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WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has announced that a second coronavirus vaccine will begin shipment this week, with a total of nearly 8 million doses of the two federally approved vaccines to be distributed ahead of the Christmas holiday.
“We are now on offense against the virus,” Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said at a Monday media event on Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s initiative to develop and distribute a coronavirus vaccine.
The developments came as a variant of the coronavirus has recently emerged in Britain, causing public health experts to worry about its potentially higher rate of transmissibility. Yet while the new strain does appear to spread more readily than the one currently circulating in the United States, Dr. Moncef Slaoui, the top scientist for Operation Warp Speed, said the mutation did not cause the virus to become “more pathogenic,” meaning that people would not get more sick, or become more likely to die, if they contracted the mutated version.
Slaoui said vaccines had been manufactured with potential mutations in mind, meaning that the British variant’s ability to escape the vaccine’s protective response would likely be extremely low.
Operation Warp Speed director Gen. Gustave Perna, who over the weekend took responsibility for logistical errors involving initial vaccine shipments, said that 7.9 million doses of the vaccine were about to be shipped in the coming days: 5.9 million doses of the newly approved Moderna vaccine and 2 million doses of the vaccine manufactured by Pfizer, the first to gain approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
The Moderna vaccine will be shipped to 3,500 sites, while the Pfizer vaccine — which requires much colder temperatures for storage and transportation — will be shipped to 1,000 locations.
Azar will take the Moderna vaccine later this week. Vice President Mike Pence was given the vaccine last week, and President-elect Joe Biden followed today. It is unclear if or when President Trump would be vaccinated. He contracted the coronavirus in October and received treatment at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Trump had touted the promise of an effective vaccine almost as soon as the pandemic began. And though several highly efficacious vaccines have been developed in record time, in recent weeks the president has focused instead on his claims of voter fraud, which have been rejected repeatedly by the courts as well as Republican and Democratic state officials, not to mention his own attorney general.
Speaking on Monday, Azar reiterated that he believed 20 million people would be vaccinated by the end of the year. He said that by the end of February there would be 100 million “shots in arms,” meaning people receiving either a first or second dose of a vaccine.
Biden has offered a more cautious timeline, saying earlier this month that those 100 million shots would come during the first 100 days of his presidency, suggesting that the effort may not conclude until April.
And while Azar told reporters that “generalized vaccination programs” for those not in either critical fields or vulnerable populations could begin as early as March, the incoming administration appears to be more cautious.
Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, incoming U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said widespread vaccination would not take place until “midsummer or early fall.”
Murthy said it was important to be “realistic about the timeline.”
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