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ICU nurse in New York among first in country to receive Covid vaccination

"D-Day was a pivotal turning point in World War II. It was the beginning of the end — and that's where we are today," Gen. Gustave Perna said.

Posted: Dec 14, 2020 9:18 AM
Updated: Dec 14, 2020 9:22 AM

NBC News- The first federally approved coronavirus vaccines were injected into American arms Monday, a landmark moment as the nation struggles to contain a virus that's killed almost 300,000 Americans.

Sandra Lindsay, an ICU nurse, was the first person in New York State to receive the shot, which was livestreamed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The Covid-19 vaccine, developed by German company BioNTech and its United States partner Pfizer, was given emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration on Friday night.

Trucks departed Pfizer's plant in Portage, Michigan, on Sunday and the company expects to deliver 2.9 million doses to 636 predetermined locations by the end of this week.

This marks the start of a colossal logistical challenge, with cargo trucks and planes fanning out across the country. All the while, these vaccines must be kept at minus 94 Fahrenheit, transported to their destination in specialist boxes packed with dry ice.

"We now believe that the first individuals will be vaccinated here in the commonwealth tomorrow morning," Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said in a statement Sunday. "We are less than 24 hours away from the beginning of the end of this virus."

"Everything's on time, no disruptions, and we're very, very excited," said Wes Wheeler, president of UPS Healthcare, which along with rival FedEx is carrying out the mass deliveries.

Still, salvation is a long way off.

The vaccine will not be given to the vast majority of Americans until well into next year. And it will take some time to make even a dent in a pandemic that is killing thousands of people across the U.S. every day — more than ever before.

Medical workers will struggle not only to distribute the vaccine to rural areas, but also to convince skeptical members of the public that the shots are safe.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar tried to reassure Americans on Monday, telling the "TODAY" show that the vaccine had "gone through every aspect of the FDA process with integrity and transparent data."

"If you are recommended to get it and it's available for you, please do get it, protect yourself and protect those around you," he said.

Asked exactly how may people would be vaccinated and how quickly, Azar said several times that it was "up to our nation's governors" to decide the specifics.

Over the weekend, Gen. Gustave Perna, chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, likened the distribution operation to the 1944 Normandy landings, the Allied invasion that began the liberation of Nazi-occupied Europe.

"D-Day was a pivotal turning point in World War II. It was the beginning of the end — and that's where we are today," Perna told a briefing Saturday. "But make no mistake, it was not the end. Months and months of hard-fought battles occurred and it took diligence, courage and strength to eventually achieve victory."

Meanwhile, Congressional leaders have set a Friday deadline to pass legislation to keep the government funded, and they say a Covid-19 aid package should be attached to it. However, Democrats and Republicans remain at odds about exactly what should be included in the deal.

The vaccine rollout in the U.S. will prioritize high-risk populations, such as hospital workers and nursing home staff and residents. It's unclear who will be prioritized in the second phase. On Monday, 145 sites will receive the vaccine, 425 Tuesday and 66 Wednesday, making up the rest of the initial shipment, he said.

That mirrors what's already happening in the United Kingdom, which last week became the first country to administer a clinically approved vaccine to patients.

That appeared to frustrate President Donald Trump, calling the FDA "a big, old, slow turtle" in a tweet Friday, and urged its commissioner, Dr. Stephen M. Hahn, to "get the dam vaccines out NOW" and "stop playing games and start saving lives!!!"

The FDA has repeatedly denied this. "We do not feel that this could have been out a week earlier," Hahn told ABC's "This Week" on Sunday. "We followed our process."

A member of Pfizer's board has also said the Trump administration passed up the opportunity to buy more of the vaccine when it had the chance.

The U.S. has ordered at least 100 million doses of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine, with the option to buy another 500 million. Of all the vaccines currently in development, it has put in advance orders for 800 million doses — enough to inoculate its population several times over.

That trend among wealthy countries has concerned global campaigners, who say poorer countries are set for a longer wait because richer countries are looking after themselves first.

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