The United States gave a the final approval to the nation’s first Covid-19 vaccine in hopes of bringing an end to the pandemic that has already killed nearly 300,000 Americans.
“The first vaccine will be administered in less than 24 hours,” President Donald Trump said in televised address.
“Through our partnership with FedEx and UPS, we have already begun shipping the vaccine to every state and zip code in the country,” he said, adding that governors would decide who would receive the shots first in their states.
Shots for health workers and nursing home residents are expected to begin in the coming days after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized an emergency rollout of what promises to be a strongly protective vaccine from Pfizer Inc. and its German partner BioNTech.
Initial doses are scarce and rationed as the States joins UK and several other countries in scrambling to vaccinate as many people as possible ahead of a long, grim winter.
The FDA’s decision came only after public review of data from a huge ongoing study, it has also been dogged by intense political pressure from the Trump administration, which has accused the agency of being too slow and even threatened to remove FDA chief Stephen Hahn if a ruling did not come Friday.
The move sets off what will be the largest vaccination campaign in the nation.
The world desperately needs multiple vaccines for enough to go around, and the Pfizer-BioNTech shot is the first based on rigorous scientific testing to emerge from that worldwide race.
“I don’t think you would have found a scientist on this planet that would have predicted this 11 months ago,” said Dr. Paul Offit, a vaccine expert at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia who advises the FDA.
The United States is considering a second vaccine, made by Moderna Inc., which may rollout within a week.
In early January, Johnson & Johnson expects to learn if its vaccine is working in final testing.
About 3 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are expected in the first shipments around the country, according to officials with Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s vaccine development program. A similar amount is to be held in reserve for those recipients’ second dose.
During the intense scrutiny of the vaccine the FDA found that the vaccine was safe and more than 90% effective across recipients of different ages, including older adults, races and those with health problems that put them at high risk from the coronavirus.