Briefs: Vaccines start 'Monday or Tuesday'

Time magazine's 'Person of the Year' for 2020. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris holds hands with President-elect Joe Biden and her husband Doug Emhoff as they celebrate Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Associated Press

One-day US deaths top 3,000, more than D-Day or 9/11

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar told "Good Morning America" that the FDA will grant emergency use to the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

"We could see people getting vaccinated Monday, Tuesday of next week," Azar said.

A U.S. government advisory panel endorsed widespread use of Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine Thursday, putting the country just one step away from launching an epic vaccination campaign against the outbreak that has killed close to 300,000 Americans.  

"This is a light at the end of the long tunnel of this pandemic," declared Dr. Sally Goza, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

In a 17-4 vote with one abstention, the government advisers concluded that the vaccine from Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech appears safe and effective for emergency use in adults and teenagers 16 and over.

That endorsement came despite questions about allergic reactions in two people who received the vaccine earlier this week when Britain became the first country to begin dispensing the Pfizer-BioNTech shot.

One-day US deaths top 3,000, more than D-Day or 9/11

MISSION, Kan. — Just when the U.S. appears on the verge of rolling out a COVID-19 vaccine, the numbers have become gloomier than ever: Over 3,000 American deaths in a single day, more than on D-Day or 9/11. One million new cases in the span of five days. More than 106,000 people in the hospital.

The crisis across the country is pushing medical centers to the breaking point and leaving staff members and public health officials burned out and plagued by tears and nightmares.

All told, the crisis has left more than 290,000 people dead nationwide, with more than 15.5 million confirmed infections.

The U.S. recorded 3,124 deaths Wednesday, the highest one-day total yet, according to Johns Hopkins University. Up until last week, the peak was 2,603 deaths on April 15, when New York City was the epicenter of the nation's outbreak. The latest number is subject to revision up or down.

Wednesday's toll eclipsed American deaths on the opening day of the Normandy invasion during World War II: 2,500, out of some 4,400 Allied dead. And it topped the toll on Sept. 11, 2001: 2,977.

'Such is life': In virus wards, death is a foe but a fact

PARIS — During their daily morning round of the intensive care unit, hospital staffers and medical students pause outside room No. 10, abruptly emptied of the patient who lost his nearly month-long battle against COVID-19 the previous evening. 

The man died at 6:12 p.m., the medic leading the briefing tells the group. There is a short hush. And then they walk on.

Even for ICU workers for whom death is a constant — and never more so than this year — witnessing the loss of a fellow human being to the virus can be a churn of emotions. 

For their own good and for their patients, they try to remain detached. They have coping mechanisms. Meditation or talking helps for some. For others, tending the body of a patient who could not be saved is part of moving on. Because the living require their attention, and there will always be other deaths to deal with, simply functioning requires not becoming overwhelmed. 

But calibrating their relationship with death isn't easy. Some worry they could be seen as callous if they're too matter-of-fact or, conversely, that emotions could hurt them if they get too involved. Some days they manage better than others. Sometimes they feel the need to confide to the ICU's in-house psychologist, in a rage, in tears, in need of her hot tea and understanding.

India vaccine maker sees virus as wake-up call

NEW DELHI — The coronavirus pandemic is a "wake up call" for governments to invest more in health care, says Adar Poonawalla, CEO of the Serum Institute of India, the world's largest manufacturer of vaccines.

The Serum Institute has taken on a vital role as the largest company licensed to manufacture the Oxford University-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine. It is increasing its production capacity by the end of 2021 to over 2.5 billion doses a year to cope with future disease outbreaks, Poonawalla said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. 

Poonawalla's company now has an annual capacity of 1.5 billion doses. That is more than the billion doses that China, home to the most vaccine makers in the world, says it manufactures in a year. 

Looking beyond the pandemic, he said he anticipates more diseases jumping from animal to human hosts, driving huge demand for vaccines, so the extra capacity is likely to be useful in coming decades. 

"I think (the demand) is going to keep growing even more exponentially, compared to the last five or ten years," Poonawalla said Wednesday. 

Obama reunion? Biden fills Cabinet with former WH leaders

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden is getting the old gang back together.

Increasingly deep into the process of selecting Cabinet members and other senior staff, the incoming Biden administration has a distinctly Obama feel.

There's Denis McDonough, former President Barack Obama's chief of staff who Biden announced on Thursday would be nominated as the secretary of veterans affairs. Susan Rice, Obama's former national security adviser, was named the director of Biden's White House Domestic Policy Council.

That's on top of Biden already tapping Obama's agriculture secretary, Tom Vilsack, to head the department once again, former Secretary of State John Kerry to serve as special envoy on climate and Kerry's Obama-era deputy Antony Blinken to lead the State Department. Jeff Zients, who did stints as acting Office of Management and Budget director and a top economic adviser in the Obama White House, will return as Biden's coronavirus response coordinator.

With the exception of President Donald Trump, a political outsider when he was elected in 2016, recent new presidents have relied heavily on pools of talent that had cut their teeth in their parties' previous administrations to fill out their own government. But Biden, who is assuming the presidency in the midst of the worst public health crisis in a century and a flagging economy, is putting a greater premium on past experience and, as a result, has gone frequently back to the Obama well as he fills out his government.

Congress stuck, McConnell resists state aid in COVID-19 deal

WASHINGTON — An emerging $900 billion COVID-19 aid package from a bipartisan group of lawmakers has all but collapsed after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Republican senators won't support $160 billion in state and local funds as part of a potential trade-off in the deal.

McConnell's staff conveyed to top negotiators Thursday that the GOP leader sees no path to an agreement on a key aspect of the lawmakers' existing proposal — a slimmed-down version of the liability shield he is seeking for companies and organizations facing potential COVID-19 lawsuits — in exchange for the state and local funds that Democrats want.

The GOP leader criticized "controversial state bailouts" during a speech in the Senate, as he insists on a more targeted aid package.

The hardened stance from McConnell, who does not appear to have enough votes from his Republican majority for a far-reaching compromise, creates a new stalemate over the $900-billion-plus package, despite days of toiling by a bipartisan group of lawmakers to strike compromise.

Other legislative pile-ups now threaten Friday's related business — a must-pass government funding bill. If it doesn't clear Congress, that would trigger a federal government shutdown on Saturday.

California's health order falling on many deaf ears

MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. — In the Southern California oceanside city of Manhattan Beach, one arm of government is urging residents to stay home except for essential needs while another is encouraging them to get out and shop and even providing places where they can sit down to relax, eat takeout and watch the sun set on the Pacific. 

It's one example of confusing messages from governments as most of California is under a broad shutdown order that includes an overnight curfew to try to stem record-breaking coronavirus cases that threaten to overwhelm the hospital system.

While state and county health officials are pleading with residents to stay home and only mingle with those in their household, the order allows all retailers to remain open with 20 percent capacity and encourages people to get outside to exercise. 

Manhattan Beach Mayor Suzanne Hadley said her community saw an opportunity to aid local businesses while meeting the stipulations of the order. The solution: repurposing city-owned patio areas set up to allow restaurants to serve diners outdoors -- which no longer is allowed -- into "public seating areas" where downtown shoppers can relax. 

"Shopping for a Christmas gift, buying a to-go meal, watching a sunset are allowed, and even the outdoor activities are encouraged by the state," she said.

Biden, Harris named Time magazine's 'Person of the Year'

Time magazine has named President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris its "Person of the Year."

Time's editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal says Biden and Harris won the honor for "changing the American story, for showing that the forces of empathy are greater than the furies of division, for sharing a vision of healing in a grieving world."

Felsenthal notes, "Every elected President since FDR has at some point during his term been a Person of the Year, nearly a dozen of those in a presidential election year. This is the first time we have included a Vice President."

Time's other Person of the Year candidates were President Donald Trump; frontline health care workers and Dr. Anthony Fauci; and the movement for racial justice. 

Also Thursday, Time named the Korean boy band BTS its Entertainer of the Year and named Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James its Athlete of the Year.

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