Move comes as US death toll approaches 300,000

First batch of Covid-19 vaccine leaves US factory

Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers watch as the country's first batch of Pfizer/BioNTEch COVID-19 vaccines arrives at Montreal?Mirabel International Airport in Montreal, Quebec, Canada December 13, 2020. CBSA/Handout via REUTERS.
Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers watch as the country's first batch of Pfizer/BioNTEch COVID-19 vaccines arrives at Montreal?Mirabel International Airport in Montreal, Quebec, Canada December 13, 2020. CBSA/Handout via REUTERS.
Image: CBSA

Los Angeles — The first shipments of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine left a factory in Michigan early yesterday on a convoy of trucks, kicking off a historic effort to stop a surging pandemic that is claiming more than 2,400 lives a day in the US.

Mask-wearing workers at a Pfizer factory began packing the first shipments of its vaccine in dry ice. Three trucks carrying pallets of boxed, refrigerated vaccines rolled away from the Kalamazoo facility, escorted by security officers wearing body armour in a bakkie and an SUV.

The US expects to immunise 100-million people, or about 30% of its population, by the end of March, US Operation Warp Speed chief adviser Moncef Slaoui said in an interview with Fox News yesterday.

In a novel process that will need to become daily routine, workers removed pizza box-sized cartons containing vaccine vials from a freezer. They placed them in large blue coolers before these were boxed and labelled.

The huge logistical effort is complicated by the need to transport and store the vaccine developed with German partner BioNTech SE at -70°C, requiring enormous quantities of dry ice or specialised ultra-cold freezers.

Workers clapped and whistled as the first boxes headed to the trucks. The long-awaited moment comes as the US death toll is approaching 300,000 and infections and hospitalisations set daily records. It will take months before most US residents can get a Covid-19 vaccine.

The federal government plans to release the nation’s first 2.9 million doses to 64 states, US territories and major cities, as well as five federal agencies. Though the federal government is co-ordinating distribution efforts, states have the final say over who gets the first shots. The federal government is sending the first shipments to more than 600 locations.

Companies in a range of industries are lobbying state and federal officials to give priority to their workers as millions wait for the vaccine and a return to life free from the fear of the deadly illness.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was 95% effective in preventing illness in a large clinical trial. It is not yet known if it prevents infection or transmission of Covid-19 by those who are vaccinated.

US regulators authorised emergency use of the vaccine late on Friday, after similar moves by the UK and Canada, less than a year after the first cases were reported in the US. — Reuters

 

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