The first shipments of the covid-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech are reportedly en route to distribution centers nationwide. The first of nearly 3 million doses are expected to be doled out to health care workers and nursing homes within the coming week now that the vaccine has the final nod from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The covid-19 vaccine, which received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration on Friday, is the first of its kind authorized for widespread use in the U.S and has shown to be 95% effective at preventing symptoms of the virus in clinical trials. Workers cheered as shipments were dispatched in trucks from a Pfizer plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan, on Sunday morning, kicking off what’s already shaping up to be the most ambitious inoculation effort in American history, the New York Times reports. That same day, the CDC signed off on the recommendation of its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which essentially makes its guidance for which groups should first receive the vaccine public policy.
None too soon, either. The U.S. leads the world in coronavirus cases and deaths at more than 16 million and 298,000, respectively. And the nation’s seen unprecedented case surges throughout November and into December as people travel for the holidays despite the CDC imploring everyone to celebrate at home this year. The U.S. reported 3,140 covid-19 deaths on Wednesday, the highest to date even compared to the worst spikes in spring. The very next day, it broke that grim record as the daily death toll exceeded 3,300.
High-risk health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities are expected to receive the first vaccine injections by Monday (Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine is administered as a series of two doses, three weeks apart). Dr. Moncef Slaoui, chief medical advisor of the nation’s covid-19 vaccine distribution effort, Operation Warp Speed, said in a Fox interview on Sunday that the government expects to meet its target of immunizing 100 million people by the end of March, and hopes to have roughly 40 million doses of the vaccine distributed by the end of the month.
“Our plan from day one has been to have a portfolio of products,” he told the outlet. “Pfizer is one of them. Moderna, which is likely to be approved by Friday, probably this coming week, is able to produce 100 million doses in the first quarter, and we just announced on Friday that we’ve committed to acquire another 100 million doses, which will be delivered in the second quarter of 2021.”
Early data has shown that Moderna’s experimental vaccine is more than 94% effective at preventing symptoms of the virus, and the biotech company has reportedly petitioned the FDA for emergency use authorization.
Slaoui said on Sunday that for the U.S. to achieve “herd immunity” and stop the spread of the virus, roughly 75% to 80% of the population would need to get vaccinated. Authorities hope to reach that threshold between May and June but are worried that some skeptics may ignore data that “this is a very effective and safe vaccine” and waver on taking it.
“We are very concerned by the hesitancy that we see,” he said, adding that it was “critical” that most Americans opt to take the vaccine. “Unfortunately… there’s been a confusion between how thorough and scientific and factual the work that has been done is, and the perception that people are thinking that we cut corners or anything like that. I can guarantee you that no such things have happened, that we follow the science.”
While it was determined to be safe, there are still several questions left to be answered about Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine. The UK’s top health agency issued a warning this week after two people with a history of allergies developed a serious allergic reaction after taking the vaccine. However, the most common side effects reported in the vaccine’s clinical trials were milder, including injection site pain, fatigue, fever, and headache.
If you’re wondering when you can expect to be able to get vaccinated, that depends on where you live. State authorities determine their own vaccine distribution plan, though they’re likely to follow ACIP guidelines. These recommendations outline a phased allocation to ensure at-risk demographic groups receive the vaccine first, starting with health care personnel and long-term care facility residents, then essential workers such as those in the foodservice, manufacturing, and transportation industries, followed by adults with high-risk medical conditions and those over the age of 65.