The first COVID-19 shots were administered by U.S. hospitals Monday, the initial step in a historic drive to immunize millions of people this week as the Pfizer Inc. vaccine is distributed nationwide.
In New York, an early epicenter of the U.S. crisis, critical-care nurse Sandra Lindsay received the first shot in the state at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens. Gov. Andrew Cuomo joined the event via video from his office in Albany, thanking the nurse for her work throughout the pandemic.
“I believe this is the weapon that will win the war,” said Cuomo, who had asked an advisory group to independently review the safety of COVID-19 vaccines authorized by the Food and Drug Administration.
The arrival of the Pfizer-BioNTech SE vaccine offers a glimmer of hope amid a pandemic that has already seen almost 300,000 Americans die. About 200,000 people are testing positive for the virus every day in the nation’s worst surge to date.
The government plans to distribute at least 2.9 million doses to U.S. states during the week ahead. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that the first shots go to health care workers and those in long-term care facilities, including the nation’s hard-hit nursing homes.
Gustave Perna, an army four-star general and the Operation Warp Speed chief operations officer, said in a news briefing that 55 of 145 shipments scheduled for Monday had been delivered by around noon Eastern time, and that the deliveries set for Tuesday are packed and ready to go.
“There is not one part of this country that’s not being touched today through Wednesday,” Perna said.
Additionally, Perna said, the operation will send out an added 581 shipments after Wednesday. So far, he said, there’s been no reason to tap into a reserve of 500,000 doses being held back for emergency reasons.
The government will announce new weekly allocations each Friday, Alex Azar, the Health and Human Services Department secretary, said in the briefing. Moving forward, the Trump administration wants to “ensure that any picture we give of this progress is accurate,” he added.
Some states will start vaccinating residents of long-term care centers this week, according to Azar, with shots in another 1,100 nursing homes starting next week through the federal pharmacy partnership. Many tasks have to be achieved, such as receiving consent from residents, before vaccinators can walk into nursing homes, he added.
The plan is to have 20 million people immunized in the month of December, with their second dose coming in January, he said. An added 30 million people will get initial doses in January and, by the end of March, a total of 100 million individuals will have had at least one dose.
New York isn’t alone in celebrating the arrival of the vaccine.
A masked Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, who recently recovered from COVID-19, signed for the FedEx vaccine shipment that arrived at the state laboratory loading dock in Denver on Monday.
“I’ve been waiting to do this signature for nine months,” Polis told the driver. The governor also pushed the button to open the rolling door. A staff member carted the white cardboard container into the lab, where Polis opened it with a box cutter and pushed a button on a wireless device to alert Pfizer the shipment arrived.
In Fargo, North Dakota, the Sanford Medical Center received its shipment three hours earlier than expected on Monday, said spokeswoman Angela Dejene. The hospital plans to give its first shot in the afternoon.
Atrium Health, headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, also said on Twitter Monday that it had received its first shipment, and Katie Passaretti, the system’s medical director of infection prevention, was first to get a shot.
“I feel perfectly fine,” she said on Twitter, “Again, just a moment of cold.”
Michigan Medicine also received its doses, the system said on Twitter, noting they arrived at 9 a.m. local time.
CVS Health Corp. and Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. are set to start vaccinating residents of nursing homes and assisted-living facilities on Dec. 21, using the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. They are partnering with the federal government in the effort.
Walgreens expects to receive shipments of Pfizer’s vaccine over the weekend so it can start administering, Rina Shah, the company’s group vice president of pharmacy operations, said in an interview Monday.
The CDC plans to document receipt and integrity of the vaccines as they are delivered, according to Kristen Nordlund, a spokeswoman for the agency. “In addition,” she added, “these visits will allow the government to gather important information on the early shipments so we can continually improve the process.”
Another shot, from Moderna Inc., could be made available as soon as the end of this week. Food and Drug Administration advisers are set to review the company’s application on Thursday.
Moncef Slaoui, the scientific head of Operation Warp Speed, said in Monday’s briefing that the data on the Moderna vaccine is “remarkably aligned” with the data seen on the Pfizer-BioNTech product.
Once it’s authorized for emergency use, distribution of Moderna’s vaccine will be more flexible, with smaller package sizes. The goal will be for the first of about 6 million Moderna shots to be available this time next week, Perna said. And as with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the administration plans to hold back some of the shots for unknown contingencies.
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