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U.S. vaccine chief Moncef Slaoui sees "light at the end of the tunnel"

How COVID vaccines will roll out across U.S.
How COVID vaccines will roll out across U.S. 10:09

Washington — As the U.S. prepares to begin distribution of two coronavirus vaccines pending approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this month, Moncef Slaoui, chief adviser to Operation Warp Speed, said he sees a "light at the end of the tunnel" and life could begin to return to normal by the spring.

"I think we may start to see some impact on the most susceptible people probably in the month of January and February," Slaoui said in an interview with "Face the Nation" on Sunday. "But on a population basis, for our lives to start getting back to normal, we're talking about April or May. Therefore, it's absolutely vital that everybody take comfort in the fact that we have light at the end of the tunnel, and find the energy in that to continue to wear our masks, distance, wash our hands, pay attention to what we're doing to make sure we're there by the spring to benefit from the vaccine."

While several companies in the U.S. and abroad have been developing COVID-19 vaccines, candidates from Pfizer, developed with Germany's BioNTech, and Moderna are seeking emergency authorizations from the FDA after study results confirmed their respective shots offered strong protection against the coronavirus.

The two companies are expected to provide roughly 40 million doses of their vaccines by the end of the year, which would give up to 20 million people the required two doses. Last week, an advisory committee within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the first batch of vaccinations be given to health care workers in the U.S. and residents of long-term care facilities.

In anticipation of approval from the FDA, states are gearing up to begin distribution of the vaccines, the first shipments of which are expected to be rolled out by mid-December. 

"The first vaccine shipment will happen on the day after the vaccine is approved," Slaoui said. "That's how we planned it. If the vaccine is approved on the 10th or the 11th, the minute it's approved, the shipments will start."

Slaoui said public health officials have a "good understanding" of the side effects of the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, which primarily last between one to two days. In 10% to 15% of people, there can be pain and redness at the injection site, he said.

"There are no serious adverse effects associated with these vaccines, to the best of our understanding," Slaoui said, adding the federal government is "confident that in the long term, these vaccines will remain very effective and very safe."

While the Trump administration laid the groundwork for the swift development and distribution of a COVID-19 through its Operation Warp Speed initiative, the incoming Biden administration will take the helm of the federal government as distribution to the general population ramps up next year.

President-elect Joe Biden said Friday that while the Trump administration has provided information to his transition team on how they plan to distribute the vaccine to states, there is "no detailed plan, that we have seen, anyway, as to how you get the vaccine out of a container and into an injection syringe into somebody's arm."

Slaoui, though, said "things have been really, very appropriately planned," and noted jurisdictions and state health departments will assume responsibility for delivering the vaccine. Officials from Operation Warp Speed are set to meet with Mr. Biden's team this week, he said.

"I feel confident that once we explain everything in detail, I hope the new transition team will understand that things are well-planned and frankly, our commitment is to make sure these vaccines will make it safely to the U.S. population, and we will do the best we can to make that happen through the transition without any interruptions," Slaoui said.

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