The United States remains on track to distribute and administer enough COVID-19 vaccine doses for 20 million Americans by the end of the year, health and military officials said Wednesday.
“If all goes well … that means we can make our first shipments of vaccine to states this month and we are on track to be able to ship enough vaccine for 20 million Americans before the end of the year,” Health Secretary Alex Azar told a press conference.
While 40 million doses are projected to be available this month, each person requires two doses for protection, meaning about 20 million people will get vaccinated.
Operation Warp Speed chief Moncef Slaoui, President Donald Trump’s vaccine czar, said officials feel confident they’ll have more and more vaccines each following month. He expects 60 million doses in January 2021 and 100 million in February 2021.
“And end of February, we will have potentially immunized 100 million people, which is really more or less the size of the significant at-risk population; the elderly, the health care workers, the first line workers, people with comorbidity,” he said.
Two COVID-19 vaccine candidates, one from Pfizer and BioNTech and one from Moderna, are being reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency use authorization (EUA).
The FDA’s vaccine committee is meeting on the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 10 and the following week on Moderna’s candidate. Pfizer’s vaccine was approved by UK regulators on Wednesday.
A panel that advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended this week that the first 40 million doses go to health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities. The recommendation is not binding but the agency typically adheres to advice from the panel.
Army Gen. Gustave Perna, chief operations officer for Operation Warp Speed, told the press conference that officials are planning to be ready when the EUAs are approved.
“It’s just making sure that we have everything locked so when the EUA decision comes, distribution to the American people becomes immediate within 24 hours. That’s our goal. That’s what we’re striving for and that’s what we’re working to. You can’t execute if you don’t have a plan and that’s what our emphasis is as we work through all that process,” he said.
Doses will be distributed through airlines and shipping companies like FedEx and UPS.
“We visualize each week additional vaccines getting out and eventually we just continue to build on the amount of people that get vaccinated and hence on our way to ending this pandemic,” Perna said.