Just as the U.S. hit two grim milestones in the coronavirus pandemic, a small number of doses of the vaccine created by Pfizer Inc. (PFE) - Get Report and BioNTech (BNTX) - Get Report will land in the hands of health care workers over the next 24 hours.
Several million doses of the vaccine -- which requires storage in extremely cold temperatures -- were getting shipped from Pfizer’s plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan, on Sunday and will arrive in special sites, mainly hospitals, in all 50 states by Monday. The U.S. Department of Defense, UPS (United Parcel Service) and FedEx (FDX) - Get Report are playing major roles in delivering the shots that must be kept at negative 94 degrees Fahrenheit.
The rollout's start is coming just after an advisory committee at the Centers for Disease Control voted over the weekend to recommend the vaccine for Americans age 16 and older for emergency use. A similar recommendation came on Friday from a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel, with some members reportedly voicing concerns about the minimum age of the use authorization.
“With vaccinations set to begin this week, I feel a sense of tremendous pride at what we have collectively achieved over the past nine months. I now look forward to the day that this devastating and deadly pandemic is finally behind us," said Pfizer's CEO, Albert Bourla, in a statement. He called the CDC's recommendation "a momentous step in this historic journey and the beginning of another."
The widely expected news of the vaccine's OK by federal health agencies came on the same weekend as the U.S. surpassed 16 million total known infections and nearly 300,000 total deaths from the virus. On Saturday alone the U.S. saw 219,510 total diagnoses and 2,368 more Americans dead, according to the Johns Hopkins University disease-tracking map. Hospitals across the nation are seeing a surge in Covid-19 patients, as every state except for Hawaii is seeing uncontrolled spread of the virus, according to Covidexitstrategy.org.
The initial number of vaccines to be distributed is expected to make no significant dent in the current outbreak in the U.S., even though it will project those who get the shot -- including health care workers on the front lines of the pandemic. About 3 million doses are expected to go out by Monday and the vaccine requires a two-dose schedule; but a Pfizer spokesperson told TheStreet that the company had no "official" count available for the number of vaccines in the initial distribution. Enough shots to begin vaccinating tens of millions more people are expected go out by the end of the month.
Pfizer had said earlier that the combined manufacturing network of it and BioNTech has "the potential" to provide enough vaccines for 25 million people worldwide this year and up to around 500 million people by the end of 2021.
“It's a small number, compared to the totality of the population,” acknowledged Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla in an interview on PBS’ “News Hour” program in November.
The rollout in the U.S. follows the one about a week earlier in the U.K. that flagged some risk of allergic reaction to the vaccine for a small number of people, and officials are warning those with a history of severe allergies to any of the drug's components to avoid the vaccine.
Results of a late-stage clinical trial of the vaccine found it to be highly effective and safe. A total of 43,548 participants were involved in the trial that found two-doses of the shot were about "95% effective in preventing Covid-19" among the trial participants.
Pfizer's stock was down nearly 1.5% on Friday to $41.12 by the close on the New York Stock Exchange, despite getting a green light from a key FDA advisory panel the same day. Shares, however, saw a small boost after hours.
Another vaccine by the Massachusetts-based company Moderna (MRNA) - Get Report that uses similar "messenger RNA" technology is also expected to get an emergency OK soon, too. If that candidate gets OK'd as well, the U.S. could see hundreds of millions of vaccine doses by the end of 2021.
"Though safety and efficacy data will be collected for many months to come, it is clear that this and the other candidates, such as those from Moderna and AstraZeneca, boast strong safety and efficacy profiles. While we may yet learn of rare complications resulting from the new mRNA technology used by Pfizer and Moderna, we also know that the possibility of covid-19 infection leading to death is at least an order of magnitude greater than the flu and countless recovered patients are still suffering from long term symptoms," wrote Mount Sinai Hospital's Dr. Fred Milgrim, editor-at-large of Brief 19, earlier of the vaccines in a post in the Covid-19 newsletter.
Health officials warn that mask wearing, keeping proper distance and washing hands will still be imperative for preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus well into next year.
"Hopefully, the public messaging as well as encouragement from the individual's health care provider will emphasize the critical importance of continuing public health mitigation measures, such as social distancing and mask wearing until the pandemic is controlled completely," Dr. Archana Chatterjee, dean of the Chicago Medical School, told TheStreet in an email.
Dr. Chatterjee was one of several panelists who had voted against recommending emergency-use authorization for Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine, because she disagreed with recommending it for people as young as 16 and 17. She told the TheStreet, however, she was otherwise in favor of the vaccine's emergency use authorization.
This story has been updated on Monday, Dec. 14, in part to include information about the number of vaccines distributed in the initial delivery and quotes from Dr. Chatterjee.