WASHINGTON - The United States entered the final month of the year hoping that promising vaccine candidates will soon be approved to halt the rapidly spreading novel coronavirus after 4.2 million new cases were reported in November. The new COVID-19 cases were more than double the previous monthly record set in October, as large numbers of Americans still refuse to refuse to wear masks and continue to gather in holiday crowds, against the recommendation of experts. With outgoing President Donald Trump's coronavirus strategy relying heavily on a vaccine, a Food and Drug Administration panel of outside advisers will meet on Dec. 10 to discuss whether to recommend the FDA authorize emergency use of a vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc. A second candidate from Moderna Inc could follow a week later, officials have said, raising hopes that Americans could start receiving inoculations before the end the year, although widespread vaccinations could take months. Other global pharmaceuticals including AstraZeneca PLC and Johnson & Johnson also have vaccines in the works, leading a member of the Trump administration's "Operation Warp Speed" program to predict the country could be vaccinated by June. "One hundred percent of the Americans that want the vaccine will have the vaccine by (June). We will have over 300 million doses available to the American public well before then," Paul Ostrowski, the vaccine program's director of supply, production and distribution, told MSNBC television on Monday. In the meantime, leading health officials are pleading with Americans to follow their recommendations and help arrest a pandemic that killed more than 36,000 people in November, pushing hospitalizations to a record high of nearly 93,000 on Sunday, according to a Reuters tally. The widespread impact of the pandemic has led Merriam-Webster to choose "pandemic" as the Word of the Year after it racked up the most online dictionary lookups of any word. "Sometimes a single word defines an era, and it's fitting that in this exceptional - and exceptionally difficult - year, a single word came immediately to the fore," the dictionary publisher said. With more than 10,000 people dying and 1.1 million contracting the novel coronavirus in the week ended Sunday, Trump has remained focused on overturning the results of the Nov. 3 election won by President-elect Joe Biden, denying Trump a second term. Biden has pledged to make combating the coronavirus his top priority upon taking office on Jan. 20, saying he will rely on the best scientific evidence. In the absence of a federal blueprint to curb the spread of the virus, states are issuing new or revamped restrictions on businesses and social life. California's governor said he may renew a stay-at-home order in the coming days, warning that ICU admissions are on track to exceed statewide capacity by mid-December unless public health policies and social behavior change. "The red flags are flying," Governor Gavin Newsom told reporters in an online briefing. "If these trends continue, we're going to have to take much more dramatic, arguably drastic, action." (This story corrects details of vaccine approval procedure, third paragraph) REUTERS
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