The U.S. government will pay $1.95 billion to American drug maker Pfizer and German biotech company BioNTech SE for 100 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, if it proves to be safe and effective.
The companies said Wednesday they finalized a deal with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Defense Department to supply the agencies with a vaccine they are developing jointly, the latest in a number of comparable agreements with other vaccine companies.
HHS Secretary Alex Azar told Fox News on Wednesday the U.S. could buy 500 million additional doses of the vaccine provided they are "safe and effective."
The deal announced Wednesday is part of President Donald Trump's Operation Warp Speed initiative, which hopes to deliver 300 million doses of an approved vaccine by January 2021.
Pfizer and BioNTech said they hope to be ready to pursue some form of regulatory approval as early as October if ongoing studies of the vaccine are successful and that it currently expects to deliver up to 100 million doses by the end of the year.
The deal was announced one day after more than 1,000 people in the U.S. died of COVID-19, the first time since early June the U.S. reached the grim single-day milestone, and Trump acknowledged the coronavirus crisis in the country "will ... get worse before it gets better."
During Wednesday's daily coronavirus briefing, Trump said the coronavirus poses "the greatest threat to our senior citizens," and that "nearly half of the deaths have occurred among those living in nursing homes or long-term care facilities."
He said the Federal Emergency Management Agency was sending protective gear to more than 15,000 Medicaid- and Medicare-certified nursing homes throughout the U.S.
"I want to send the message of support and hope to every senior citizen who has been dealing with the struggle of isolation in what should be the golden years of your life," he said.
Trump, who only recently wore a mask in public for the first time and touted on Tuesday the impact face coverings have in reducing the spread of the coronavirus, again stressed their use Wednesday, as well as that of washing hands. "I am finding more and more people are saying wash your hands. So, wash your hands," he said.
Trump held the briefing solo Tuesday, without medical experts or members of the White House coronavirus task force. When asked Wednesday why no medical experts were at the briefing, Trump responded, "Because they're briefing me. I just spoke to (Dr. Anthony) Fauci and Dr. (Deborah) Birx is just right outside... it's a concise way of doing it."
The U.S. continues to lead the world in COVID-19 fatalities with more than 142,300, far greater than the 81,487 deaths in second-ranked Brazil, according to Johns Hopkins University statistics. The U.S. also remains the world leader in infections, with 3.5 million of the world's 15 million coronavirus cases.
Data released Tuesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say, however, the actual number of coronavirus infections in some parts of the U.S. is anywhere between two to 13 times higher than what has been officially reported.
The CDC based its conclusions on blood samples collected from people who were given routine clinical tests across 10 geographic regions, including New York City, south Florida, Missouri and the western states of Utah and Washington. In Missouri, for example, the estimated number of actual infections was 13 times higher than the number of confirmed cases, while in Utah, the actual number was at least twice as high.
The authors of the study, which was also published on the website of JAMA Internal Medicine, said many infected people did not seek medical care or get tested because they likely had mild symptoms or none at all, and likely spread the virus among the population. At least 40% of people who are infected do not develop symptoms.
The CDC researchers also found that only a small number of people in many parts of the United States were carrying the coronavirus antibodies as of late May, indicating that most of the population remains highly at risk of infection.
Across the globe
Meanwhile, South Africa is now a global COVID-19 hotspot with more than half of the confirmed cases on the African continent. South Africa's health ministry said there were nearly 382,000 cases and nearly 5,400 deaths in the country.
Nepal's government announced an end to lockdown measures 120 days after they were first imposed in March. The information ministry said despite the decline in the number of infections in Nepal, schools and colleges would remain closed until further notice.
The Brazilian government said Wednesday that President Jair Bolsonaro tested positive for the coronavirus for the third time. The government said he tested positive again Tuesday after a follow-up test on July 15 and after announcing he first had COVID-19 on July 7.
Bolsonaro has repeatedly downplayed the coronavirus as a "little flu" and frequently mingled in crowds, sometimes without wearing a mask.
The World Health Organization said the median period from the beginning to recovery for mild cases is about two weeks.
Wayne Lee, Richard Green and Mia Bush contributed to this report.