A day after authorizing the first COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S., federal officials said Saturday that distribution has begun.
“As I speak today, right now, vaccines are being packaged,” Gen. Gustave Perna, co-leader of Operation Warp Speed in charge of logistics, said Saturday. “Tomorrow morning, vaccines will start rolling from manufacturing to distribution hubs. By Monday, vaccines will be received.”
The vaccine will be sent to to 636 locations nationwide this week, with 145 sites receiving doses Monday, 425 on Tuesday and the final 66 on Wednesday, Perna said.
No vaccine was positioned in advance, Perna said. “We did not want to presume” emergency use authorization, he said. “Under no circumstances did we want to get ahead of the great FDA and their decision making.”
Earlier Saturday, Food and Drug Administration officials reassured the American public that the agency did not cut corners in its review and urged people to get vaccinated. The United States is on the cusp of having lost 300,000 people to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.
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Here are today’s top headlines:
- An advisory committee to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voted Saturday to recommend the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for people 16 and older.
- Vaccinations will begin Monday, and patients and caregivers will be provided fact sheets, said Dr. Nancy Messonnier of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during a Saturday committee meeting.
- The Food and Drug Administration late Fridaygranted emergency authorization to Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine that data shows is highly effective at preventing a disease.
- The promising news will not immediately end the pandemic, which is still raging out of control. Dr. Ugur Sahin, CEO of BioNTech estimated it would be until March or April before the vaccine could impact the virus’ spread — underscoring the need for measures like mask-wearing and social distancing in the meantime.
- About 1 in 8 U.S. hospitals had little or no intensive care unit beds available last week, according to new federal data. Experts say the number of hospitals struggling to accommodate the nation’s sickest patients likely will increase following another week of record COVID-19 cases.
- Two Florida men are facing federal charges that allege they stole nearly 200 ventilators the United States was shipping to El Salvador to help the Central American country treat coronavirus patients.
📈 Another day of record deaths in the US: On Friday, 3,309 people in the U.S. died from the coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The previous record was set Wednesday at 3,124, the first time the daily death toll surpassed 3,000. As of Saturday, more than 295,500 people in the U.S. have died, with more than 15.9 confirmed cases. The global totals: 71.2 million cases and nearly 1.6 million deaths.
📰 What we’re reading: We’re answering your questions about the vaccine, like: What are the side effects? Can you still get sick? Is it safe during pregnancy? Read more here.
The first shipments of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine will move through UPS’ Worldport global air hub at Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport within days, the company announced Saturday.
UPS said the vaccine, which received an emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Friday evening, will originate from storage sites in Michigan and Wisconsin.
“The vaccines will be transported to UPS Worldport facilities in Louisville, where they will be expedited Next Day Air to select destinations, including hospitals, clinics and other medical facilities, to inoculate healthcare workers,” the company said in a news release.
The company did not say when it expects the vaccines to arrive in Louisville, nor how many doses will move through it. UPS spokesman Jim Mayer previously told The Courier Journal, part of the USA TODAY Network, that UPS will deliver to states in the eastern U.S. FedEx will deliver to the western half of the U.S.
– Ben Tobin, Louisville Courier Journal
The chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, the White House effort to fund, produce and distribute a vaccine, cheered the emergency authorization of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine but warned of a tough road ahead.
“While this moment is extraordinary … we have a lot of work to do. We are not taking a victory lap,” Perna said Saturday.
He said it wouldn’t have made a difference to Operation Warp Speed if the FDA had authorized the vaccine Saturday instead of Friday. “Our ultimate goal was to get it there no later than Monday morning,” he said.
Perna reiterated that Operation Warp Speed wouldn’t distribute the second vaccine dose or a portion held in reserve until it has “ultimate confidence” that there are enough doses and the delicate distribution system works. That could change in January or February.
“We want no vaccines on a shelf,” Perna said. “Doesn’t matter how effective a vaccine is if it’s on a shelf.”
Amid concerns about how quickly the FDA issued an emergency authorization for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, agency leaders Saturday stressed that they conducted a thorough, transparent review before concluding it’s safe.
“Science and data guided the FDA’s decision. We worked quickly because of the urgency of this pandemic, not because of any other external pressure,” FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said. “I will absolutely take this COVID-19 vaccine.”
Hahn said reports Friday that the White House had threatened to fire him if the agency did not authorize the vaccine were “inaccurate.”
Hahn said the agency was “very concerned about vaccine hesitancy” and made the process as transparent as possible by posting trial data and documents online.
“Efficiency does not mean any cutting of corners,” Hahn said. The FDA “found ways to cut the red tape,” but “important safety checks remained in place,” he said.
Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said the FDA requires vaccine developers to monitor for “any significant adverse events” as they go through the standard approval process. The FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are monitoring as well, he said.
Officials provided more information about whether certain groups of people should get the vaccine. People who are pregnant or immunocompromised, who were not included in safety trials, should discuss the vaccine with their providers “on an individual basis,” Marks said.
Sites where the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine are administered will be able to treat allergic reactions, Marks said. About 1.6% of the population has had a severe allergic reaction of some sort in the past — such as to a food or medication — but they are eligible to receive the vaccine, Marks said. Only people who have had a severe allergic reaction to a previous dose of the vaccine or one of its components should not receive the vaccine.
Experts say the ingredients in the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine look typical: an active ingredient (in this case, messenger RNA), fats, salt and sugars.
Dr. Matthew Heinz, a hospitalist based in Tucson, Arizona, said if any part of the vaccine were to trigger an allergic reaction, it could be one of the components that make up the fat molecule. But that’s rare. “We’re talking about a number of relatively mild reactions that you can count on one hand,” out of tens of thousands of people in the study, he said.
Two British people with severe allergies apparently had reactions to Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine this week. Allergic reactions were not a significant problem in the U.S. trial, in which more than 20,000 people received two doses of the vaccine. The U.S. trials kept out subjects who have had severe allergic reactions.
On the same day that the FDA approved the first vaccine for emergency use in the United States, the nation reached another milestone in COVID-19 cases and deaths.
The country recorded 3,309 coronavirus deaths Friday, according to Johns Hopkins University data, surpassing Wednesday’s record when 3,124 people died. Friday also saw the highest number of daily cases to date in the U.S., 231,775.
In what is hoped to be the beginning of the end of America’s COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday evening authorized the first vaccine to prevent people from getting sick.
What this means: The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine received emergency use authorization, which is not full approval. Although it has received all the standard short-term safety and effectiveness reviews, the vaccine has not been tested for the two years typical of an approved vaccine – so it is not yet clear how long protection will last.
When will you get it? Frontline health care workers and nursing home residents are expected to get the vaccine first. More doses will be rolled out in the weeks and months to come, with Pfizer and Moderna each expected to deliver 100 million doses of their vaccines by the middle of next year.
What about other vaccines? Next week, a similar COVID-19 vaccine developed by the Massachusetts-based Moderna will go through the same review process, and could swiftly be cleared for use.
– Karen Weintraub
Just over a month ago, the coronavirus pandemic tore through Quinter, Kansas, a rural town of 1,000, killing 20 residents. Here, where most everyone knows most everyone else, the pandemic has killed farmers and their wives. The town’s unofficial historian. The beloved grandmother whose sour cream chocolate cake with chocolate fudge frosting was always the talk of the party. The mom whose piano-playing still echoes in the heads of her friends.
And it has drained the hearts of the survivors. Those who feel guilty about recovering. The ambulance workers battling to treat their own relatives. The exhausted doctor who watched nearly half his patients die.
As of Thursday, the coronavirus has killed a higher percentage of Gove County residents than any other county in the United States: one out of every 132 people. Even today, mask-wearing remains controversial. Friendships are strained as authorities struggle to persuade their neighbors to follow basic public health guidelines, such as avoiding large gatherings.
“We are living through history right now, and I worry what the history books will say about us,” said Ericka Nicholson, 47, who helps run the town’s volunteer ambulance service and survived the infection. Read more from Gove County, Kansas.
– Trevor Hughes
About 1 in 8 U.S. hospitals had little or no intensive care unit space available last week. Experts say the number of hospitals struggling to accommodate the nation’s sickest patients likely will increase after another week of record COVID-19 cases.
The federal government this week released a sweeping database showing a one-week average of COVID-19 patients in hospitals nationwide. It’s the first time the Department of Health and Human Services has provided such detailed information on nearly 5,000 U.S. hospitals since the pandemic began.
The absence of hospital-level information has been a blind spot in the pandemic, as administrators must call neighboring hospitals to transfer patients when they run out of beds and staff.
“We know what’s happening in our system, but I don’t know what’s happening in the other systems,” said Dr. Lewis Kaplan, professor of surgery at University of Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia. “To have a coordinated effort you need to have that kind of data so everyone knows where everyone else happens to be.” Read more.
– Ken Alltucker and Aleszu Bajak
The Trump administration announced Friday that it has purchased an additional 100 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine made by Moderna, bringing the federal government’s total order from the company to 200 million doses. The additional doses would “provide for continuous delivery through the end of June 2021,” the Department of Health and Human Services said in a press release.
“Securing another 100 million doses from Moderna by June 2021 further expands our supply of doses across the Operation Warp Speed portfolio of vaccines,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement. “This new federal purchase can give Americans even greater confidence we will have enough supply to vaccinate all Americans who want it by the second quarter of 2021.”
Moderna became the second vaccine maker in the U.S. to request authorization from the FDA at the end of last month. The company’s latest findings showed that of 196 people in the clinical trial who caught COVID-19, 185 of them had received the placebo, while only 11 had received the vaccine. That works out to an effectiveness rate above 94%.
After spending over 80 days battling COVID-19 in a Wisconsin hospital, Nancy Van Dyn Hoven on Friday was reunited with her family and friends — just in time for the holidays.
“Other than 2020 being awful, this is just the best,” Van Dyn Hoven, 60, said Friday at home, chuckling with her husband, Dennis, and daughter, Stacy Arnoldussen. “It’s all I could ask for.”
Dr. Anthony Zeimet, an infectious diseases specialist at the hospital and Nancy’s doctor, said the severity of her illness was particularly surprising because she was just 59 years old — she turned 60 in the hospital — and had no underlying health conditions that would put her at higher risk of severe illness.
“The virus kind of ravaged her body,” Zeimet said. “It just goes to show that, with COVID, we don’t know who’s going to do well or do poorly. Nancy was someone who, when she was first admitted, we thought she’d do pretty well. … Unfortunately, she ended up being here for 80-plus days.”
Although Nancy’s recovery is far from over and she has a long road of rehabilitation services ahead, Friday marked the end of a months-long struggle with the virus. Read more.
— Samantha West, Appleton Post-Crescent