US President-elect Joe Biden has used his first major speech since winning the election to urge Americans to wear masks to slow the spread of the Coronavirus that has exceeded 100 000 daily new infections in the country over the last three days.

He spoke on a day that pharmaceutical company Pfizer announced that its COVID-19 vaccine was 90% effective based on initial trial results – news that was welcomed by the markets.

Biden also named and met with a newly formed COVID-19 advisory board as the pandemic, along with the economy, remains atop of his agenda as he formally gets his transition to the White House underway. Sherwin Bryce-Pease reports.

The Pfizer news was broadly welcomed after the pharmaceutical company and its German partner BioNTech revealed they’d found no serious safety concerns and expected to seek US authorisation later this month for emergency use of the vaccine – an approval that only the Food and Drug Administration can give.

Pfizer’s CEO & Chairman Albert Bourla lauded the vaccine’s progress:

“It was exactly what you can imagine. It is a great day for science. It is a great day for humanity. When you realize that your vaccine has a 90% effectiveness, that’s overwhelming. You understand that the hopes of billions of people, and millions of businesses, and hundreds of governments that were felt on our shoulders. Now, I think, we can credibly tell them. I think we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

He indicated that as they seek approval for the vaccine that they could have up to 50 million doses available before the end of the year and about 1.3 billion doses for 2021.

“I truly believe that it is not for Pfizer to decide who would get the vaccine. I think it is for the health authorities of every country and, in many cases, within the same country of every region or of every state in the US, for example, because the situation differs from state to state, or from country to country, and you need to tailor it to the needs of the specific geographical region. We will, of course, work with all these health authorities to provide them the insight that they need to understand how our product works in groups of older people, in groups of younger people.”

This as the US President-elect Joe Biden displayed some of the urgency with which his team will address the pandemic – appointing a 13 person COVID advisory board – as the country surpassed 10 million cases since the virus first appeared in January.

“This group will advise on detailed plans built on a bedrock of science, and that keep compassion, empathy, and care for every American at its core: Making rapid testing widely available, and building a corps of contact tracers who will track and curb this disease while we prioritize getting vaccinations first to the most at risk populations.”

Biden said he’d spare no effort to turn the pandemic around once sworn into office next year.

“I implore you, wear a mask, do it for yourself, do it for your neighbor. A mask is not a political statement, but it is a good way to start pulling the country together. I want to be very clear. The goal of mask wearing is not to make your life less comfortable or take something away from you. It’s to give something back to all of us, a normal life. The goal is to get back to normal as fast as possible. And masks are critical in doing that. It won’t be forever, but that’s how we’ll get our nation back, back up to speed economically so we can go back to celebrating birthdays and holidays together.”

The US has recorded over 237 000 deaths from COVID-19 since January. While the Pzifer vaccine and others show great promise, it’s never been viewed as a silver bullet. And in the absence of FDA and other administrative approvals and the necessary scientific peer-reviews that must still analyze their data, wearing masks, washing hands and social distancing remain protocols that cannot – as yet – be discarded.