As the first group of Americans receive COVID-19 vaccinations Monday, officials are already preparing a second shipment of the Pfizer vaccine to go out later this week.
The second wave could be joined by the first shipment of millions of doses of Moderna’s vaccine, which the Food and Drug Administration is expected to authorize for emergency use as soon as this weekend.
Already, 2.9 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine will be delivered by Wednesday, the vast majority of which are going to health care workers, according to the Pentagon official overseeing vaccine distribution. But Pfizer, UPS and FedEx employees are already preparing the next wave, which are set to start shipping as soon as later this week.
The second wave will consist of another 581 shipments. If each shipment contains the maximum number of doses — 5,000 — the second wave could add up to as many as another 2.9 million doses, or slightly less.
Moderna’s first shipment will be nearly double Pfizer’s, with about six million doses set to ship once the FDA green lights the vaccine. The agency’s vaccine advisory committee meets on Thursday to decide whether to endorse Moderna’s candidate.
“Assuming everything remains on track, we would hope and anticipate FDA act comparable to what we’ve seen in this last week with Pfizer,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Monday.
All together, another 8-9 million Americans could be vaccinated next week, if all doses are administered, according to Operation Warp Speed numbers.
The FDA is likely to release its initial review of Moderna’s data on Tuesday, as it did with Pfizer’s last week. The independent panel of experts that reviews vaccines swiftly recommended the Pfizer vaccine for authorization Thursday, setting up for a speedy emergency approval by Friday evening.
In clinical trial data published by Moderna, the vaccine is similarly effective to Pfizer’s at about 95 percent. It was developed using comparable technology and also requires two doses.
“Now we're starting our drumbeat of continuous execution of vaccine,” said General Gustave Perna, who oversees distribution. “There is not one part of this country that’s not being touched.”
Residents and staff of long-term care facilities — who the CDC recommends prioritizing along with health care workers — should start getting vaccinated early next week.
But the roll out in places like nursing homes requires more planning, including making sure there are enough doses to vaccinate most of the facility in one go. It also involves a partnership with CVS and Walgreens to administer the shots on-site, and about 70,000 long-term care facilities have signed on to the program.
“Many tasks have to be achieved before you can actually walk into the door,” General Perna said.
“You have to make sure there's locations and facilities to do it. You have to make sure that all the patients have a signed consent, which means sometimes you have to reach out to several layers of family to get the final approval,” he added.
Officials still expect to have 20 million Americans vaccinated by the end of December, with that number increasing to 30 million in January and more in the months after. They estimate that there will be enough doses for all Americans by the end of spring next year.