“I never would have imagined that within a year of identifying … a new virus, we would have a vaccine that is being administered to people, that is safe, and is effective and it gives us hope,” said Dr. Richard Besser, former acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “On one of the darkest days in this pandemic, we finally have a ray of hope.”
“We really had tears in our eyes as the vaccine arrived here,” CEO Mason Van Houweling said.
All 50 states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico received vaccine doses Monday. More shipments are expected through the rest of the week, Gen. Gustave Perna, chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, said Monday, adding vaccinations are also expected to start in nursing homes.
“This vaccine, as wonderful as it is, is not going to change the trajectory of what we experience this winter,” Besser told CNN. “It’s not going to change what we need to do; it’s not going change the need for us all to wear masks, and social distance and wash our hands.”
Overcoming vaccine hesitancy
“Nothing has been in my heart more than this issue over the past several weeks to months,” US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams told CNN. “I’ve been working with Pfizer, with Moderna, with AstraZeneca, with Johnson & Johnson to make sure we have appropriate numbers of minorities enrolled in these vaccine trials so that people can understand that they are safe.”
Adams said he’s been working with leaders in minority communities, including faith leaders and fraternities and sororities, as well as celebrity influencers who can “use their megaphone to share the appropriate information with people, because vaccine hesitancy is one of the greatest social injustices out there.”
“There are tens of thousands of Black and brown people dying every year because they are distrustful of the system,” Adams added. “In many cases, rightly so, but also because they’re not getting the facts to help restore their trust in the system.”
“I understand the mistrust among the minority community,” she said. “I don’t ask people to do anything that I would not do myself and so I was happy to volunteer to be among the first.”
“I did not know that I would make history and that’s not why I did it. I wanted to do it to inspire people who may be skeptical about taking the vaccine and trust in the science,” Lindsay added.
Beginning of the end … but not the end
Impacts of the vaccinations won’t come overnight, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Monday.
“It’s not going to be like turning a light switch on and off,” he said during a Center for Strategic and International Studies virtual health event. “I don’t believe we’re going to be able to throw the masks away and forget about physical separation in congregate settings for a while, probably likely until we get into the late fall or early next winter.”
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Monday he believes the general public could start getting vaccinated by late February and March — earlier than other experts have estimated.
“It really, again, is going to be up to our nation’s governors, but with the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine, we’ll have, as I said, as many as 100 (million) shots in arms by the end of February,” he told NBC on Monday.
“If we get the Johnson & Johnson or AstraZeneca vaccine approved in January, when their data comes in, we’ll have significant additional supplies,” Azar added. “Late February, in the March time period, I think you’ll start seeing much more like a flu vaccination campaign — people going into their Kroger, their CVS, or Walgreens, Walmart.”
Returning to normality, officials have said, will depend on how quickly vaccinations happen — and how many Americans get vaccinated. About 70% to 80% of the American public needs to be immune to the virus before it is “gone,” according to Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health.
“We think we can get there by June or so for almost all of the 330 million Americans who are interested in getting this vaccine,” Collins told NBC on Sunday. “But if only half of them do so, this could go on and on and on.”
Difficult months are ahead
In the meantime, the US is preparing to face some of the pandemic’s darkest days yet. in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom said that while the vaccines offered a moment of hope, he added “we are in the midst of the worst moment of this pandemic.”
The state added more than 30,000 new Covid-19 cases for the fourth straight day and hospitalizations and ICU admissions are at all-time highs.
More than 4,200 people are hospitalized with Covid-19, officials said, and 21% of those are in the ICU.
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio hinted at tighter restrictions in the coming weeks, saying the city was on a “very troubling” trajectory, “in terms of the number of people who get sick, the number of people we would lose … and obviously the impact on hospitals, their ability to treat people.”
“We’ve got to start planning on bigger actions now,” he said Monday. “I think the natural time to do that is immediately after Christmas.”
“We will be monitoring and evaluating our current situation day to day and … (we) will remain under the current restrictions for now, with the goal of getting through the next month.”
“But I need to be clear,” the governor added. “If officials and experts agree that our trends are going beyond our ability to respond, I will be forced to come in front of you all again with tougher actions.”
CNN’s Andy Rose, Cheri Mossburg, Shelby Lin Erdman and and Omar Jimenez contributed to this report.