Daines: COVID-19 vaccine ‘early Christmas present’ for Americans

The first boxes of Moderna‘s coronavirus vaccine will arrive in states on Monday, boosting the initial supply of pandemic-fighting shots by 6 million in the coming week after health care workers, Vice President Mike Pence and members of Congress received the first wave of Pfizer doses.

No one’s happier about it than Sen. Steve Daines.

Back in March, as the coronavirus hit and Congress scrambled to cut checks to struggling Americans, the Montana Republican was looking months down the road. What if the virus didn’t go away as it got warmer, and the only way out was through a vaccine?

After a 13-year career at Procter & Gamble, Mr. Daines knew that companies weren’t going to spend big on a product that might not get approved by the Food and Drug Administration. He said he asked Sen. Roy Blunt, who oversees health on the Senate Appropriations Committee, for $10 billion to help companies develop vaccines and start making doses before regulators weighed in.

“That was a pretty big ask at the time,” Mr. Daines told The Washington Times. “Many believed the pandemic was going to end by the summer. But many feared a second wave, including myself, and that’s what we’ve seen.”

Mr. Daines‘ request made it into the $2 trillion CARES Act.

Now, the senator believes the pandemic will start to wind down within six months. Without early manufacturing, he believes the world wouldn’t have seen the first vaccines until mid-2021.

The Food and Drug Administration approved Moderna‘s vaccine late Friday, one week after Pfizer won approval for its shots.

“It’s remarkable, nobody thought we would have an approved vaccine and see Americans vaccinated by the end of the calendar year,” Mr. Daines said. “I view this as an early Christmas present that we were able to give to the American people.”

Like Pfizer, which worked with German company BioNTech, scientists at Moderna used groundbreaking “messenger RNA” technology to teach the body how to fight the trademark spike protein of the coronavirus.

The Pfizer vaccine requires a booster shot 21 days later. Patients who receive the Moderna vaccine should return for the second dose 28 days later.

Army Gen. Gustave Perna, a key member of President Trump’s “Operation Warp Speed,” said Moderna deliveries will ship through the week as they continue to allocate Pfizer’s vaccines alongside them.

Pfizer didn’t accept federal money for the development of its vaccine but the Trump administration spent nearly $2 billion to secure early doses.

Moderna, a smaller company, did accept federal help and worked with the National Institutes of Health scientists on its vaccine. Companies like AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson were also boosted by Mr. Daines‘ push and President Trump’s vaccine initiative, Operation Warp Speed.

Mr. Blunt credited Mr. Daines for leveraging his background in manufacturing and business and said simultaneous research and manufacturing was a “significant step toward vaccines being available for the American public in under one year.”

The shots from Moderna can last in a refrigerator for up to a month. Pfizer’s degrade after five days in a normal fridge, so they need to be packed in replenishments of dry ice for up to 15 days if they’re not used immediately.

Also, Moderna‘s trays come in a 100-dose minimum compared to Pfizer’s 975. Those conditions make Moderna‘s version a more appealing option for rural areas that need to allocate smaller amounts to far-flung areas, but do not have ultralow freezers and don’t want to waste any shots.

Federal officials are trying to boost confidence in the vaccine so the country can build up the type of widespread immunity needed to break the pandemic.

Mr. Pence and his wife, Karen Pence, received their shots publicly on Friday, while Congress‘ physician cleared the way for members to receive the shots as part of continuity of government operations.

Adm. Brett Giroir, the federal government’s coronavirus “testing czar,” on Sunday urged Mr. Trump to get a coronavirus vaccine to foster public trust in the process.

“I would encourage the president to get a vaccine for his own health and safety and also to generate more confidence among the people who follow him so closely,” Adm. Giroir said on ABC’s “This Week.”

The White House has said Mr. Trump is willing to get a vaccine but that he wants to save the initial supplies for frontline workers. He contracted the virus in October and might have built-in immunity.

President-elect Joseph R. Biden is set to get the vaccine in public on Monday and Vice President-elect Sen. Kamala D. Harris is planning to get one next week.

Adm. Giroir said everyone who wants the vaccine should be able to get one by June, though Mr. Biden’s pick for surgeon general, Vivek Murthy, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” it might be closer to “midsummer” or “early fall” before the vaccine makes its way to the general population.

Mr. Daines, meanwhile, took part in Pfizer’s vaccine trial this year after his mother told him about enrollment back home in Bozeman, Montana.

It was a hot spot at the time, and scientists wanted to make sure they were testing the vaccine in places with transmission.

The senator said it was a lot like taking the flu shot. He’s pretty sure he got the real thing, not a placebo, because he tested positive for antibodies later on. He said the vaccine is clearly effective, including for older adults who are most vulnerable to COVID-19.

“Hope is not a strategy,” he said. “A vaccine and widespread adoption of the vaccine is a strategy that’s going to end the pandemic.”