By Ciara Linnane, MarketWatch
The U.S. tally of confirmed cases of the coronavirus illness COVID-19 climbed above 10 million on Monday, and financial markets enjoyed a historic rally following positive news on a leading COVID-19 vaccine candidate.
Pfizer Inc. /zigman2/quotes/202877789/composite PFE +0.26% and partner BioNTech SE /zigman2/quotes/214419716/composite BNTX +4.48% sparked a rally that saw stock indexes soar to record intraday levels after they said their experimental vaccine candidate showed 90% efficacy in a Phase 3 clinical trial, putting the two drug makers in the lead in the race to develop a vaccine.
“For the first time we can see a light at the end of the tunnel and a return to ‘normalcy’ seems likely within 2021,” Raymond James analyst Steven Seedhouse wrote in a note to clients.
Stock futures were already up about 400 points before the announcement, after Democrat Joe Biden was projected to become the 46th U.S. president over the weekend. Biden has made it clear managing the pandemic will be a top priority for his administration, contrasting with incumbent President Donald Trump’s downplaying of the crisis and insistence it would “disappear.”
As expected, Biden unveiled his COVID-19 task force early Monday, assembling a team of leading health experts led by Dr. David Kessler, a professor of pediatrics and epidemiology and biostatistics at UCSF; Dr. Vivek Murthy, who served as the 19th surgeon general of the United States in 2014–17; and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, an associate professor of internal medicine, public health and management at Yale University and associate dean for health equity research at the Yale School of Medicine.
The team also includes Ezekiel J. Emanuel, an oncologist and vice provost for global initiatives and chairman of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania; Atul Gawande, professor of surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital; Samuel O. Thier, a professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School and of health policy and management at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; and Michael Osterholm, Regents Professor and McKnight Presidential Endowed Chair in Public Health and the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
Biden weighed in on the vaccine news, cautioning that, while it’s “excellent news,” it’s also important to recognize that vaccination is still months away, given the many logistical challenges and the fact that the trial data has not been peer-reviewed. Pfizer and BioNtech said they would apply for an emergency-use authorization, which is not a full FDA approval but is viewed as an important tool for advancing therapies during the crisis.
“This is why the head of the CDC warned this fall that for the foreseeable future a mask remains a more potent weapon against the virus than the vaccine,” Biden said in a statement. “Today’s news does not change this urgent reality. Americans will have to rely on masking, distancing, contact tracing, hand washing and other measures to keep themselves safe well into next year. Today’s news is great news, but it doesn’t change that fact.”
The U.S. added 103,657 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, according to a New York Times tracker, and at least 464 new deaths. The U.S. has averaged 111,175 cases a day in the past week, a 59% increase from two weeks ago.
The U.S. has 10 million cases and 237,742 fatalities, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, or about a fifth of the global tallies.
The head of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, noted Monday that half of all cases and deaths in the world from COVID-19 are in just four countries. Other cities and countries have succeeded in containing the spread using “a comprehensive, evidence-based approach,” Tedros said in remarks to the World Health Assembly.
“We might be tired of COVID-19. But it is not tired of us,” he said.