Dec. 9 (UPI) -- As the United States added more than 200,000 COVID-19 cases and saw a spike in deaths, the Trump administration's top health official said Wednesday that Pfizer's vaccine should receive necessary approval within days.
Updated data from Johns Hopkins University shows there were about 215,900 new cases nationwide on Tuesday and more than 2,500 coronavirus deaths -- a spike of several hundred over Monday's death toll.
Tuesday's case total is the third-highest to date in the United States. Since the start of the pandemic, there have been about 15.3 million cases and 289,370 deaths nationwide, according to Johns Hopkins data.
Over the past week, the average for deaths per day is 2,200 -- a 45% increase over the previous week, according to health news website Stat.
There are more than 104,000 patients in U.S. hospitals, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told CNN Wednesday he expects the Food and Drug Administration could approve Pfizer's vaccine by the end of this week. The vaccine began distribution in Britain on Tuesday.
"Twenty million people should get vaccinated in just the next several weeks," Azar said. "And then we'll just keep rolling out vaccines through January, February, March as they come off the production lines."
Azar said the initial focus of the rollout will be healthcare workers and nursing home patients, and that the general public should start receiving doses in February and March.
The Defense Department will give an update Wednesday on plans to distribute the vaccine.
The FDA's Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee is scheduled to meet Thursday to discuss emergency authorization for Pfizer's vaccine, a key step required for distribution. The panel will consider a different vaccine candidate from Moderna next week.
Meanwhile, a study published Wednesday found that male COVID-19 patients are almost three times as likely to need intensive care and are at greater risk of death than women.
The findings, in the academic journal Nature Communications, appears to confirm anecdotal evidence that COVID-19 affects men more severely than women.
British and South African researchers examined 3 million cases across 46 countries.
"Gender-based socio-cultural and behavioral differences could contribute to the sex difference seen in COVID-19 disease severity," they wrote, adding that male patients were found to be more likely to smoke, less likely to wash their hands after visiting a restroom and more likely to visit crowded areas.