As Congress passed a $900 billion pandemic relief package on Monday, U.S. experts warned that a new, more infectious variant of the coronavirus recently discovered in Britain may already be circulating in this country.
The relief bill will authorize direct payments of $600 to any American who made less than $75,000 in the last tax year, the Washington Post reported, with checks arriving as early as next week. Enhanced unemployment benefits will also be extended, and businesses will benefit from $325 billion in economic relief under the bill.
Seeking to reassure a troubled nation, President-Elect Joe Biden received the first dose of the two-dose Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Monday. He did so live on television at ChristianaCare Hospital in Newark, Del. Biden said, “I’m doing this to demonstrate that people should be prepared when it’s available to take the vaccine,” the New York Times reported.
Moderna’s COVID vaccine gets FDA’s blessing
Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine has been granted emergency use approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, joining Pfizer’s vaccine in an unprecedented campaign to inoculate enough Americans to stop the pandemic in its tracks.
“With the availability of two vaccines now for the prevention of COVID-19, the FDA has taken another crucial step in the fight against this global pandemic that is causing vast numbers of hospitalizations and deaths in the United States each day,” said FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn. “Through the FDA’s open and transparent scientific review process, two COVID-19 vaccines have been authorized in an expedited timeframe while adhering to the rigorous standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality needed to support emergency use authorization that the American people have come to expect from the FDA.”
“To get another very important vaccine into play is just, yet again, another step toward what the ultimate goal is: to get enough people vaccinated so you could essentially end the epidemic as we know it in this country,” Fauci told the Post. “I believe that’s possible.”
The authorization of a second vaccine will double to roughly 20 million the number of Americans who will get a first shot before the end of the year, the Post reported. Gen. Gustave Perna, who is overseeing the federal effort to distribute vaccines, said the government was preparing to ship almost 6 million doses of the Moderna vaccine to 3,285 locations in the first week after approval.
“It will be a very similar cadence that was executed this week with Pfizer, where we’re hitting initial sites on Monday, [followed] on Tuesday and Wednesday,” Perna said, the Post reported.
The Moderna vaccine was developed in partnership with the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The federal government invested in the research and development of the vaccine and bought 200 million doses in advance, bringing the government outlay to $4.1 billion, the Post reported.
Moderna’s vaccine was shown to be 94 percent effective in its large clinical trial; Pfizer’s vaccine was 95 percent effective. The efficacy was similar across age, gender and racial groups.
A global scourge
By Tuesday, the U.S. coronavirus case count passed 18 million while the death toll neared 320,000, according to a Times tally. By Tuesday, the top five states for coronavirus infections were California with over 1.9 million cases, Texas with more than 1.6 million cases, Florida with over 1.2 million cases; Illinois with nearly 907,000 cases and New York with almost 861,000 cases.
Curbing the spread of the coronavirus in the rest of the world remains challenging.
In India, the coronavirus case count was over 10 million on Tuesday, a Johns Hopkins University tally showed. More than 146,000 coronavirus patients have died in India, according to the Hopkins tally, but when measured as a proportion of the population, the country has had far fewer deaths than many others. Doctors say this reflects India’s younger and leaner population. Still, the country’s public health system is severely strained, and some sick patients cannot find hospital beds, the Times said. Only the United States has more coronavirus cases.
Meanwhile, Brazil had over 7.2 million cases and over 187,000 deaths as of Tuesday, the Hopkins tally showed.
Worldwide, the number of reported infections passed 77 million on Tuesday, with over 1.7 million deaths recorded, according to the Hopkins tally.
SOURCES: Washington Post; The New York Times, www.usnews.com