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U.S. vaccine chief sees 'light at the end of the tunnel' in spring

Chief adviser of the White House's vaccine distribution effort Operation Warp Speed Moncef Slaoui said he believes the general population in the United States will see their lives getting back to normal in the spring. File Photo by Pfizer/EPA-EFE  
Chief adviser of the White House's vaccine distribution effort Operation Warp Speed Moncef Slaoui said he believes the general population in the United States will see their lives "getting back to normal" in the spring. File Photo by Pfizer/EPA-EFE  

Dec. 6 (UPI) -- Moncef Slaoui, chief adviser of the White House's vaccine distribution effort Operation Warp Speed, said Sunday he sees a "light at the end of the tunnel" regarding the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Slaoui told CBS News' Face the Nation he expects a positive impact on "the most susceptible people" in the months of January and February while suggesting lives of those in the general population to begin "getting back to normal" in April or May.

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"Therefore it is absolutely vital that we have light at the end of the tunnel and find the energy in that to continue to wear our masks, distance, wash our hands, pay attention to what we're doing to make sure we're there by spring to benefit from the vaccine," he said.

The United States added 213,875 new cases of COVID-19 and 2,254 new deaths related to the virus on Saturday, with a total of 14,610,367 infections and a death toll of 281,347 since the start of the pandemic, according to data gathered by John's Hopkins University.

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Slaoui said he plans to meet with President-elect Joe Biden for the first time this week, praising Biden's plan to urge Americans to wear masks in his first 100 days in office.

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"I think it's a good idea, it's never too late. This pandemic is ravaging the country. We all need to take our precaution, wear our masks, wash our hands, keep our distance, remain aware that this virus is a killer," Slaoui told CNN's State of the Union.

The meeting comes after Biden on Friday said "there is no detailed plan that we've seen anyway, as to how you get the vaccine out of a container, into an injection syringe into somebody's arm."

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Slaoui pushed back against Biden's comments Sunday, saying there are videos and other explanations outlining Operation Warp Speed's plans.

"We plan to have all the ancillary material, the syringes, the needles, the swabs, everything co-localized with the vaccine. So, I think the plans are there," he said. "And I feel confident that once we will explain it, everything in detail, I hope the new transition teams will understand that things are well planned."

He added that the plan is for vaccines to ship immediately after authorization is granted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

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"If the vaccine is approved on the 10th or the 11th, the minute it's approved the shipments will start," said Slaoui. "And within, I would say, 36 hours from approval, potentially the first immunization could be taking place."

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Speaking on Fox News Sunday Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar also disputed Biden's statement that there was no clear plan for distributing a vaccine.

"With all respect, that's just nonsense," Azar said. "We have comprehensive plans from the CDC, working with 64 public health jurisdictions around the country."

California added a record 30,075 cases on Sunday as it leads the nation in cases with 1,341,700 cases since the start of the pandemic and has the third highest death toll at 19,876 after 85 new deaths.

About 33 million of the state's 39 million residents will be placed under new stay-at-home orders beginning Sunday evening. The orders call for the closure of bars, hair salons, museums, movie theaters and indoor recreational facilities, while retail businesses must maintain below 20% capacity and restaurants are limited to takeout and delivery.

Travel is also prohibited for all purposes except for essential activities. Schools and other critical infrastructure businesses that have been open for in-person operation may remain open, however.

Florida reported 8,436 new cases, after more than 10,000 for three consecutive days, for the third highest total in the nation at 1,058,074. The state also reported 93 deaths for a total of 19,423, fourth in the nation.

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Texas is second in cases with 1,240,750 and second in deaths with 22,502 as of Saturday.

New Jersey also reported a new record with 6,046 new cases bringing its total to 368,016, while also adding 16 new deaths for a death toll of 15,485.

New York reported 56 fatalities for a total of 27,149 confirmed deaths and 34,919 including probable. New cases were 9,702 for fifth place at 705,827.

Illinois is fourth in cases with 787,573, adding 7,598, as well as 76 more deaths in sixth place.

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