Initial shipments of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine will arrive at nearly 150 sites across all the states on Monday, President Trump’s vaccine team said Saturday.
“Make no mistake, distribution has begun,” said Army Gen. Gustave Perna, who oversees logistics for Operation Warp Speed.
Boxes are being packed over the weekend and TV cameras are expected to capture images of the first trays leaving Pfizer’s facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan, early Sunday, setting the table for the first inoculations by the middle or latter half of the coming weeks.
Officials said 2.9 million doses are going out in the initial tranche, with an additional 2.9 million in reserve so the first recipients can be assured their booster dose 21 days later.
Boxes packed with the ultra-cold vaccines will arrive at 145 sites Monday, 425 sites on Tuesday and 66 sites on Wednesday. States told the operation where FedEx and UPS should take the vaccines.
Many of the initial shipments will go to centralized places that have ultra-low freezers that can store the Pfizer shots, which must be maintained at minus-94 degrees Fahrenheit and will degrade after five days if left in a normal refrigerator. Gen. Perna said he expects the operation to deliver the vaccines to a broader footprint of distribution sites within three weeks.
The Food and Drug Administration approved Pfizer’s two-dose vaccine late Friday for emergency use in those age 16 or older, giving the U.S. a sense of hope as it reels from widespread hospitalizations and over 2,000 COVID-19 deaths per day, on average.
“Today is truly a historic today,” Gen. Perna said Saturday.
He characterized it as a kind of D-Day, however, or “the beginning of the end” of the battle against a virus that upended normal life and economics across the world.
“We are not taking a victory lap. We know that the road ahead of us will be tough,” the general said.
The general said he expects to see some hiccups in the rollout but he’s confident they will be overcome.
Operation Warp Speed is holding onto 500,000 doses in the first wave in case of unforeseen mishaps, though Gen. Perna believes the weekly set-aside amount will dwindle as the operation ramps up to full steam.
“We want no vaccines on the shelf,” Gen. Perna said.
The Pfizer distribution will be supplemented in the coming days by the anticipated approval of the Moderna vaccine after an FDA meeting on Dec. 17. Both drugmakers’ versions of the vaccine use messenger-RNA and proved highly effective in human trials.
Gen. Perna said he still expects to get 40 million doses out to states by the end of the year.
“We stay in a rhythm to ensure we can meet that requirement and we’re working toward that,” Gen. Perna said.