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Pfizer to Complete First Covid-19 Vaccine Shipments in U.S.

12/16/2020 | 01:34pm EDT

By Jared S. Hopkins

The initial round of shipments of the nation's first Covid-19 vaccines to states and hospitals was scheduled to finish Wednesday, as long-term care facilities and nursing homes began receiving doses.

Pfizer Inc. began distributing the shot it developed with Germany's BioNTech SE on Sunday, with 636 hospitals and vaccination sites slated to receive them Wednesday.

A second round of shipments was slated to start Thursday and finish Sunday, completing an initial 2.9 million tranche. Federal officials also said Wednesday that another tranche of 2 million doses would begin next week, with an identical amount three weeks later for a booster shot.

Long-term care facilities in Florida and West Virginia have begun administering the vaccines, said Gen. Gustave Perna, chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, the federal government's coronavirus response program. He said Ohio and Connecticut are expected to begin vaccinations in facilities Friday, with 1,100 facilities around the country set to begin Monday.

At John Knox Village's nursing home in Pompano Beach, Fla., paramedics began giving shots Wednesday morning, and no adverse reactions were reported, according to Mark Raynor, director of health care services. He earlier said around 90% of long-term nursing home residents were expected to participate.

The Florida vaccination effort, in Pinellas and Broward Counties, is one of several launching before the federal long-term care program with CVS Health Corp. and Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. That national program is expected to kick off in a few Ohio and Connecticut facilities Friday, then more broadly next week with the goal of reaching the nation's approximately 15,600 nursing homes and 29,000 assisted-living communities.

West Virginia started giving the shots to long-term care facilities Tuesday, with about 18 sites getting the vaccine that day, according to the West Virginia Health Care Association, an industry group. Nursing-home staffers in at least a few other places also are getting shots this week, according to industry officials.

The pandemic has devastated long-term care facilities in the U.S., with more than 113,000 deaths so far, according to a Wall Street Journal tally. Cases and deaths have been rising again recently amid the broader increase across the U.S.

Public-health officials and health authorities have been counting on a vaccine's arrival to help bring an end to the pandemic and allow gatherings and the reopening of schools and businesses. Pfizer and BioNTech's vaccine came in record time, less than a year, and one from Moderna Inc. could be cleared by regulators later this week.

The U.S. reported 198,357 new coronavirus cases Tuesday, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The daily death toll, meanwhile, rose to 3,019 -- the third highest of the pandemic.

Federal officials say the rollout, a complex process given the requirement to ship the vaccines at ultracold temperatures, has largely gone as planned, although Gen. Perna said Wednesday that some doses destined for Alabama and California became too cold and weren't delivered.

The doses were returned to Pfizer and new doses were shipped, Gen. Perna said. He said federal officials were working with Pfizer to determine whether vaccines that arrive colder are still safe to use.

"I was always optimistic that this could be accomplished," said Dr. Lloyd Minor, dean of Stanford University School of Medicine, which expects to receive 3,900 doses Friday. "These clinical trials have been done very rigorously. They've been done quickly, but they've been done with enormous rigor and volumes of data."

Early supply of the vaccine is limited, which has led health authorities to prioritize doctors, nurses and other health-care workers, as well as residents of long-term care facilities. Much of the general population isn't expected to receive vaccines until spring or summer of next year, when supply increases and there could be additional vaccines authorized.

Due to the limited numbers of people vaccinated early on, the shots "won't have a noticeable effect" on the virus, said William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

As vaccines roll out in the U.S. and the rest of the world, concerns continue to remain regarding whether people will take them.

As the second week of the rollout of the vaccine in the U.K. continues, a survey of 2,076 adults at the start of December published by the Royal Society for Public Health found that 57% of Black, Asian and ethnic minority people were likely to accept the Covid-19 vaccine when offered. This compared with 79% of white people surveyed.

The survey also suggested that people from lower income groups were less likely to accept a shot, with 70% on the lowest earners saying they would get the vaccine compared with 84% of the highest earners. Overall, 76% of people surveyed said they would have the injection on doctors' advice.

In the U.K., where the shots were authorized almost two weeks ago, 137,897 people had received the first dose, the government said. The shots were given to people over 80 years old, nursing-home workers and health-care staff at 70 sites across the country, the government said. Britain was the first Western country to approve the vaccine and began inoculating residents last week.

In the U.S., Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Wednesday said that vaccine acceptance should improve with the arrival of vaccines. Millions of Americans remain hesitant about taking a Covid-19 vaccine, although Mr. Azar cited recent polls this week that suggested the numbers may be improving.

"Vaccine confidence is surging," Mr. Azar said.

Still, convincing people to get the shot will be a challenge, including at long-term care facilities where surveys have shown vaccine hesitancy among nursing-home workers.

Only around a third of the John Knox Village nursing home's staff had agreed to get the shots as of Tuesday night, Mr. Raynor said. Overall, around 77 staffers and 90 long-term residents were slated to get the shots as of Tuesday night, he said.

Mr. Raynor said he was surprised at how many staffers declined to get the vaccine during the initial visit, but he hopes more will get the shots in three weeks, when there will be another round. "It's just the fear of the unknown," he said.

John Knox Village hasn't seen any Covid-19 deaths, and only one case among its nursing-home residents, Mr. Raynor said.

The FDA authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Friday of last week, citing its 95% effectiveness at safely preventing symptomatic Covid-19 in a large clinical trial. On Saturday, an advisory committee to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voted to recommend that the vaccine be used for people 16 years and older.

An analysis from the FDA of Moderna's late-stage trial data found the vaccine to be "highly effective." The vaccine uses a similar gene-based technology as Pfizer's vaccine. Gen. Perna said 5.9 million doses of Moderna vaccine would be shipped next week if regulators authorize it.

While China is largely relying on homegrown Covid-19 vaccines, it is also moving to import Western candidates. BioNTech and Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group Co. agreed to have the German company export 100 million doses of its vaccine to China next year, according to the Chinese drug company. The firms are waiting for Chinese government approval.

--Anna Wilde Mathews, Joanna Sugden, Jason Douglas and Chao Deng contributed to this article.

Write to Jared S. Hopkins at jared.hopkins@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

12-16-20 1333ET

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