Public health officials on Sunday touted the imminent distribution of the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine as preparations to vaccinate vulnerable populations are underway.
Moncef Slaoui, the scientific head of Operation Warp Speed, said on “Fox News Sunday” that the U.S. expects to distribute 40 million doses by the end of December and 100 million people in the first few months of 2021.
“All in all, we hope to have immunized 100 million people, which would be the long-term care facility people, the elderly people with comorbidities, the frontline workers, the health care workers,” he said. “We will have immunized about 100 million people by the first quarter of 2021.”
Slaoui went on to project that between 75 and 80 percent of the population would need to be immunized to achieve herd immunity.
He warned, however, that widespread failure to take the vaccine could prevent the U.S. from reaching that milestone.
“I think it would be a very unfortunate outcome, frankly I’m very concerned by this level of hesitancy, which is not based in any facts or data,” he said. “The perception that people are thinking that we cut corners or anything like that I can guarantee you that no such things have happened.”
Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen HahnStephen HahnTrump discussed sending infected Americans to Guantanamo Bay: book Stephen Hahn joining venture capital firm behind Moderna Redfield says Azar pressured him to revise COVID-19 data reports MORE said the first doses of the vaccine could be administered as soon as Monday.
"My hope, again, is that this happens very expeditiously, hopefully tomorrow," Hahn said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” The FDA cleared the vaccine, developed by Pfizer and German company BioNTech, for emergency use on Friday.
Hahn’s interview came days after reports that White House Chief of Staff Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsExecutive privilege fight poses hurdles for Trump Biden does not plan to shield Trump docs in Jan. 6 probe The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats argue price before policy amid scramble MORE had implied he would be fired if the FDA did not clear the vaccine in a timely manner. Hahn has denied the reports, and reiterated the denial to CNN’s Jake TapperJacob (Jake) Paul TapperFrederica Wilson rails against Haitian deportation flights, calls treatment 'inhumane' WHIP LIST: How House Democrats say they'll vote on infrastructure bill Yarmuth and Clyburn suggest .5T package may be slimmed MORE.
"Nothing guided our decision, no external comments, no external pressure, other than the science and data guided our decision-making," Hahn said.
Slaoui told Fox’s Chris WallaceChristopher (Chris) WallaceYarmuth and Clyburn suggest .5T package may be slimmed Budget chairman: Debt ceiling fight 'a ridiculous position to be in' NIH director expects booster shots to be expanded, despite recommendation MORE that as far as he knew the reports “are rumors” but added “if that phone call happened I think it was useless and unfortunate and so are some of the tweets” from President TrumpDonald TrumpGraham says he hopes that Trump runs again Trump says Stacey Abrams 'might be better than existing governor' Kemp Executive privilege fight poses hurdles for Trump MORE.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, meanwhile, projected that residents of nursing homes could receive the vaccine by Christmas.
"It can start really any day," Azar said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” "We can have every nursing home patient vaccinated in the United States by Christmas."
"It's a really remarkable, remarkable prospect for all of us who have loved ones in nursing homes that we may approach Christmas with that level of comfort," he added.
National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins also addressed conspiracy theories and skepticism around the vaccine.
“The data is out there now. It's been discussed in a public meeting all the details of the safety and the efficacy for anybody who wants to look,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday. “This is a very powerful outcome of this incredibly intense year-long experience to develop this.”
Hahn agreed that hesitancy was a “significant problem,” saying on ABC’s “This Week” that “the way we see light at the end of the tunnel, the way we get through this is to achieve herd immunity. And that means we need to vaccinate a significant number of people in this country, including those who are hesitant,” he added.
Officials “need to roll this out in a way that provides confidence to people. But we also need to be transparent. What do we know? What do we don’t know?” he said.