After a New York City intensive care unit nurse became the first person in the United States to receive a coronavirus vaccine on Monday (December 14), similar scenes played out at select hospitals in other cities, including Madison, Wisconsin, Dallas, Texas and Charleston, West Virginia where the state’s Governor, Jim Justice also received the COVID-19 vaccine.
The made-for-TV events – the first U.S. coronavirus immunizations outside of clinical trials – were part of a broad campaign by public health authorities and political leaders to reassure Americans of the vaccine’s safety as they launched a national immunization program of unprecedented scope.
Developed by Pfizer Inc and German partner BioNTech SE, the vaccine, given as two doses three weeks apart, won U.S. emergency-use authorization on Friday.
By day’s end on Monday, vaccine shipments had made it to nearly all of the 145 U.S. distribution sites pre-selected to receive the initial batch of doses, with a number of major hospital systems launching immunizations immediately.
U.S. officials said no major hiccups were reported. U.S. Army General Gustave Perna said on a call with reporters that severe storms forecast this week could potentially hamper rounds of shipments to another 491 locations.
The vaccine’s arrival provided hope as the country passed 300,000 lives lost. Mounting COVID-19 hospitalizations – a record 109,000 patients reported on Monday alone – have strained healthcare systems to the breaking point, and more than 16 million U.S. coronavirus cases have been recorded to date.
Over the past seven days, the United States has averaged 2,462 deaths a day, the highest since the pandemic started, according to a Reuters count.
The process of shipping the first 2.9 million doses of vaccine began on Sunday, 11 months after the United States documented its first case of COVID-19.
The initial doses have been earmarked for healthcare professionals and nursing home residents, with essential workers, elderly people and individuals with chronic health conditions next in line.
As part of a national security protocol aimed at ensuring continuity of government in the event of an emergency, senior leaders in the executive branch, Congress and judiciary were also being offered early vaccines.
Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller got his on Monday at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center outside Washington, apparently, the first Cabinet-level official inoculated.
It will take months before vaccines become widely available to the public at large, and health officials have warned Americans to remain diligent about social distancing and the wearing of face masks to curb virus transmissions.
The first U.S. vaccine shipments departed Pfizer’s facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan, packed into trucks with dry-ice to maintain the cargo at its required sub-Arctic temperature. Driven to airfields in Lansing and Grand Rapids, the shipments were then flown by UPS and FedEx planes to cargo hubs in Louisville, Kentucky, and Memphis, Tennessee.
From there, they were trucked or flown to the first 145 vaccine-staging areas across the country. Second and third waves were due to go to 491 remaining sites on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Governors in 26 states and territories were deploying National Guard troops to assist in the operation, the Guard said.
U.S. top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci told MSNBC on Monday that Americans with no heightened risk factors could expect to get vaccinated by late March or early April.
U.S. Operation Warp Speed top adviser Moncef Slaoui said the plan is to have about 40 million vaccine doses – enough for 20 million people – distributed by year’s end.
That would include vaccines from both Pfizer and Moderna Inc. An outside U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel is scheduled to review the Moderna vaccine on Thursday, with emergency use expected to be granted shortly thereafter.