The first of many freeze-packed Covid-19 vaccine bottles made its way to distribution sites across the United States on Sunday, as the country’s deaths from pandemics approached the terrible new milestone of 300,000.
The expansion of the Pfizer vaccine, the first approved by the Food and Drug Administration, marks the largest vaccination effort in US history – one that health officials hope the American public will embrace, although some have expressed initial skepticism or concern.
Shots are expected to be given to health care staff and nursing homes from Monday.
Fast transport is the key to the vaccine, especially since it must be stored at extremely low temperatures – about 94 degrees below zero. Early on Sunday, workers at Pfizer – wearing fluorescent yellow clothes, hard hats and gloves – wasted no time in packing bottles in boxes.
They scanned the packaging and then placed it in a freezer case with dry ice. The vaccines were then flown from Pfizer’s Portage, Michigan facility to Gerald R.Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, where the first cargo plane took off amid what airport officials called a “cheering” atmosphere.
“This is a historic day,” said Richard W. Smith, who oversees operations in America for FedEx Express, which delivers 630 vaccine packages to distribution locations across the country. United Parcel Service also transports some of the vaccine.
Helping transport the vaccine is of particular importance to Bruce Smith, a FedEx package manager at Grand Rapids Airport, whose older sister, Queen, died after contracting coronavirus in May. She was in a hospital in Georgia the day after he saw her on a video chat, and they never spoke again.
“I think she would be ecstatic to know that something has ravaged our family – that a family member will be part of such a big project,” said Smith, 58, whose nephew, the queen’s son, also fell ill and is still undergoing treatment for stroke-like symptoms. “It’s very, very important.”
Tracked with GPS-enabled sensors, the first deliveries were expected to contain about 3 million doses, and many more would come.
Federal officials say the first deliveries of Pfizer’s vaccine will be delayed, arriving at 145 distribution centers on Monday, with a further 425 sites receiving deliveries on Tuesday, and the remaining 66 on Wednesday. Doses of the vaccine, developed by German partner BioNTech, are distributed based on each state’s adult population. Then the states decide where to go first.
In California, where health care workers will be among the first to be vaccinated, state health agents prioritize hospitals that have adequate storage capacity, serve high-risk populations and have the ability to vaccinate people quickly.
Preliminary surveys have shown that even some healthcare professionals do not want to be first in line. Dr. Graham Snyder, who has led the vaccine task force at Pennsylvania healthcare giant UPMC, estimates that about half of its employees are willing to get the vaccine as soon as it is offered.
But many health professionals expect enthusiasm to grow.
“There is the idea that they may not have to be so afraid of coming to work if they can be vaccinated and immune,” said Dr. Sandra Kemmerly, chief medical officer of hospital quality at the 40-hospital Oschner Health System in Louisiana. and Mississippi.
Employees approved for the first round receive texts and emails directing them to plan their first injection, she said. Sufficient vaccine is saved so that each person receiving the first dose of the vaccine can receive a second necessary shot a few weeks later.
Senior U.S. government officials, including some White House officials working near President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, are among those who will be offered coronavirus vaccines as soon as this week, two people familiar with the matter confirmed.
A survey by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showed that about half of Americans want to get the vaccine as soon as possible.
Another quarter is not certain, while the remaining quarter says they are not interested. Some are simply against vaccines in general. Others are worried that the vaccines have rushed and want to see how the launch goes.
Dr Stephen Hahn, FDA commissioner who approved the Pfizer vaccine on Friday, has repeatedly insisted that the agency’s decision was based on science, not politics, despite the White House threatening to fire him if the vaccine was not approved before Saturday.
On the occasion of Fox News on Sunday, Dr Moncef Slaoui, chief science adviser to Operation Warp Speed, said a US attempt to get vaccines developed rapidly, also that he is “very concerned” about the skepticism about the vaccine in some circles.
“Unfortunately … there has been a confusion between how thorough and scientific and in fact the work that has been done is, and the perception that people think we are cutting corners …”, Slaoui said. “I can guarantee you that no such thing has happened, that we follow science.”
He called the development of vaccines from several pharmaceutical companies, including Modern and AstraZeneca, “a remarkable achievement by science, academia, the industrial ecosystem and the US government, working together.”
While the vaccine was determined to be safe, UK regulators are investigating several serious allergic reactions. The FDA’s instructions tell suppliers not to give it to those with a known history of severe allergic reactions to any of its ingredients.
The modern vaccine will be reviewed by an expert panel on Thursday and soon thereafter it may be approved for general use.