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Americans may get COVID-19 shots by mid-Dec.

US HEALTHCARE workers and others recommended for the nation’s first coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) inoculations could start getting shots within a day or two of regulatory consent next month, a top official of the government’s vaccine development effort said on Sunday.

Some 70% of the US population of 330 million would need to be inoculated to achieve “herd” immunity from the virus, a goal the country could achieve by May, according to Dr. Moncef Slaoui, chief scientific adviser for “Operation Warp Speed.”

Mr. Slaoui said the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would likely grant approval in mid-December for distribution of the vaccine produced by Pfizer, Inc, and German partner BioNTech, launching the largest inoculation campaign in US history.

The FDA’s outside advisers are slated to meet on Dec. 10 to review Pfizer’s emergency-use application for its vaccine, which the company said was found to be 95% effective against infection from the highly contagious respiratory virus.

A second pharmaceutical company, Moderna, Inc. is expected to seek separate approval later in December for its COVID-19 vaccine.

Appearing on several network news shows on Sunday morning, Mr. Slaoui sketched out a timeline for getting the initial doses of the Pfizer vaccine from FDA authorization into the arms of those who will be first in line to receive it.

“Within 24 hours from the approval, the vaccine will be moving and located in the areas where each state will have told us where they want the vaccine doses,” Mr. Slaoui told NBC’s Meet the Press.

“So I would expect, maybe on day two after approval on the 11th or 12th of December, hopefully the first people will be immunized across the United States,” he said on CNN’s State of the Union program.

Once emergency-use approval is granted, Slaoui said, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and an advisory panel on immunization practices will recommend who should receive the vaccine first.

Mr. Slaoui said they are likely to include doctors, nurses and “front-line” emergency medical personnel, as well as individuals considered to be at the highest risk of severe illness and death from the virus, such as the elderly.

Public health authorities in each state will be responsible for administering the vaccine roll-out, with the first doses distributed to the states proportionate to their populations, he said.

President-elect Joe Biden and his advisers have voiced concern that President Donald Trump’s continued refusal to share vaccine data and distribution plans with Mr. Biden’s transition team could cause delays after the next administration takes office on Jan. 20.

Mr. Slaoui said he hoped for a smooth hand-off and did not expect the vaccination effort to be derailed. Details on the timeline emerged as coronavirus infections rage further out of control across the country, besieging hospitals with mounting numbers of COVID-19 patients.

The crisis prompted state and local government leaders nationwide to re-impose restrictions on social and economic life in hopes of breaking the transmission cycle.

On Sunday, Los Angeles County health officials announced that outdoor service at restaurants, bars and wineries would be banned for at least the next three weeks as the daily number of new coronavirus cases surpassed a five-day average of 4,000.

The new measure, restricting eateries in and around the nation’s second-largest city to takeout and deliveries only for the first time since late May, goes into effect on Wednesday.

Health experts worry that the surge will only worsen, as millions of Americans prepared to travel and congregate in family groups for Thanksgiving celebrations, despite warnings that they stay home to avoid spreading the disease.

Many people were scrambling to get tested before Thursday’s holiday, leading to long lines at screening sites in New York City and elsewhere. Most pharmacies offering COVID-19 tests in suburban Chicago were fully booked. “I believe COVID rates will increase just as I believe most New Yorkers will put on weight,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo lamented at a Sunday press conference.

The United States surpassed 12 million COVID-19 cases on Saturday, as the nation’s death toll climbed to more than 255,000 since the pandemic began. Coronavirus hospitalizations have increased nearly 50% over the past two weeks. — Reuters

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