NEWARK, N.J. (Reuters) – The United States extended its rollout of the first authorized COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday, inoculating healthcare workers as part of a massive campaign to protect all Americans and contain a U.S. outbreak that has killed more than 300,000 people.
Distribution of the vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc and German partner BioNTech SE began on Monday, three days after it won U.S. emergency-use authorization.
On Tuesday, at University Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, emergency room nurse Maritza Beniquez became the first in that state to receive the vaccine.
“I couldn’t wait for this moment to hit New Jersey. I couldn’t wait for it to hit the U.S.,” Beniquez said upon getting vaccinated with Governor Phil Murphy looking on.
The vaccine was welcomed as a new tool to help contain a virus that killed 301,085 people in the United States and infected 16.5 million as of Monday, according to a Reuters tally of official data.
A second vaccine, from Moderna Inc, appeared set for regulatory authorization this week as U.S. Food and Drug Administration staff endorsed it as safe and effective in documents released on Tuesday. Similar to the Pfizer vaccine, it requires two doses several weeks apart.
By the end of Monday, shipments of the Pfizer vaccine arrived at nearly all of the 145 U.S. distribution sites pre-selected to receive the initial batch of doses, with a number of major hospital systems launching immunizations immediately.
In one of many made-for-TV injections, New York City intensive care nurse Sandra Lindsay received the first shot in the arm on Monday, saying “healing is coming” and that, “I want to instill public confidence that the vaccine is safe.”
Nurses, doctors and support staff have been given priority as they come into contact with ever more COVID-19 patients, including a record 110,163 who were hospitalized nationwide on Monday.
In Newark, University Hospital President Shereef Elnahal said the arrival of the vaccine brought a measure of relief to Beniquez and other nurses who have shown bravery in treating COVID-19 patients.
“She has been thrusting herself into patient rooms. She’s been doing chest compressions when needed. And she told all of us that she no longer has to be afraid to do that life-saving work,” Elnahal told CNN. “And by the way, she and so many others in our hospital have been doing it anyway despite being afraid.”
Large numbers of Americans have called the pandemic a hoax and rejected public health guidelines to wear masks and avoid crowds. Only 61% of respondents in a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll said they were open to getting vaccinated.
While most vaccines take years to develop, the Pfizer vaccine arrived less than a year after the illness was traced to a market in Wuhan, China, in December of last year.
Chinese officials shared the genetic sequence of the novel coronavirus with the World Health Organization on Jan. 12, triggering the international race toward a vaccine.
“People understandably are skeptical about the speed, but we have to keep emphasizing speed means the science was extraordinary,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told ABC News’ “Good Morning America” on Tuesday.
The pandemic has also inflicted economic pain as states and localities imposed stay-at-home orders and closed businesses, putting millions out of work.
Congress on Monday inched toward passing the first COVID-19 relief bill since April, possibly extending aid to the unemployed, small businesses, and vaccine distribution. The COVID-19 aid could be attached to a critical spending measure that must be passed by Friday to avoid a federal government shutdown.
Reporting by Eduardo Muñoz, Anurag Maan, Manas Mishra, Michael Erman and Daniel Trotta; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Giles Elgood, Jonathan Oatis and Howard Goller