Crowds cheered as semi-trucks rolled out of the loading dock at a Pfizer manufacturing plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan, on Sunday, beginning historic journeys to deliver insulated boxes of the nation’s first COVID-19 vaccine to hospitals and health departments across America.
The caravan of FedEx, UPS and Boyle Transportation trucks — led and tailed by unmarked police cars — pulled out of the parking lot about 8:25 a.m., headed to airports and distribution centers. Pfizer has said it will deliver 6.4 million doses in this initial shipments. Federal officials say they will be staggered, arriving in 145 distribution centers Monday, with an additional 425 sites getting shipments Tuesday, and the remaining 66 on Wednesday.
The first inoculations could come as soon as Monday, with healthcare workers and nursing home residents first in line.
The vaccine is offering hope in the fight against the pandemic that has killed nearly 300,000 in the U.S. alone. But it will take months to produce and distribute enough to vaccinate most Americans, and experts warn that infections, hospitalizations and deaths will likely climb this winter.
– Kristen Jordan Shamus, Detroit Free Press
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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. Now it goes to the director of the CDC for his signature.
- The Food and Drug Administration late Friday granted emergency use of the vaccine
- The U.S. has recorded more than 16 million cases of COVID-19, by far the most of any country in the world
- About 1 in 8 U.S. hospitals had few 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.
📈 Another day of record deaths in the US: As of Sunday, almost 300,000 people in the U.S. have died, with more than 16 million confirmed cases, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: more than 70 million cases and 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.
Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn said Sunday that his “greatest hope” that the nations first coronavirus coronavirus vaccinations take place Monday. A first shipment of vaccination doses should arrive Monday in every state, he said.
“Well, my hope, again, is that this happens very expeditiously, hopefully tomorrow,” Hahn told CNN’s State of the Union. “It would be my greatest hope and desire that that occur tomorrow.”
Hahn also denied claims that he was ordered by the White House to approve the vaccine on Saturday or he would be forced to resign.
“There was a desire for us to move as quickly as possible,” he said. “We have.?
It is not yet clear whether someone who is vaccinated could still acquire the virus without any symptoms and potentially be contagious to others, the director of the National Institutes of Health said Sunday. Dr. Francis Collins said the “urgent question” will take months to answer.
“What that means is if you’ve had the vaccine … you still need to think of yourself as potentially contagious,” Collins said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “Masks are still going to be part of our life. We need to recognize that and not step away or start to drop our guard.”
How long will masks be needed? Collins repeated the recurring theme among experts that 70 to 80% of Americans must be immune before “herd immunity” will protect everyone. “We think we can get there by June” if enough people agree to be vaccinated, he said.
The chief science adviser to Operation Warp Speed, a U.S. effort to get vaccines developed quickly, said Sunday he remains “very concerned” about the skepticism the vaccine is drawing from millions of Americans. Last week, regulators in the U.K. began investigating several severe allergic reactions seen after vaccinations began there. The FDA’s instructions tell providers not to give it to Americans with a known history of such reactions.
“There’s been a confusion between how thorough and scientific and factual the work that has been done is, and the perception that people are thinking that we cut corners,” Slaoui said. “I can guarantee you that no such things have happened, that we follow the science.”
In New Jersey, one of the worst-hit states, health care workers at University Hospital in Newark on Tuesday morning will be the first vaccine recipients, Gov. Phil Murphy said Sunday. The state has absorbed almost 18,000 deaths since the pandemic bega.
“It will be a big day Tuesday morning in Newark,” the governor said in an interview on ABC News This Week. Essex County has suffered the highest number of deaths – 2,294 – of any county in New Jersey from the coronavirus and University Hospital was the epicenter of the work to treat the severely ill. Murphy said he will witness the shots being given with Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli and Dr. Shereef Elnahal, the former health commissioner who is CEO of University Hospital.
– Lindy Washburn, NorthJersey.com
Because Pfizer’s vaccine must be frozen at the ultra-cold temperature of minus-94 degrees Fahrenheit or lower for storage, shipping doses to hospitals and public health agencies is a challenge. Pfizer’s first shipments include boxes holding 975 vials of vaccine. The boxes are broken down into five trays that each hold 195 vials. Pfizer created temperature-controlled thermal shippers that use dry ice to maintain ultra-cold temperatures for up to 10 days unopened. The vaccines can be kept safely at 36-46 degrees Fahrenheit for up to 24 hours or at room temperature for no more than two hours after it thaws, the company says.
– Kristen Jordan Shamus, Detroit Free Press
Students are struggling, teachers are stressed, and more schools are online. But there’s still no grand plan to improve online learning. Millions of students attending school virtually are foundering academically, socially and emotionally. And as the pandemic heaves into a winter surge, a slew of new reports show alarming numbers of kids falling behind, failing classes or not showing up at all. The consequences are most dire for low-income and minority children, who are more likely to be learning remotely and less likely to have appropriate technology and home environments for independent study.
“We almost need a disaster plan for education,” said Sonya Thomas, executive director of Nashville Propel, a community group that works with many Black parents in Tennessee.
– Erin Richards
The day Frank Malinowski, 59, was admitted to the hospital for treatment of COVID-19, his 36-year-old son, Frank “Keith” Malinowski, began to write emails to his family. Over three weeks in October and November, the virus became a plague on the Malinowski family. It delivered “cheap shots.” It took hostages. And it left them with pain and grief. The family has granted the Akron Beacon Journal, part of the USA TODAY Network, permission to print those emails, which have been lightly edited for clarity and length, in the hopes they can convince others to take the virus seriously as cases and hospitalizations continue to surge. You can read them here.
– Jennifer Pignolet, Akron Beacon Journal
Criminal networks are ready to roll out counterfeit versions of approved vaccines, much like fake Gucci bags and Nike sneakers, experts warn. Already, consumer watchdogs are hearing reports of imposters claiming to be Social Security Administration workers in order to get sensitive information from people. Scammers might claim they’re calling to sign the person up to receive their vaccine. As part of the sign-up, the scammer asks for nformation such as your Medicare number, name, address and possibly bank account information, said Jon Miller Steiger, director of the East Central Region for the Federal Trade Commission.
“This is a scam,” Steiger said. “The Social Security Administration will not sign you up to receive a vaccine and will not ask for sensitive information by phone, email or text.”
– Susan Tompor, Detroit Free Press
The first shipments of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine will arrive today at the Muhammad Ali International Airport to be sorted and shipped out the same day to destinations across the eastern U.S. The ultimate destination: The arms of healthcare workers on the front lines of the fight against the coronavirus. To keep the doses chilled, the UPS Worldport in Louisville has built a “freezer farm” on location with 300 ultra-low temperature refrigeration units that can each store 48,000 vials of vaccines.
“We have millions of doses of this vaccine that are now being shipped to every corner of America, with administration to begin as soon as providers are ready,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar.
– Lucas Aulbach, Louisville Courier Journal
Charley Pride — a Country Music Hall of Fame singer who rose from rural Mississippi to become the genre’s first Black superstar — died Saturday at age 86. The “Kiss An Angel Good Mornin’ ” star died in Dallas, due to complications from COVID-19, according to a news release from his publicist, Jeremy Westby. With a career spanning more than five decades, Pride cemented a trailblazing legacy unlike any entertainer before him. Launching his career in the 1960s, in the height of civil rights movement, Pride became the first Black man to outright conquer country music fame.
He overcame audiences unwilling to hear a Black man cover Hank Williams and promoters equally skeptical at hosting his performances to become the best-selling artist for RCA Records since Elvis Presley.
— Matthew Leimkuehler and Dave Paulson, Nashville Tennessean
In San Joaquin County, part of California’s vast Central Valley that produces most of the country’s fruits and vegetables, the coronavirus is spreading like a weed and the hospitals are running out of beds for the sickest patients. San Joaquin is part of a 12-county region that on Saturday, according to the California Department of Public Health, had 100% of its intensive care unit beds filled, the highest rate anywhere in California. And with cases continuing at an unprecedented rate, the death toll inevitably will grow, too.
A new stay-at-home order was imposed this week but it is unknown whether it will have the intended consequence of finally changing enough people’s behavior to slow infections as a vaccine is widely rolled out.
Amid concerns about how quickly the FDA issued an emergency authorization for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, agency leaders stressed Saturday that they conducted a thorough, transparent review. FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said reports Friday that the White House had threatened to fire him if the agency did not authorize the vaccine were “inaccurate.”
“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,” Hahn said. “I will absolutely take this COVID-19 vaccine.”
Hahn said the agency was concerned about vaccine “hesitancy” and and stressed that “efficiency does not mean any cutting of corners.” Hahn 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 seek standard approval. The FDA and the CDC are monitoring as well, he said.
In what is hoped to be the beginning of the end of America’s COVID-19 pandemic, the FDA 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? Front line 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? Within days, 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
Contributing: Kristen Jordan Shamus, Detroit Free Press; The Associated Press