• Moderna expects to see its vaccine approved by Friday
  • First doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine already delivered
  • Retailers say they’re prepared for delivery and dosing

The U.S. committed to distributing enough COVID-19 vaccines so that about one-third of the total population can be inoculated by March, an official said.

The Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency-use authorization for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine last week. On Monday, New York nurse Sandra Lindsay became the first person in the country to be inoculated against a virus that has claimed over 300,000 American lives this year.

The FDA is expected to approve Moderna’s vaccine by Friday, giving the country a dual line of defense against COVID-19. The government has access to some 2.9 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine and about 6 million of Moderna’s vaccine. Both require two doses spaced weeks apart to be fully effective.

Addressing the gap, Gen. Gustave Perna, a logistics overseer in the federal vaccine program Operation Warp Speed, told reporters Monday it was about what was available when distribution plans were developed last month.

“As early as 15th November, I snapped the chalk line on what was available to Pfizer so states could do the planning,” he was quoted by CNBC as saying. “We wanted them to have enough time as possible to do the planning and realize where they wanted to go first.”

Federal distribution plans put health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities at the front of the line. Retailers such as CVS Health, Kroger and Walgreens are making preparations for widespread delivery.

“Over the next couple of months we anticipate that we’ll be able to have it in our stores similar to the flu season,” Rina Shah, group vice president of pharmacy operations at Walgreens, told CNBC on Monday.

Moncef Slaoui, the director of Operation Warp Speed, said about 20 million people could get the first doses of either vaccine this month. By March, approximately 100 million people – about a third of the U.S. population – could be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

AstraZeneca, another vaccine contender, said it was preparing to submit data for consent from global authorities that have a framework for conditional or early approval of the vaccine, including the World Health Organization.

The first phase of inoculations comes as state authorities tighten restrictions to control a spike in new cases. On Monday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo explained the importance of restrictions to contain outbreaks.

“We're simultaneously increasing hospital capacity and, frankly, changing how hospitals operate,” he said in a statement. “At the same time we have to slow the spread by doing what we know works - social distancing, wearing masks and avoiding gatherings.”

The situation is similar across the country, with states such as California locking down hard ahead of the upcoming holiday season.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded 181,032 new cases of COVID-19 and 1,448 new deaths from complications from the virus as of Monday.

UPS and FedEx trucks transporting Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines against Covid-19 leave Pfizer's Global Supply facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan
UPS and FedEx trucks transporting Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines against Covid-19 leave Pfizer's Global Supply facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan AFPTV / Jeff KOWALSKY