Washington — With the first shipments of a coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer and German partner BioNTech now making their way to states, kicking off the largest vaccination effort in the nation's history, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar predicted Sunday that all nursing home residents could be vaccinated by the Christmas holiday.
"The vaccines are going out. As soon as they receive vaccine, this is according to the governors telling us to ship to them, we can have every nursing home patient vaccinated in the United States by Christmas," Azar said on "Face the Nation." "It's a really remarkable, remarkable prospect for all of us who have loved ones in nursing homes that we may approach Christmas with that level of comfort, that our loved ones have gotten some initial protection already."
Shipments of Pfizer's vaccine began Sunday morning, with roughly 3 million doses set to be distributed and administered to health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities first. CVS, which along with Walgreens will administer the COVID-19 vaccine to residents and staff of nursing homes, expects to receive its allotment of doses in the coming days. But the company said it will not begin administering the vaccines to nursing home residents until December 21, as it was instructed to do so by the Trump administration.
But Azar said the administration is not, in fact, asking the company to wait and instead said there was a "misunderstanding" by CVS.
"I think we have gotten that all straightened out with them," he said. "And we will be getting CVS and Walgreen vaccinating our nursing home people — almost 100% of our nursing homes have signed up with that program, for a turnkey vaccination operation."
Vaccinations, he said, "can start any day."
But Robert Garrett, CEO of Hackensack Meridian Health, the largest health network in New Jersey, also told "Face the Nation" on Sunday that CVS and Walgreens have said they will start to vaccinate long-term care residents the week of December 21.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine for emergency use Friday, and the roughly 3 million doses will be shipped to more than 600 sites across the country. News of the authorization came as the coronavirus continues to ravage the country, with the death toll in the U.S. nearing 300,000 and confirmed cases surpassing 16 million, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Azar said the federal government is being "very aggressive" with distribution of Pfizer's vaccine and shipping "all that we have."
"This is about measuring twice, cutting once," he said. "We're launching a very complex nationwide distribution program. Do it right, do it measured, get the job done right, anticipate problems, but know they're going to be hitches and hiccups as we go and we will work to solve it."
Azar said he believes 20 million people will be vaccinated by the end of the month, with additional doses of Pfizer's vaccine coming in and 12.5 million doses of Moderna's vaccine, which is awaiting authorization from the FDA, also ready to be shipped.
"Twenty million vaccinations this month. And then we think we'll be up to 50 million total vaccinations of people by the end of January and 100 million shots in arms by the end of February, just with the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines," he said.
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