Covid-19: United States starts rollout of Pfizer vaccine

Pandemic has killed 300,000 Americans with surge expected over Christmas

A worker transports a container carrying boxes of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine to be shipped at the Pfizer Global Supply Kalamazoo manufacturing plant in Portage, Michigan, on Sunday. Photograph: EPA

The first lorries carrying a Covid-19 vaccine for widespread use in the US have pulled out of a Michigan manufacturing facility.

The vaccines that are critical to stopping the nation’s coronavirus outbreak are destined to reach states a day later.

Shipments of the Pfizer vaccine will set in motion the biggest vaccination effort in American history at a critical juncture of the pandemic that has killed 1.6 million people worldwide.

Initially, about 3 million doses were expected to be sent out, and the priority is health care workers and nursing home residents as infections, hospital admissions and deaths soar in the US.


With numbers likely to get worse over the holidays, the vaccine is offering a bright spot in the fight against the pandemic that has killed nearly 300,000 Americans.

Federal officials say the first shipments of Pfizer’s vaccine will be staggered, arriving in 145 distribution centres on Monday, with an additional 425 sites getting shipments on Tuesday, and the remaining 66 on Wednesday.

The vaccine, co-developed by German partner BioNTech, is being handed out based on each state’s adult population.

Pennsylvania healthcare giant UPMC has chosen staff who are critical to operating its facilities as among those getting the first round of vaccinations, said Dr Graham Snyder, who led the centre’s vaccine task force.

“It’s very exciting. I will be thrilled, that moment when we administer our first dose,” Dr Snyder said. “That will clearly be a watershed moment for us.”

Dr Snyder said the UPMC system estimates that half of its employees are willing to get the vaccine as soon as it is offered to them.

The vaccine is heading to hospitals and other sites that can store it at extremely low temperatures — about 94 degrees below zero.

Pfizer is using containers with dry ice and GPS-enabled sensors to ensure each shipment stays colder than the weather in Antarctica.

Doses should be delivered to all vaccination sites identified by states, such as local pharmacies, within three weeks, federal officials said.

The 40-hospital Oschner Health System in Louisiana and Mississippi expects to receive more than 9,000 doses in the coming days, said Dr Sandra Kemmerly, medical director of hospital quality.

Employees approved for the first round are getting texts and emails directing them to schedule their initial injection, she said.

“I would say there’s enthusiasm,” Dr Kemmerly said on Saturday. “There’s that thought that maybe they don’t have to be so afraid to come to work if they can be vaccinated and be immune.”

The rollout will ensure there is enough vaccine to give people the two doses needed for full protection against Covid-19.

That means the government is holding back 3 million doses to give those vaccinated in the first round a second shot a few weeks later.

The Food and Drug Administration authorised emergency use of the vaccine on Friday, saying it is highly protective and presents no major safety issues.

While US regulators worked for months to emphasise the rigour and independence of their review, they faced political pressure until the final stages.

Concerns that a shot was rushed out could undermine vaccination efforts in a country with deeply ingrained scepticism about vaccines.

The head of the FDA said the agency’s decision was based on science, not politics, despite a White House threat to fire him if the vaccine was not approved before Saturday.

While the vaccine was determined to be safe, regulators in the UK 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.

Another vaccine by Moderna will be reviewed by an expert panel next week and soon afterwards could be allowed for public use. – PA