The first Covid vaccinations approved for public use in the United States are expected to take place in the coming hours, with high-risk healthcare workers set to be first in line.
Millions of frozen vials of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine are being distributed and nearly 150 hospitals are expected to receive doses on Monday.
The US is gearing up for its largest ever vaccination campaign, with the aim of reaching 100m people by April.
Covid-19 deaths are nearing 300,000.
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine received emergency-use authorisation from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Friday.
The roll-out of the vaccine comes as the epidemic continues to ravage the country. Deaths have been rising sharply since November and the number of people in hospital with the disease has also continued to grow steadily, with more than 109,000 people currently admitted, according to the Covid Tracking Project.
“I think it’s been probably the darkest December on record here. As of this last week, Covid-19 is the leading cause of death in the US, even more than cancer and heart disease,” Dr Dora Mills of MaineHealth, a network of 12 hospitals in Portland, Oregon, told the BBC
“It’s a very dark season for us, but it’s also extraordinary that we have a vaccine less than a year after this virus has emerged. If the efficacy and safety data hold up, this is likely [to be] the greatest public health and scientific achievement of our lifetime.”
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine – a collaboration between a US pharmaceutical giant and a German biotechnology company – offers up to 95% protection and is the first Covid-19 vaccine to be approved by US regulators.
It is already being rolled out in the UK, while Canada is also beginning its inoculation programme on Monday, with an initial 30,000 doses going to 14 sites across the country.
The first three million doses in the US are being distributed to dozens of locations across all 50 states. The first shipment left a facility in Michigan on Sunday.
The governor of the state of Kentucky, Andy Beshear, has said he expects vaccinations will begin in his state on Monday morning.
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