NEW YORK / INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) – US officials braced for the most ambitious vaccination campaign in decades on Friday as regulators moved rapidly toward approval of the first COVID-19 vaccine to curb a pandemic that now kills 3,000 Americans a day.
Another 2,902 deaths were reported in the United States on Thursday, a day after a record 3,253 people died, a rate that is expected to continue for the next two to three months even with a rapid rollout of vaccines, which could begin the Monday.
Moving at unprecedented speed, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was on Friday about to approve the emergency use of the coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc. with its German partner BioNTech.
“The FDA informed Pfizer that they intend to proceed toward an authorization for their vaccine,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told ABC News on Friday.
“We will work with Pfizer to get them shipped so we can see people get vaccinated on Monday or Tuesday,” Azar said.
Britain, Bahrain and Canada have already approved the Pfizer vaccine, and the US advisory panel is due to review a second vaccine, from Moderna Inc, next week.
Other vaccine candidates are in the works as the United States prepares for a campaign that evokes the polio vaccines of the 1950s and 1960s.
New York City will open a “Vaccine Command Center” across the street from City Hall on Monday to coordinate distribution across the city. Special attention will be paid to the 27 worst-affected neighborhoods, largely populated by ethnic minorities, said Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“This is unprecedented because it’s not just about logistics, it’s about making sure we earn the public’s trust, it’s about ensuring fairness,” de Blasio said at a press conference on Friday, promising to provide daily updates on the launch. .
New York State expects to receive 346,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine the week of December 21, in addition to the 170,000 doses from Pfizer due to arrive this weekend, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a news conference.
But as hospitalizations in the state rise, Cuomo announced that indoor meals in New York City, which resumed just over two months ago, will stop eating starting Monday.
An Indiana hospital that is one of the first designated to administer the vaccine was to rehearse its vaccination procedures on Friday, with the participation of pharmacists, nurses and doctors.
Indiana University Health will practice the storage, transportation, and administration of the vaccine to patients.
“We want to make sure we’re perfectly prepared and open with a bang,” said Kristen Kelley, director of infection prevention at IU Health.
While most vaccines take years to develop, the Pfizer vaccine arrives less than a year after the disease was traced to a market in Wuhan, China, in December last year.
Chinese officials shared the genetic sequence of the new coronavirus with the World Health Organization on January 12, triggering the international race for a vaccine.
A deployment to the United States faces significant logistical challenges in meeting President-elect Joe Biden’s goal of inoculating 100 million people within 100 days of taking office on January 20.
But any American who wants a vaccine should be able to get it in May or June, US Under Secretary of Health Brett Giroir told Fox News on Friday.
States will determine who gets the vaccine first and is likely to focus on healthcare workers and people in long-term care facilities, followed by the elderly, people with chronic conditions and first responders, Giroir said.
There is cause for concern about Americans’ skepticism of vaccines, with only 61% saying they are willing to get vaccinated, according to a Reuters / Ipsos poll.
Meanwhile, the grim statistics continue to pile up as more than 200,000 cases were recorded in the United States per day for four consecutive days, with another 220,815 cases on Thursday, according to a Reuters tally of official data.
The United States has reported about 15.6 million cases and 292,642 deaths as of Thursday.
Deaths are projected to reach 502,000 by April 1, according to an influential model from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.
The institute revised that number to roughly 37,000 on Thursday with the release of more detailed information on the vaccine and other factors.
By comparison, heart disease killed 655,381 people in the United States and cancer 599,274 in 2018, according to CDC data.
Reporting by Maria Caspani, Brendan O’Brien, Susan Heavey, Peter Szekely, Ankur Banerjee and Anurag Maan; Written by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Nick Zieminski, Jonathan Oatis and Tom Brown