• A panel of experts has recommended Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use authorization
  • The FDA is expected to grant approval this week
  • Operation Warp Speed could begin distributing vaccines early next week

A panel of experts from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday formally recommended Pfizer and BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for approval, paving the way for mass vaccinations to begin early next week.

The FDA’s vaccine advisory panel — composed of scientific experts, infectious disease doctors, and statisticians — voted 17 to 4 in favor of emergency use authorization after an eight-hour deliberation. The FDA is expected to grant approval on Saturday, sources familiar with the discussion told The New York Times.

Operation Warp Speed, a Trump administration initiative, will begin shipping and distributing over 6.4 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine once the FDA grants approval. Half of the doses will be sent across the U.S., while the other half will be stored until initial recipients are scheduled to receive the second shot three weeks later.

Pfizer is expected to ship 100 million coronavirus vaccine doses in the next few months, which would be enough to inoculate 50 million Americans.

The government will distribute coronavirus vaccines in phases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that health care workers — including doctors, nurses and janitorial staff — and nursing home residents should receive the vaccine first.

The CDC is also considering prioritizing essential workers, Americans age 65 and over, and people with pre-existing medical conditions that put them at higher risk of developing a severe case of COVID-19.

White House top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci predicted that healthy Americans would likely be able to receive a coronavirus vaccine by April 2021, NPR reported.

The U.S. government will continue to be on the lookout for any adverse reactions to Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine among people receiving it first. And officials will have a test-messaging system to provide early indications of possible reactions from the vaccine, CNBC reported.

It is unclear how the government will contact people eligible to receive the first round of vaccines. Regions will get weekly shipments of a coronavirus vaccine, but it is still not determined how many doses each state will receive.

“Clearly, all of these plans are dependent on the timing of the approval, the number of doses available, how those doses are distributed and how those populations are prioritized,” Dr. Charles Cairns, dean of the Drexel University College of Medicine, told NBC News.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is expected to meet again on Dec. 17 to discuss emergency use authorization for Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine.

German biotechnology company BioNTech and the US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer have produced one of the first Covid-19 vaccines
German biotechnology company BioNTech and the US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer have produced one of the first Covid-19 vaccines AFP / JOEL SAGET