By LAURAN NEERGAARD, MATTHEW PERRONE and JONATHAN LEMIRE
WASHINGTON: The U.S. gave the final go-ahead Friday to the nations first COVID-19 vaccine, marking what could be the beginning of the end of an outbreak that has killed nearly 300,000 Americans.
Shots for health workers and nursing home residents are expected to begin in the coming days after the Food and Drug Administration authorized an emergency rollout of what promises to be a strongly protective vaccine from Pfizer Inc. and its German partner BioNTech.
Initial doses are scarce and rationed as the U.S. joins Britain and several other countries in scrambling to vaccinate as many people as possible ahead of a long, grim winter. It will take months of work to tamp down the coronavirus that has surged to catastrophic levels in recent weeks and already claimed 1.5 million lives globally.
While the FDA decision came only after public review of data from a huge ongoing study, it has also been dogged by intense political pressure from the Trump administration, which has accused the agency of being too slow and even threatened to remove FDA chief Stephen Hahn if a ruling did not come Friday.
The move sets off what will be the largest vaccination campaign in U.S. history — but it also has global ramifications because its a role model to many other countries facing the same decision.
It offers the ability in this situation where the pandemic is out of control, to bring hope to the people, Dr. Ugur Sahin, CEO of BioNTech, told The Associated Press.
The world desperately needs multiple vaccines for enough to go around, and the Pfizer-BioNTech shot is the first based on rigorous scientific testing to emerge from that worldwide race — a record-setting scientific achievement that shaved years off the usual process.
I dont think you would have found a scientist on this planet that would have predicted this 11 months ago, said Dr. Paul Offit, a vaccine expert at Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia who advises the FDA.
The U.S. is considering a second vaccine, made by Moderna Inc., that could roll out in another week. In early January, Johnson & Johnson expects to learn if its vaccine is working in final testing.
Europe is set to make its own decision on the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna shots later this month, an important step as some other candidates that multiple countries were anxiously awaiting have hit roadblocks. Friday, Sanofi and GSK announced a months-long delay after early tests showed their vaccine didnt work well enough in older adults.
And China and Russia didnt wait for final-stage tests before beginning vaccinations with some homegrown shots.
President Donald Trump said late Friday that Pfizer had passed the gold standard of safety, in a video statement hailing the vaccine as one of the greatest scientific accomplishments in history.
About 3 million doses of the vaccine are expected in the first shipments around the country, according to officials with Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administrations vaccine development program. A similar amount is to be held in reserve for those recipients second dose.
The government still is hammering out final recommendations, but expected to follow health workers and nursing homes are other essential workers, older adults and people at high risk because of other health problems. U.S. authorities dont expect enough for the general population before spring, and thats assuming there are no manufacturing glitches.
We would need at least until March, April, to have an impact on the pandemic, Sahin said. But he predicted that protecting the most vulnerable could start putting a dent in hospitals and deaths sooner.
In a still unfinished study of nearly 44,000 people, the FDA found the vaccine was safe and more than 90