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The US is planning to ship 2.9 million Covid vaccine doses by the tip of this week

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General Gustave Perna, Chief Operating Officer for Project Warp Speed ​​for the Department of Defense, speaks during an Operation Warp Speed ​​Vaccination Summit at the White House in Washington, DC, the United States, on Tuesday, December 8, 2020.

Al Drago | Bloomberg | Getty Images

US officials said the federal government plans to begin distributing 2.9 million Covid-19 vaccine doses by the end of this week, once the Food and Drug Administration grants emergency clearance for the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine, which will be released on Thursday or Friday.

General Gustave Perna, who oversees the logistics for President Donald Trump's Operation Warp Speed ​​vaccination program, said an additional 2.9 million doses are earmarked for patients to receive their second shot. Pfizer's vaccine requires two doses three weeks apart. The government has also provided a reserve of 500,000 cans in case of an emergency or manufacturing problem, he said.

Setting reserve doses aside is "good planning for the Army Officer General," said Perna on Wednesday during a press conference on the distribution of Covid vaccines, "so that we can make sure that in case we have to respond to a situation, have some reserves. "

Ultimately, the federal and state governments will be "safer" in the vaccine distribution process and a reserve will no longer be required, said Dr. Moncef Slaoui, who heads Operation Warp Speed, at the same press conference. "That's the method we use for the initial distributions," he added.

Officials said the initial doses would go to 64 jurisdictions as well as five federal agencies – the prison office, the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the Indian Health Service and the Veterans Health Administration. The Department of Defense is expected to begin distributing its first 44,000 doses of Pfizer's vaccine as early as next week, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.

The doses of the vaccine will be limited as production increases. Officials predict it will be months before everyone in the US who wants to be vaccinated is vaccinated. Slaoui previously said that by the end of February, the US should be able to distribute enough doses of vaccine to immunize 100 million Americans, nearly a third of the US population. He said the entire US population could be vaccinated against Covid-19 by June.

Slaoui told reporters on Wednesday that the government could potentially be ready to get more Covid vaccines out to the public without holding second doses "by mid-January or early February, when we've had five or six weeks of rolling, high cadence manufacturing, and that we see things roll perfectly. "

He said last week that there is a chance the US could receive more doses than expected later next year if Johnson & Johnson's potential vaccine is approved, and he expects the company to release key late-stage trial data in January . Officials expect to be marketing Pfizer and Moderna vaccines by the end of this year.

The Wednesday briefing will take place one day before an FDA panel is scheduled to vote on recommending approval of the Pfizer emergency vaccine. This is the final step before the FDA issues the final OK for public distribution. If the meeting goes well and the Advisory Committee on Vaccines and Related Biological Products formally recommends the vaccine, the FDA could announce approval "in days," said Alex Azar, secretary for health and human services on Wednesday.

The vaccine is expected to be distributed in phases, with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urging states to give priority to health workers and nursing homes first.

The states had submitted plans to the CDC early on how they want to vaccinate around 331 million Americans against Covid-19 after a vaccine has been approved. The CDC has allocated US $ 200 million to the jurisdictions for vaccine preparation, although much of that funding has not reached the local level.

Last Friday, all 64 states, territories and other jurisdictions as well as five federal agencies finalized their plans to distribute the Pfizer vaccine, Perna said on Wednesday. Up to 36 states have told the CDC that the starting dose should be used for long-term health facilities, he added.

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Katherine Clark