The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director cautioned Wednesday that the unprecedented ferocity at which the Chinese coronavirus is plaguing the country would make the next few months “the most difficult in the public health history of this nation” before vaccines become widely available.
Speaking at an event hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Dr. Robert Redfield stressed that roughly nine out of every ten hospitals in the country and another 90 percent of long-term care facilities are in areas with high infection levels.
Dr. Redfield declared:
So we are at a very critical time right now about being able to maintain the resilience of our healthcare system. The reality is December and January and February are going to be rough times. I actually believe they’re going to be the most difficult in the public health history of this nation, largely because of the stress that’s going to be put on our healthcare system.
Coronavirus fatalities are on the rise, Redfield conceded, noting that the U.S. is already in the neighborhood of recording between 1,500 and 2,500 deaths every day, similar to the peak levels reached in April.
Echoing other public health experts, Redfield noted that unlike the previous spike in cases, the one currently plaguing the U.S. is reaching every corner of the country as it continues to spread on a much deeper level than any previous wave so far.
Several top health officials involved in the Trump administration’s efforts to approve a vaccine in record time as part of Operation Warp Speech have recently indicated that healthcare workers and other vulnerable Americans, including residents and staff of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, could be first in line to get the shot by the end of this month, as recommended by a CDC panel this week.
Operation Warp Speed is a public-private partnership that involves U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS), including its CDC and FDA components, and the Pentagon.
On Tuesday, Moncef Slaoui, the chief science adviser for Operation Warp Speed, said the U.S. could inoculate its entire population by June.
America could “have this pandemic under control in the second half of 2021,” Slaoui added in an online event the Washington Post sponsored.
He also said that with the potential vaccines coming from other countries, there could be enough to vaccinate the rest of the nearly eight billion people across the world by early to mid-2022.
Becoming the first country to do so, Britain authorized an emergency use authorization (UAE) for the vaccine developed by American company Pfizer and Germany’s BioNtech, a frontrunner in the U.S. that boasts a 95 percent efficiency rate.
Pfizer has developed the vaccine in the United States, where it sought approval from U.S. regulators on November 20.
Still, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Stephen Hahn defended his agency’s decision to delay the approval of the same shot.
The FDA plans no changes to its December 10 schedule to consider Pfizer’s UAE application.
“While some U.S. health officials described a rollout timeline that assumed FDA authorization would come within days of the Dec. 10 meeting, FDA officials have said it could take weeks,” Reuters noted.
Nevertheless, Hahn acknowledged that the FDA feels the heat after Britain beat the United States in approving its own vaccine.
“We feel the urgency of the situation,” Hahn reportedly conceded. “We feel the pressure to get it done. We’re committed to the data and science, and that will guide us.”
American biotechnology company Moderna also asked the FDA for UAE approval on November 30. The agency has set aside December 17 to consider Moderna’s application.
In the middle of the clinical trials, as Democrats complained that President Donald Trump was boasting that the U.S. could approve a vaccine by or before the presidential election, the FDA added new hurdles that appear to throw a wrench into the commander-in-chief’s plans.
Dr. Redfield’s comments Wednesday came against a backdrop of record single-day infections, hospitalizations, and deaths in recent days, data maintained by the COVID Tracking Project showed.