The first trucks to deliver the COVID-19 vaccine, which is widespread in the United States, withdrew from a Michigan manufacturing plant on Sunday, and shots critical to stopping the country’s coronavirus epidemic arrived in the states a day later.
The delivery of the Pfizer vaccine will trigger the largest vaccination effort in U.S. history during the critical phase of a pandemic that kills 1.6 million people worldwide and kills 71 million.
Initially, about 3 million doses were expected to be shipped, and priority will be given to health care workers and nursing home residents as infections, hospital care, and deaths soar in the United States. During the holidays, the numbers are likely to worsen as a site of fighting in a pandemic that killed nearly 300,000 Americans.
Federal officials say the first shipments of Pfizer vaccine will be split, arriving at 145 distribution centers on Monday, delivering a further 425 locations on Tuesday and the remaining 66 on Wednesday. The vaccine, developed jointly by the German partner BioNTech, is being scrutinized based on the adult population in each state.
UPMC’s Pennsylvania health giant has selected staff who are critical to operating the facilities as among those receiving the first vaccination round, said Dr. Graham Snyder, who led the center’s vaccination team.
“It’s very exciting. I’ll be excited the moment we give our first dose,” Snyder said Saturday, “it’s going to be a watershed moment for us.”
According to Snyder, the UPMC system estimates that half of employees are willing to get the vaccine as soon as they are offered it.
The vaccine is delivered to hospitals and other places where it can be stored at extremely low temperatures – below about 94 degrees -. Pfizer uses containers with dry ice and GPS sensors to ensure that all shipments stay colder than Antarctic weather.
Federal officials say doses should be delivered to all vaccination sites identified by states, such as local pharmacies, within three weeks.
The 40-hospital Oschner Health System in Louisiana and Mississippi is expected to receive more than 9,000 doses in the coming days, said Dr. Sandra Kemmerly, the hospital’s medical director of quality.
Employees approved for the first round will receive texts and emails directing them to schedule their first injection, he said.
“I’d say there’s enthusiasm,” Kemmerly said Saturday. “There’s a thought that maybe they don’t have to be so scared that they’ll come to work if they can be vaccinated and get immunity.”
The introduction will ensure that there is enough vaccine for people to receive the two doses needed to fully protect against COVID-19. That means the government is withholding 3 million doses to give a second shot to those vaccinated in the first round a few weeks later.
The Food and Drug Administration approved the emergency use of the vaccine on Friday, stating that it is highly protective and does not pose a major safety concern. While U.S. regulators have been working for months to emphasize the rigor and independence of their review, they have faced political pressure until the final stage.
Concerns that a shot has been fired could undermine vaccination efforts in a country where doubts about vaccinations are deeply rooted. The FDA chief said 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.
While the vaccine has been found to be safe, UK regulators are investigating a number of serious allergic reactions. FDA instructions tell providers not to give it to those who have a history of severe allergic reactions to any of its ingredients.
Another vaccine for Moderna will be reviewed by a panel of experts this week and may be released for public use soon after.