US: How the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine roll-out will work

The vaccine is the first in the US to be approved for emergency use and will arrive at sites across the country starting on Monday.

A nurse prepares to administer the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Guy's Hospital in London, UK, on December 8 [File: Frank Augstein/Pool via Reuters]

The head of distribution for the United States’s COVID-19 vaccination programme, Operation Warp Speed, has unveiled the initial roll-out plan for Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine, which was approved for emergency use late Friday.

During a news conference on Saturday, Army General Gustave Perna said the first doses of the vaccine would arrive at sites across the country as early as Monday.

Perna said the first shipments would arrive at 145 sites – mostly large medical centres – on Monday, the next would land at 425 sites on Tuesday, and the final doses would arrive at 66 sites on Wednesday.

“We note that the road ahead will be tough. We know that situations will occur, but we will figure it out together collectively to solve the problems,” Perna said.

While 6.4 million doses are initially available, only half will be immediately sent out. The other half will be reserved for inoculated patients to receive a second dose in three weeks, as is required for the vaccine to be effective.


The doses will be distributed across the US, with the federal government allocating the first batch proportionally to states, territories and five major cities based on their populations.

State and local officials have the final say on where the doses are allocated within their jurisdiction.

“At the end of the day, we have an excellent plan that has been well coordinated and well rehearsed and well collaborated with everybody from the total government through commercial industry down to the governors of the states,” Perna said.

Pfizer has said it will make 50 million doses of its inoculant this year, which is enough to vaccinate 25 million people. About half of those will go to the US, where the government currently has an agreement with Pfizer for 100 million doses.

However, the New York Times reported that President Donald Trump’s administration passed up on an initial offer to secure more supplies from Pfizer-BioNTech, which could mean the US will not be able to buy more doses from the company until June.

Delivery begins

The delivery journey for the first batch of vaccines will start at a factory in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where they are currently being stored.

Privately contracted trucks will transport the vaccines to private cargo planes, including those operated by courier companies UPS, FedEx and DHL, which will fly the doses across the country.

The vaccine, which has been approved for people aged 16 and older and has been shown in a late-stage trial to be 95 percent effective, must be stored at extremely cold temperatures so that it can remain at -70 degrees Celsius (-94F).

Pfizer has developed a special shipping container that uses dry ice to keep the vaccines from spoiling.

The container, which also contains devices that track location and monitor temperatures, can be used as temporary storage at facilities that do not have the needed extreme-cold freezers.

A woman receives the first of two Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine jabs in London, United Kingdom [File: Victoria Jones/Reuters]


US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines state that front-line healthcare workers, as well as residents and staff of nursing homes, should receive the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

There are about 21 million healthcare workers in the US and three million nursing home residents.

Most states anticipate they will be able to vaccinate only between 13 and 18 percent of their healthcare workers with the first distribution, according to an analysis by Reuters News Agency.

The CDC has suggested that essential workers and people aged 65 and older should be the next to receive the vaccines after healthcare workers and nursing home residents.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the first COVID-19 vaccine authorised in the US, where the pandemic has killed more than 295,000 people and infected more than 15.8 million, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University.

The UK, Canada and three other countries have already authorised the vaccine.

A second vaccine, developed by the Massachusetts-based Moderna Inc, could be approved within a week. If that happens, federal officials say they could vaccinate 20 million Americans by the end of the year.

Health officials have said that everyone in the US who wants a vaccine should be able to receive one by halfway through 2021 if approval, production, and distribution goes according to plan.

Source: Al Jazeera