Biden cautiously lauds vaccine news

Simon Lewis and Steve Holland
·3-min read

President-elect Joe Biden has hailed Pfizer Inc's progress toward a COVID-19 vaccine but urged Americans to wear masks because it may not be widely available for many months.

Pfizer said its experimental vaccine was more than 90 per cent effective on Monday in disclosing the first successful interim data from a large-scale clinical test.

The announcement represents major progress in the quest for a vaccine to combat a pandemic that has killed more than 237,000 Americans, thrown millions out of work and contributed to Donald Trump's election defeat.

The drugmaker developed its vaccine outside the White House's Operation Warp Speed program, although the US government placed an order in July for 100 million Pfizer vaccine doses for $US1.95 billion ($A2.66 billion) and can acquire up to 500 million additional doses.

Warp Speed pumped billions of dollars into six other pharmaceutical companies intended to accelerate development of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Pfizer also was one of a number of companies to be part of a public-private partnership launched by the US National Institutes of Health in April to speed vaccine and treatment options.

Biden, who said his advisers had been told of the breakthrough on Sunday night, called Pfizer's announcement "great news" but said it would be "many more months" before widespread vaccination is available.

"As we work toward a safe and effective vaccine, we know the single most effective thing we can do to stop the spread of COVID is wear a mask," he told reporters.

The United States has been registering record-high infection numbers in recent days.

Mask wearing has become a major political issue, with Trump mocking Biden for wearing one during the election campaign and many conservatives contending masks infringe on their individual freedom.

Biden spoke two days after clinching election victory over Trump, who has not conceded and is pursuing legal challenges to the results while making unsubstantiated claims of fraud.

Trump on Twitter celebrated the vaccine announcement and resultant stock market gains: "STOCK MARKET UP BIG, VACCINE COMING SOON. REPORT 90% EFFECTIVE. SUCH GREAT NEWS!"

Trump's oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., without evidence accused pharmaceutical companies of deliberately holding back trial results until after the election.

"They all knew it but kept it from the public on purpose," he said on Twitter.

"Big Pharma hates Trump for taking on the gouging of Americans with drug pricing while offering the same drugs elsewhere in the world for pennies in the dollar."

Biden, set to take office on January 20, conferred by video with a 13-member task force he has asked to devise a blueprint on combating the pandemic.

It is headed by former US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner David Kessler and Yale University healthcare expert Marcella Nunez-Smith.

"We can save tens of thousands of lives if everyone would just wear a mask for the next few months. Not Democratic or Republican lives. American lives," Biden said.

Housing Secretary Ben Carson and David Bossie, the lawyer charged with leading Trump's post-election legal challenges, became the latest people in his orbit to test positive for COVID-19.

Biden cleared the threshold of 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the presidency on Saturday.

"This election is over," he told reporters. "It's time to put aside the partisanship and the rhetoric that is designed to demonise one another."

But senior Republicans continue to refuse to recognise Biden.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says Trump is fully within his rights to look into alleged voting irregularities.