Wednesday brought more bad and good news as the US endures the 10th month of the coronavirus pandemic.
There was a trio of all-time highs in the data. A record number of new deaths – more than 3,500 – was reported Wednesday and there were more than 240,000 newly reported coronavirus cases. And the number of people in hospitals was at a high for the 11th day in a row.
The daunting numbers come on a day more people were vaccinated and we learned there is some evidence more doses of the vaccine can be derived from one vial than originally thought.
The Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine is shipped with five doses in each vial. But some pharmacists have found they can get six and possibly even seven doses from each one.
“FDA is aware of the issue and working with Pfizer to determine the best path forward, and will share additional updates as we have them,” an FDA spokeswoman told CNN.
She said the FDA says it is acceptable to squeeze additional doses out of leftover solution, “pending resolution of the issue.”
Right now hospital officials are vaccinating high-risk health care workers, and drug store chains CVS and Walgreens are helping to get shots to long-term care resident or staff members.
In Pompano Beach, an 88-year-old resident at a long-term care facility was administered the vaccine as Florida became one of the first states to inoculate the most vulnerable residents.
About 20 million people are expected to get their first shots by the end of this month. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said officials will soon provide a dashboard with the number of Covid-19 vaccinations completed, “so we know exactly how we’re doing on getting shots in arms.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday began to publish on its website the number of Pfizer vaccines allocated to each state. So far 2,980,575 doses of the vaccine have been allocated for delivery; another 2,943,525 are on hold for shipment when people need their second shots in three weeks.
Hospitalization record broken again
The United States has averaged more than 200,000 new coronavirus cases every day. And the US set another hospitalization record Wednesday: 113,069 patients nationwide, according to the Covid Tracking Project.
Just on Wednesday, California reported 41,081 cases – the most recorded by the state in a single day to date – as well as 12,630 cases from “several prior days” due to the implementation of an auto-processing feature, according to the state’s Department of Public Health.
California is one of 14 states where the seven-day average of new cases is at least 10% higher than the average was a week ago.
Vaccinations will ultimately change the country’s grim trajectory, but not for a few months, experts have said. Until then, experts say people should wear masks, avoid crowded indoor spaces and try to protect each other during this holiday season.
“What people need to know is, we are still at a dangerous and critical part of this pandemic, and tens of thousands of American lives are at stake, really, every week, and we can flatten the curve,” Adm. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health at HHS, told CNN’s John Berman.
A green light for a second Covid-19 vaccine in the US could be just days away and would bring 20 million more doses by the end of the month.
Food and Drug Administration vaccine advisers plan to meet Thursday to discuss Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine emergency use authorization. In expectation that the FDA will give the OK, vaccine advisers to the CDC also scheduled meetings for Saturday and Sunday to discuss Moderna’s vaccine candidate and talk about next phases of distribution.
Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine, which is very similar to Pfizer’s already authorized one, appears to be “very promising,” said Dr. Paul Offit, a member of the FDA’s vaccine advisory group.
“It looks to be roughly 95% effective at preventing disease, including 100% effective at severe disease, about 95% effective in preventing disease in people who are over 65, across different ethnic backgrounds, racial backgrounds,” Offit told CNN.
Remaining hospital bed numbers are shrinking
The devastating numbers prove the pandemic is still far from over – and the virus is running rampant within many American communities. Strained hospitals across the country continue to see a surge of patients and their available bed numbers dwindle.
Los Angeles County reported fewer than 100 intensive care unit beds remaining, an alarming new low for the nation’s most populous county.
“Even with a dramatic effort, we are still in for a very rough few weeks at least, and potentially through January,” said Dr. Christina Ghaly, the county health services director, attributing the surge to residents gathering over the Thanksgiving holiday despite repeated pleas to stay home.
“Our hospitals are under siege and our model shows no end in sight,” said Ghaly.
In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “the hospitalization rate is not good,” as the city reported about 2.89 hospitalizations per 100,000 people (officials want this number to be under 2).
He said hospitalization numbers are an “indicator of the bigger problem we’re still facing and we’re going to be fighting for weeks now.”
The numbers across the country could grow even higher if Americans opt to travel and gather unsafely for the upcoming holidays. Experts have for weeks warned against traditional celebrations to avoid further spread of the virus, which could in turn lead to another surge of cases.
Governors across the Northeast and Midwest issued a video encouraging Americans to “double down” on safety measures like masks and social distancing during the holiday season and to reconsider travel plans.
“This may be the most difficult time yet in our struggle with Covid-19, especially with the holidays approaching. Until the vaccine is available to everyone and until we eradicate this virus once and for all, we must continue working to protect one another,” the governors of Kentucky and Illinois said in a video message.
“If you’re planning to travel or gather with other households for the holidays, we urge you to reconsider,” Ohio’s governor added.
Health care worker has adverse reaction to vaccine
While the vast majority of vaccines have been administered without issue, Alaska officials confirmed that a health worker suffered an allergic reaction to Pfizer’s vaccine on Tuesday.
Doctors treated the worker, a middle-aged woman, and said she is in stable condition. She had no known history of severe allergic reactions to vaccines, doctors said.
Last week, two health care workers in the United Kingdom with histories of allergic reactions developed symptoms of anaphylactoid reaction after getting the Pfizer vaccine. UK health authorities later recommended that people with histories of allergic reactions should not get the Pfizer vaccine.
Dr. Anthony Fauci said that adverse reactions to any vaccine can be expected when it expands beyond a clinical trial.
“Once you decide to dispense the vaccine widely, you’re talking about millions and tens of millions and ultimately hundreds of millions of doses,” said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “So you may see reactions that you didn’t see in the clinical trial.”
The Alaska worker felt flushed within 10 minutes of receiving the vaccine, and later reported symptoms including shortness of breath and elevated heart rate.
According to Dr. Lindy Jones, an attending physician at Bartlett Memorial Hospital in Juneau where the worker was treated, she was held in the vaccine monitoring area immediately after receiving the shot and took Benadryl. After she reported shortness of breath, she was taken to the emergency room.
When Jones saw her in the hospital, she was experiencing shortness of breath and an elevated heart rate, and had developed a rash covering her face and torso, he said.
Jones told a news conference he gave her epinephrine, to which she “responded immediately.”
Over the course of the night, symptoms reemerged, but the health care worker responded to an epinephrine drip and steroids. By early in the morning the worker was weaned off epinephrine and has remained stable since then.
Offit, of the FDA’s vaccine advisory committee, said health officials will need to look into the case further.
“About one out of every million people that get a vaccine can have a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine,” Offit said. “What we need to find out is what specifically seems to be inducing this allergic reaction.”
CNN’s Steve Almasy, Haley Brink, Cheri Mossburg, Jacqueline Howard, Andrea Diaz, Tina Burnside, Deidre McPhillips, Nadia Kounang, Lauren Mascarenhas, Sara Weisfeldt, Rosa Flores, Virginia Langmaid and Shelby Lin Erdman contributed to this report.