With the coronavirus pandemic entering its worst phase yet, U.S. President-elect Joe Biden says the country is “still facing a dark winter,” warning that 200,000 more people could die of COVID-19 before a vaccine is widely made available.  Speaking on Monday after receiving a briefing from his transition team’s new coronavirus advisory board, Biden, in a speech in Wilmington, Delaware, cautioned “the challenge before us right now is still immense and growing, and so is the need for bold action to fight this pandemic.”  The United States has surpassed 10 million cases of the coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University, with infection rates, hospitalizations and the number of deaths all rising.  A White House coronavirus task force meeting, led by Vice President Mike Pence, is being held later Monday.  Earlier in the day, one drugmaker announced that an early analysis suggests its vaccine is very effective in preventing COVID-19.Pfizer said a data monitoring committee found no serious safety concerns with its vaccine, which requires two doses. The pharmaceutical company and its German partner, BioNTech, intend to apply for emergency authorization for the vaccine after the third week of November. It is one of four vaccines in the United States in the final stage of testing.  FILE – Pfizer says it will ask for emergency authorization later this month for its COVID-19 vaccine currently undergoing testing. Photo illustration.Biden, calling this a “positive note,” said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will soon run a process of rigorous reviews and approvals, but it “must also be grounded in science and fully transparent, so that the American people can have confidence that any approved vaccine is safe and effective.”  The president-elect added that the vaccine, even if approved, will not be widely available for many months, thus “the challenge before us right now is still immense and growing, and so is the need for bold action to fight this pandemic.”  The government’s assistant health secretary, Public Health Service Admiral Brett Giroir, speaking separately to reporters on a conference call after Biden’s remarks, echoed the president-elect’s plea for all people in the country to wear masks until the vaccine can be widely deployed.  A lot of people remain at risk until that time, the admiral said, expressing hope that after mass vaccinations, COVID-19, while not eradicated, hopefully, “it’ll be like polio, that it’ll be a rare occurrence and one that we can deal with.” Asked about the Biden transition team’s announced plan to tackle the pandemic, Giroir replied, “I haven’t seen anything in the testing strategy that we’re not already doing.”  Giroir, a top health official in the outgoing administration of President Donald Trump promised, “we will work together between testing and smart policies to slow the spread, flatten the curve, save lives and set up for an effective and smooth transition to the next administration.”  

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