Monday brought the most promising news so far in the pharmaceutical fight against Covid-19: a candidate vaccine has prevented more than 90% of symptomatic infections among people who received it in a large clinical trial.

By the end of this month Pfizer and BioNTech are expected to have enough data to apply for emergency use of the vaccine. With luck, it appears that 25-million people could be vaccinated by the end of the year, and during 2021 about 650-million more.

Also auspicious for the US’s chances against the pandemic is the outcome of the election. President-elect Joe Biden is already taking the Covid-19 challenge far more seriously than the current president ever has. He has named a top-flight advisory board of medical experts who understand every aspect of the challenge ahead: the coronavirus itself; vaccine development and distribution; best practices in public health campaigns, both domestic and global; hospital emergency management; and how to ensure health care for populations marginalised by race and income.

Biden’s top advisers have already met with the pharmaceutical companies that are developing vaccines in the government’s Operation Warp Speed programme, and have assured them that the new president will fully support their work.

The trouble is, none of this will bear fruit immediately. Pfizer and BioNTech must wait longer for essential safety data before they can apply to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency authorisation. Even then, further research will be needed to learn how long their vaccine’s protection lasts, whether it can keep people from carrying the virus and whether it can prevent severe infections — to list a few of the vital questions that remain open.

Presidential transitions require patience, too. Trump remains president for the next 10 weeks. Though reeling from his election defeat, he needs to start taking his duty to manage the pandemic more seriously. Even if he isn’t ready to concede defeat, the coronavirus emergency means he shouldn’t obstruct planning for a smooth transition to the Biden team on Warp Speed, Covid-19 data collection and other essential pandemic matters.

Career experts still operating in the federal government must also do what they can. /New York, November 10



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