Health and Science

Biden Covid advisor challenges Cuomo's letter to buy vaccine directly from Pfizer

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Key Points
  • Cuomo sent a letter to Pfizer asking if New York state could buy vaccines directly from the company.
  • Biden advisor Dr. Celine Gounder said Cuomo's request could cause more problems than it solves.
  • Gounder said the U.S. is in "our fifth peak right now" and that the next few months will be all about "layering protections" to avoid a sixth one.
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Signs of a Covid peak, getting back to normal life

An advisor to President-elect Joe Biden on Covid slammed the Trump administration's piecemeal response to the pandemic as states scramble to get the vaccine doses they need.

“I think we've already had too much of a patchwork response across the states," Dr. Celine Gounder said Monday evening in an interview on CNBC's "The News with Shepard Smith."

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday said the federal government is sending his state 50,000 fewer doses of the vaccine than the previous week. The reduced number comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Jan. 12 expanded vaccine eligibility to anyone over age of 65.

On Monday, Cuomo sent a letter to Pfizer asking if the state of New York could buy vaccines directly from the company. Last week, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer made a similar request to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

Gounder, a member of Biden's Covid Advisory Board, told Smith that this approach could cause more problems than it solves. 

"I think Governor Cuomo, himself, had said back in the spring that the situation around ventilators was essentially 'one big eBay' with all of the states bidding against one another for ventilators, and I think this kind of an approach to vaccine allocation is going to result, frankly, in the same kind of situation that he, himself, was criticizing last spring," Gounder said. 

Data from the CDC shows that the U.S. is averaging about 900,000 vaccinations per day. During an interview with Fox News, Azar cited the CDC number and criticized the Biden administration's goal of "100 million shots in arms in the first 100 days."

"We will have distributed 250 million doses of vaccine by the end of April," said Azar. "If they’ve only done 100 million vaccinations by then, it will be a tragic squandering of the opportunity that we have handed them."

Gounder, an epidemiologist at NYU, qualified Azar's statement, noting that distribution did not mean actual injections of the vaccine. 

"We've seen, though, that one, distribution is very different from getting shots in arms, that that last mile of delivery is really the hardest part here," Gounder said. "Secondly, we have yet to confirm that those number of doses, that 250 million number that he's quoting there, is really going to pan out."

In a letter to Azar, Cuomo blasted the HHS secretary for "confusing" the public about vaccine stockpiles. Azar admitted on Friday that no stockpile exists.

Biden advisor Dr. Michael Osterholm warned that the worst of the Covid pandemic is yet to come, and the data backs up his grim prediction. The U.S. is rapidly approaching 400,000 deaths in the pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins University data. That's equivalent to roughly 1 in 822 Americans. For 19 consecutive days, there have been at least 23,000 people in ICUs due to Covid in the U.S., according to the COVID Tracking Project. The HHS reported that nearly 80% of ICU beds are occupied nationwide. 

Gounder said the U.S. is in "our fifth peak right now" and that the next few months will be all about "layering protections" to avoid a sixth one. 

"We really do have to double down on things like masking and social distancing, outdoors instead of indoors, well-ventilated spaces," Gounder warned. "If we do those things, then, yes, this may be our last peak, but it really depends on each and every one of us doing what needs to be done to get back to normal life."