(Reuters) – The United States extended its rollout of the first authorized COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday, inoculating healthcare workers with an eye toward convincing skeptical Americans to get their shots and contain a pandemic that has killed more than 300,000 people.
The first Americans outside clinical trials started receiving the vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc and German partner BioNTech SE on Monday, three days after it won U.S. emergency-use authorization.
By day’s end, vaccine shipments had made it to 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.
The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses three weeks apart, as does the Moderna vaccine that could also receive emergency-use authorization this week.
In one of many made-for-TV injections, New York City intensive care nurse Sandra Lindsay received the first shot in the arm, saying “healing is coming” and that, “I want to instill public confidence that the vaccine is safe.”
But just as large numbers of Americans have called the pandemic a hoax and rejected public health guidelines to wear face masks and avoid crowds, only 61% of respondents in a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll said they were open to getting vaccinated.
“The communication of public health is the No. 1 issue,” Dr. Rob Davidson, an emergency room physician in Michigan and director of the Committee to Protect Medicare, told MSNBC television on Tuesday.
“We’re really hopeful in this next phase that we can all come together with one voice to convince people this is important,” Davidson said.
COVID-19 has killed 301,085 people in the United States and infected 16.5 million, overwhelming the healthcare system with a record 110,163 patients hospitalized as of Monday, according to a Reuters tally of official data.
The pandemic has also inflicted economic pain as states and localities imposed stay-at-home orders and closed businesses, putting millions out of work.
The U.S. 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.
The process of shipping the first 2.9 million doses of vaccine began on Sunday, 11 months after the United States documented its first case of COVID-19.
Moncef Slaoui, top adviser to the U.S. government’s Operation Warp Speed vaccine program, has said the plan is to have about 40 million vaccine doses from Pfizer and Moderna – enough for 20 million people – distributed by year’s end.
It will take months before vaccines become widely available to the public at large.
“This is the most difficult vaccine rollout in history,” U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams told Fox News on Monday.
(Reporting by Reuters staff; Editing by Giles Elgood)