(Washington Post) — Hospitals that have spent months seeking a silver bullet against a virus that has killed more than 295,000 people in the United States will begin receiving shipments of the first coronavirus vaccine on Monday, U.S. officials said, comparing the start of distribution this weekend to the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944.
Saturday, said the four-star Army general overseeing vaccine rollout, was “D-Day,” following the Food and Drug Administration’s Friday-night clearance for emergency use of the two-dose regimen developed by Pfizer and the German company BioNTech.
“D-Day was a pivotal turning point in World War II; it was the beginning of the end,” said the general, Gustave Perna, who is chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, the public-private partnership speeding the development of vaccines and therapeutics. “D-Day was the beginning of the end, and that’s where we are today.”
The initial distribution of 2.9 million doses, a sliver of what was initially anticipated and intended only for health care workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities, will arrive at hospitals battling climbing case counts and mounting deaths. Immunization in its early phases will not curtail intensifying outbreaks, experts cautioned, underscoring the need for continued public-health precautions.
But the vaccine’s clearance on Friday night from the FDA, followed by backing on Saturday from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory group, set into motion one of one of the most complicated logistical missions in U.S. history, marking a new phase of the pandemic. The vaccine, which must be stored at ultracold temperatures, is being sent nationwide by plane and guarded truck.
“It’s a hugely important step,” Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said Saturday as the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended the nation’s first coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and older.
Members of the committee stressed that the vaccine, while developed in record time, had moved transparently through all required regulatory channels. They also expressed alarm about the lack of resources available to state and local authorities to carry out vaccination, in contrast to the billions in taxpayer dollars devoted to quickening the vaccine’s rollout.
As experts gave final sign-off, boxes were being packed and loaded with the vaccine, Perna said. The cargo would begin moving Sunday morning from Pfizer’s manufacturing facility in Kalamazoo, Mich., to FedEx and UPS hubs nationwide, he said.
Vaccine, he predicted, would arrive at 145 sites, mostly large hospital systems, on Monday, with another 425 sites receiving supply on Tuesday. The final 66 of the 636 locations poised to receive doses in the first round of Pfizer shipments would receive their supply on Wednesday, Perna said.
The general made clear that earlier-than-anticipated clearance from federal regulators, which took place late Friday instead of Saturday after pressure from the White House, did not alter the timetable for the distribution or actual administration of the shots. Delivery, he said, must occur when “professionals are available to receive it, and then eventually administer it,” making Monday the anticipated target.
Top FDA officials took steps on Saturday to assure the public that the vaccine was safe, that its clearance was not driven by politics and that health care sites would be equipped in the event of a rare allergic reaction observed among two British health care workers with a history of severe reactions.
Stephen Hahn, the FDA commissioner, told reporters he would get the vaccine as soon as he was eligible for it, denying, as he did on Friday, that his job had been threatened over the timing of the vaccine’s approval. Asked about the possibility of allergic reactions, Peter Marks, director of the agency’s division that regulates vaccines, said officials had examined possible side effects and concluded that people should be vaccinated unless they have had a severe reaction to one of the vaccine’s components.
The initial shipments include only the first shot in a two-dose regimen for some of the nation’s most at-risk people, with another 2.9 million doses set for distribution 21 days later. According to CDC recommendations, the nation’s 21 million health care workers and three million residents of long-term care facilities should receive the vaccine first. With a second vaccine from Moderna expected to gain approval from the FDA soon, as many as 40 million doses could be delivered by the end of the year — enough to vaccinate the CDC’s first priority group. Additional vaccines are in late-stage trials.
Health care workers, who have been prioritized because of their exposure to the virus and critical role in sustaining the nation’s strained health care system, will begin receiving the shots within days. Each hospital system is moving on a slightly different timetable, depending on resources and staffing needs, with many saying vaccination would not begin until Wednesday. Some medical centers were independently reviewing the vaccine data to double-check the FDA’s decision.
Inoculation at long-term care facilities could begin by the end of the week, Perna said. Separate kits with needles and alcohol wipes are being shipped so as to sync up with vaccine batches at each site, underscoring the complex choreography of the operation.
Perna tempered his confidence with an acknowledgment of the challenges involved in a mass vaccination campaign against a rampaging virus, with limited supplies initially available for a country of 330 million people eager to return to normal.
Biden Expected To Repeal Military Trans Ban Tomorrow
The Biden administration is expected to repeal the ban on transgender Americans from serving in the military, multiple people informed of the decision told CBS News. The announcement is expected as soon as Monday, one senior Defense official and four outside advocates of repealing the ban told CBS News.
The senior Defense official told CBS News the repeal will be through executive order signed by President Joe Biden. The announcement is expected to take place at a ceremony with newly-confirmed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who will order the Pentagon to go back to the policy enacted in 2016 by former Defense Secretary Ash Carter that allowed transgender Americans to serve openly.
The White House did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
The new order will direct the branches of the military to outline an implementation plan.
The ban was announced by former President Trump via a tweet in July 2017. The ban took effect in April 2019 and barred transgender Americans from enlisting in the military.
In 2014, it was estimated there were around 15,500 transgender military members serving, according to a study by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law.
Biden frequently repeated on the campaign trail his promise to repeal the ban.
Austin said at his Senate confirmation hearing last week that he planned to repeal the ban.
“I support the president’s plan or plan to overturn the ban,” Austin said on Tuesday when asked by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, “I truly believe, Senator, that as I said in my opening statement, that if you’re fit and you’re qualified to serve and you can maintain the standards, you should be allowed to serve. And, you can expect that I will support that throughout.”
Trump Pardons Steve Bannon In One of His Final Acts As 45th President
(CNN)— President Donald Trump has decided to pardon his former chief strategist Steve Bannon, in a last-minute decision made only hours before he is scheduled to depart the White House for a final time.
Officials cautioned CNN that Trump’s decision was not final until he signed the paperwork. Trump told people that after much deliberation, he had decided to pardon Bannon as one of his final acts in office.
Bannon’s pardon would follow a frantic scramble during the President’s final hours in office as attorneys and top aides debated his inclusion on Trump’s outgoing clemency list. Despite their falling out in recent years, Trump was eager to pardon his former aide after recently reconnecting with him as he helped fan Trump’s conspiracy theories about the election.
It was a far cry from when Trump exiled Bannon from his inner circle after he was quoted in a book trashing the President’s children, claiming that Donald Trump Jr. had been “treasonous” by meeting with a Russian attorney and labeling Ivanka Trump “dumb as a brick.” Those statements from Bannon drove Trump to issue a lengthy statement saying he had “lost his mind.”
“Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency,” Trump said at the time.Things shifted in recent months as Bannon attempted to breach Trump’s inner circle once again by offering advice before the election and pushing his false theories after Trump had lost.
Since Trump’s election defeat, the President has leaned further into his expansive pardon powers — granting pardons to his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, longtime ally Roger Stone and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, among others.
Among Trump’s pardons earlier in his term were those for former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, right-wing commentator Dinesh D’Souza and financier Michael Milken.
California Governor Formally Appoints Alex Padilla To Fill US Senate Seat Vacated By Kamala Harris
(CNN) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom formally submitted the appointment of Alex Padilla to the US Senate today, according to a press release from the governor’s office.
Padilla formally resigned as Secretary of State this morning and Gov. Newsom also submitted his nomination letter for Assembly member Shirley Weber to replace him. The Deputy Secretary of State, James Schwab, will be the Acting Secretary of State.
“It is fitting that on the same day we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — a civil rights icon who fought for justice and representation — we also move forward the appointment of California’s first Latino U.S. Senator Alex Padilla and the nomination of Dr. Shirley Weber who will serve as the first-ever African American Secretary of State. Both will be strong defenders of our democracy during this fragile moment in our nation’s history,” said Gov. Newsom.
“I am humbled and honored by your trust in me to represent California in the United States Senate. I look forward to continuing to serve the great State of California as a United States Senator and to ensuring that the rights and democratic principles we cherish are protected and preserved for all people,” Padilla wrote in a letter to Gov. Newsom.
Some context: Earlier today, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris formally resigned her seat as one of California’s US Senators. She’ll be inaugurated as vice president on Wednesday, Jan. 20. In a farewell addressed posted to Twitter, Harris said, “Of course, I’m not saying goodbye. In many ways, I’m now saying hello as your vice president.”