File image of U.S. Vice President Mike Pence | Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
File image of U.S. Vice President Mike Pence | Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Washington: Vice President Mike Pence told governors on Monday that distribution of a coronavirus vaccine could begin by the third week of December, signaling that U.S. regulators will swiftly approve an emergency authorization for the first shots.

“We strongly believe the vaccine distribution process could begin the week of December 14,” Pence told governors, according to a summary of the call provided by the office of Washington Governor Jay Inslee. “The American people deserve to know the cavalry is on the way.”

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Pence told governors they will have the final say on vaccine distribution as the “ultimate arbiters” in their states, according to the summary.

Moderna Inc. joined Pfizer Inc. on Monday in requesting the FDA issue an emergency use authorization for its shot. Both vaccines are better than 90% effective, according to preliminary results of clinical trials, though their distribution challenges include requiring two shots.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, and Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also participated in the call.

An FDA advisory panel is scheduled to meet on Dec. 10 to discuss the vaccines. Azar told governors that distribution could begin within 24 hours of regulatory approval, while Pence said the administration believes that will be the week of the 14th. Vaccines will be largely administered by pharmacies such as those owned by CVS Health Corp. and Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc., Azar said.

“It was a very happy call,” said Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, a Republican. He said Pfizer Inc.’s vaccine could begin arriving in his state by Dec. 15.

The call took place against a backdrop of a raging pandemic. U.S. coronavirus cases surged in the days before the Thanksgiving weekend, including a record 205,000 cases recorded on Friday. The U.S. recorded nearly four million cases in November alone, out of 13.5 million so far. Deaths have been trending up and hospitalizations are at a record level.

“Our health-care system is experiencing a real challenge,” Azar acknowledged on the call.

Some governors on the call expressed surprise to learn that vaccines would be distributed to states at first based on a per-capita formula, counting only those aged 18 and older.

After the call, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz said the administration is undecided on who should be vaccinated first.

“The Trump administration believes you vaccinate those 65 and older,” Walz told reporters. “The CDC, Dr. Fauci, and others say you vaccinate the health-care workers to get the biggest bang for the buck. Those are discussions that are happening right now.”

Pence assured the governors that the administration would support any distribution plan they choose.

Pence’s office released a summary of the call, noting that Hahn insisted the vaccine program “leads to no cut corners.” The written summary didn’t specify when distribution will begin.

–With assistance from Stephen Joyce, Alexander Ebert and Shruti Date Singh. -Bloomberg

Also read: Moderna plans to seek clearance for its Covid vaccine in US, Europe 


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