WASHINGTON - The number of hospitalized U.S. coronavirus patients surpassed 100,000 on Thursday, as former presidents volunteered to get vaccinated on television if needed to boost confidence in the safety of inoculations that promise to slow the raging pandemic. With COVID-19 threatening to produce a 9/11-like death toll of 3,000 per day over the next two months, and nearly 200,000 new U.S. cases reported on Wednesday, U.S. healthcare officials are running out of tools to constrain the virus. Vaccines offer a ray of hope, with two promising candidates poised to receive emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration this month. But inoculations face opposition from significant numbers of Americans who reject medical science, as well as from those wary of the safety of vaccines developed at record speed. A Gallup poll released Nov. 17, found 58% of Americans say they would get a COVID-19 vaccine, up from 50% in September. That is still not enough, experts say, to achieve widespread immunity. Moreover, many Americans still refuse to follow even basic public health guidance such as wearing masks and avoiding crowds. But former U.S. Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton have volunteered to get their COVID-19 shots on television to promote their safety, according to aides to Bush and Clinton and an Obama interview on Sirius XM radio. "I may end up taking it on TV or having it filmed, just so that people know that I trust this science," Obama said in the interview that aired on Thursday. At least one former skeptic said she and her husband would take the vaccine, given the surge in infections and her high blood pressure and age, which increase the risk of severe illness. "I didn't think I'd say this but right now, yeah, I absolutely would," said Nina Lyons, 65, a retiree living in Pittsburgh. "I trust it. And if there's repercussions along down the line I am going say that it's worth taking that risk." A U.S. Food and Drug Administration panel of outside advisers will meet on Dec. 10 to discuss whether to recommend emergency use authorization of Pfizer Inc's vaccine. U.S. health officials predict the first inoculations could start days or weeks later. Moderna Inc's vaccine is expected to be reviewed on Dec. 17. Both vaccines proved highly effective at preventing illness in large clinical trials. Several other COVID-19 vaccines are also in later stages of development. SOBERING DATA Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who has tackled public health problems through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said he would get inoculated and hoped more people would shed their vaccine skepticism. "Whatever my place in line rightly is, I will immediately step up and take the vaccine," he told NBC News in an interview that aired on Thursday. "They're all good vaccines." He noted that vaccinating the public would be "tricky" without a national plan, and criticized the administration of outgoing President Donald Trump, who has yet to articulate an effective strategy to contain the virus beyond promoting vaccine development. The Republican president has largely avoided the subject for months aside from touting vaccines. His few public appearances since the Nov. 3 election have been aimed at overturning the victory of Democratic President-elect Joe Biden, who will assume office on Jan. 20. Meanwhile, the toll from COVID-19 reached its second-highest level ever on Wednesday with 2,811 lives lost, according to a Reuters tally, one short of the record set April 15. The sobering data came as Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on Wednesday warned that December, January and February were likely to be "the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation." The United States could start losing around 3,000 people - roughly the number that died in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 - each day over the next two months. "Before we see February, we could be close to 450,000 Americans that have died from this virus," Redfield said. The U.S. death toll since the start of the pandemic stands at around 273,000. REUTERS
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