Members of the Biden administration’s Covid-19 team are expected to hold a call with top officials representing major coronavirus vaccine distributors later today, CNN is told by a source familiar with the planned meeting.
This comes within days of the administration announcing that it would be increasing the allocation of Covid-19 vaccines to states starting next week and announced plans to significantly ramp up vaccine supply with the goal of fully vaccinating 300 million Americans by the end of the summer.
This call is expected to be a forum where distributors of the Covid vaccine can pose any questions they might have to the Biden administration on the White House’s vision for distributing vaccines across the country as efficiently as possible, as top Biden advisers have continued to say that they did not inherit a working federal distribution plan from the Trump administration.
Going back to the transition, the Biden’s team has been in regular contact with various parties in the industry.
Belgian health authorities – at the request of the European Commission – conducted “an inspection” of AstraZeneca’s Belgian production facility Wednesday “to ensure that the delay in the delivery of the vaccines is indeed due to a production problem at the Belgian site,” France Dammel, spokesperson for Belgian Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke said in a statement.
“Belgian experts are looking into the elements obtained during this inspection visit, together with Dutch, Italian and Spanish experts,” Dammel said, adding that the report is expected in a few days.
Last week, AstraZeneca told the European Commission and EU member states that it intends to supply the bloc with fewer vaccine doses than previously agreed.
In June 2020 AstraZeneca entered into a partnership with French manufacturing company Novasep to produce its vaccine supply.
The Pentagon has received a request from Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide assistance to President Biden’s efforts to boost Covid-19 vaccinations across the country in the first 100 days of the new administration, according to two defense officials.
Both departments are now in intensive discussions on how the military can help FEMA including the possibility of sending up to 10,000 troops to vaccination mega-hubs.
The effort could involve using both active duty and National Guard forces. Part of the discussion is agreeing on what are the most urgent tasks they can handle, the officials said.
The Department of Defense has added a 2:30 p.m. ET briefing today on their Covid-19 efforts.
Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, warned that the next six to 14 weeks will bring “something that we haven’t even come close to experiencing yet.”
Osterholm said on CNN’s “New Day” that he is worried about the variants circulating in the United States.
“If we even hope we can get 100 million vaccine doses in people by the end of March … that means only about 12% of the population will still be protected,” he said.
On the heels of cities like Los Angeles easing some coronavirus restrictions, Osterholm said that he understands pandemic fatigue, but thinks we are about to see “the darkest of days.”
“Now is not the time to ease up, because again, we will be pumping the brakes after the car is wrapped around the tree if we do that,” he said. “And so I can’t put it in any more stark terms, but I fear that’s what will happen. It is only when our hospitals are overrun, and that seems to be the benchmark right now.”
While Osterholm lauded the Biden administration’s plans to tackle the pandemic and says they are working on tracking variants, he worries that Covid-19 testing staff are being transferred to vaccinate people.
“We have got to do both” testing and vaccinations, he said.
Germany’s vaccine commission has recommended that the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford should not be given to people over 65 years old, the German Interior Ministry said Thursday in a statement.
According to the statement, a study by the Standing Committee on Vaccination at Germany’s Robert Koch Institute has found there is insufficient data on the effectiveness of the vaccine for this age group.
“It is not possible to make a statement for the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine in people over 65 years of age,” the statement said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Thursday that the coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa is troubling to him and that work is already being done on a booster vaccine dose that is directly aimed at the variant.
“The one in South Africa, George, troubles me,” Fauci told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. “This is something that is now really dominating the South Africa scene, when you look at the vaccines that we have available now, the neutralizing antibodies that they induce, so we’re talking about things just in a test tube, when you measure that against the South African isolate it is diminished by multifold in its ability to cover it.”
He added, “It’s still within the range of what you predict would be protective. But I take no great comfort in that.”
Fauci said that they are already “trying to stay a step or two ahead of things by making vaccines along the same type that we made for the ones we’re giving now, but having it be directed specifically against the isolate that’s in South Africa.”
This means that if it’s necessary, though it may not be, “we’ll already be on the road to being able to give people a boost that directs against the South African isolate. That’s what we’re doing right now, so we’re just, yeah, we’re not taking any chances.”
The European Union has been locked in a very public and acrimonious fight with AstraZeneca over vaccine delays.
Although the heat may have slightly cooled after a meeting late Wednesday, the problem still has yet to be solved.
AstraZeneca says it can’t deliver as many doses as the European Union expected. The European Commission, which ordered the vaccine on behalf of EU member states, says this is unacceptable, and the drugmaker must find a way to increase supply.
The dispute is playing out against a dire backdrop. EU countries including Germany are running low on vaccines, and the slow rollout of shots across the bloc is threatening a very fragile economic recovery from the pandemic.
After Wednesday’s meeting, EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said the discussion with AstraZeneca (AZN) CEO Pascal Soriot had a “constructive tone,” but she requested more information from the company on its deliveries.
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More preliminary results in the lab suggest the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine will be effective against new, more contagious coronavirus strains first identified in South Africa and the UK.
As in previous studies, antibodies were slightly less effective against the virus with three key mutations in the variant identified in South Africa. However, Pfizer and BioNTech said, “the small differences in viral neutralization observed in these studies are unlikely to lead to a significant reduction in the effectiveness of the vaccine.”
The researchers engineered versions of the virus in the lab that carry some of the mutations found in the variants. They tested them against blood taken from 20 people who had received two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as part of a clinical trial.
The lab study – conducted by researchers at Pfizer and the University of Texas Medical Branch – did not test all the mutations found in the variants, and researchers note that “clinical data are needed for firm conclusions about vaccine effectiveness against variant viruses.”
The results were posted Wednesday on the preprint server bioRxiv and have not yet been peer-reviewed or published in a medical journal.
Pfizer and BioNTech said Wednesday a new vaccine against the variants does not appear to be necessary. In a news release, they said they will continue to monitor strains and will conduct studies to monitor how effective the vaccine is in the real world. Pfizer said earlier this week it was “laying the groundwork” to create a vaccine booster that could respond to coronavirus variants, if necessary.
Moderna, the maker of the other coronavirus vaccine authorized in the United States, said this week its Covid-19 vaccine created antibodies that neutralized the coronavirus variants first found in the United Kingdom and South Africa, and it planned to test a booster against the variants “out of an abundance of caution.”
Ahead of the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 origins investigation in Wuhan, China said in statement today that it will work with the WHO and “promote their scientific, objective, comprehensive, and balanced assessment and review.”
After China’s National Health Commission [NHC] Minister Ma Xiaowei spoke with WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom in phone call Wednesday, a NHC statement on Thursday said the country would make practical recommendations to help improve “global preparedness and its response to future public health emergencies.”
Tedros Adhanom praised the long-term and effective cooperation between the two sides, thanked China for the thoughtful arrangement of the international expert group on tracing the virus, and was satisfied with the progress of the in-depth exchange between the two sides,” the statement added.
“Both sides will work together to complete the scientific cooperation on virus tracing in China,” it said.
A 13-member team of WHO scientists arrived in China on January 14 to start a highly awaited investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan in late 2019. The expert panel left their hotel for the first time on Thursday after completing a two-week quarantine in the central Chinese city.
Read more about the WHO investigation here: