A panel of outside advisers to the US Food and Drug Administration has voted overwhelmingly to endorse emergency use of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine.
Shots could begin within days, depending on how quickly the FDA signs off — as expected — on the expert committee’s recommendation.
The endorsement came despite British regulators issuing a warning about allergies after two people who received the vaccine earlier this week suffered adverse reactions.
In a 17-4 vote with one abstention, the government advisers concluded the vaccine from Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech appeared safe and effective for emergency use in adults and teenagers 16 and older.
That endorsement came despite questions about allergic reactions in two people who received the vaccine earlier this week when the United Kingdom became the first country to begin dispensing the Pfizer-BioNTech shot.
The approval comes as the daily US COVID-19 death toll surpassed 3000 for the first time.
COVID-19 deaths reached 3253 on Wednesday, pushing up the US total since the start of the pandemic to 289,740.
A record 106,219 people were hospitalised with the highly infectious disease, threatening to overwhelm many healthcare systems.
Healthcare professionals and support staff, exhausted by demands of the pandemic, have been watching patients die alone as millions of Americans refuse to follow medical advice to wear masks and avoid crowds and smaller gatherings to contain the virus’ spread.
The one-day death toll exceeded the number of lives lost from the attacks of September 11, 2001, underscoring the human toll and the call for Americans to redouble efforts.
“No Christmas parties. There is not a safe Christmas party in this country right now,” Dr Michael Osterholm, a member of US President-elect Joe Biden’s COVID-19 advisory board, told CNN on Thursday (local time).
“It won’t end after that but that is the period right now where we could have a surge upon a surge upon a surge,” Dr Osterholm said.
More than half of US states have recently introduced or resumed restrictions to try to curtail the rampant spread of the virus.
Providing a ray of hope, a vaccine could start reaching healthcare workers, first responders and nursing home residents within days in what Hanse called “light at the end of the tunnel”.
A second vaccine developed by Moderna will be reviewed by the advisory panel next week.
Mr Biden, who succeeds President Donald Trump on January 20, has set a goal of vaccinating 100 million people within the first 100 days of his administration.
Congress, meanwhile, has struggled to end a months-long stalemate over economic assistance.
Disagreements remain over business liability protections demanded by Republicans and aid to state and local governments, whose budgets have blown up by the pandemic, sought by Democrats before a final deal is reached on pandemic assistance.