COVID-19 vaccination plan 'not working,' former FDA official warns

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Posted at 9:50 AM, Jan 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-11 11:51:17-05

With COVID-19hospitalizations surpassing 100,000 for 40 days in a row, officials are trying to ramp up the pace of vaccinations across the United States.

"We really need to get this vaccine out more quickly, because this is really our only tool," Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration, said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

On Sunday, 129,229 people were in US hospitals with coronavirus, but the day marked only the sixth highest in pandemic history, according to theCOVID Tracking Project.

Experts have long said the best defenses against surging cases are preventative measures like masks and social distancing, as well as widespread vaccination. So far, at least 22.1 million doses of coronavirus vaccines have been distributed and nearly 6.7 million have made their way into patients' arms. Health officials had hoped to get 20 million people vaccinated at the start of the new year, but the administration of vaccines has undergone delays and roadblocks.

"We need to acknowledge that it's not working," Gottlieb said Sunday of the vaccination plan. "We need to hit the reset and adopt a new strategy in trying to get that out to patients."

Gottlieb's warning came just days after the US crossed a grim threshold for the first time -- reporting more than 4,000 new COVID-19 deaths in a single day on Thursday. Since the pandemic began, more than 374,000 people have died in the US and more than 22.4 million peoplehave been infected, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

More people, sites and online resources for vaccines

As the surge ratchets up infection, hospitalization and fatality numbers across states, officials are working to make it easier to access vaccinations.

California, an epicenter of the pandemic in the US, added 49,685 new cases on Sunday alone, bringing the total number of cases in the state since the pandemic began to more than 2.6 million.

Starting Monday, the state will boost its vaccine rollout to include health care workers, nursing home residents and staff, and those living in congregate settings such as assisted living or shelters, according tonew guidance from the state health department.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Dodger Stadium will become a COVID-19 vaccination site by the end of the week and will no longer offer testing after Monday.

So far, the state's vaccination efforts have struggled, and only about a third of the more than 2.1 million doses received have made it into the arms of residents.

In New York City, officials are hoping to expand access through vaccination sites. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Sunday that three additional 24/7 vaccination sites would open this week.

De Blasio spoke Sunday from a site at the Bathgate Industrial Park, stating that the city is "well on-pace" to reach 100,000 vaccinations by this week. He has said previously that he hopes to have one million vaccinations completed by the end of the month.

The Georgia Department of Public Health has launched a COVID vaccine locator website in hopes of increasing access in the state that has administered the least vaccines per capita, according to theCDC COVID Data Tracker.

The website will not allow for scheduling but will provide contact information for people to schedule vaccinations once available, according to the release.

A deadlier pace than 2020

More than 28,400 new COVID-19 deaths have been reported in just the first 11 days of 2021, according to data from Johns Hopkins.

At this rate, more people could die from COVID-19 in January than any other month of this pandemic. December had a record high of 77,431 deaths due to COVID-19.

On Sunday, the US reported 1,821 new COVID-19 deaths, along with 216,290 new infections, according to Johns Hopkins data.

In hard-hit Arizona, the crisis will get worse, said Joe K. Gerald, associate professor at the University of Arizona's Zuckerman College of Public Health.

"We should expect to set new records for cases, hospitalizations, and deaths over the coming weeks. Policy action is urgently needed to mitigate the worst possible outcome," Gerald wrote.

He also expressed concern about "the inevitable arrival of the more highly transmissible" strain of coronavirus that was first detected in the United Kingdom and hasspread to at least eight US states, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas.

"If it gathers a foothold, it will accelerate, lengthen, and deepen Arizona's outbreak," Gerald said.

Capitol riots likely a 'surge event' for COVID-19

The recent riot at the US Capitol would likely be a "surge event" that "will probably lead to a significant spreading" across the country, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

"You had largely unmasked individuals in a non-distanced fashion, who were all through the Capitol," Dr. Robert Redfield told the McClatchy newspaper group.

"Then these individuals all are going in cars and trains and planes going home all across the country right now."

CNN medical analyst and emergency physician Dr. Leana Wen echoed that statement, telling CNN's Ana Cabrera Sunday, "The individuals who did not use masks or social distancing at the Capitol probably are also not following these guidelines when they go back to their home communities."

"And it's very likely they're engaging in other risky behaviors there and potentially seeding coronavirus all around the country, wherever they came from," she said. "I hope that everyone who participated in those events will go back and quarantine and get tested."

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