Super-cooled shipments of a newly approved coronavirus vaccine are set to roll out of a Pfizer manufacturing facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in tractor-trailers Sunday for rapid air freight distribution to regional hubs across the United States.
Inoculations could begin as early as Monday at a time when COVID-19 cases are surging and the United States nears 300,000 deaths from the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Research Center.
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 vaccine doses to nearly 150 distribution centers, and an additional 450 or so facilities will get the vaccine by Wednesday.
The Food and Drug Administration late Friday approved the vaccine, developed by U.S. drug maker Pfizer and German partner BioNTech, for emergency use. The vaccine, which must be kept at minus 70 degrees Celsius, was shown to be 95% effective in preventing COVID-19 in a late-stage trial.
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. Two doses per person, spaced three weeks apart, are needed for maximum resistance to the COVID-19 pathogen.
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 from Moderna Inc. is 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 groups.
The top U.S. infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said Thursday that regulators and drug makers will begin 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 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.