Select hospitals will administer the first inoculations in the United States of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine outside trial today, marking a pivotal turn in the effort to curb a virus that has killed nearly 300,000 people in the country.
The vaccine, developed by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, won emergency-use approval from federal regulators on Friday after it was found to be 95 per cent effective in preventing illness in a large clinical trial.
The first 2.9 million doses began to be shipped to distribution centres around the country on Sunday, just 11 months after the United States documented its first Covid-19 infections.
To date, the United States has registered 16,286,343 cases and 299,489 deaths from the virus.
In New York, a doctor who works at Lenox Hill Hospital and a nurse who works at Long Island Jewish Medical Centre were to be among the first to receive the vaccine publicly at Long Island Jewish Medical Centre on Monday, according to Northwell Health, the largest hospital system in the state.
"Both Dr Duroseau and Nurse Lindsay have worked tirelessly to ease the suffering of Covid-19 patients since the virus outbreak began in New York 10 months ago," Northwell said in a statement.
"It is their hope that their willingness to be among the first to be vaccinated in the region will serve as an example to the general public to take advantage of this life-saving treatment."
Hospitals in Texas, Utah and Minnesota said they also anticipated receiving their first doses of the vaccine at select hospitals on Monday, to be administered right away.
The first US shipments of coronavirus vaccine departed from Pfizer's facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan, on Sunday, packed into trucks with dry-ice to maintain the necessary sub-Arctic temperatures, and then were transported to UPS and FedEx planes waiting at air fields in Lansing and Grand Rapids, kicking off a national immunisation endeavour of unprecedented complexity.
The jets delivered the shipments to UPS and FedEx's respective cargo hubs in Louisville and Memphis, from where they were loaded onto planes and trucks to be distributed to the first 145 of 636 vaccine-staging areas across the country. A second and third waves of vaccine shipments were due to go out to the remaining sites on Tuesday and Wednesday.
"This is the most difficult vaccine roll-out in history. There will be hiccups undoubtedly but we've done everything from a federal level and working with partners to make it go as smoothly as possible. Please be patient with us," Surgeon General Jerome Adams told Fox News on Monday, adding that he would get the shot as soon as he can.
The massive logistical effort is further complicated by the need to transport and store the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine at minus 70 Celsius requiring enormous quantities of dry ice or specialised ultra-cold freezers.
Workers clapped and whistled as the first boxes were loaded onto trucks at the Pfizer factory on Sunday.
"We know we're all suffering, our families are suffering. We're going into the Christmas holiday with shutdowns and people are going to be very impacted by this pandemic. We know how much people are hurting," UPS Healthcare President Wes Wheeler said on Sunday from the company’s command centre in Louisville, Kentucky
Healthcare workers and elderly residents of long-term care homes will be first in line to get the inoculations of a two-dose regimen given about three weeks apart.