Top U.S. health officials said Wednesday that the U.S. will have enough vaccine for every American by the "end of July," echoing an estimate from the president hours earlier but contradicting predictions from the nation's top infectious disease expert.
"We are on track to have enough vaccine supply for 300 million Americans by the end of July," Jeff Zients, White House COVID-19 response coordinator, said in a task force briefing Wednesday.
President Joe Biden offered a similar timeline in a CNN town hall Tuesday night. "By the end of July, we’ll have over 600 million doses, enough to vaccinate every single American," Biden said.
The estimates contradict recent predictions from Dr. Anthony Fauci. Last week, Fauci said April would be "open season" for vaccinations and that any adult will be able to get vaccinated. On Tuesday, he walked back that timeline, telling CNN that vaccines may not be available to the general public until mid-May or even June.
The U.S. is continuing to ramp up vaccinations. Last week, the U.S. administered a seven-day average of 1.7 million doses a day, up from fewer than a million doses a day in mid-January. But as winter weather continued to wreak havoc across the nation Wednesday, some vaccination sites canceled appointments, and vaccine shipments continued to be delayed, Zients said.
"The weather’s having an impact. It’s having an impact on distribution and deliveries," Zients said. "We want to make sure, as we’ve lost some time in some states for people to get needles in arms, that our partners do all they can to make up that lost ground."
Meanwhile, the Biden administration on Wednesday announced it would expand testing for schools and underserved populations, increase domestic manufacturing of testing supplies and increase virus genome sequencing.
In the headlines:
►In remarks to the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken called on "all countries" to provide all data from the earliest days of their outbreaks. The comments come days after reports that China refused to give raw data on early COVID-19 cases to a World Health Organization team probing the origins of the pandemic.
►North Korea tried to hack into the servers of U.S. drugmaker Pfizer to steal coronavirus vaccine information, South Korean intelligence officials reported Tuesday, according to The Washington Post.
►Two men are accused of pretending to be federal marshals and flashing phony credentials to get out of wearing facial coverings at a resort hotel in Deerfield Beach. Florida. A real U.S. marshal arrested Walter Wayne Brown Jr., 53, and Gary Brummett, 81, on charges of impersonating a federal officer.
►The European Union announced an agreement to buy a further 300 million doses of Moderna’s vaccine. Hours earlier, Pfizer and BioNTech said they had signed a deal to deliver an additional 200 million doses of their vaccine to the bloc.
►Reparations could have public health benefits for Black individuals and the entire nation, a study led by Harvard Medical School researchers suggests. Their model for Louisiana showed that greater equity between Blacks and whites might have reduced COVID-19 infection transmission rates by up to 68% for every person in the state.
►A genomic mutation associated with protection against severe COVID-19 is inherited from Neandertals, researchers reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Neandertals evolved in western Eurasia 500,000 years ago and subsequently lived largely separated from the ancestors of modern humans in Africa.
►Doctors across the nation have been seeing a striking increase in cases of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children or MIS-C, an inflammatory syndrome that strikes some young people, usually several weeks after infection by the coronavirus, The New York Times reports. The surge follows the overall spike of COVID cases in the U.S.
? Today's numbers: The U.S. has more than 27.7 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 489,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 109.6 million cases and 2.42 million deaths. More than 71 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and about 55 million have been administered, according to the CDC.
? What we're reading: A next generation coronavirus vaccine is in the works. But initial funding was denied. Read the full story.
The Biden administration announced a series of measures Wednesday aimed at expanding COVID-19 testing and genome sequencing in the U.S. amid an influx of coronavirus variants. Here are the highlights:
- A $650 million investment to expand testing opportunities for K-8 schools and underserved congregate settings, such as homeless shelters.
- Establishment of regional coordinating centers to organize the distribution of testing supplies and partner with laboratories across the country, including universities and commercial labs, to collect specimens, perform tests and report results to the public health agencies.
- An investment of $815 million to increase domestic manufacturing of testing supplies and materials that have created shortage issues.
- A nearly $200 million plan by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to identify and track emerging strains, increasing the agency's sequencing capacity from about 7,000 samples per week to approximately 25,000.
The White House said in a press release that the investments are "only the beginning" of what is needed to expand testing nationwide. Biden's American Rescue Plan, which he wants Congress to pass in the coming weeks, would invest $50 billion to expand and support testing.
Vaccines may interfere with transmission, experts say, but cannot yet account for decline in US cases
Dr. Anthony Fauci cited early data Wednesday that suggests vaccines may be effective in diminishing or preventing transmission.
"Does vaccine prevent transmission?" Fauci said. "There have been some studies that are pointing into a very favorable direction, that will have to be verified and corroborated by other studies."
Citing data from Spain and Israel, Fauci said research is "starting to point to the fact" that vaccine is important – not only for the health of the individual to protect them from the infection and disease, including the variants – but also from a public health standpoint for interfering with transmission.
"When your turn to get vaccinated comes up, get vaccinated," Fauci said. "It's not only good for you and your family and your community, it will have a very important impact on the dynamics of the outbreak in our country."
At the same time, the recent drop in new daily cases in the U.S. is not because of vaccinations, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, head of the CDC, said Wednesday.
"We’re not at the place where we believe that the current level of vaccination is what is driving down the current level of disease," she said. "We believe that much of the surge of disease happened related to the holidays, related to travel, and so we believe that now we’re coming down from that."
America marked Ash Wednesday in alternative ways as the threat of spreading COVID-19 takes its toll on religious traditions on the first day of the Lenten season.
Catholic priests have been told by the Vatican to skip making the traditional sign-of-the cross with ashes on worshipper's foreheads. Some churches are offering drive-thru ashes and do-it-yourself, bagged ashes. The Vatican asks that priests sprinkle the ashes upon the heads of their congregants, a customary practice at the Vatican and in Italy.
"You never see the pope with ashes on his forehead," said the Rev. Steven B. Giuliano. at Our Lady of Lourdes in Wilmington, Delaware. "They are always placed atop his head."
Ash Wednesday comes one day after "Fat Tuesday" – Mardi Gras – which also saw big changes this year. Parades were canceled and the streets of the French Quarter in New Orleans, usually packed for the parties, were relatively quiet. Bourbon Street was quiet. Instead, locals decorated their homes in festive colors.
"Thank you all for embracing the Carnival spirit through your creativity and innovation," Mayor LaToya Cantrell said.
U.S. scientists would gain vastly expanded capabilities to identify potentially deadlier mutations of the coronavirus under proposed legislation.
A bill cleared for floor debate last week by the House Energy and Commerce Committee would provide $1.75 billion for genomic sequencing. It calls for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to organize a national network to use the technology to track the spread of mutations – such as the recently discovered U.K. and South African variants – and guide public health countermeasures.
"We need that data. Otherwise, in some ways, we’re flying blind," Esther Krofah, who directs the FasterCures initiative of Milken Institute, told the Associated Press. "We don’t understand the prevalence of mutations that we should be worried about in the U.S."
President Joe Biden made clear Tuesday his goal is for the majority of K-8 public schools to be open "five days a week" by the end of his first 100 days after the White House received criticism for scaling back that goal last week.
"I think that we'll be close to that by the end of the first 100 days," Biden said during a CNN town hall in Milwaukee. "You'll have a significant percentage of them being able to be open."
Frustrating many parents and opening a new line of attack for Republicans, press secretary Jen Psaki said last week Biden's goal is for more than 50% of schools to have "some teaching" in person "at least one day a week" – not necessarily fully reopened – by Day 100 of his presidency.
But Biden said that statement was inaccurate, recommitting to a goal of having most K-8 schools fully open. Asked how he would return students to classrooms, Biden said, "We should be vaccinating teachers.
He also said that "by next Christmas I think we'll be in a very different circumstance [in terms of normalcy than we are today."
The SATs will go on this spring in pandemic or in health. The College Board, which owns and oversees the exam many colleges use for admissions, has directed school hosts to "make their own decisions about the test and safety standards based on local restrictions," according to its website.
Hosts can close sites up to the day of testing, but no closures were posted to the College Board closures page. SAT sites, often hosted by high schools, are working to update exam security and COVID-19 safety protocols to accommodate thousands of students. Hundreds of test sites across the nation were shuttered last spring and this fall due to the pandemic.
"While College Board can't directly control capacity and test center availability, we're working to ensure that as many students as possible are able to test safely," the not-for-profit group said in a statement.
– Carly Q. Romalino, Cherry Hill Courier-Post
Contributing: Ryan Cormier, Delaware News Journal; The Associated Press