The United States will recommend on Sunday (Dec 20) who will be next in line to get inoculated as the distribution of the second approved coronavirus vaccine began with shipments of Moderna Inc's leaving warehouses for healthcare facilities across the country.
Companies and industry groups are lobbying to get their US workers classified as essential, entitled to vaccines immediately after healthcare professionals and long-term care facility residents.
Inoculation against the disease is key to safely reopening large parts of the economy and reducing the risks of illness at crowded meatpacking plants, factories and warehouses. However, confusion has broken out over who exactly is considered essential during a pandemic.
The recommendations from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are also expected to focus on the populations over 65 and people with pre-existing conditions.
US health officials are monitoring the new strain of COVID-19 emerging in the United Kingdom, US Surgeon General Jerome Adams said on Sunday, adding that any mutation shows people must keep protecting themselves from the novel coronavirus while awaiting vaccination.
"Viruses mutate all the time," Adams told CBS News' "Face the Nation" program. "If this is a mutation that is more contagious, then that just means that we need to be that much more vigilant while we wait to be vaccinated."
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and scientists announced on Saturday that the new virus strain had led to spiraling infection numbers, tightening the COVID-19 restrictions for London and nearby areas and disrupting the Christmas holiday plans of millions of people.
The variant, which officials say is up to 70 per cent more transmissible than the original, has prompted concerns about a wider spread. Several European countries, including Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands, said they were taking measures to prevent people arriving from Britain, including bans on flights and trains.
Meanwhile, in the United States, trucks of FedEx and United Parcel Service started picking up the doses from warehouses for deliveries to hospitals and other sites.
Vials of Moderna's vaccine were filled in pharmaceutical services provider Catalent Inc's facility in Bloomington, Indiana. Distributor McKesson Corp is shipping doses from facilities in places including Louisville, Kentucky, and Memphis, Tennessee - close to air hubs for UPS and FedEx.
Both FedEx and UPS said the shipments were running smoothly and everything was going exactly as planned.
The distribution of Moderna's vaccine to more than 3,700 locations in the United States will vastly widen the rollout started last week by Pfizer Inc and German partner BioNTech SE.
US COVID-19 vaccine programme head Moncef Slaoui said it was most likely the first Moderna vaccine shot, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration on Friday, would be given on Monday morning.
"We look forward to the vaccine. It's going to be slightly easier to distribute because it doesn't require as low (a) temperature as Pfizer," Slaoui said on CNN.
The US government plans to deliver 5.9 million Moderna shots and 2 million Pfizer shots this week.
But an ambitious target to get 20 million Americans started with their first shot of the two-dose vaccine regimen before the end of the year could slip into the first week of January, US Army General Gustave Perna told reporters on Saturday.
The start of delivery for the Moderna vaccine will significantly widen availability of COVID-19 vaccines as US deaths caused by the respiratory disease have reached more than 316,000 in the 11 months since the first documented US cases.
Some states are choosing to use Moderna's shots for harder-to-reach rural areas because they can be stored for 30 days in standard-temperature refrigerators. Pfizer's must be shipped and stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius and can be held for only five days at standard refrigerator temperatures.
Initial doses were given to health professionals. Programmes by pharmacies Walgreens and CVS to distribute the Pfizer vaccine to long-term care facilities are expected to start on Monday.