The first doses of a coronavirus vaccine should arrive in every US state on Monday morning, Operation Warp Speed co-leader Gen. Gustave Perna said Saturday.
The US Food and Drug Administration authorized Pfizer's two-dose vaccine for emergency use on Friday night, effectively launching the largest vaccination campaign in US history.
Perna, a four-star general, stands at the forefront of the mammoth logistical challenge to immunize a nation of 328 million. He likened the challenge to D-Day, a crucial turning point in World War II that sparked the liberation fo German-occupied France.
"D-Day was the beginning of the end, and that's where we are today," Perna said at a Saturday morning news conference.
But the end remains in the distant future, with the worst days of the pandemic likely still ahead. Infections, hospitalizations, and deaths have all surged over the past two months, routinely setting new record highs. On Friday, the US recorded 2,951 deaths and 280,514 new cases.
"We are not taking a victory lap," Perna said. "We know that the road ahead of us will be tough. We know that situations will occur, but we will figure it out together collectively."
Sites will receive doses starting Monday
The first shipments are expected to leave Pfizer's manufacturing plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan, on Sunday morning. Perna said he expects 145 sites — encompassing every US state — to receive doses on Monday.
Perna said 425 more sites should receive shipments on Tuesday, and the final 66 sites will get the vaccine on Wednesday. That will complete an initial shipment of 2.9 million doses of Pfizer's shot, with Warp Speed holding back another 2.9 million doses to ensure each immunized person can get a second booster dose 21 days later.
From there, local officials from states, counties, and cities will take the lead. Perna said vaccines could be going into people's arms "as early as the end of next week."
States will determine how to prioritize the initial vaccine doses
States are making their own decisions on how to prioritize the limited supply. An advisory panel for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that frontline healthcare workers and nursing home residents be placed at the front of the line.
Perna said Saturday he has talked to many states that plan to start vaccinating those two populations simultaneously to start.
Overall, Warp Speed is expecting to soon start shipping doses of another vaccine developed by Moderna. The FDA's expert panel will debate Moderna's emergency use authorization application next Thursday, likely setting up agency scientists to make an equally speedy review decision.
Based on supply estimates from Pfizer and Moderna, Warp Speed projects that 20 million Americans will begin to be immunized in December, 30 million more in January, and 50 million more in February.
"We are not done until every American has access to this vaccine, until every American that wants it, receives it," Perna said. "This is our only goal."