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Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said during a White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing that Pfizer plans to ask the FDA for emergency approval of its COVID-19 vaccine on Friday. promises
Members of the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force said that the Strategic National Stockpile has grown and is ready to shore up personal protective equipment supplies for hospitals facing surges of COVID-19.
The task force gave its first briefing in months on Thursday on the heels of reports of COVID-19 positivity rates increasing across the country.
“This is more cases, more rapidly than what we have seen before,” said Deborah Birx, M.D., coronavirus response director.
The task force noted that the test positivity rate, a key indicator of community spread, is on average 10% across the country. That’s up from 5% just 30 days ago.
Birx said a big driver of the community spread is a large number of asymptomatic cases.
“This virus increased so rapidly because there was an unusual cold snap that began in the northern plains and went down through the heartland, where at the end of September-beginning of October a large number of people moved indoors,” she said.
She noted that the task force has better data on hospital admissions for COVID-19.
Right now, the cases are split evenly between people aged 40 to 69 and those 70 and over.
The task force emphasized that it has grown the Strategic National Stockpile, filling it with key medical devices such as ventilators and PPE that were in short supply at the onset of the pandemic.
“Since the late summer, we have grown our PPE capabilities 10-15 times over what they were pre-COVID,” said General David Sanford, deputy director of the supply chain task force.
He said that the stockpile has a four-month surge capacity for N95 masks, which is the ability to manage a sudden need for the PPE.
Sanford added that the task force is continuing to add to that capacity.
The briefing took place after announcements from Pfizer and Moderna that their separate COVID-19 vaccine candidates were more than 90% effective.
Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Pfizer is planning to ask for an emergency approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Friday, and Moderna will do so in the near future.
Leaders of Operation Warp Speed, a White House initiative that has been funding vaccine development and distribution, expect to ship the first doses of an approved vaccine 24 hours after the FDA clears it.
General David Perna, co-chair of Operation Warp Speed, said at the briefing that the vaccine will be distributed at a series of places that run from doctors’ offices and hospitals to community health centers, among others.
“We want the vaccines down at the places where the American people are comfortable: at our hospitals, doctors’ offices, down at CVS, Walgreens and long-term healthcare facilities,” Perna said.
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