“We need to take a moment, I think, and just consider that we are having this mass casualty event every day here in the US, but now we have this vaccine developed in record time that can in time really save us and save our country and save the world from this awful pandemic,” emergency physician Dr. Leana Wen told CNN’s Chris Cuomo moments after the authorization.
The news comes during the most difficult weeks the US has faced since the pandemic’s start. Friday saw the highest number of new cases, hospitalizations and daily deaths since the pandemic’s start. More than 3,300 American deaths were reported.
FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn called the EUA a “significant milestone” in battling the pandemic, that comes after an “open and transparent review process that included input from independent scientific and public health experts and a thorough evaluation by the agency’s career scientists.”
There are just two key steps left before vaccinations can start: a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory committee — scheduled to meet Saturday morning — must vote to recommend the vaccine and the agency must then accept that recommendation.
Then, vaccinations can begin. But it’ll be months before most Americans will get a vaccine.
Officials “remain confident,” he added, that there will be enough doses for any American who wants to get vaccinated by summertime.
In the meantime, the US — already ravaged by a rampant spread of the virus — is projected to face brutal days ahead.
Overburdened hospitals across the US
The country reported more than 231,700 new Covid-19 infections Friday — the most ever.
Hospitals in nearly every corner of the country have felt the impact. HHS data shows more than 85% of hospitals nationwide had more Covid-19 patients last week than they did a month ago and overall, about one in five hospital inpatients were confirmed to have Covid-19 last week — nearly double from a month earlier.
In the country’s 10 largest cities, the share of hospital patients who had the virus ranged from about 9% in New York to 23% in Chicago. Meanwhile in El Paso, Texas, more than 50% of patients in city hospitals had Covid-19 between November 27 and December 3. That’s nearly double the national average for that period.
In Mississippi, the state’s top health official said Friday ICUs are full and “many hospitalizations (are) on the way.” Elective surgeries requiring hospitalization must be delayed starting Tuesday, State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said on Twitter.
‘Unprecedented and catastrophic suffering’
The rise in hospitalized Covid-19 patients nationwide has been followed by climbing death tolls. More than 3,300 American deaths were reported Friday, marking the deadliest day since the pandemic’s start. The country’s previous record was set Wednesday, with more than 3,100 deaths.
The next three months will be “really rough,” CDC’s director warned, even with a vaccine becoming available soon.
“For the next 60 to 90 days, we’re going to have more deaths per day than we had in 9/11,” Dr. Robert Redfield said Thursday. “This is going to be a real unfortunate loss of life, as all that we’ve had so far.”
And it’s a reality that a vaccine authorization won’t impact, he added.
In California, Los Angeles County Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer gave a grim warning about the coming weeks, after announcing the county has doubled its number of new cases in about 10 days.
“The issue right now is what we call the Thanksgiving surge,” Ferrer said. “We had a surge, and now we have a surge on top of a surge, and it’s really hard for us to calculate exactly what we’re going to see in the next week or two.”
The county, she said, is in “uncharted territory,” with case numbers and hospitalizations that “we have not experienced and frankly did not anticipate.”
“We’re on a very dangerous track to see unprecedented and catastrophic suffering and death here in L.A. County if we can’t stop the surge,” Ferrer said.
FAA urges all airports to be ready for vaccine flights
Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration has urged airports nationwide to be ready for flights carrying the Covid-19 vaccine even if the airport is not scheduled to receive it.
On Thursday, the agency told CNN it would direct air traffic controllers to give priority clearance to flights carrying the vaccine.
States will receive shipments of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine once a week to begin with after the shots are rolled out, Operation Warp Speed Chief Adviser Moncef Slaoui said Friday.
“The plan is to ship vaccines once a week and to inform the governors a week in advance about the number of doses they will be receiving,” Slaoui told CNN. “Those vaccines … are meant to be used in full in the population during that period of a week because the same states will receive an identical number of doses in the case of Pfizer’s vaccine three weeks later to give as a second dose to give to the recipients of the first dose earlier,” he said.
The number of vaccines will increase “week on week,” he added, as manufacturing ramps up.
And if the Moderna vaccine is authorized, he said, “that would be quite a significant boost of vaccine to be distributed.” Vaccine advisers to the FDA will meet next week to discuss an EUA for Moderna’s vaccine.
CNN’s Shelby Lin Erdman, Pete Muntean, Alta Spells, Haley Brink, Greg Wallace, Kay Jones, Deidre McPhillips and Andrea Diaz contributed to this report.