see concerning trends across the country.
‘There is hope on the way in the form of safe and effective vaccines in a matter of weeks or months.’
But he added that the ‘three W’s’ – washing hands, watching your distance and wearing a mask – are the ‘bridge’ between current pandemic conditions and the arrival of vaccines.
Trials of vaccines being made by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson are on hold in the US following potential adverse events.
Operation Warp Speed head, Dr Moncef Slaoui said Wednesday that these trials could resume as soon as next week. Officials participating in the briefing appeared unaware of Dr Slaoui’s statement.
The officials said that they anticipated the approval of one or more vaccines and to have enough doses for all ‘vulnerable’ Americans by year-end.
By the end of January, Azar anticipates enough doses for all seniors and health care workers to be available.
All other Americans who want to get vaccinated against COVID-19 should be able to do so by the end of March he said.
Officials reiterated the partnership between the US government and pharmacy giants Walgreens and CVS would help ensure that elderly Americans in nursing homes, as well as care home staff, have access to vaccines.
All US states and territories have now submitted their plans for distributing coronavirus vaccines to the CDC in anticipation of emergency approval for one or more shot, the officials said.