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1st Shipments Of Pfizer's COVID-19 Vaccine To Be Delivered Monday

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

It is a massive, complicated undertaking, and it is underway. The first doses of COVID-19 vaccine will be delivered to every state tomorrow. Vials are being loaded up onto UPS and FedEx trucks to ship to hospitals around the country. This has taken months of work and planning. And here to talk us through what's next is NPR health reporter Selena Simmons-Duffin. Good morning.

SELENA SIMMONS-DUFFIN, BYLINE: Morning, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So the vials are getting on their way. Now what?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Well, next is the rush to start getting people vaccinated to try to slow and eventually end the pandemic. How it works is this - the federal government is coordinating distribution to predetermined sites around each state, and then the baton gets passed to state and local health departments and health care providers to actually start administering the shots. I checked with a bunch of state health officials yesterday. Most say it's going to take a few days for providers to get trained up on how to properly give this vaccine. There's a lot of information coming at them really fast from Pfizer and from CDC about exactly who should get the vaccine. So if there are some vaccines administered on Monday, it may actually take a few days for the campaign to really get underway.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This is a really hopeful moment. And I want to underscore that because we really need hopeful moments. But what could go wrong?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Despite all the planning, there will be hiccups. The big fear is that some of these precious vaccine doses could be wasted or it doesn't get to the right people. Remember, this vaccine needs to be kept ultracold, minus 70 degrees Celsius. It comes in kind of a pizza box filled with vials and dry ice. The vaccine only lasts a few days in the fridge after it's thawed. You need to dilute it before you inject it. There is just no way everything will go perfectly.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So are health officials worried about that?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Most of the people I talked to are confident that when issues come up, they can resolve them and learn from them. Claire Hannan made this point. She's the executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers. Those are the people in every state in charge of vaccination plans. And here's what she told me.

CLAIRE HANNAN: We're going to learn so much from the first hospitals who are vaccinating. You know, how - what is it really like to get this box? How long does it take to mix the vaccine with the diluent? How long does it take to actually vaccinate someone?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lots to consider. I want a vaccine, obviously. But the next question is, who is going to be getting these very first doses?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: The CDC has prioritized health workers and residents of long-term care facilities in what's called phase 1a, but there's a lot of hunger for details from health officials, and I'm told that that should come in the next few days. So, you know, we've all heard about the allergic reactions when vaccinations started in Britain. We're talking about guidance about the kind of history of allergic reaction to be aware of. And then what about pregnant or lactating people or people with immune disorders? All of this guidance is frantically getting hashed out right now so providers can get answers as the vaccination campaign actually rolls out.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And how long before it will be widely available?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: It's not yet clear exactly who comes after phase 1a, and that's giving health officials some heartburn. It's also not clear how much vaccine will be available next, what pace of shipments is going to be going forward. It could be speedier if there were two vaccines in distribution instead of one, and that could happen soon. There's an FDA committee meeting to consider authorizing the Moderna vaccine this Thursday. But the short answer is the hope is that a vaccine will be widely available in the late spring at the earliest, maybe the summer of 2021.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin. Thank you very much.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.