The nation’s first COVID-19 vaccine will begin arriving in the states Monday morning, U.S. officials said on Saturday, after the government gave the final go-ahead for the shots needed to end an outbreak that has killed nearly 300,000 Americans.
Trucks roll out Sunday morning as shipping companies UPS and FedEx begin delivering Pfizer’s vaccine to nearly 150 distribution centers across the states, said Army General Gustave Perna of Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s vaccine development program. An additional 450 facilities will receive the vaccine between Tuesday and Wednesday.
‘Less than 3 million doses are available in the first major shipment’
Initially, approximately 3 million shots are expected to be delivered nationwide. It was unclear who would receive the first doses of the vaccine, although care staff and nursing homes were prioritized. Perna said that health authorities would decide.
A similar number of shots will be withheld for the recipients’ second dose, which is needed for full protection against COVID-19.
The announcement Saturday launches a massive logistics operation involving federal and state governments, private companies and healthcare professionals to quickly distribute limited vaccine supplies across the United States.
Perna compared the effort to D-Day, the US-led military offensive that turned the tide during World War II.
“D-Day was the beginning of the end and that is where we are today,” Perna said at a press conference. But he added that it would take months of work and “diligence, courage and strength to eventually achieve victory.”
The first shipments are expected to leave Pfizer’s manufacturing facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan, by truck and then fly to regional hubs around the country. Medical distributor McKesson and pharmacy chains including CVS and Rite-Aid are also involved in local launches.
In an important distribution challenge, the vaccine, which was developed together with BioNTech, must be stored and transported at extremely low temperatures of around 94 degrees below zero. Pfizer has developed shipping containers that use dry ice and GPS-enabled sensors allow the company to track each shipment and ensure it stays cold.
Distribution sites include hospitals and other sites that may meet these requirements for extra-cold storage. Within three weeks, vaccines should be delivered to all vaccination sites identified by government agencies, such as local pharmacies, says Perna.
‘Very protective’ vaccine
The vaccine was scheduled to arrive Monday morning so that health workers would be available to take the shots and start giving them, Perna said.
This comes after the Food and Drug Administration approved the emergency use of the vaccine since Friday. The foreclosure limited an unparalleled global race to accelerate vaccines through testing and scrutiny, cutting off years from the normal development process.
The FDA found that the vaccine was very protective without any major safety concerns. U.S. regulators worked for several months to emphasize the accuracy and independence of their review, but the Trump administration pushed the agency until the final announcement. A senior White House official even threatened to remove FDA chief Stephen Hahn if a decision was not reached before Saturday.
Concerned that a shooting accelerated could undermine vaccination efforts in a country with deep-rooted skepticism about vaccines. Hahn reiterated his agency’s independence from journalists on Saturday.
“Science and data governed the FDA’s decision,” Hahn said. “We worked quickly because of the urgency of this pandemic, not because of any other external pressure.
Although 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 FDA’s vaccine chief, Dr. Peter Marks, said the agency will closely track any reports of allergic reactions in the United States.
“I think we still need to learn more, and that’s why we will take precautions,” Marks said.
Next week, the FDA will review a second vaccine from the Modern and National Institutes of Health that acts about as protective as Pfizer’s shots. On Friday, the Trump administration announced that they had purchased 100 million more doses of the vaccine in addition to the 100 million it had previously ordered.
The announcement came after revelations last week that the White House chose not to lock in another 100 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine for delivery in the second quarter of 2021. The Trump administration claims that the current orders plus those in the pipeline will be enough to accommodate all Americans who want vaccinated at the end of the second quarter of 2021.