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Moderna’s vaccine trials bring hope as more states resume pandemic restrictions

The U.S. is facing both despair and hope regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. With total infections over 11 million nationwide, the virus is continuing to wreak havoc, leading to rising hospitalizations and deaths -- and reimposed restrictions. But at the same time, the drug company Moderna announced encouraging early results in a study of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate. William Brangham reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. is generating both despair and hope tonight. Total infections have soared over the 11 million mark nationwide, but there is also progress in the effort to stop the virus.

    William Brangham begins our coverage.

  • William Brangham:

    A new week, and another new experimental vaccine showing signs of real progress against this novel coronavirus.

    Drugmaker Moderna said today early trials show its vaccine is nearly 95 percent effective.

    Dr. Stephen Hoge is Moderna's president.

  • Stephen Hoge:

    It's really just a milestone, though. We have a lot of work ahead of us. Knowing the vaccine is going to be effective is great news, but we still need to complete the regulatory process.

  • William Brangham:

    The announcement comes just a week after another leading candidate from Pfizer had similar results. Neither company has released the complete data behind their claims.

    Still, America's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, hailed the news.

  • Anthony Fauci:

    So, now we have two vaccines that are really quite effective. So, I think this is a really strong step forward to where we want to be about getting control of this outbreak.

  • William Brangham:

    It's a glimmer of hope, while the country faces a health crisis that's now growing exponentially. A staggering one million cases were reported nationwide in just the past six days. And the U.S. passed the 11 million mark over the weekend.

    When it comes to deaths, the average is up 33 percent from two weeks ago at 820 a day. Fearing that hospitals are reaching their breaking points, officials nationwide are putting back into place a series of restrictions many hoped were in the past.

    California rolled back reopening plans, ordering nonessential businesses in 41 counties to close. In New Jersey today, Governor Phil Murphy tightened limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings ahead of the holidays.

  • Gov. Phil Murphy:

    The smaller the gathering is, the less likely it is someone is infected and puts their loved ones at risk. It is that simple.

  • William Brangham:

    The city of Philadelphia introduced similar restrictions. And over the weekend, Washington state announced a month-long freeze on indoor service at restaurants and gyms.

  • Gov. Jay Inslee:

    This is where the virus gets us, inside, where we're heading during the winter.

  • William Brangham:

    Michigan did the same, while also canceling in-person classes for high school and college students over the next three weeks.

    But President Trump's coronavirus adviser, radiologist Dr. Scott Atlas, suggested on Twitter people should — quote — "rise up" against those restrictions. He later tweeted he never meant to incite violence. That drew a rebuke today from president-elect Biden.

  • President-elect Joe Biden:

    What the hell is the matter with these guys? What is the matter with them? Resist?

  • William Brangham:

    In Wilmington, Delaware, Mr. Biden also warned that President Trump's refusal to concede defeat in the election and authorize a transition is delaying critical planning on a coordinated pandemic response.

  • President-elect Joe Biden:

    More people may die if we don't coordinate. If we have to wait until January 20 to start that planning, it puts us behind, over a month, month-and-a-half. And so it's important that it be done, that there be coordination now.

  • William Brangham:

    And Dr. Fauci has said a smooth handoff was key to beating the pandemic.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm William Brangham.

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