The first of many freezer-packed COVID-19 vaccine vials have made their way to distribution sites across the United States, as the nation’s pandemic deaths approached the horrifying new milestone of 300,000.
The rollout of the Pfizer vaccine, the first to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration, ushers in the biggest vaccination effort in US history – one that health officials hope the American public will embrace, even as some have voiced initial scepticism or worry.
The first of two shots are expected to be given in the coming week to health care workers and nursing home residents.
Early on Sunday, workers at Pfizer – dressed in fluorescent yellow clothing, hard hats and gloves – wasted no time as they packed vials into boxes. They scanned the packages and then placed them into freezer cases with dry ice. The vaccines were then taken from Pfizer’s Portage, Michigan, facility to Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, where the first cargo plane took off amid what airport officials called a “jubilant” mood.
“This is a historic day,” said Richard W. Smith, who oversees operations in the Americas for FedEx Express, which is delivering 630-some packages of vaccine to distribution sites across the country. The United Parcel Service also is transporting a share of the vaccine.
Tracked with GPS-enabled sensors, the initial shipments were expected to contain about three million doses, with many more to come.
In California, where health care workers will be among the first to be vaccinated, state health officials are prioritising hospitals that have adequate storage capacity, serve high-risk populations and that have the ability to vaccinate people quickly.
A survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that about half of Americans want to get the vaccine as soon as possible. Another quarter aren’t sure, while the remaining quarter say they aren’t interested.
Some simply oppose vaccines in general. Others are concerned that the vaccines have been rushed and want to see how the rollout goes.
While the vaccine was determined to be safe, regulators in the United Kingdom are investigating several severe allergic reactions.
The FDA’s instructions tell providers not to give it to those with a known history of severe allergic reactions to any of its ingredients.
The Moderna vaccine will be reviewed by an expert panel next week and soon afterward could be allowed for public use.