Trucks carrying the first doses of the vaccine, authorized by the FDA late Friday night, started rolling out of Pfizer's manufacturing plant in Kalamazoo, Mich. on Sunday morning, kicking off a challenging effort to inoculate Americans against a virus that's killed nearly 300,000.
FedEx and UPS, along with United Airlines and American Airlines, will help distribute the vaccine to every state, territory, and the District of Columbia, as well as several major cities. Federal officials on Saturday said 145 distribution sites are expected to receive the vaccine on Monday, another 425 sites will get the shot Tuesday and the remaining 66 sites on Wednesday.
The logistics of transporting the vaccine, which must be kept at ultra-cold temperatures, are complex. Shipping companies are relying on tech tools like temperature monitoring and GPS trackers to ensure the doses arrive unspoiled. Trucks carrying the vaccine will also have security escorts, company executives told a Senate subcommittee on Thursday.
The vaccine cleared final administrative hurdles this weekend, after an advisory committee to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Saturday recommended the shot be used in people 16 years and older. CDC Director Robert Redfield on Sunday afternoon announced that he had formally accepted the recommendation the previous night, allowing shots to be given as soon as Monday.
Roughly 2.9 million doses are going out in the first shipments. Federal officials from Operation Warp Speed, the government's vaccine accelerator, said another 2.9 million will be reserved for people to receive their second dose of the shot, which is to be administered three weeks later. The government is also holding 500,000 doses of the vaccine — developed by Pfizer's German partner, BioNTech — in emergency reserves.
Officials caution that the initial supply is extremely limited and will only go to people at highest risk. The CDC recommended health care workers and long-term care facility residents get the vaccine first, though states and territories will have final say over who they choose to prioritize.
HHS Secretary Alex Azar earlier this week said Covid-19 vaccines will be available to the broader public in the second quarter of 2021.
Moderna is expected to receive FDA authorization for its vaccine this month, but the timing for greenlighting other vaccine candidates is uncertain. There are lingering concerns that the U.S. could face shortages in the coming months amid global competition for limited doses of vaccine.
Results from the Pfizer/BioNtech trial showed the vaccine is 95 percent effective at preventing disease and had no serious side effects. Though the U.K. reported adverse effects in patients with a previous history of allergic reactions, U.S. health officials said those concerns were examined during the FDA review.