US plunges deep into COVID-19 crisis
The United States began dispensing its first COVID-19 vaccines today as the death toll from the pandemic passed 300,000.
Health workers were first in line to receive the Pfizer vaccine, which Donald Trump hailed last week as a "medical miracle" after most experts had expressed scepticism at the President's prediction that the shot, produced under the administration's Operation Warp Speed program, could be delivered this year.
"I feel hopeful today, relieved," said Sandra Lindsay, an intensive care nurse at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens, New York, moments after receiving the shot on Monday as part of the country's biggest ever mass vaccination drive.
"I feel the healing is coming. I hope this marks the beginning of the end of the very painful time in our history."
The event was live-streamed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, whose state has been hardest hit with nearly 36,000 deaths to date - a large percentage in nursing homes, which were ravaged by the virus after being ordered to accept COVID-19 positive patients from hospitals by the Cuomo administration.
Mr Cuomo hailed the vaccine as "the weapon that will end the war". "How fitting that she was the first to get the shot," he said.
This is what heroes look like.— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) December 14, 2020
Sandra Lindsay, an ICU Nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens, became the FIRST AMERICAN to get vaccinated in a non-trial setting.
Thank you Sandra and thank you Dr. Michelle Chester. #NewYorkTough pic.twitter.com/g4HGZ3jbGG
Mr Trump tweeted shortly afterwards, "First Vaccine Administered. Congratulations USA! Congratulations WORLD!"
The vaccine, developed by German company BioNTech and Pfizer, was granted emergency use authorisation by the Food and Drug Administration on Friday night.
The first trucks carrying the vaccine left Pfizer's Michigan plant on Sunday, with 2.9 million doses expected to be delivered to 636 locations across the country by the end of this week, NBC News reported.
The rollout presents a major logistical challenge, as the Pfizer vaccine must be kept at extremely low temperature - minus 70 degrees Celsius - with dry ice.
Moderna says its vaccine candidate can be stored at regular freezer temperature. If a second vaccine is authorised soon, 20 million people could be immunised by the end of the month, according to the Associated Press.
Over the weekend, Operation Warp Speed chief operating officer General Gustave Perna likened the distribution operation to the 1944 Normandy landings.
"D-Day was a pivotal turning point in World War II," he told a briefing. "It was the beginning of the end - and that's where we are today. But make no mistake, it was not the end. Months and months of hard-fought battles occurred and it took diligence, courage and strength to eventually achieve victory."
First Vaccine Administered. Congratulations USA! Congratulations WORLD!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 14, 2020
DEATH TOLL HITS GRIM MILESTONE
It came as the death toll from the virus crossed 300,000 on Monday.
"The numbers are staggering - the most impressive, inspirational respiratory pandemic that we have experienced in over 102 years, since the iconic 1918 Spanish flu," infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci said prior to the milestone.
The US also has the highest cumulative number of confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic at more than 16.4 million.
Globally the death toll now exceeds more than 1.6 million.
Many have sought to compare the death toll to wars or terror attacks such as September 11, which killed nearly 3000 people.
"We are heading into probably the worst period possible because of all the things we had in the spring, which is fatigue, political resistance, maybe the loss of all the good will we had about people doing their part," Johns Hopkins University public health research Jennifer Nuzzo told the Associated Press.
CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield sounds utterly defeated as he goes over U.S. COVID metrics. pic.twitter.com/tNyscoh6lQ— The Recount (@therecount) December 10, 2020
She contrasted the Trump administration's response to the aftermath of the 2001 attacks.
"To think now we can just absorb in our country 3000 deaths a day as though it were just business as usual, it just represents a moral failing," she said.
The US death toll has now exceeded World War II, where 291,557 Americans died in combat, and is more than six times the 47,424 killed in the Vietnam War.
Over the past decade, the flu has killed an average of 37,000 Americans every year. That's more than the 33,686 who died in the Korean War.
The worst flu season was 2017-18, where an estimated 61,000 died - 27 times the number who died during the War of 1812.
Last week, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr Robert Redfield warned that the death toll would mount over the coming months.
"Probably for the next 60 to 90 days, we're going to have more deaths per day than we had on 9/11 or we had at Pearl Harbor," he said.
"It's very sobering to realise that in the United States today, COVID-19 is now the leading cause of death. Surpassing heart disease and other causes of death."
Originally published as US plunges deep into COVID-19 crisis