Covid ‘D-Day’ arrives as vaccine set to arrive in all 50 states

The first federally approved coronavirus vaccine was set to arrive at 145 locations across all 50 states Monday, a landmark symbolic moment as the nation struggles to contain a virus that’s killed almost 300,000 Americans.

The Covid-19 vaccine, developed by German company BioNTech and its United States partner Pfizer, was given emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration on Friday night.

Trucks departed Pfizer’s plant in Portage, Michigan, on Sunday and the company expects to deliver 2.9 million doses to 636 predetermined locations by the end of this week.

Still, salvation is a long way off. The vaccine will not be given to the vast majority of Americans until well into next year. And it will take some time to make even a dent in a pandemic that is killing thousands of people across the U.S. every day — more than ever before.

Boxes containing the vaccine are prepared for shipping at the Pfizer Global Supply Kalamazoo manufacturing plant in Portage, Mich., on Sunday.Morry Gash / Reuters

Medical workers will struggle not only to distribute the vaccine to rural areas, but also convince skeptical members of the public that the shots are safe.

Gen. Gustave Perna, chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, likened the colossal logistical challenge to the 1944 Normandy Landings, the Allied invasion that began the liberation of Nazi-occupied Europe.

“D-Day was a pivotal turning point in World War II. It was the beginning of the end — and that’s where we are today,” Perna told a briefing Saturday. “But make no mistake it was not the end. Months and months of hard-fought battles occurred and it took diligence, courage and strength to eventually achieve victory.”

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The rollout in the U.S. will prioritize high-risk populations, such as hospital workers and nursing home staff and residents. It’s unclear who will be prioritized in the second phase. On Monday 145 sites will receive the vaccine, 425 Tuesday and 66 Wednesday, making up the rest of the initial shipment, he said.

That mirrors what’s already happening in the United Kingdom, which last week became the first country to administer a clinically approved vaccine to patients.

A FedEx Express plane carrying a first batch of vaccine arrives at LAX Airport, Los Angeles, on Sunday.Los Angeles World Airports / Reuters

That appeared to frustrate President Donald Trump, calling the FDA “a big, old, slow turtle” in a tweet Friday, and urged its commissioner, Dr. Stephen M. Hahn, to “get the dam vaccines out NOW” and “stop playing games and start saving lives!!!”

The FDA has repeatedly denied this. “We do not feel that this could have been out a week earlier,” Hahn told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “We followed our process.”

A member of Pfizer’s board has also said the Trump administration passed up the opportunity to buy more of the vaccine when it had the chance.

The U.S. has ordered at least 100 million doses of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine, with the option to buy another 500 million. Of all the vaccines currently in development, it has put in advanced orders for 800 million doses — enough to inoculate its population many times over.

That trend among wealthy countries has concerned global campaigners, who say poorer countries are set for a longer wait because richer countries are looking after themselves first.