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US aims to distribute vaccines to 100 million by end of February

US aims to distribute vaccines to 100 million by end of February
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The U.S. is hoping to give a COVID-19 vaccine to 100 million people by the end of February, the head of the administration's Operation Warp Speed told reporters Wednesday.

Moncef Slaoui said that number essentially represents all of the nation's front line health workers, the elderly and people with underlying conditions. 

Slaoui, who was tapped by the Trump administration in mid-May to help lead the effort to quickly develop coronavirus vaccines and treatments, said he is basing the 100 million people estimate on the number of vaccines that could be available from Moderna and from Pfizer and BioNTech.

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If Johnson & Johson's vaccine is authorized before then, there is the potential for even more people to be vaccinated, he said. Slaoui said that based on how quickly the coronavirus is spreading, he expects the company to release late-stage trial data on efficacy in January.

According to Slaoui, the companies have manufactured and stockpiled enough doses that the government can send 40 million doses to states in December, 60 million doses in January and 100 million doses by the end of February. 

Operation Warp Speed CEO Gen. Gustave Perna said the government plans to ship out 6.4 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine within 24 hours of it getting the green light from the Food and Drug Administration. Officials plan to send 12.5 million doses of the Moderna vaccine in the same period. 

Perna noted that the initial allocations to states will be sent in separate shipments because the Pfizer vaccine requires two doses administered three weeks later, and the Moderna vaccine requires a second dose four weeks later. 

Perna said giving states separate shipments will help make sure the limited storage capacity and capability isn't overwhelmed, especially with the deep-freeze requirements of the Pfizer vaccine. 

Both Moderna and Pfizer have requested emergency clearance from the Food and Drug Administration for their respective COVID-19 vaccines. The agency has scheduled a meeting for Dec. 10 to discuss Pfizer’s request for authorization and Moderna's for a week later. Authorization could occur days after the meetings. 

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Wednesday's briefing comes a day after an independent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) panel recommended the first limited doses be prioritized for health workers and for residents and staff of long-term care facilities. 

CDC Director Robert Redfield formally adopted the recommendation on Wednesday, but states will have the final say in their own distribution plans. They face a Friday deadline to submit final plans to the administration.

The CDC has allocated just $200 million to jurisdictions for vaccine preparedness, with an additional $140 million coming this month. State public health officials said they need at least $8 billion in additional funding.