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U.S. Plans First Vaccinations in Weeks, Warp Speed Chief Says

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Vaccinations against Covid-19 in the U.S. will “hopefully” start in less than three weeks, according to the head of the federal government’s program to accelerate a vaccine.

“On the 11th or on the 12th of December, hopefully the first people will be immunized across the United States, across all states, in all the areas where the state departments of health will have told us where to deliver the vaccines,” Moncef Slaoui, head of the government’s Operation Warp Speed, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.

Plans envisage another milestone around next May: 70% immunization across the U.S., which “would allow for true herd immunity to take place,” said Slaoui, a former head of GlaxoSmithKline’s vaccines operation. “Most people need to be immunized before we can go back to a normal life.”

While an effective vaccine is expected to be widely distributed in 2021, hurdles remain as daily infections across the U.S. hover around record levels. The U.S. reported 1,446 virus-linked deaths Saturday, capping a week in which the death rate rose rapidly, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg News.

Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE have requested emergency authorization of their vaccine, but it could take at least three weeks for a U.S. Food and Drug Administration decision to move forward.

Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious disease specialist, said achieving herd immunity is possible if enough people get the vaccine, though he didn’t think that was likely by May.

“If you get an overwhelming majority of people vaccinated, with a highly efficacious vaccine, we can reasonably quickly get to the herd immunity that would be a blanket of protection for the country,” Fauci said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

No Sharing

Slaoui told CNN “it would be better” if President Donald Trump’s administration formally allowed the presidential transition to begin.

Even so, the operation “has been isolated from the administration, from the political environment, and the political context,” Slaoui said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“All decisions are made, the train is running,” he said. “Whether one administration or the other doesn’t, frankly, make a difference.”

Information on the program isn’t been shared with Joe Biden’s incoming administration, he said, consistent with President Donald Trump’s failure to acknowledge his election loss.

“I have been informed that I should not be saying anything that’s confidential to anybody, including, you know, anybody that’s not part of the administration, and therefore, I’ll act according to what the legal requirements are.”

Covid-19 deaths in the U.S. are running at the highest level since last spring, when the outbreak in New York and the northeast pushed fatalities to a daily peak of more than 2,600 in late April.

Hospitals are filling up across the country and even in the best-case scenario, state governments will struggle to get the rampaging virus under control amid a chaotic transfer of presidential power and a lack of clear policy guidance. Making matters more challenging is the lack of confidence many Americans have in the safety of a vaccine.

Only about half of adults say they would get a Covid-19 vaccine if one were available, according to a September survey from the Pew Research Center.

It’s “unfortunate that the vaccine process has become politicized,” Slaoui said on CNN.

(Updates with Fauci comments in sixth paragraph.)

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