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FDA Gives OK To 2nd Coronavirus Vaccine Distribution


Thousands of boxes are being packed up and loaded today filled with the second coronavirus vaccine to be given the green light by the FDA for distribution. This is the vaccine produced by Moderna. And tomorrow, those boxes will be distributed to locations throughout the United States. It is yet another historic week in the 11 months of this pandemic. Joining us now to tell us more is NPR health reporter Selena Simmons-Duffin.

Selena, hi again. Thanks for joining us.


MARTIN: So we were just here last week talking about the first vaccine, and now there is another authorized. I have to say, it is great to have more good news.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Yes, indeed. Having two vaccines in distribution is going to give a big boost to the effort to get lots of people vaccinated and help slow the spread of the virus and ultimately end the pandemic.

And Moderna's vaccine is also easier to handle than the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine that we were talking about last week. It is kept at regular freezer temperatures, and it comes in smaller shipments, which helps with planning. And today, a group of CDC advisers agreed with the FDA and gave their official green light. So we will be seeing Moderna vaccinations in the coming days.

MARTIN: And so this is also the end of the first week of distribution of the Pfizer vaccine. So how did that go?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Well, I would say pretty well. There were definitely hiccups. Some hospitals didn't get as many doses as they expected. There was a protest at Stanford over medical residents not getting access to initial doses, and the hospital apologized. Also, providers discovered that many of the five-dose vials actually had six or even seven doses in them, which was good, but also unexpected and had some - required some quick work to account for that.

But in the scheme of nearly 300,000 doses being administered, officials are feeling really good and relieved. Here's what Claire Hannan said. She's the head of the Association of Immunization Managers, the people in every state in charge of vaccination plans.

CLAIRE HANNAN: Honestly, the things that went wrong just pale in comparison to seeing the vaccine actually going into arms. So it's just been very, very exciting and uplifting this week.

MARTIN: Well, it is certainly heartening to see people starting to get these shots. Have we learned anything more about side effects?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Well, in the clinical trials for both Pfizer and Moderna, pain at the injection site were really common and even feeling knocked out for a day or two - headaches, sometimes fevers. And that's to be expected after vaccinations. It's part of your body doing its thing, having an immune response. And that's what protects you from getting sick. But also today, the CDC said in a presentation that there have been six cases of anaphylaxis, serious allergic reaction. All of them were treated promptly and are being investigated.

Now, for people who've had serious allergic reactions in the past to things like peanuts or bee stings, CDC advises you can still get these COVID vaccines. You just need to be observed for 30 minutes to make sure you don't have a reaction. And if you have an allergic reaction to any of the vaccine ingredients, it is not recommended that you get the shot.

MARTIN: Selena, also today, a top official of Operation Warp Speed held a press conference where he apologized for a miscommunication. Can you just tell us what happened there?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Right. Earlier this week, state health officials and governors began to speak publicly about their vaccine allocations for next week being cut by, like, twenty to 40% And this morning, General Gus Perna, who's in charge of logistics, told reporters he took responsibility for the miscommunication. And here's what he said.


GUS PERNA: The mistake I made is not understanding with exactness all the steps that have to occur to make sure the vaccine is releasable.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: He said he realized the actual amount ready to ship next week was lower than he had forecast, and knowing the exact number of doses is really critical. There are definitely health care workers who were scheduled to get those shots that are now being told they have to wait. And Perna said he was sorry, that he was learning from the mistake, and he hoped to make the process more predictable going forward. But the government remains on track to allocate 20 million doses of the vaccine by the end of the year.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin. And, Selena, we'll be talking to you again tomorrow during our special program that's all about vaccines.

Thanks, Selena.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Selena Simmons-Duffin reports on health policy for NPR.

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