It is the much-anticipated final stretch of a delicate relay, and it marks the beginning of a massive logistical effort.
Moncef Slaoui, chief science adviser to the White House’s effort to develop a vaccine, called it a “very good day for America and for the world.”
Stephen Hahn, the head of the Food and Drug Administration, said he hopes people will begin getting shots in their arms on Monday, though he said his agency’s role was in emergency authorization and did not express direct knowledge of the rollout process.
“My hope, again, is that this happens very expeditiously, hopefully tomorrow,” he said in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” about the start of vaccinations.
“We have seen the vaccines go out. We have seen the press reports of hospitals waiting to vaccinate health-care workers and those most vulnerable, according to the recommendations of the ACIP and the CDC. So, it would be my greatest hope and desire that that occur tomorrow,” he added, referring to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar detailed what could come in the weeks and months following the initial vaccine shipments. He said the plan is to have 20 million people vaccinated by the end of December, up to 50 million by the end of January and 100 million by the end of February. That includes plans for a second vaccine, developed by Moderna, which is expected to gain emergency authorization from the FDA soon.
The FDA gave emergency use authorization for Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine on Friday for people 16 and older, and Moderna’s vaccine is expected to be authorized following a review scheduled for this Thursday by the agency’s independent advisers.
“We’ll be getting more and more Pfizer product, and we’ve got 12½ million Moderna product, assuming that we get approval at the end of this week on Moderna, that we’ll ship out very soon thereafter,” Azar said during an interview with CBS News’s “Face the Nation.”
He also was asked by host Margaret Brennan whether he believes President-elect Joe Biden’s team will be able to meet the goals, and Azar appeared to acknowledge that the incoming Biden administration will take over the process.
“If they carry forward with the plans that we’ve put in place, 100 million shots in arms by the end of February is very much in scope,” Azar said.
Slaoui echoed the timeline in an interview on “Fox News Sunday.”
“All in all, we hope to have immunized 100 million people, which would be the long-term care facility people, the elderly people with co-morbidities, the first-line workers, the health-care workers,” he said. “It’s about 120 million people — we would have immunized 100 million people by the first quarter of 2021 with two doses of vaccines.”
The long timeline ahead underscores that it will be months before vaccinations have any effect on the state of the surging pandemic in the United States, and officials stressed that a large proportion of the nation’s population — about 70 to 80 percent — will need to get the vaccine before herd immunity is achieved.
Slaoui said officials hope to “reach that point between the month of May and the month of June.”
But he and others acknowledged it will take widespread acceptance and public trust in the vaccine to get there.
Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said the level of potential vaccine hesitancy in the nation is of “great concern for all of us.”
During an interview on NBC News’s “Meet the Press,” he urged viewers to “hit the reset button on whatever they think they knew about this vaccine that might cause them to be so skeptical.”
“The data is out there now. It’s been discussed in a public meeting, all the details of the safety and the efficacy for anybody who wants to look,” he said, adding: “I think all reasonable people, if they had the chance to sort of put the noise aside and disregard all those terrible conspiracy theories, would look at this and say, ‘I want this for my family. I want it for myself.’ People are dying right now. How could you possibly say? ‘Let’s wait and see’ if that might mean some terrible tragedy is going to befall?”
There’s also particular concern about addressing any vaccine hesitancy in communities of color, especially because they have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
NBC’s Chuck Todd asked Collins to respond to concerns from a health-care worker who said she hopes people who look like her and other Black doctors in the community also will help generate trust in the vaccines.
“She’s absolutely right. For somebody like me to say, ‘You should be signing up for this vaccine,’ okay, a White guy who works for the government. Sure, that isn’t necessarily going to be the voice that people need to hear if they’re skeptical,” Collins said. “We are working closely with health-care providers, especially those in communities of color, and trying to make sure that all of those messages are ready to go.”
Craig Timberg and Tory Newmyer contributed to this report.