• The Star Staff

America begins its most ambitious vaccination campaign


By Jack Healy, Amy Harmon, Simon Romero, Noah Weiland and Michael Gold


The first shots were given in the American mass vaccination campaign Monday morning, opening a new chapter in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more people in the United States than in any other country.


Shortly after 9 a.m. Monday, the first known clinically authorized vaccination took place in Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New York City. The pandemic has scarred New York state profoundly, leaving more than 35,000 people dead and severely weakening the economy.


“I believe this is the weapon that will end the war,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at the event Monday morning, shortly before the shot was given to Sandra Lindsay, a critical care nurse at the center. State officials said the shot was the first to be given outside of a vaccine trial in the United States.


Lindsay, who has treated patients throughout the pandemic, said that she hoped her public vaccination would instill confidence that the shots were safe.


“I feel like healing is coming,” she said. “I hope this marks the beginning of the end of a very painful time in our history.”


Moments later, President Donald Trump posted on Twitter: “First Vaccine Administered. Congratulations USA! Congratulations WORLD!”


Shortly afterward, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City said at a news conference that “To me, we were watching an incredibly historic moment, and the beginning of something much better for this city and this country.”


The vaccinations started after the Food and Drug Administration’s emergency authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine Friday night, and as the U.S. coronavirus death toll approaches 300,000, with a steady surge in new cases daily.


On Sunday, trucks and cargo planes packed with the first of nearly 3 million doses of coronavirus vaccine had fanned out across the country, as hospitals in all 50 states rushed to set up injection sites and their anxious workers tracked each shipment hour by hour. But the rollout is less centralized in the United States than in other countries that are racing to distribute it.


Across the country, according to Gen. Gustave F. Perna, the chief operating officer of the federal effort to develop a vaccine, 145 sites are set to receive the vaccine Monday, 425 on Tuesday and 66 on Wednesday.


A majority of the first injections given Monday are expected to go to high-risk health care workers. In many cases, this first, limited delivery would not supply nearly enough doses to inoculate all of the doctors, nurses, security guards, receptionists and other workers who risk being exposed to the virus every day. Because the vaccines can cause side effects including fevers and aches, hospitals say they will stagger vaccination schedules among workers.


Residents of nursing homes, who have suffered a disproportionate share of COVID-19 deaths, are also being prioritized and are expected to begin receiving vaccinations next week. But the vast majority of Americans will not be eligible for the vaccine until the spring or later.


On Monday afternoon at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, five of the first vaccinations are scheduled to take place at what the Department of Health and Human Services is calling a national ceremonial “kickoff event.”


The five people were selected by an algorithm the hospital is using to assign the first doses, the result of a survey hospital employees filled out that asked about age, underlying medical conditions and the risk they carry in their jobs, according to a federal health official familiar with the planning who was not authorized to speak publicly. The event is intended to demonstrate the way many health workers will be vaccinated this week, the official said.


The kickoff is part of what the official said will be a series of vaccination events featuring top health officials.


The moves come just six days after Britain became the first nation to begin rolling out a fully tested vaccine. Since then, a handful of other nations have approved the same vaccine. In Canada, the first shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived Sunday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Twitter, and the first shots could be given as early as Monday. Among the first to receive the vaccine will be residents of nursing homes in Quebec and front-line health workers in Toronto.


Hours before the injections began in the United States, there had been uncertainty and expectation. On the snowy plains of Fargo, North Dakota, Jesse Breidenbach, the senior executive director of pharmacy for Sanford Health, which operates hospitals and clinics across the upper Midwest, refreshed his email again and again Sunday, waiting to receive a FedEx tracking number that would confirm that some 3,400 doses were en route.


The Sanford hospital in Fargo was converting its Veterans Club into a vaccination site, and officials said they would start inoculating a first group of emergency and critical-care doctors and nurses within hours after the vaccine arrived. But when would that be?


The answer came Sunday afternoon: Expected vaccine delivery, 10:30 a.m. Monday, with vaccinations starting early in the afternoon.