The United States extended its rollout of the first authorized COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday, inoculating healthcare workers with an eye toward persuading skeptical Americans to get their shots and contain a pandemic that has killed more than 300,000 people.
The first Americans outside clinical trials started receiving the vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc and German partner BioNTech SE on Monday, three days after it won U.S. emergency-use authorization.
By day’s end, vaccine shipments had made it to nearly all of the 145 U.S. distribution sites pre-selected to receive the initial batch of doses, with a number of major hospital systems launching immunizations immediately.
A second vaccine, from Moderna Inc, appeared set for regulatory authorization this week as U.S. Food and Drug Administration staff endorsed it as safe and effective in documents released Tuesday.
Similar to the Pfizer vaccine, it requires two doses several weeks apart.
In one of many made-for-TV injections, New York City intensive care nurse Sandra Lindsay received the first shot in the arm on Monday, saying “healing is coming” and that, “I want to instill public confidence that the vaccine is safe.”
The scene was repeated on Tuesday in places like University Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, where emergency room nurse Maritza Beniquez became the first in that state to receive the vaccine.
“I couldn’t wait for this moment to hit New Jersey. I couldn’t wait for it to hit the U.S.,” Beniquez said upon getting vaccinated with Governor Phil Murphy looking on.
But just as large numbers of Americans have called the pandemic a hoax and rejected public health guidelines to wear masks and avoid crowds, only 61% of respondents in a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll said they were open to getting vaccinated.
While most vaccines take years to develop, the Pfizer vaccine arrived less than a year after the illness was traced to a market in Wuhan, China, in December of last year.
Chinese officials shared the genetic sequence of the novel coronavirus with the World Health Organization on Jan. 12, triggering the international race toward a vaccine.
“The speed was not at all at the sacrifice of safety. The speed was the reflection of extraordinary advances in the science of vaccine platform technology,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told ABC News’ “Good Morning America” show on Tuesday.
“So people understandably are skeptical about the speed, but we have to keep emphasizing speed means the science was extraordinary,” Fauci said.
Fauci estimated most of the U.S. population could become immune once 75% to 80% of the public is vaccinated, urging people to keep wearing masks and avoiding crowds for months to come.
COVID-19 has killed 301,085 people in the United States and infected 16.5 million, overwhelming the healthcare system with a record 110,163 patients hospitalized as of Monday, according to a Reuters tally of official data.
The pandemic has also inflicted economic pain as states and localities imposed stay-at-home orders and closed businesses, putting millions out of work.
Congress on Monday inched toward passing the first COVID-19 relief bill since April, possibly extending aid to the unemployed, small businesses, and vaccine distribution. The COVID-19 aid could be attached to a critical spending measure that must be passed by Friday to avoid a federal government shutdown.