The United States kicked off a mass vaccination drive Monday hoping to turn the tide on the world’s biggest coronavirus outbreak, as the country’s death toll neared a staggering 300,000.
A nurse in New York became the first person in the US to be vaccinated when she received the Pfizer-BioNTech shot live on television.
“I feel great. I feel relieved,” said Sandra Lindsay, a critical care nurse at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center, imploring all Americans to “to do our part” by getting vaccinated.
“I hope this marks the beginning of the end of the very painful time in our history,” she added.
The landmark moment comes at one of the darkest phases of the pandemic, with infections in the United States and many other countries soaring, and health experts still struggling against vaccine skepticism, lockdown fatigue and uneven adherence to safety rules.
The US has the world’s highest death toll of more than 299,000, and the largest number of reported cases, at 16.2 million — including more than 1.5 million new infection in just the past week.
“First Vaccine Administered. Congratulations USA! Congratulations WORLD!” tweeted President Donald Trump.
Delivery trucks with special refrigeration equipment were rolling out across America, as part of a public-private plan to ship millions of doses of the newly approved Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine to vulnerable Americans.
Courier services FedEx and UPS have deployed fleets of trucks and planes to carry their precious cargo — sometimes under armed guard — to all 50 states, where health care workers and nursing-home residents will be first in line.
An initial 2.9 million doses are set to be delivered by Wednesday, with officials saying 20 million Americans could receive the two-shot regimen by year end, and 100 million by March.
UPS and FedEx were to ship glass vials of the vaccine to 636 sites around the country by Wednesday.
Doses are being shipped in boxes containing dry ice that can keep supplies at -70 degrees Celsius (-94 degrees Fahrenheit), the frigid temperature needed to preserve the drug.
Trials have shown the vaccine to be 95 percent effective, and Americans were being told it was safe unless they have an allergy to any of the drug’s components.
Experts face a battle to convince enough Americas to take the vaccine to make it effective though, in a country where the anti-vaccine movement is strong.
“My biggest concern is the level of hesitancy in the country. I really hope we are going to be able to change that,” Moncef Slaoui, head of the government’s vaccine rollout program Operation Warp Speed, told CBS.
Worldwide, there have been at least 1.6 million deaths since the outbreak emerged in China last December, and 71.6 million cases overall.
Canada also began distributing the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Monday after the first shipment of doses arrived in the country on Sunday night.
The start of the campaigns in North America this week come as Germany prepares to enter a partial lockdown from Wednesday, with non-essential shops and schools to close in a bid to halt an “exponential growth” in infections.
Elsewhere, Italy has overtaken Britain as the European nation with the highest death toll at 64,520.
Even as US officials welcomed the unprecedented vaccine effort, they cautioned people not to grow lax in observing precautions.
“It’s going to take months before the vaccine hits critical mass. So, this is the light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s a long tunnel,” said Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York state, where 35,000 people have succumbed to Covid-19.
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