Super-cooled shipments of a newly approved coronavirus vaccine rolled out of a Pfizer manufacturing facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Sunday for rapid air freight distribution to regional hubs across the United States.
Inoculations against the virus that causes the deadly COVID-19 disease will begin “very expeditiously, hopefully Monday,” Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, told CNN. More than 184,000 vials were on the first trucks leaving the Pfizer vaccine production facility.
Health care workers and elderly people in long-term care facilities will be first in line to receive the first round of 2.9 million doses at a time when cases are surging in the United States.
Senior government officials including some White House staff will also have access to the first round of vaccines and may be inoculated as early as this week.
Staff who work closely with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence would be among the first in the nation to receive the vaccine. According to news reports, the goal is to prevent further spread of the coronavirus in the White House after multiple events there led to outbreaks.
It was not immediately clear how many staffers or who exactly would receive the vaccine.
The U.S. has recorded more cases than any other country, with nearly 300,000 deaths from the virus and more than 16 million infections, according to the Johns Hopkins University.
Hahn said it is possible that 20 million Americans will be able to get vaccinated with the first of two required doses by the end of December. Moncef Slaoui, the chief adviser to the government’s vaccine development, told the “Fox News Sunday” show that 100 million Americans might be vaccinated by the end of March.
But on the ABC News show “This Week,” Hahn said it was a “significant problem” that a quarter to half of Americans, according to polls, are wary of the vaccine produced by the American-German corporate tandem of Pfizer and BioNTech, despite being approved by U.S. health regulators, or have vowed to not get inoculated.
Hahn said the government has “to be transparent on the safety” of the Pfizer vaccine, as well as on a vaccine produced by biotechnology company Moderna that is being reviewed by regulators this week. Clinical tests showed both were 95% effective.
Slaoui said that for the U.S. to acquire “herd immunity,” which would halt transmission of the deadly virus, the country needs about 75% or 80% of the population immunized. He said he hopes that point could be reached between May and June.
“It is, however, critical that most of the American people decide and accept to take the vaccine,” Slaoui said. “We are very concerned by the hesitancy that we see.”
Governor Phil Murphy of the eastern state of New Jersey told ABC, “We’ve got to deal with a skeptical anti-vaccination bloc” of people.
But he added, “We believe in these vaccines. They’re safe.”
Murphy warned, however, that even as Americans begin to get vaccinated, the coronavirus danger remains daunting.
“The next six to eight weeks are going to be hell,” he said. But Murphy said that by April or May, “everyone will have access to these vaccines.” The chief officer of Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s vaccine development program, Army General Gustave Perna, said at a news conference Saturday that shipping companies will initially deliver doses to nearly 150 distribution centers, and an additional 450 or so facilities will have the vaccine by Wednesday.
The Food and Drug Administration late Friday approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for emergency use. The vaccine must be kept at minus 70 degrees Celsius before being used. BioNTech Chief Executive Ugur Sahin said the vaccine “will help to save lives across the United States and could accelerate a return to normality.”
The U.S. federal government is planning to accelerate vaccinations in the weeks ahead, particularly if a vaccine by Moderna is also approved soon.
A U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory group met Saturday and recommended the vaccine for widespread use for those 16 and older. It will later address whether groups such as pregnant women and those younger than 16 should be vaccinated.
Those two groups were excluded from initial trials until researchers could determine if the vaccine was relatively safe in healthy adults before testing it on more vulnerable populations.
The top U.S. infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said Thursday that regulators and drug makers will begin new clinical trials in January, testing the safety of vaccines on pregnant women and young people.
The vaccine was first approved in Britain earlier this month, and British residents began receiving vaccinations last Tuesday. Canada also approved the vaccine and expects to begin inoculations in the coming days.
Bahrain, Mexico and Saudi Arabia have also authorized the use of the Pfizer vaccine.
Source: Voice of America