Coronavirus updates: Senior U.S. government officials among first to get vaccines

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The U.S. government, FedEx and the United Parcel Service have begun the enormous logistical undertaking of delivering millions of vaccine doses across the country.

Trucks containing the first packages of the vaccine are leaving Pfizer's facility in Michigan today with delivery expected on Monday to sites across all 50 states.

CDC Director Robert Redfield has signed off on the vaccine, allowing immunizations to begin Monday.

The shots should go to front-line health-care workers and residents at long-term care facilities first, where the virus has had a devastating toll, according to CDC guidelines.

It's a race against time to ramp up the vaccine program into a mass inoculation campaign as thousands of people die everyday from Covid-19, with the toll only expected to increase over the holidays.

More than 2,300 deaths were recorded Saturday, following over 3,300 deaths Friday. New infections continue to explode, with more than 219,000 cases reported yesterday.

Nancy Galloway (L) and Susan Deur cheer as trucks carrying the first shipment of the Covid-19 vaccine that is being escorted by the US Marshals Service, leave Pfizer's Global Supply facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan on December 13, 2020.
Jeff Kowalsky | AFP | Getty Images

Senior U.S. government officials among first to receive coronavirus vaccine

WASHINGTON – The White House said Sunday that senior U.S. government officials will receive the coronavirus vaccine to ensure essential government functionality and security, after reports that Trump administration staffers will be among the first to receive the shots.

"Senior officials across all three branches of government will receive vaccinations pursuant to continuity of government protocols established in executive policy," National security spokesperson John Ullyot wrote in an emailed statement.

"The American people should have confidence that they are receiving the same safe and effective vaccine as senior officials of the United States government on the advice of public health professionals and national security leadership," he added.

White House staff members in close quarters with President Donald Trump have been told they are scheduled to receive the vaccine soon, The New York Times reported, citing sources familiar with the matter. The goal is to prevent additional people from falling ill in the West Wing, according to the Times.

Trump will be among the first to receive the vaccine, Bloomberg News reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

The White House has suffered multiple outbreaks of the virus as senior officials, including the president himself, flout CDC health guidelines. Trump contracted the virus and was hospitalized in October for several days. At least 52 people connected to the president have contracted the virus in recent months.

On Sunday, the U.S. government alongside UPS and FedEx embarked on the colossal logistical task of transporting the first doses of the coronavirus vaccine from a Pfizer facility in Michigan to locations across the country.

– Amanda Macias

CDC director signs off on Pfizer vaccine, allowing shots to move forward Monday

Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), speaks during a House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis hearing in Washington, D.C., July 31, 2020.
Erin Scott | Pool | Reuters

CDC Director Robert Redfield has signed off on Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine, allowing inoculations to officially move forward for people ages 16 or older.

The decision comes one day after the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, an outside group of medical experts that advises the agency, voted 11 to 0 to recommend the vaccine. The FDA approved an emergency use of authorization on Friday.

The U.S. has begun to ship the doses from a Pfizer facility in Michigan to hundreds of distribution centers across the country.

Here is Redfield's statement:

Last night, I was proud to sign the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices' recommendation to use Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine in people 16 and older. This official CDC recommendation follows Friday's FDA decision to authorize the emergency use of Pfizer's vaccine. As COVID-19 cases continue to surge throughout the U.S., CDC's recommendation comes at a critical time. Initial COVID-19 vaccination is set to start as early as Monday, and this is the next step in our efforts to protect Americans, reduce the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and help restore some normalcy to our lives and our country.

Emma Newburger

Sen. Coons says he's "frustrated and embarrassed" there hasn't yet been another round of Covid relief

U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) and other Democratic leaders stand on the steps of the U.S. Capitol during a news conference after their boycott of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., October 22, 2020.
Ken Cedeno | Reuters

Sen. Chris Coons, D—Del., said Sunday on "Meet the Press" that he was "frustrated and embarrassed" that there hasn't yet been another round of Covid relief. 

"The fact that nine months later, we don't have a next round of Covid relief is something I personally am frustrated and embarrassed about," he said. "Bluntly, I will put a lot of that responsibility at the feet of the leader of the Senate Republican majority, Mitch McConnell, because over and over as negotiations have tried to move forward over the last nine months, he's had a key redline and sticking point." 

Sen. Coons said Congress shouldn't leave for the holidays until the $908 billion framework, which includes $6 billion for vaccine development and distribution and $300 billion for small businesses, has been adopted. Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opposes the proposal and has called instead for an agreement that excludes provisions on liability protections for businesses and funding for state and local governments, which have been sources of disagreement between Republicans and Democrats.

Sen. Coons said it's his impression that Sen. McConnell won't bring the deal to the floor because it doesn't have strong majority support among Senate Republicans. 

"But I do want to say there are Republicans working hard on coming together around this bipartisan framework," he said. 

"We are at the beginning of the end of this pandemic, with nearly 300,000 Americans dead," he added. "That's a lot of empty chairs and tables at holiday time. And there's 16 million Americans infected. 850,000 filed for unemployment this past week, for the first time. We have to address the trust deficit in our country. Trust in science and vaccines. Trust in each other after this election."

— Megan Graham

U.S. could reach herd immunity by June but enough people must get vaccinated, Slaoui says

Dr. Moncef Slaoui, chief medical advisor of Operation Warp Speed, said on Sunday that roughly 75-80% of the U.S. population must get vaccinated to achieve herd immunity, or the point at which enough people are protected for the virus to be contained.

"We hope to reach that point between the month of May and June. It is, however, critical that most of the American people decide and accept to take the vaccine," Slaoui said on "Fox News Sunday."

As states prepare to receive the first rounds of vaccines, only about half of Americans say they want a shot, while a quarter aren't sure they will get one and an additional quarter say they won't get one, according to an Associated Press-Norc Poll.

Slaoui said that public doubt over the efficacy or safety of the vaccine is "not anchored in any facts or data" and urged that no corners were cut in the rapid process to get the vaccine approved.

"Unfortunately, there is so much politics around in the context of developing this vaccine that there's been a confusion between how thorough and scientific and fact checked the work has been done is and the perception that people are thinking that we cut corners or anything like that," Slaoui said.

"I can guarantee you that no such things have happened," he added. "We've followed the science. It's actually a remarkable achievement."

Emma Newburger

Operation Warp Speed medical advisor doesn't expect supply issues with vaccine distribution

Boxes containing the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the Pfizer Global Supply Kalamazoo manufacturing plant on December 13, 2020 in Portage, Michigan.
Morry Gash | Getty Images

Dr. Moncef Slaoui, Operation Warp Speed's chief medical advisor, says he doesn't believe there will be issues with having enough supply in the spring to continue the vaccine distribution plan. 

He said on "Fox News Sunday" with host Chris Wallace that the plan has been to have a portfolio of vaccines with six different products being developed. He said the hope is to have immunized 100 million people by the first quarter of 2021. 

Those include products from Pfizer; Moderna, which he said is likely to be approved by Friday; Janssen, which he said is in the late stages of its Phase 3 trial and will likely be ready for authorization in late January or early February; and AstraZeneca, which he said could be approvable in late February. Two more vaccine products coming afterward, Slaoui said.

"Pfizer is not the sole supplier, but having said that, we are working with Pfizer to continue helping them and supporting them achieve the objective of providing us with another 100 million doses in the second quarter of 2021," Slaoui said.

— Megan Graham

HHS chief Azar says 2.9 million doses in first phase, 100 million vaccinations by March

Health and Human Services Secretary, Alex Azar at the White House on August 23, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Pete Marovich | Getty Images

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said that 2.9 million doses of the newly-approved Covid-19 vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech are being distributed in the first round of shipments.

Speaking on CBS News's "Face the Nation" on Sunday, Azar declined to say how soon those vaccines would actually be administered but predicted it would happen "pretty quickly."

The 2.9 million doses will be distributed to that many individuals, he said, with the second dose of the vaccine being "reserved." The vaccine is administered in two doses given 21 days apart.

Azar said if a second vaccine candidate, produced by Moderna, is approved that there would be 20 million vaccinations in December, 50 million by the end of January, and 100 million by the end of February.

The Trump administration will turn power over to President-elect Joe Biden on Jan. 20, but Azar said that he still had confidence in his timeline.

"If they carry forward with the plans that we've put in place, 100 million shots in arms by the end of February is very much in scope," he said.

Tucker Higgins

New Jersey governor: State will administer first shots on Tuesday to health-care workers

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy (D) speaks at the Coronavirus press briefing in Trenton, New Jersey.
Michael Brochstein | Barcroft Media | Getty Images

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy spoke about the state's first vaccine shots being administered this week to health care workers on ABC News' "This Week" Sunday morning.

Gov. Murphy said the first batch of 76,000 shots would be split up, with the majority going to health-care workers and some going to long-term care residents and staff. The process will begin on Tuesday. 

He said the state is working with the CDC and federal guidance to determine how to prioritize the next population to receive the vaccine. 

Gov. Murphy added that with Moderna's vacicne up for an emergency use authorization, the state would then have increasing batches from Pfizer and that new vaccine, creating "overlapping waves." 

— Megan Graham

FDA chief says agency couldn't have approved Pfizer vaccine any earlier

Boxes containing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the Pfizer Global Supply Kalamazoo manufacturing plant in Portage, Michigan, U.S., December 13, 2020.
Morry Gash | Reuters

FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said the agency approved Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine as quickly as possible, despite claims by President Donald Trump that the vaccine could have been out a week earlier.

"We have from the beginning said that the only thing that's going to matter in this is the science and data. And of course we've been asked to speed this process as much as possible," Hahn said on ABC's "This Week."

"We do not feel that this could have been out a week earlier. We went through our process," he said. "We promised the American people that we would do a thorough review of the application and that's what we did."

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows reportedly told Hahn to submit his resignation if the agency didn't clear Pfizer's vaccine for emergency use on Friday. Hahn denied those reports and said the FDA's decision to approve the vaccine on Friday was guided by science rather than external pressure.

"We were encouraged to move quickly and we were already moving quickly and I feel very confident about the decision we made," Hahn added.

Emma Newburger

Bill Gates says next four to six months could be the worst of the pandemic, but ‘we can see that this will end’

Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, speaks during the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Beijing, China, on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019.
Takaaki Iwabu | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates says the end of the pandemic is in sight, but urged people to continue wearing masks and "not mixing" to avoid an additional hundreds of thousands of deaths. 

"The next four to six months really call on us to do our best, because we can see that this will end, and you don't want somebody you love to be the last to die of coronavirus," he told Jake Tapper on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday morning. 

Gates said by the summer, life should be "way closer to normal than we are now," but cautioned that the risk of reintroduction could persist through early 2022 unless the U.S. helps other countries get rid of the disease and achieves high vaccination rates in the country. 

He said he foresees big public gatherings still being restricted next summer, but said "we can see now that somewhere between 12 to 18 months, we have a chance, if we manage it well, we'll get back to normal." 

Following the likes of Former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, along with President-Elect Joe Biden, Gates said he would take the vaccine publicly. 

"When my turn comes up, I will visibly take the vaccine, because I think that it's a benefit to all people to not be transmitting," he said. 

— Megan Graham

FDA will publish assessment on Moderna vaccine this week

Joel Saget | AFP | Getty Images

U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn said on Sunday that the FDA will publish their data assessment on Moderna's vaccine this week and host another public discussion on the company's request for emergency use authorization.

The FDA authorized Pfizer's vaccine for emergency use on Friday based on data showing it was 95% effective. States are preparing for the first injections to health-care workers as soon as Monday.

Moderna's vaccine could be administered as early as Dec. 21 if granted emergency authorization by the FDA. Moderna said it's on track to produce 20 million doses by the end of the year.

"I'm not going to prejudge that discussion or our assessment of the data," Hahn said during an interview on CNN's "State of the Union." "My sincere hope is that we move forward and we do so expeditiously."

Emma Newburger

NIH director says reluctance to take vaccine source of concern, pleads with people to get inoculated

Boxes containing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the Pfizer Global Supply Kalamazoo manufacturing plant in Portage, Michigan, U.S., December 13, 2020.
Morry Gash | Reuters

National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins said that surveys showing that many Americans are reluctant to receive a Covid-19 vaccine are a "source of great concern for all of us" and urged the public to get inoculated.

"I would like to plead to people who are listening to this this morning, to really hit the reset button on whatever they think they knew about this vaccine that might cause them to be so skeptical," Collins told Chuck Todd on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"The data is out there now. It has been discussed in a public meeting, all the details on the safety and the efficacy for anybody who wants to look," he added.

Collins said he wanted people to "disregard all those terrible conspiracy theories."

"People are dying right now, how could you possibly say, 'Let's wait and see,' if that might mean some terrible tragedy is going to befall?" Collins asked. "And especially for health-care providers, please people, when you look back in a year, and you say to yourself, 'Did I do the right thing?' I hope you will be able to say, 'Yes, because I looked at the evidence.'"

Tucker Higgins

FDA chief hopes first shots administered Monday

FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn testifies during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 30, 2020.
Kevin Dietsch | Reuters

Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn hopes the first people could receive shots of the vaccine on Monday.

"My hope again is that this happens very expeditiously, hopefully tomorrow," Hahn said on CNN's "State of the Union."

An advisory panel at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the vaccine for people 16 years and older on Saturday, following the FDA's emergency use authorization Friday.

CDC Director Robert Redfield has to sign off on the advisory panel's recommendation before the shots can be administered. Hahn said he expects Redfield will make his decision soon.

"He is certainly on top of this and has a lot of confidence in the process particularly with ACIP, I'm sure we will be hearing very soon about this," Hahn said, referring to the advisory panel.

— Spencer Kimball

'Good Sunday morning — Here's a scene we've all been waiting for'

189 packages containing vaccine leave Michigan facility

Trucks carrying the first shipment of the Covid-19 vaccine that is being escorted by the US Marshals Service, leave Pfizer's Global Supply facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan on December 13, 2020.
Jeff Kowlasky | AFP | Getty Images

The first shipments in the U.S. of the vaccine are now out for delivery.

Trucks carrying boxes containing vaccine doses left Pfizer's manufacturing facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan and are expected to arrive on Monday, according to Pfizer.

189 boxes are shipping to sites across all 50 states and 4 boxes will ship to U.S. territories.

Another 400 boxes will be shipped on Monday with delivery expected Tuesday, Pfizer said.

— Spencer Kimball