By Alex Segura Lozano
Los Angeles, Dec 21 (efe-epa).- The United States already has the capacity to administer the Pfizer and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines at some 4,000 sites around the country, according to official figures, after on Monday Americans began being inoculated against the sometimes deadly viral disease.
US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar made the announcement at a press conference, explaining that some 3,700 health centers on Monday and Tuesday will receive around 3.5 million doses of the Moderna vaccine, which testing has shown to be 94 percent effective at temporarily immunizing people against Covid and which received emergency authorization for public use last Friday.
The centers Azar mentioned are in addition to the 636 locations around the country that last week received the Pfizer vaccine, the first one to receive Food and Drug Administration approval.
The enormous difference in the number of distribution points for the two vaccines – 636 vs. 3,700 – is due to the centers’ ability to meet the storage requirements for the medications.
The Moderna vaccine is shipped in small refrigerated boxes that must be kept at a temperature of -20 C (-4 F), the temperature of a regular household freezer. The Pfizer vaccine needs larger shipment containers since it must remain packed in dry ice (frozen carbon dioxide) to keep it in the -60 C to -80 C (-76 F to -112 F), which is colder than winter in Antarctica.
Both vaccines require two inoculations to be effective, with the Moderna shots being administered 28 days apart and the Pfizer shots being given 21 days apart.
Both vaccines are being shipped with heavy security contingents consisting of US marshals and must be warehoused in locked refrigerators that are accessible only by properly authorized personnel.
As occurred a week ago with the Pfizer vaccine, the first person to receive the Moderna vaccine in the US was a nurse, although there is a controversy among local media outlets as to whether it was administered at a New York or a Connecticut hospital.
In any case, medical personnel will continue receiving the first doses of the vaccine given the simple fact that they are more regularly and intensively exposed to Covid-19 as they treat their ill patients. Other groups of people will begin receiving the vaccines in a phased program targeting more vulnerable people and/or “essential” workers first and expanding the program to less vulnerable people over time.
Along those lines, Azar hailed the fact that the US is now “on the offensive” against the coronavirus thanks to these two vaccines, which received emergency approval by the FDA.
Despite the euphoria sparked by the immunization campaign, the head of the administration’s Operation Warp Speed, Moncef Slaoui, emphasized that during the Christmas holidays it is “especially important” for people to continue with their safety precautions, such as wearing facemasks, because the great majority of the population remains “vulnerable” to becoming infected with the virus.
Operation Warp Speed was launched by the Donald Trump administration in collaboration with the Pentagon to facilitate and accelerate the development, manufacture and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines.
After Vice President Mike Pence and congressional leaders were inoculated with the Pfizer vaccine last week, President-elect Joe Biden was publicly vaccinated on Monday in an attempt to build confidence among Americans about its safety.
“There’s nothing to worry about,” said Biden before television cameras after receiving the first dose of the vaccine developed by Pfizer-BioNTech at the ChristianaCare Hospital in Newark, Delaware, the state where he lives.
A nurse administered the inoculation to the president-elect, who was wearing a black facemask and a dark turtleneck sweater during the procedure.
Biden, 78, was accompanied by his wife, Jill Biden, who received her first dose of the two-stage vaccination earlier in the day, the president-elect said.
“There is great hope. I am doing this to demonstrate that people should be prepared when it’s available to take the vaccine,” Biden said, adding: “There’s nothing to worry about.”
The White House has not revealed whether Trump, who contracted Covid-19 last October and recovered after doctors administered an experimental antibody cocktail to him, will receive an inoculation.
On the other side of the country, in California – now the epicenter of the pandemic in the US – infection figures continue to skyrocket and in Los Angeles County alone 623,670 confirmed cases and 8,875 deaths have been registered, according to the independent tally being kept by The Johns Hopkins University.