Good morning, NBC News readers.
Major breakthroughs in the effort to develop a Covid-19 vaccine are offering a glimmer of hope as case counts soar across the country. And President Donald Trump fired the head of election cybersecurity who refuted his claims the election was rigged.
Here is what we are watching this Wednesday morning.
Pfizer says final analysis shows Covid-19 vaccine is 95 percent effective and it will seek approval 'within days'
A leading coronavirus vaccine candidate developed by Pfizer and BioNTech will be submitted for regulatory approval "within days," the companies announced Wednesday, after their final analysis suggested the drug was even more effective than previously thought.
The U.S. pharma giant and its German partner said their Phase 3 trial was now complete, and that it found the vaccine was 95 percent effective at preventing symptomatic Covid-19 — up from the 90 percent announced last week.
Experts have urged caution, particularly before more data is publicly released. And distributing any vaccine to the United States and wider world will also be a monumental logistical challenge.
But nevertheless, the news has been treated as a glimmer of hope in an otherwise bleak year, as global deaths have risen above 1.3 million, almost 250,000 of them in the United States. If approval was given this year, that would beat expectations in what is usually a glacially slow process.
In another positive development, the Food and Drug Administration has authorized the first at-home Covid-19 test that gives users results within an hour.
Internal White House report warns of 'aggressive, unrelenting' spread of Covid-19 as every state sees cases rising
The positive vaccine news can't come soon enough. With Covid-19 cases on the rise in all 50 states, the latest White House coronavirus task force weekly report bluntly stated the gravity of the pandemic gripping the country at the moment.
The task force report, obtained by NBC News, said that there is "now aggressive, unrelenting, expanding broad community spread across the country, reaching most counties, without evidence of improvement but rather, further deterioration."
It warned that current efforts to stop the spread "are inadequate and must be increased to flatten the curve" and that the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday has the potential to "amplify transmission considerably."
With the pandemic raging and showing no sign of relenting, the country's top medical leaders are calling on President Donald Trump to share critical Covid-19 data with President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team "as soon as possible" to "save countless lives."
In a letter released Tuesday, the CEOs of the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association urged the Trump administration to "work closely with the Biden transition team to share all critical information related to Covid-19."
The letter came one day after Biden told reporters "more people may die" if the Trump administration continues to obstruct the smooth transfer of power.
Biden noted that getting a coronavirus vaccine to more than 300 million Americans is a "huge, huge, huge undertaking" that would be further complicated by a delay in the presidential transition.
Once Biden does take office, he faces another challenge: Retrofitting the crammed West Wing so that it can adhere to strict Covid-19 protocols.
In other coronavirus news:
- Sen. Chuck Grassley has tested positive for Covid-19. Grassley,87, is the most senior Republican in the chamber and third in line to the presidency.
- Even as Covid-19 cases surge, Congress remains deadlocked over a new coronavirus relief bill and lawmakers in both parties are pessimistic about passing one in the near future.
Trump fires top election security official who refuted fraud claims
Krebs, the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, had recently butted heads with the White House over his agency's Rumor Control blog, which rebuts a list of false claims of election fraud and hacking — many of which have been touted as real by Trump or his lawyers since he lost the election this month.
Meantime, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court threw out one of the Trump campaign's longest-running post-election complaints Tuesday, ruling that officials in Philadelphia did not violate state law by maintaining at least 15 feet of separation between observers and the workers counting ballots.
The ruling is likely to undercut the Trump campaign's case in federal court, where Rudy Giuliani joined a hearing Tuesday afternoon to argue on behalf of Trump's effort to contest the election results in Pennsylvania.
And in an abrupt about-face, Michigan’s largest county on Tuesday night unanimously certified election results showing Biden defeating Trump, hours after Republicans first blocked formal approval of voters’ intentions.
Also in Georgia, officials are continuing to spar with Sen. Lindsay Graham about his alleged ballot tossing comments.
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- The Pentagon announced that it plans to cut troop levels to 2,500 in Afghanistan and Iraq by January 15.
- Attorney General Barr wants to drop a U.S. drug case against the former Mexican defense minister.
- "What is Twitter fleet?" Users aren't sure what to make of the social media platform's latest feature.
- Conan O'Brien is looking forward to a new variety show at HBO Max — a free subscription.
THINK about it
Biden can clean up Trump's Israeli-Palestinian policy mess, but can he broker peace, former special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations Martin Indyk writes in an opinion piece.
Afraid to tell people you've got COVID-19? Here's how to do it.
Personalized gift ideas for everyone on your list this year.
Quote of the day
"I'm proud of the work we did at CISA .... We did it right."
— Christopher Krebs, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, told NBC News on Tuesday night after being fired by Trump on Twitter.
One hopeful thing
The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree has been a symbol of hope ever since it was first put up during the Great Depression in 1931.
This year perhaps more than others, NBC News' Harry Smith says, we really need its light.
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