America’s biggest-ever vaccination campaign is getting underway as the the first shipments of COVID-19 vaccine are delivered across the country to 150 initial locations.
The first doses will begin arriving in US states from Monday (local time), officials said, after the Pfizer-BioNTech drug received emergency approval from regulators.
Another 450 sites will get the vaccine on Tuesday and Wednesday.
It comes as Australia’s chief medical officer said emergency approval was not necessary here because of Australia’s low infection rate.
“We don’t need any vaccine this year,” Acting chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly said on Saturday.
“Other countries are in far different state than us and they should be prioritised.”
The US is poised to hit a record 16 million COVID-19 cases in coming days, with deaths closing in on the 300,000 mark.
US Army General Gustave F Perna said America’s vaccines were being delivered by shipping companies UPS and FedEx to locations such as hospitals and other sites able to meet the ultra-cold storage requirements.
Within three weeks, vaccines should be delivered to local pharmacies and other locations, General Perna said.
A recent drill of the vaccine shipment process in Vail, Colorado, gives a sense of what’s involved, with security, police, a pharmacist and courier driver all taking part.
The mock vaccine was received in a thermal shipping container at Denver International Airport, and transported to Vail Health Hospital by a courier car.
General Perna, who is with Operation Warp Speed – the Trump administration’s vaccine development program – said the vaccine was timed to arrive on Monday morning so health workers would be available to receive the shots and begin giving them.
The US Food and Drug Administration gave the final go-ahead on Friday to the nation’s first COVID-19 vaccine, marking what could be the beginning of the end of an outbreak that has killed nearly 300,000 Americans.
Initial doses are scarce and rationed as the US joins Britain and several other countries in scrambling to vaccinate as many people as possible ahead of a long, grim winter.
No emergency in Australia
Australia will wait for the Therapeutic Goods Administration to run through its own approvals of the Pfizer vaccine with the expectation it will be distributed in early 2021.
Australia has pre-purchased 10 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine as well as an extra 20 million of the AstraZeneca vaccine and 11 million more of Novavax to boost supplies after the University of Queensland-CSL’s vaccine effort was abandoned.
Prof Kelly highlighted the nation’s success at controlling virus transmission as to why an emergency inoculation campaign was not necessary.
“Today is eighth day in a row we’ve not had any community transmission,” Prof Kelly said on Saturday.
“That’s the first time we’ve been able to say that since February.”
This is compared with the fact that Friday was the most deadly day of the virus yet, with more than 13,000 deaths globally and skyrocketing infections, Prof Kelly said.
The emphasis right now is on having an impenetrable hotel quarantine system.
“Whilst we’re concentrated on bringing Australians home … we have to make sure absolutely that our hotel quarantine system is the very best it can be,” Prof Kelly said.
He said he had “all confidence” in the Victorian contact tracing system now it had been revamped and international flights had resumed since Monday.
Victoria ended its 42-day virus-free streak on Saturday as five international arrivals in hotel quarantine tested positive.
Other states are handling more active cases than Victoria in quarantine, with eight fresh infections recorded across NSW, Queensland and Western Australia in the past 24 hours.