Washington: The first Americans to receive a COVID-19 vaccine could be as early as the second week of December, according to the White House vaccine czar.
American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech submitted an application to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on November 20 for emergency use authorisation for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate. An FDA vaccine advisory committee is slated to meet December on 10.
Dr Moncef Slaoui, the head of the US coronavirus vaccine programme said that it means, if authorised by the FDA, the vaccine could be rolled out the next day (December 11).
"Our plan is to be able to ship vaccines to the immunisation sites within 24 hours from the approval, so I would expect maybe on day two after approval, on the 11th or on the 12th of December," he told CNN on Sunday.
The vaccine, which requires two doses, has been shown by tests to be 95 per cent effective. Pfizer hopes to produce up to 50 million doses by the end of the year.
US pharmaceutical company Moderna has also reported that its vaccine is nearly 95 per cent effective, according to test data. The company is expected to seek approval for the vaccine in the coming weeks.
"Hopefully, the first people will be immunised across the United States, across all states, in all the areas where the State Departments of Health will have told us where to deliver the vaccine," Slaoui said.
Slaoui also said that based on plans, the amount of the population who need to be vaccinated for life to return to normal is likely to happen in May.
He said that with the level of efficacy that has been shown in both Pfizer and Moderna's vaccines, "70 per cent or so of the population being immunised would allow for true herd immunity to take place, that is likely to happen somewhere in the month of May, or something like that based on our plans." Slaoui said that with the level of efficacy shown in the vaccines, the US could achieve "true herd immunity" in May, with 70 per cent of the population vaccinated.
But he added: "I really hope and look forward to seeing that the level of negative perception of the vaccine decreases and people's acceptance increases. That is going to be critical to help us. Most people need to be immunised before we can go back to a normal life." Dr Anthony Fauci, the US's top infectious disease expert, told CBS News that the US could reach herd immunity against Covid-19 "reasonably quickly" next year if enough Americans are vaccinated.
Although the full trial data has yet to be published, the companies involved say there have been no serious safety concerns.
It is still unclear how long protection from the vaccine lasts and if it stops people transmitting the deadly virus which originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in last year.
His comments come amid a surge in coronavirus cases across the US.
The US has recorded more than 12 million cases and 255,000 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, the highest tolls registered anywhere in the world.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned that coronavirus cases are rapidly rising across the country.
The CDC has urged Americans to avoid travelling for the Thanksgiving holiday on November 26 to prevent increased transmissions.
White House coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said Americans should limit indoor gatherings to immediate households this Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving typically heralds the busiest week for travel in the US. Last year, an estimated 26 million people passed through the country's airports in the week surrounding the major holiday.