US Covid vaccine chief expects 100 million immunisations by March

Millions of the nation’s most vulnerable could receive vaccinations within months, but the CDC sees difficult winter ahead

A healthcare professional suits up with PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) to enter a Covid-19 patient's room in the ICU at Van Wert County Hospital in Van Wert, Ohio on November 20, 2020. As Covid-19 numbers spike across Ohio, rural hospitals and staff take on the rising number of patients being admitted. / AFP / Megan Jelinger
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The US reported a record of more than 200,000 new coronavirus cases for Wednesday, as the country’s vaccine chief Moncef Slaoui predicted that 100 million Americans could be vaccinated by the end of February.

There was also a record for Covid-19 hospital admissions across the country, topping 100,000 for the first time, The Washington Post reported.

This came as the head of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr Robert Redfield, predicted a dire winter ahead and advised Americans to avoid holiday travel.

“The reality is, December and January and February are going to be rough times,” Dr Redfield told the Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

Calling it “the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation”, he said the death toll “could be close to 450,000 Americans” by February.

“We’re in that range potentially now, starting to see 1,500 to 2,000 to 2,500 deaths a day from this virus,” Dr Redfield said.

The Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Centre put the Covid-19 death toll at 272,850 in the US on Wednesday, after the country on Tuesday registered its second highest single-day mortality figure of 2,597 deaths.

Hospitals across the US are stretched thin, caring for more than 98,600 patients with the virus, the university’s Covid tracking project said.

But Mr Slaoui, the top scientist advising the Trump administration, said he expected the Food and Drug Administration to approve at least one vaccine by the end of next week.

"We will have potentially immunised 100 million people [by March], which is really more or less the size of the significant at-risk population – the elderly, the healthcare workers, the first-line workers, people with co-morbidities," he said.

"I hope by the 10th or 11th of December, the Pfizer vaccine will be approved,” Mr Slaoui told ABC.

The Pfizer vaccine was approved in the UK on Wednesday.

“I would expect the FDA to reach a similar conclusion," he said. "The UK agency is a very, very high-level type of agency, comparable to the FDA in terms of its assessment."