Two additional vaccines for Covid-19 may be authorized for use in the US in the coming months as the country tries to deal with record hospitalizations and deaths.
The Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine that the United Kingdom approved for use on Wednesday may be authorized for emergency use in the US in April, according to Moncef Slaoui, chief scientific adviser for Operation Warp Speed.
That vaccine is in Phase 3 trials in the US, Slaoui said, and the vaccine is being manufactured ahead of the potential authorization.
“If everything goes well, that read-out and emergency use authorization may be granted somewhere early in April,” he added. “By that time, several tens of millions of doses of this vaccine will have been manufactured.”
In addition, Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine may be authorized for emergency use in February and could be a “game changer” for the US, Slaoui said. Phase 3 trial recruitment for this vaccine has been completed.
“We feel more and more confident that readout of efficacy will take place during the month of January, and very likely an EUA submission will take place during the month of January,” said Slaoui.
The US has already authorized the use of two vaccines — one from Pfizer/BioNTech and one from Moderna — and distributed 12.4 million doses. So far, nearly 2.6 million doses have been administered, a total well short of earlier promises at this point.
The vaccinations, and the reinforcements potentially on the way, come at a critical time. The US set two more devastating Covid-19 records as it counted down the hours to the end of what has been a calamitous year.
On Tuesday, the US recorded more than 3,700 deaths linked to the virus, a chilling new high. The US also reported the most Covid-19 hospitalizations, with more than 124,600 patients nationwide, according to the Covid Tracking Project.
Surge of hospitalizations across country
On a state level, Texas officials reported record-high hospitalizations Tuesday, with more than 11,700 Covid-19 patients across the state, while Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said a temporary hospital with an additional 60 beds could open within the next few days.
In Los Angeles County, hospitalizations are at an all-time high and nearing 7,200, almost 1,000% up from just two months ago. With the surge in patients, some hospitals are running out of oxygen tanks.
“I actually think we’re now beyond waves or surges and this is a viral tsunami that we are now experiencing,” epidemiologist Dr. Robert Kim-Farley said.
Ambulances are sometimes waiting with patients — with Covid-19 or other problems — outside hospitals, the county’s department of health services said.
“The demand is leading to lines of ambulances waiting to offload patients and hospitals having to open up new areas to treat patients,” an emailed statement said. “We expect the ambulance diversion to continue as numbers of COVID-19 cases — and the numbers of people needing hospital care — continue to rise.”
On Monday alone, more than 1.1 million people passed through airport security checkpoints across the country, the Transportation Security Administration said.
“The next couple of months are going to be awful,” said Dr. Jonathan Reiner, professor of medicine at George Washington University. “We’re going to lose 3,000, maybe more people a day, probably until we’re well into February. And then, we should start to see some light.”
And while the ongoing vaccinations continue to offer hope, the process is taking longer than many health officials hoped, and it likely be months before the country will begin to see a meaningful impact, experts said.
Vaccinations slower than officials hoped
Government officials had initially promised at least 20 million vaccine doses would be administered by the end of December, but just days away from the end of the year, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows about 12.4 million doses have been distributed and nearly 2.6 million have been administered.
Trump administration officials told CNN that vaccine distribution is on track and blamed the gap on a lag in reporting data. Still, Slaoui acknowledged the number is “lower than what we hoped for.”
“We know that it should be better, and we’re working hard to make it better,” Slaoui said.
The country’s current vaccination numbers are certainly not where “we wanted to be at the end of December,” Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN.
“Even if you undercount … how much undercount could it be? So we are below where we want to be,” said Fauci, the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “I believe that as we get into January, we are going to see an increase in the momentum which … I hope allows us to catch up to the projected pace that we had spoken about.”
The quicker that happens, the quicker the country can begin to approach an “open season” of vaccinations, where vaccines can become widely available to the American public, Fauci said.
“When you get to the point, where you can essentially say anybody and everybody who wants to be vaccinated can be vaccinated, that’s when you really turn around the dynamics of the outbreak,” he added.
UK variant discovered in Colorado and California
Health officials in a Colorado county believe they’ve found a second case of a coronavirus variant from the United Kingdom — one that experts have said may be especially contagious — a county public health director said Wednesday.
The news came a day after the first known case of the variant in the US was announced in Colorado’s Elbert County. Both the confirmed case and the suspected instance involve men who work at the Good Samaritan Society assisted living facility in Simla, about 45 miles northeast of Colorado Springs, county health director Dwayne Smith told CNN.
“There is a lot we don’t know about this new Covid-19 variant, but scientists in the United Kingdom are warning the world that it is significantly more contagious,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said in a statement.
And the variant is “almost certainly” in multiple states, according to one expert.
“I think we will be seeing evidence of that in the days to come,” said Dr. Atul Gawande, a member of the Biden-Harris transition Covid-19 advisory board.
“Exactly how prevalent it is, is the real question,” he added. “If it’s been spreading, how, how dominant is it?”
“We know it is a more contagious variant and that’s a serious concern if it is only just now beginning to spread, given that our hospitals and ICUs, in particular, are already being filled.”
In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom said the variant has been discovered in the southern part of his state.
At least 26 countries have so far reported cases of the variant, per CNN reporting.