The first public coronavirus vaccinations in the United States were administered Monday, a promising sign that comes on the same day the nation’s Covid-19 death toll surpassed 300,000 people.
“First Vaccine Administered. Congratulations USA! Congratulations WORLD!” President Donald Trump tweeted.
The first vaccines were administered as the virus continues to kill thousands of Americans every day. And while the vaccine’s arrival is a meaningful development in the battle against the pandemic, experts say it is far from an immediate fix and that the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths will continue to rise without concerted efforts around mask wearing and social distancing.
Several of the Trump administration’s top public health officials were out in front Monday trumpeting the development in an effort to assure the public of the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness.
“It’s a great day, frankly, for science,” Moncef Slaoui, who led the administration’s effort to accelerate vaccine development, said on Fox Business. “It’s a great day for humanity. It’s a great day for the ecosystem of biotech and pharmaceutical industry. And it’s a great day for America.”
Slaoui added that the vaccine is “as safe as any other vaccine” developed in recent decades.
Sandra Lindsay, a critical care nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens, New York, was among the first Americans to receive the first of two doses Monday morning — marking a new chapter in a crisis that withered the city for much of the spring.
“I feel hopeful today. Relieved,” she said. “I hope this marks the beginning of the end of a very painful time.”
Lindsay’s injection was carried live on several news channels. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo monitored the proceedings remotely from the state Capitol in Albany before participating in the state’s Electoral College vote.
“The vaccine only works if the American people take it,” Cuomo said during the event. “It’s going to take months before the vaccine hits critical mass. So, this is the light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s a long tunnel.”
Health experts believe that a vaccination rate of 75 to 80 percent of Americans could potentially achieve herd immunity in the U.S. by the fall and bring the pandemic to a close by year’s end.
“By the time we get into the fall, we can start approaching some degree of relief where the level of infection will be so low in society we can start essentially approaching some form of normality,” said Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Monday on MSNBC.
However a smaller proportion of people getting the shots would significantly prolong that process. Recent polling indicates less than half of all Americans say they intend to get their shots, and those numbers are bleaker among Black and Hispanic Americans.
“There is a reason to be skeptical with regard to anything that the federal government embarks upon — especially this administration,” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) said on MSNBC, calling it a “tall order” to overcome such skepticism.
The initial stockpiles have generally been reserved for health care workers like Lindsay, as well as nursing home residents and other high-risk groups. The hope is that interest in the vaccines will build as these people receive the shots and supplies expand.
The first vaccination at a pharmacy, which will be a key access point for vaccines as they become more readily available, is expected be carried out Monday afternoon at a Walgreens in Fenton, Mich. A spokesperson for CVS said the company plans to administer vaccines at long-term care facilities in Connecticut and Ohio beginning on Dec. 18, with a full roll out starting three days later.
Great Britain began inoculating people earlier this month after granting authorization to Pfizer’s vaccine.
Federal officials in the U.S. said Saturday that 145 distribution sites are expected to receive the vaccine Monday, 425 other sites will get the shots Tuesday and the remaining 66 sites will do so on Wednesday. About 55 sites received their first shipment of coronavirus vaccines before noon Monday, with the remaining expected to be delivered by early afternoon.
Another 581 shipments will occur through the coming weekend until all 2.9 million doses are delivered, General Gustave Perna — the chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s vaccine accelerator — said at a Monday press conference.
“It went incredibly well,” Perna said of the initial distributions.
In Washington, D.C., an operations center — composed of military officials, Department of Health and Human Services leaders and private sector partners — is running around the clock to ensure the vaccines are being shipped to their intended destination, HHS Secretary Alex Azar said.
Federal officials anticipate that the nation’s second coronavirus vaccine could receive FDA’s greenlight for emergency use by the end of the week. Nearly 6 million doses of Moderna’s vaccine would then be shipped out to 3,285 sites across the country.
The distribution effort kicked into gear not long after the Food and Drug Administration authorized the vaccine for emergency use late Friday, a day after an independent advisory committee recommended its use in people aged 16 and older.
Manufacturer Pfizer began shipping its initial supply of the vaccine — approximately 2.9 million doses — over the weekend in conjunction with private shipping companies and a pair of major airlines. In addition, 26 states and territories are tapping the National Guard to assist with distributing the vaccine, such as dividing up larger packages and some transportation, though the work of escorting shipments to their intended location is being left to civil authorities.
Surgeon General Jerome Adams said Monday on “Good Morning America” he would receive the vaccine “when they tell me I can get it.”
“We’re getting the people who are most likely to be impacted vaccinated first,” he said.
Trump late Sunday announced that White House officials would not be near the front of the line to receive the vaccinations “unless specifically necessary.” The president’s declaration came after The New York Times reported that top government officials would be among the first to receive doses of the vaccination.
“The president decided frontline workers need to come first; our residents in long-term care facilities need to come first,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said on Fox News Monday afternoon, adding that some key officials will still have access in order to preserve “continuity of government” in the event of an emergency.
Trump, who tested positive for Covid-19 in early October, also said there were no immediate plans for him to get vaccinated but signaled that he would “at the appropriate time.” Dozens of White House aides and other people in the president’s orbit have tested positive in recent months as cases mount across the country.
Some public health experts have urged elected officials and others to get vaccinated publicly to promote uptake and combat budding anti-vaccine sentiment.
“If you are recommended to get it, and it’s available for you, oh please do get it,” Azar said. “Please get the vaccine.”
President-elect Joe Biden has laid groundwork for a messaging campaign in support of the newly authorized vaccines and has committed to getting vaccinated.
“We’re in the teeth of the crisis right now,” Biden said last week. “We have to face it head on.”
Fauci said he is planning to get vaccinated in public as soon as he can and that the president-elect is hashing out plans to do so as well, though the timing is being worked out.
“I’m certain that he will get vaccinated,” Fauci said. “I think it’s a question of when he’s going to do that, and we’re in discussions with that right now actually.”
Lara Seligman, Rachel Roubein and David Lim contributed to this report.