Government officials said the first 6.4 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine will be distributed to all states and territories around mid-December, assuming the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will deem it safe and grant it an emergency use authorization, media outlets report.
Top members of Operation Warp Speed — a program created in May by the government to produce and deliver COVID-19 vaccines — told reporters on a call Tuesday that the first doses will be given to states based on population size.
The new distribution plans split from earlier ones that said the first doses of a coronavirus vaccine will go to states based on the number of people in high-risk groups, such as health care workers, first responders, people over 65 years old, and individuals with underlying medical conditions.
It was a recommendation suggested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
However, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Tuesday that “[governors] will decide whom the vaccine is given to,” The Hill reported.
“We wanted to keep this simple,” Azar said during the media briefing, according to NPR. “We thought it would be the fairest approach, and the most consistent.”
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It’s most likely that the Pfizer-BioNTech candidate will be the first vaccine distributed to Americans because it’s first in line to be reviewed by the FDA when it meets on Dec. 10. The drugmaker submitted a request to the agency for an emergency use authorization on Nov. 20, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
“Our plan is to be able to ship vaccines to the immunization sites within 24 hours from the approval, so I would expect maybe on day two after approval, on the 11th or on the 12th of December, hopefully, the first people will be immunized across the United States, across all states, in all the areas where the State Departments of Health will have told us where to deliver the vaccine,” Moncef Slaoui, scientific leader of Operation Warp Speed, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” Sunday.
Biotechnology company Moderna is expected to submit its request for an emergency use authorization “in the coming weeks,” the DOD said, so its vaccine could potentially be reviewed alongside Pfizer’s, experts say.
As of Nov. 20, more than 20,000 Pfizer vaccine kits that include “needles, syringes, alcohol pads and limited personal protective equipment” have been assembled, the DOD said, “with more in production every day.”
That’s enough to cover 20 million vaccine doses.
If approved, Pfizer will ship doses of its vaccine in special coolers with dry ice carrying enough supplies for at least 975 doses. Recipients have three options to properly store the vaccines: keep them in commercially available “ultra-low-temperature freezers” for up to six months, hospital refrigerators between 35 and 46 degrees Fahrenheit for up to five days, or in the thermal shippers they came in for up to 15 days.
The general population likely won’t get vaccinated until next spring or summer, experts say.