American regulators were due to meet Thursday to assess the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine for emergency approval, as the country logged one of its worst-ever daily Covid-19 death tolls with more than 3,000 people lost to the pandemic.
Other northern hemisphere countries were also grappling with a winter virus surge, as the number of global infections raced towards 70 million with more than 1.5 million deaths.
It is not confirmed when the US Food and Drug Administration will issue the emergency authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, but Health Secretary Alex Azar indicated that officials have early next week in mind.
“Now we actually get to do something that hopefully will bring this… pandemic to an end,” said Terri White, a nursing education specialist at UW Health in the state of Wisconsin, where staff are being trained to administer the vaccine.
“I know our whole team is really excited about that prospect… to help our lives return to normal.”
Top US government scientists said, however, that people with a known history of severe allergic reactions would be asked not to take the Pfizer vaccine, following a similar warning in Britain.
The United States is the worst-hit nation in the world, with more than 15 million known infections and close to 290,000 deaths.
US Army General Gus Perna, who is overseeing logistics nationwide, said he had given the order Wednesday to begin distributing syringes, needles, alcohol wipes and dilutants required for the Pfizer vaccine, a process expected to be completed by Friday.
The next vaccines to receive approval might be those made by Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca, most likely in that order.
The US hopes to vaccinate 20 million people this month, with long term care facility residents and health care workers at the front of the line. The goal is to reach 100 million by the end of February and the whole population by June.
‘I’m really excited’
After Britain gave the first approved vaccine shots in the Western world, Canada also approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Wednesday.
The first shipments to 14 sites across Canada are scheduled to arrive Monday with people receiving shots a day or two later, according to Major-General Dany Fortin, the commander put in charge of coordinating distribution.
Healthcare workers and vulnerable populations including the elderly are to be the first to receive it.
“I’m really excited. I want to get vaccinated as soon as possible, because I have a new baby,” Michelle, a Toronto resident, told AFP.
“She’s under six months old, and so obviously my main concern through the whole pandemic has been to protect her.”
Israel accepted its first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine on Wednesday, targeting a rollout on December 27, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promising to be the first to be injected — although the vaccine has yet to pass regulatory hurdles there.
Both Russia and China have already begun inoculation campaigns with domestically produced vaccines.
‘I hope better days are coming’
As European countries eagerly await vaccines, the EU’s medical regulator was hit by a cyberattack in which documents related to the Pfizer vaccine were accessed, the firm said Wednesday.
The European Medicines Agency has promised to reach a decision on conditional approval for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by December 29, with a ruling on Moderna’s candidate to follow by January 12.
But while wealthier nations have the financial and logistical abilities to roll out the vaccines, there are concerns that the poorer — and more vulnerable — parts of the world will be left behind.
African Union chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat said Wednesday that “those who have the (financial) means must not monopolize the vaccines.”
At an annual Christmas toy and food giveaway in a poor neighborhood of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, where Mrs Santa Claus embraced children from behind a plastic “hug curtain”, people hoped for an end to their suffering.
“I hope better days are coming,” said Valmira Pereira, a house cleaner. “That next year we’ll be able to give real hugs, be able to feel that human warmth that everyone’s been missing.”