Ready, Set, Vaccinate! First COVID-19 Vaccines Administered Today in U.S.

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After a brutally long year, coronavirus D-Day has finally arrived for Americans. As of this morning, regional hubs all across the nation are receiving their super-cooled shipments of Pfizer-BioNTech's coronavirus vaccine, approved for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) on Friday night.

"D-Day was a pivotal turning point in World War II. It was the beginning of the end," Gen. Gustave Perna, co-leader of Operation Warp Speed in charge of logistics, said at a news conference Saturday. "And that's where we are today." 

Over 184,000 vials of the mRNA vaccine rolled out of the manufacturing plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan on Sunday for distribution via rapid air freight shipments via UPS and FedEx. Today 145 hospitals, clinics and public health systems received their first batch of doses in all 50 states. As of now, there are 636 vaccine-staging areas ready and waiting for their shipments across the country.  

With COVID-19 related deaths nearing 300,000 in the U.S., FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn said up to 20 million Americans will be able to get vaccinated with the first of the two required doses by the end of December. The incredibly intense work of development and approval may be done, but distribution is still complicated.  

"This is the most difficult vaccine rollout in history. There will be hiccups undoubtedly but we've done everything from a federal level and working with partners to make it go as smoothly as possible. Please be patient with us," U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams told Fox News on Monday, adding that he would get the shot as soon as he could. 

New York nurse Sandra Lindsay had her five minutes of fame by becoming the very first person in New York to receive the vaccine this morning. As an ICU nurse, Lindsay has treated some of the sickest COVID-19 patients. She wants to instill confidence in the vaccine and feels like this rollout indicates that “healing is coming.” 

So, who’s first in line for vaccinations? According the to the government’s distribution plan, the first round of 2.9 million doses will be administered to frontline healthcare workers and the elderly living in long-term care facilities.  

Essential workers are next. All those individuals who provide the goods and services we need to survive. Basically, those who can’t work from home.

The elderly and people with underlying medical conditions that put them at high risk for severe illness or death from COVID-19 are also second in-line with the essential workers.  

After that, it’ll be a bit of a waiting game for the rest of the population, particularly children. More testing is needed to prove the proper dosing to be safe for the under 16 crowd.

On top of the massive challenges of distributing a vaccine to a country of over 330 million people, health officials are also facing the daunting issue of lack of confidence in the vaccine. Despite being approved by federal regulators, a quarter to half of Americans are still very wary of the vaccine. Vaccines are only truly effective with “heard immunity,” which means 75-80% of the population needs to be immunized. 

Veteran Michigan nurse Lynn Stolter has spent the pandemic testing patients and supporting families affected by COVID-19. Stolter told BioSpace, “So many lives have been affected by COVID-19, including loss of livelihood, mental health issues, serious illness, and death. When you look at what this virus has done, the benefits outweigh the risk for me. Coronaviruses as a class are not foreign to us; we have a lot of research into the coronaviruses MERS and SARS. Researchers are not starting from scratch, they already had a lot of data.” 

What she’s seen in the medical field and the positive clinical trial data have Stolter convinced. She, her husband and adult son with Down's Syndrome will be receiving the vaccine as soon as it’s available to them.  

The Pfizer-BioNtech inoculation is the first in the global race for a COVID-19 vaccine with Moderna close at its heels. Pfizer is expecting to send 25 million doses to Americans by the end of 2020 and Moderna promising 15 million (once approved). However, both vaccines require two shots per person. 

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