Pandemic Pandemonium: FDA Approves Vaccine As Cases, Deaths Soar

Photo courtesy of Agence France-Presse.

By Terrance Turner

Dec. 11, 2020 (UPDATED: Dec. 17)

Tonight, the COVID-19 pandemic hit new, disturbing highs. The New York Times reports: “The nation set single-day records on Wednesday for reported deaths, with more than 3,600, and for newly reported cases, more than 245,000.” The Times added: “Three times as many more people in the United States are dying each day now than three months ago, and the number of new cases is six times what it was then.” ABC News confirmed this disturbing case count, adding that the U.S. has broken hospitalization records each day for the past 11 days.

The Times also revealed: “In the past week, just over 30 percent of the nation’s coronavirus-related deaths were reported in the South, and nearly 30 percent in the Midwest.” The pandemic’s toll is also ravaging the West. California, the nation’s most populous state, is facing a deluge of cases. NPR states: “California reported 52,281 new daily confirmed coronavirus cases and 379 new virus-related deaths, according to state data. This brings the state’s total number of cases to more than 1.7 million, with 21,860 deaths since the pandemic began.”

Worse yet, the number of hospitalizations in California has broken records every day for 18 consecutive days. The impact on hospitals is particularly grave in Southern California: there are 0 ICU beds available, per ABC News. NPR confirms that no intensive care unit beds are available

BREAKING (Dec. 11, 8:26 pm): The FDA has approved the Pfizer vaccine for emergency use. An initial shipment of about 2.9 million doses will be sent around the United States over the next week, according to the New York Times. The first week’s batch will be delivered to health care workers and nursing home residents as quickly as possible, all while keeping the vaccine at ultracold temperatures.

This news comes after White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn, to consider looking for his next job if he didn’t get the emergency approval done Friday, according to a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity since he was not authorized to discuss the matter. Dr. Hahn ordered vaccine regulators at the agency to do it by the end of the day.

This rapid turnaround comes after the New York Times reported the White House turned down an offer of vaccine doses months ago. Pfizer sold the U.S. government 100 million doses, purchased by the Health and Human Services Dept. In July, the government was given the option to request 100 million to 500 million additional doses. But despite repeated warnings from Pfizer officials that demand could vastly outstrip supply and urges to pre-order more doses, the Trump administration turned down the offer. The Washington Post cited an official who cited pending FDA approval as the reason for the rejection. But by the time FDA approval was granted and federal officials reached back out, Pfizer had committed doses to other countries, the Post says.

The United States reported 107,248 hospitalizations of COVID-19 yesterday — a new record high. According to CNN, Dec. 10 is the ninth consecutive day that the U.S. has had more than 100,000 hospitalizations. The death toll topped 3,000 yesterday for the first time, according to Johns Hopkins University. (CNN’s Anderson Cooper said tonight that an additional 2,700 deaths were reported nationwide today.) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention forecasts up to 362,000 deaths in the U.S. by Jan. 2. That’s almost the entire population of Cleveland.

At this point, the United States has recorded 291,754 deaths from COVID-19 — more than the number of Americans killed during World War II. That was the bloodiest war in human history, according to Business Insider. (Interestingly, this week marked the 79th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, which caused the U.S. to enter the war. Much like Dec. 7, 1941, Dec. 10, 2020 is a day that may well “live in infamy”.)

But the vaccine’s approval today (Dec. 11) marks a historic development. The FDA announced the news in a press release tonight that explained how the vaccine works. “The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine contains messenger RNA (mRNA), which is genetic material. The vaccine contains a small piece of the SARS-CoV-2 virus’s mRNA that instructs cells in the body to make the virus’s distinctive “spike” protein. When a person receives this vaccine, their body produces copies of the spike protein, which does not cause disease, but triggers the immune system to learn to react defensively, producing an immune response against SARS-CoV-2.”  

Yesterday, the Food and Drug Administration voted 17-4 in favor of an emergency use authorization for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. The dissidents were concerned about the effects of the vaccine on 16- and 17-year-olds, according to NBC News. They also have concerns about the impact on pregnant women. Still, the majority of the FDA commission voted yes.

The vaccine “measures reducing symptomatic illness”, thus keeping patients from becoming gravely ill, according to CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen. But she added that it is not clear yet whether the vaccine prevents one from contracting the virus. She told Anderson Cooper that people should still be vigilant: “They should still be wearing a mask. They should still be social distancing.”

While the virus continues to rage, the president of the United States is working overtime to win an election he lost (when he’s not hosting holiday parties). Today, the Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit filed by Texas’ attorney general that sought to invalidate some 20 million votes. The Houston Chronicle reports: “In a one-page ruling, the justices said Texas lacked standing to bring the case and therefore they would not consider it. The suit, brought by Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton, targeted Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and alleged that changes made to election policies without state legislature approval were unconstitutional and allowed voter fraud to occur, though he did not offer evidence of that.”

“The State of Texas’s motion for leave to file a bill of complaint is denied for lack of standing under Article III of the Constitution,” the Court said. The Supreme Court — stacked with three justices personally appointed by President Trump — rejected his bid to undo the election. And so ends a monthlong effort, involving some 30 lawsuits, to overrule the will of the people.

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