HHS Chief Sees Vaccine for All Americans by Second Quarter

WASHINGTON (Bloomberg News/TNS) -
covid vaccine available
American Airlines’ cold storage facility at Philadelphia International Airport, the largest facility for pharmaceutical products on the East Coast, which could soon be used to store COVID-19 vaccines. (Reuters/Rachel Wisniewski)

All Americans who want to get a COVID-19 vaccine should be able to do so by the second quarter of next year, Health and Human Services Alex Azar said.

With the U.S. Food and Drug Administration due to decide as early as Thursday on emergency authorization for a shot developed by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE, Azar and Moncef Slaoui, the head of the government’s program to accelerate a vaccine, expressed confidence that the FDA would clear the way.

“I’ve not heard of any red flags, but I’ll have to leave that to the career scientists at the FDA who were digging through all the data,” Azar said Sunday on Fox News.

“Based on the data that I know, I expect the FDA to make a positive decision,” Slaoui, who heads the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed program, said on CBS.

Plans to roll out vaccines against the coronavirus linked to more than 280,000 deaths in the U.S. are gaining urgency as cases reach new highs nationwide, straining hospital care and the economy particularly in urban hot spots.

Asked about news reports that the White House and State Department are planing large year-end parties, Azar says the same health recommendations apply to them as in any other setting.

“Our advice remains the same in any context, which is wash your hands, watch your distance, wear face coverings when you can’t watch your distance and be careful of those indoor settings,” he said. “The best thing is distance and so certainly limiting the number of people at gatherings also can be important.”

Slaoui said his group plans to have its first meeting with President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team this week.

“And I feel confident that once we will explain it, everything in detail, I hope the new transition teams will understand that things are well planned,” said Slaoui, a former head of GlaxoSmithKline Plc’s vaccines division.

While the most at-risk people in line for early vaccination may see an impact in January and February, “for our lives to start getting back to normal, we’re talking about April or May,” Slaoui said.

He defended the proposed immunization schedule for the first 40 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which requires two shots three or four weeks apart. If all of the doses were used up to give 40 million people an initial shot, that would create the risk of shortfalls for the required second shot, Slaoui said.