“We will start to have shots in arms within 96 hours of EUA,” Gen. Gustave Perna, chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, said Tuesday. “That’s what I believe with all my heart.”
The wider public will likely have to continue to grapple with spikes from the holiday season until vaccines are widely available in 2021. But officials are racing to distribute vaccines in the coming days for priority populations — the elderly and health care workers.
While it will be a “herculean task,” Perna said that he is confident that, with the planning from the CDC and collaboration from partners, “we will be able to execute this vaccine very efficiently, but more importantly, effectively.”
States prepare for vaccine distribution amid ‘tragic milestones’
The impacts of the pandemic are spread across the country, Assistant Secretary for Health and Human Services Admiral Brett Giroir told CNN Tuesday.
Los Angeles County confirmed a total of 8,000 coronavirus deaths and over 3,000 hospitalizations on Tuesday, which the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health called a “tragic milestone” in a news release. And Pennsylvania recorded its highest number of coronavirus hospitalizations Tuesday.
As local leaders manage rising cases, many are also getting their vaccine plans in order.
In Illinois, though the first delivery is expected next week, it will take months to roll out a vaccine, even to priority groups, Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) said during a news conference Tuesday.
Delaware also anticipates receiving its first shipment next week. Dr. Karyl Rattay, with Delaware’s Division of Public Health, announced Tuesday that the state is expecting nearly 9,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine around December 15 and more than 8,000 of Moderna’s the following week.
Once Minnesota gets its first shipment of vaccines expected next week, they will be sent directly to key hospitals or “hubs” and then be delivered to smaller clinics, Gov. Tim Walz said during a news briefing.
Minnesota, Illinois, Mississippi and Delaware have said health care workers and long-term care residents will be the first to receive vaccinations.
‘Vaccines that are not used are useless’
But for vaccines to be effective, the public has to use them — and officials are urging participation in inoculations.
“Vaccines that are not used are useless,” Moncef Slaoui, chief scientific adviser for Operation Warp Speed, said Tuesday. “Vaccination is what’s important.”
Their development has been fast, but experts say that doesn’t mean the vaccines are ineffective or unsafe.
Slaoui said that the speed came from taking operational and financial risks to develop the vaccine, not cutting scientific corners.
“The first thing is to point out that the speed has nothing to do with compromising safety or scientific integrity,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said. “It’s due to the extraordinary and exquisite advances in vaccine platform technology which has allowed us to do things in weeks to months that formerly took years, several years.
There is concern that many Americans will be skeptical about getting vaccines, but Fauci acknowledged a “painful disparity” in the prevalence of the virus among African Americans as well as a “reluctance and skepticism about getting vaccinated.”
“I will tell you that I myself will be perfectly comfortable in taking the vaccine and I would recommend it to my family,” he said.
US needs to pull together for holiday season
As more holidays approach, it is increasingly imperative that Americans acknowledge the realities of the pandemic and pull together to mitigate its impacts, experts said.
“The end of the pandemic is in sight. The vaccine will work, it will end the pandemic and return us to as near normal or normal as possible, but we have to do our part right now, which is those mitigations techniques,” Giroir said.
The US was recording 40,000 to 70,000 new coronavirus cases daily before Thanksgiving, and the addition of holiday spread has resulted in a surge on top of a surge, Fauci said.
And families and friends gathering for Christmas and Hanukkah could add another spike to the mix, making impacts of the pandemic even worse in December and January, he said.
“We’re going to be asking people to do something that is difficult and maybe even painful, particularly at the family level, is to tell people, unless it’s absolutely necessary, not to travel,” he said. “We said that over Thanksgiving and we’re saying the same thing over Christmas.”
CNN’s Gisela Crespo, Jamiel Lynch, Lauren Mascarenhas, Shelby Lin Erdman, Naomi Thomas and Jason Hanna contributed to this report.