New York on Monday inoculated its first healthcare worker, an intensive care unit nurse in Queens, with the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, marking a pivotal turn in the US effort to control the deadly virus.
Sandra Lindsay, an ICU nurse, was given the vaccine at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens, New York, an early epicentre of the country's COVID-19 outbreak, receiving applause on a live stream with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
"It didn't feel any different from taking any other vaccine," Lindsay said. "I feel hopeful today, relieved. I feel like healing is coming. I hope this marks the beginning of the end of a very painful time in our history. I want to instil public confidence that the vaccine is safe."
Minutes after Lindsay's injection, President Donald Trump sent a tweet: "First Vaccine Administered. Congratulations USA! Congratulations WORLD!"
Northwell Health, the largest health system in New York, operates some of the select hospitals in the United States that were administering the country's first inoculations of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine outside trials on Monday.
The vaccine, developed by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, won emergency-use approval from federal regulators on Friday after it was found to be 95 per cent effective in preventing illness in a large clinical trial.
The first 2.9 million doses began to be shipped to distribution centres around the country on Sunday, just 11 months after the United States documented its first COVID-19 infections.
As of Monday, the United States had registered 16,286,343 cases and 299,489 deaths from the virus.
Hospitals in Texas, Utah and Minnesota said they also anticipated receiving their first doses of the vaccine at select hospitals on Monday, to be administered right away.
The first US shipments of coronavirus vaccine departed from Pfizer's facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan, on Sunday, packed into trucks with dry-ice to maintain the necessary sub-Arctic temperatures, and then were transported to UPS and FedEx planes waiting at air fields in Lansing and Grand Rapids, kicking off a national immunisation endeavour of unprecedented complexity.
The jets delivered the shipments to UPS and FedEx cargo hubs in Louisville and Memphis, respectively, from where they were loaded onto planes and trucks to be distributed to the first 145 of 636 vaccine-staging areas across the country. Second and third waves of vaccine shipments were due to go out to the remaining sites on Tuesday and Wednesday.
"This is the most difficult vaccine rollout in history. There will be hiccups undoubtedly but we've done everything from a federal level and working with partners to make it go as smoothly as possible. Please be patient with us," Surgeon General Jerome Adams told Fox News on Monday, adding that he would get the shot as soon as he can.
The logistical effort is further complicated by the need to transport and store the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine at minus 70 Celsius (minus 94 Fahrenheit), requiring enormous quantities of dry ice or specialised ultra-cold freezers.
Workers clapped and whistled as the first boxes were loaded onto trucks at the Pfizer factory on Sunday.
"We know we're all suffering, our families are suffering. We're going into the Christmas holiday with shutdowns and people are going to be very impacted by this pandemic. We know how much people are hurting," UPS Healthcare President Wes Wheeler said on Sunday from the company’s command centre in Louisville, Kentucky
Healthcare workers and elderly residents of long-term care homes will be first in line to get the inoculations of a two-dose regimen given about three weeks apart.