Initial shipments of the second COVID-19 vaccine authorised in the United States left a distribution centre on Sunday, a desperately needed boost as the nation works to bring the coronavirus pandemic under control.
The trucks left the Memphis-area factory with the vaccine developed by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health. The much-needed shots are expected to be given starting on Monday, just three days after the Food and Drug Administration authorised their emergency roll-out.
Also on Sunday, an expert committee recommended frontline essential workers and persons 75 years and older should be next in line to receive early doses of the Moderna vaccine and a similar one from Pfizer and BioNTech.
Pfizer’s shots were first shipped out a week ago and started being used the next day, kicking off the nation’s biggest vaccination drive.
The frontline group includes 30 million workers such as first responders, teachers, food and agriculture, manufacturing, US Postal Service, public transit, and grocery store workers, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory panel decided.
The panel voted 13-1 in favour of the move that, in all, would make 49 million people eligible to receive the vaccine in the next round.
Other 57 million non-frontline workers like those in media, finance, energy and IT & communication industries, and persons in the age group of 65-74 and those aged 16-64 years with high-risk conditions are proposed to receive the vaccine in the ensuing round.There will not be enough shots for the general population until spring, so doses will be rationed at least for the next several months. President-elect Joe Biden pledged earlier this month to have 100 million vaccine doses distributed in his first 100 days in office, and his surgeon general nominee said Sunday that it is still a realistic goal.
But Vivek Murthy, speaking on NBC’s Meet the Press, said it is more realistic to think it may be midsummer or early fall before coronavirus vaccines are available to the general population, rather than late spring. Murthy said Biden’s team is working towards having the shots available to lower-risk individuals by late spring but doing so requires “everything to go exactly on schedule”.
“I think it’s more realistic to assume that it may be closer to mid-summer or early fall when this vaccine makes its way to the general population,” Murthy said. “So, we want to be optimistic, but we want to be cautious as well.”
First Moderna shot likely on Monday
US COVID-19 vaccine programme head Moncef Slaoui said it was most likely the first Moderna vaccine shot, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration on Friday, would be given on Monday morning.
“We look forward to the vaccine. It’s going to be slightly easier to distribute because it doesn’t require as low [a] temperature as Pfizer,” Slaoui said on CNN.
The US government plans to deliver 5.9 million Moderna shots and two million Pfizer shots this week.
But an ambitious target to get 20 million Americans started with their first shot of the two-dose vaccine regimen before the end of the year could slip into the first week of January, US Army General Gustave Perna told reporters on Saturday.
The start of delivery for the Moderna vaccine will significantly widen the availability of COVID-19 vaccines as US deaths caused by the respiratory disease have reached more than 316,000 in the 11 months since the first documented US cases.
Some states are choosing to use Moderna’s shots for harder-to-reach rural areas because they can be stored for 30 days in standard-temperature refrigerators. Pfizer’s must be shipped and stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit) and can be held for only five days at standard refrigerator temperatures.
Initial doses were given to health professionals. Programmes by pharmacies Walgreens and CVS to distribute the Pfizer vaccine to long-term care facilities are expected to start on Monday.