The first COVID-19 vaccine doses will be distributed today, about a year after the first coronavirus case was reported in China. And the vaccination effort is just ramping up: There will be 2.9 million doses distributed across the country this week, the first of which will go to frontline health care workers and people living in long-term care facilities.

Pfizer’s vaccine, developed alongside biotechnology company BioNTech, received an emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) late last week. The vaccine uses mRNA technology to produce an immune response that prevents a spike protein on the surface of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, from entering human cells. (Moderna’s vaccine, which the FDA is also expected to authorize soon, relies on the same type of technology.)

The Pfizer vaccine appears to be effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 infections, according to data from the company and a clinical trial of 36,500 participants that the FDA reviewed. But it’s not clear whether or not the vaccine can prevent infections that don’t come with noticeable symptoms as well. We also don’t know yet if the vaccine can prevent, not just the symptoms, but the transmission of the coronavirus. Additionally, the FDA says there isn’t enough evidence yet to know how long the protection that the vaccine provides actually lasts. As part of the authorization, Pfizer will keep doing long-term clinical trials and continue following up with participants to help answer these questions and monitor for safety, according to the FDA’s statement.

With the FDA authorization, government and public health officials were able to finally put their vaccine distribution plan into action. The first COVID-19 vaccine doses will go to 145 sites today (December 14), then 425 sites tomorrow, then another 66 sites on Wednesday, General Gustave Perna, head of the government’s Operation Warp Speed, said in a FDA press conference after the authorization.

Those first in line for the vaccine include frontline health care workers and people living in long-term care facilities, like nursing homes, who are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus infections. Sandra Lindsey, a critical care nurse at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens, New York, was among the first people in the U.S. to receive the vaccine, the New York Times reports.

Once those first groups are taken care of, the next vaccine doses will likely go to other essential workers (those in transportation and agriculture, for instance), people with underlying health conditions that put them at a higher risk for severe COVID-19 complications, and people over the age of 65, according to an advisory panel to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

People who don’t have any underlying health conditions and don’t belong to any of those other prioritized groups will likely be able to receive a vaccine starting around April next year, Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said previously. Back in September, CDC Director Robert Redfield, M.D., offered a similar timeline, explaining that he expects vaccine doses to be widely available for the general public in mid-2021.

After so many long months—and with nearly 300,000 lives lost in the U.S. to the coronavirus—this is undoubtedly a big day. But the pandemic is far from over. Our next challenge will be making sure as many people as possible actually have access to and get the vaccine, Dr. Fauci said. And in the meantime, we’ll need to keep wearing masks, staying socially distant, avoiding crowds, and washing our hands frequently to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Source: self.com