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HHS secretary anticipating 'general vaccination' programs by spring

HHS secretary anticipating 'general vaccination' programs by spring

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar said early Tuesday that a COVID-19 vaccine could be widely available to the general public by the spring of 2021. 

In an appearance on NBC’s “Today” show, Azar said that Pfizer, which announced Monday that late-stage clinical trial data showed its vaccine candidate to be 90 percent effective, will be delivering 20 million doses each month starting at the end of November. 

“We have anticipated that we will have enough vaccine by the end of December to have vaccinated our most vulnerable citizens in nursing homes and otherwise,” Azar added. “And by the end of January, enough for all health care workers and first responders, and enough for all Americans by the end of March to early April to have general vaccination programs.” 

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Azar also promoted the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) emergency use authorization of the monoclonal antibody bamlanivimab, Eli Lilly’s treatment for people at risk of developing severe complications from the coronavirus. 

As of Tuesday morning, there have been a total of approximately 50.9 million cases of COVID-19 globally, with more than 10.1 million in the United States alone, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University

On Monday, Pfizer announced that its candidate vaccine, which requires two doses, achieved protection in individuals tested 28 days after the first dose. The company added that it hopes to have the amount of safety data required for FDA emergency use authorization by the third week of November.

“We are reaching this critical milestone in our vaccine development program at a time when the world needs it most with infection rates setting new records, hospitals nearing over-capacity and economies struggling to reopen,” Pfizer Chairman and CEO Albert Bourla said in a statement.

Unlike other pharmaceutical companies developing coronavirus vaccines, Pfizer did not receive money from the Trump administration's Operation Warp Speed for research and development, but it did receive roughly $2 billion from the program to purchase doses of the vaccine.

Alejandro Cané, a vaccine official at Pfizer, told The Hill on Monday that the company plans to have a total of 100 million doses of vaccine available in the U.S. from December through March.

The FDA had set a minimum of 50 percent effectiveness for a vaccine to be approved, which Pfizer surpassed with its reported 90 percent effectiveness. However, emergency use authorization would depend on the company’s full data on effectiveness, which has yet to be released.