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U.S. COVID Death Toll Hits 300,000 as Vaccine Rollout Begins

By Ernie Mundell and Robin Foster HealthDay Reporters

TUESDAY, Dec. 15, 2020 (Healthday News) -- The number of Americans killed by the new coronavirus topped 300,000 on Monday, the same day the country launched a massive vaccination campaign to curb the spread of COVID-19.

And on Tuesday morning, scientists from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released a data review that almost guarantees a second vaccine will soon join the Pfizer vaccine that was sent out on Monday: Moderna's two-shot regimen, which is based on the same technology as the Pfizer vaccine, was found to be 94 percent effective in a clinical trial and carried no serious safety concerns. The glowing assessment positions the Moderna vaccine for approval from an FDA advisory panel that is meeting on Thursday, the Washington Post reported.

As the first doses of Pfizer's vaccine made their way to the arms of health care workers around the United States, a new survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that 71% of Americans say they will "definitely or probably" get a COVID-19 vaccine.

That's up from 63% in September, and it's a sign that a growing number of Americans are starting to trust the science behind the vaccines as they become more comfortable with the speed in which the vaccines are being developed.

Still, just over a quarter of Americans are hesitant to get a vaccine, saying they probably or definitely would not get a COVID-19 vaccine even if it were free and deemed safe by scientists. The greatest reluctance was seen among Black Americans, people living in rural areas and Republicans.

And not everyone wants a shot right away: A third of those surveyed said they want to get a vaccine "as soon as possible," while 39% of those surveyed said they would "wait and see" how initial vaccination efforts go before getting a vaccine themselves. Kaiser polled 1,676 adults for the survey.

On Monday morning, the first vaccination outside a clinical trial in the United States took place in Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens, The New York Times reported. The shot, made by Pfizer, was given to Sandra Lindsay, a critical care nurse at the center.

Lindsay, who has treated patients throughout the pandemic, said that she hoped her public vaccination would instill confidence that the shots were safe.

"I have seen the alternative, and do not want it for you," she said. "I feel like healing is coming. I hope this marks the beginning of the end of a very painful time in our history."

Lindsay's shot was part of the first shipments of nearly 3 million doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine that were on their way to hospitals in all 50 U.S. states.

Gen. Gustave F. Perna, chief operating officer of the federal effort to develop a vaccine, told the Times that 425 sites are set to receive the vaccine on Tuesday and 66 will get it on Wednesday.

Most of the first round of injections are to be given to high-risk health care workers, the newspaper reported. Because the vaccines can cause side effects including fevers and aches, hospitals have said they will stagger vaccinations among their workers.

Residents of nursing homes, who have suffered a disproportionate share of COVID-19 deaths, will begin to get shots next week, the Times reported. A vast majority of Americans will not be eligible for vaccinations until the spring or later.

Alex Azar, who heads the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said the plan is to have 20 million people vaccinated by the end of December, up to 50 million by the end of January and 100 million by the end of February, the Post reported.

National vaccination campaign an unprecedented challenge

The logistics of a national COVID vaccination campaign are daunting: Every state, along with six major cities, has submitted to the federal government a list of locations -- mainly hospitals -- where the Pfizer vaccine is to ship initially. In Florida, hospitals in Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando, Tampa and Hollywood will get the initial doses of vaccine, the Times reported. In rural Vermont, only the University of Vermont Medical Center and a state warehouse will get supplies.

More than vaccine doses be shipped nationwide: Medical supplier McKesson Corp will send kits of syringes, alcohol pads, face shields and other supplies to the same locations, where they will meet up with the vaccines, the Times reported.

As for the vaccines, Pfizer will ship them in specially designed containers packed with dry ice, to keep the temperature inside at minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit. Each container will have a tracking device and a thermal probe, to make sure no vaccine doses are lost or degraded.

Eventually, the Pfizer and vaccines should help tame the spread of coronavirus.

In some disappointing vaccine news, Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline said last week that their experimental coronavirus vaccine did not work well in older adults, delaying the start of their late-stage clinical trial that had been set to begin in the United States in December, the Times reported.

Instead, a modified version of the vaccine will be tested in a smaller trial set to begin in February, the newspaper said. Rather than compare their candidate with a placebo, the companies noted it could be tested against an already approved vaccine, Still, they now expect their vaccine will not be available until the end of next year.

"We care greatly about public health, which is why we are disappointed by the delay announced today, but all our decisions are and will always be driven by science and data," Thomas Triomphe, executive vice president and head of Sanofi Pasteur, the company's vaccine division, told the Times.

The Sanofi vaccine is one of six that were selected by Operation Warp Speed. The companies have negotiated a $2.1 billion agreement with the United States to provide 100 million doses, the Times said.

A global scourge

By Tuesday, the U.S. coronavirus case count passed 16.5 million while the death toll passed 300,000, according to a Times tally. By Tuesday, the top five states for coronavirus infections were California with over 1.6 million, Texas with nearly 1.5 million cases, Florida with more than 1.1 million cases; Illinois with nearly 858,000 cases and New York with nearly 790,000 cases.

Curbing the spread of the coronavirus in the rest of the world remains challenging.

In India, the coronavirus case count passed 9.9 million on Tuesday, a Johns Hopkins University tally showed. Nearly 144,000 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 6.9 million cases and nearly 182,000 deaths as of Tuesday, the Hopkins tally showed.

Worldwide, the number of reported infections passed 72.9 million on Tuesday, with over 1.6 million deaths recorded, according to the Hopkins tally.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the new coronavirus.

SOURCES: Washington Post; The New York Times

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