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US Covid-19 vaccinations may begin as soon as December 11, reach enough people for return to normalcy in May – program chief

An FDA vaccine advisory committee is scheduled to meet on December 10 and may grant Pfizer’s request for emergency use authorization that day, Dr. Moncef Slaoui said on Sunday during an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper. The Trump administration stands ready to ship the vaccine to immunization sites in all 50 states within 24 hours, he said, so the first doses would be administered to recipients on December 11 or December 12.

Slaoui helps lead Operation Warp Speed, the White House initiative that was set up in May with the ambitious goal of developing, producing. and delivering a Covid-19 vaccine that could start being shipped out by January 2021. President Donald Trump has called on the US military to lead the rollout effort.

The administration plans to deliver 20 million doses in December and around 30 million each month thereafter at no charge to recipients. FDA approval for a second vaccine, such as the one developed by Moderna, could speed up the process by providing more doses.

The rollout timeline could become a vindication of sorts for Trump, whose goal of having a vaccine ready by the end of 2020 was panned by media outlets as an “impossible dream,” a “pipedream,” and a contradicting of his own medical experts. He was again called unrealistic when he said in his presidential debates with Biden that the vaccine would be available by year’s end. Biden called Trump’s vaccine claims “just not rational.”

With both vaccines boasting efficacy rates of about 95 percent, Slaoui said around 70 percent of Americans will need to be immunized for “true herd immunity to take place.” At that level, life would be able to return to normal, but getting there will require widespread public acceptance of the vaccine, he said.

“That is likely to happen somewhere in the month of May, or something like that, based on our plans,” Slaoui said. “I really hope and look forward to seeing that the level of negative perception of the vaccine decreases and people’s acceptance increases. That’s going to be critical.”

A Gallup poll conducted in late October found that 58 percent of Americans said they would take an FDA-approved Covid-19 vaccine if it were available at no cost, up from 50 percent in September.

But then there are political considerations. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said earlier this month that it is “bad news” the vaccine is being rolled out by Trump’s administration, rather than when Democrat Joe Biden takes office in January. “We can’t let this vaccination plan go forward the way the Trump administration is designing it, because Biden can’t undo it two months later.” Trump responded by saying vaccine shipments to New York won’t begin until Cuomo gives his authorization, because “we can’t be delivering to a state that won’t be giving it to its people immediately.”

The vaccine will first go to those who are most vulnerable to Covid-19, such as medical workers, the elderly, and people with underlying medical conditions.

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