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Officials anticipate COVID-19 vaccine while warning of dire months ahead

Bonnie Cash

Officials in President Trump’s administration are anticipating the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to become available this month, but at the same time, they are cautioning that the U.S. is expected to endure a dire winter. 

Trump administration officials and advisers pleaded with the public on the Sunday morning political shows to follow coronavirus measures, saying a lack of adherence to the recommendations, such as mask wearing and social distancing, is resulting in skyrocketing cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

{mosads}Health and Human Services Secretary (HHS) Alex Azar told “Fox News Sunday” that spikes related to COVID-19 are related to “behavior” as Americans are “going indoors,” “not wearing their face coverings,” and “engaged in indoor behaviors” that are allowing the virus to spread. 

“We need people to renew their commitment,” Azar said. 

The HHS secretary countered Fox News’s Chris Wallace’s question on whether Trump’s rhetoric on masks throughout the pandemic made it worse, showing a clip of the president who has rarely worn a mask calling the practice “voluntary.”

“The president has called masks patriotic acts, everyone of his advisers are out there wearing masks,” Azar responded. “Our advice is the same regardless of the setting.”

Azar also told ABC News’s “This Week” that the administration is “quite concerned” about the coronavirus spread and the impending spike of cases, hospitalizations and deaths caused by Thanksgiving gatherings along with the holidays ahead.

“We’re worried about people and the behavior coming up at Christmas,” he said. “We want to make sure everyone’s loved ones are there next Christmas.”

Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House’s coronavirus task force, called it “frustrating” on NBC News’s “Meet the Press” to hear the public “parrot back” false information about COVID-19, including that masks do not work. 

“I hear community members parroting back those situations, parroting back that masks don’t work, parroting back that we should work towards herd immunity, parroting back that gatherings don’t result in super-spreading events,” she said. 

“And I think our job is to constantly say those are myths,” she added. “They are wrong, and you can see the evidence base.”

The health officials’ comments come as the number of coronavirus cases confirmed in a day reached a high of almost 228,000 new cases on Friday, according to Johns Hopkins University. 

The U.S. passed the grim milestone last week with more than 100,000 people currently hospitalized for COVID-19. As of Sunday early afternoon, 101,190 patients were hospitalized, 19,950 were in the intensive care unit and 7,005 were on ventilators, according to The COVID Tracking Project

The country is also documenting more than 2,000 COVID-19-related fatalities per day since last Tuesday. These increases also do not account for the likely spikes caused by Thanksgiving gatherings across the country.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield cautioned this week that the winter could bring the “most difficult time in the public health history of this nation.”

But officials did express some optimism on Sunday about the vaccine, with Operation Warp Speed chief adviser Moncef Slaoui predicting on CBS’s “Face The Nation” that life may return to normal by April and May as the vaccine becomes widely available. 

“I think we may start to see some impact on the most susceptible people probably in the month of January and February, but on a population basis, for our lives to start getting back to normal, we’re talking about April or May,” he said.

Still, he said, “it’s absolutely vital that everybody, A, take comfort in the fact that we have light at the end of the tunnel and find the energy in that to continue to wear our masks, distance, wash our hands, pay attention to what we are doing to make sure that we are there by the spring to benefit from the vaccine.”

Some Americans have expressed doubt in the vaccination development and distribution process, despite health officials, including Anthony Fauci, repeatedly ensuring that the vaccines expected to get emergency use authorization are effective and safe. 

In his interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Slaoui addressed the skepticism among minority communities about the COVID-19 vaccine by saying “Nobody’s being used as a guinea pig.” He called on minority populations, specifically Black and Latinx Americans, to participate in the clinical trials for the vaccine. 

“That will be very important to helping us convey to the minority population the safety and the efficacy of these vaccines,” he said.

Azar, Trump’s HHS secretary, rejected President-elect Joe Biden’s statement last week that there is not a plan for the vaccine’s distribution, labeling it as “nonsense” on “Fox News Sunday.”

Slaoui backed Azar on CNN’s “State of the Union,” saying there is a detailed plan, but his team has not yet had the chance to sit down with the Biden transition team, which he said he expects will happen “later this week.”

Tags Anthony Fauci Chris Wallace Coronavirus coronavirus deaths coronavirus hospitalizations coronavirus vaccine COVID-19 Deborah Birx Donald Trump Joe Biden Masks Pandemic Sunday shows Thanksgiving vaccine distribution winter
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