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The COVID-19 vaccine is using new technology that has never been used before in traditional vaccines. Here’s how an mRNA vaccine works.

USA TODAY

Semi-trucks rolled out of the loading dock at a Pfizer manufacturing plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan, on Sunday,  beginning historic journeys to deliver insulated boxes of the nation’s first COVID-19 vaccine to hospitals and health departments across America. 

Pfizer has said it will deliver 6.4 million doses in this initial shipments. Federal officials say they will be staggered, arriving in 145 distribution centers Monday, with an additional 425 sites getting shipments Tuesday, and the remaining 66 on Wednesday. The first inoculations could come Monday, with healthcare workers and nursing home residents first in line.

The vaccine is offering hope in the fight against the pandemic that has killed nearly 300,000 in the U.S. alone. But it will take months to produce and distribute enough to vaccinate most Americans, and experts warn that infections, hospitalizations and deaths will likely climb this winter.

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Here are today’s top headlines:

  • An advisory committee to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voted Saturday to recommend the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for people 16 and older. Now it goes to the director of the CDC for his signature.
  • The Food and Drug Administration late Friday granted emergency use of the vaccine
  • The U.S. has recorded more than 16 million cases of COVID-19, by far the most of any country in the world
  • About 1 in 8 U.S. hospitals had few or no intensive care unit beds available last week, according to new federal data. Experts say the number of hospitals struggling to accommodate the nation’s sickest patients likely will increase following another week of record COVID-19 cases.

📈 Another day of record deaths in the US:  As of Sunday, almost 300,000 people in the U.S. have died, with more than 16 million confirmed cases, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: more than 70 million cases and 1.6 million deaths. 

📰 What we’re reading: We’re answering your questions about the vaccine, like: What are the side effects? Can you still get sick? Is it safe during pregnancy? Read more here.

Here comes the vaccine – and the scams

Criminal networks are ready to roll out counterfeit versions of approved vaccines, much like fake Gucci bags and Nike sneakers, experts warn. Already, consumer watchdogs are hearing reports of imposters claiming to be Social Security Administration workers in order to get sensitive information from people. Scammers might claim they’re calling to sign the person up to receive their vaccine. As part of the sign-up, the scammer asks for nformation such as your Medicare number, name, address and possibly bank account information, said Jon Miller Steiger, director of the East Central Region for the Federal Trade Commission.

“This is a scam,” Steiger said. “The Social Security Administration will not sign you up to receive a vaccine and will not ask for sensitive information by phone, email or text.”

Susan Tompor, Detroit Free Press

Louisville airport playing crucial role in vaccine shipments

The first shipments of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine will arrive today at the Muhammad Ali International Airport to be sorted and shipped out the same day to destinations across the eastern U.S. The ultimate destination: The arms of healthcare workers on the front lines of the fight against the coronavirus. To keep the doses chilled, the UPS Worldport in Louisville has built a “freezer farm” on location with 300 ultra-low temperature refrigeration units that can each store 48,000 vials of vaccines. 

“We have millions of doses of this vaccine that are now being shipped to every corner of America, with administration to begin as soon as providers are ready,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar.

Lucas Aulbach, Louisville Courier Journal

Country music legend Charley Pride dies of COVID-19 complications at 86

Charley Pride — a Country Music Hall of Fame singer who rose from rural Mississippi to become the genre’s first Black superstar — died Saturday at age 86. The “Kiss An Angel Good Mornin’ ” star died in Dallas, due to complications from COVID-19, according to a news release from his publicist, Jeremy Westby. With a career spanning more than five decades, Pride cemented a trailblazing legacy unlike any entertainer before him. Launching his career in the 1960s, in the height of civil rights movement, Pride became the first Black man to outright conquer country music fame.

He overcame audiences unwilling to hear a Black man cover Hank Williams and promoters equally skeptical at hosting his performances to become the best-selling artist for RCA Records since Elvis Presley. 

— Matthew Leimkuehler and Dave Paulson, Nashville Tennessean

12-county California region has 0.0% available ICU capacity

In San Joaquin County, part of California’s vast Central Valley that produces most of the country’s fruits and vegetables, the coronavirus is spreading like a weed and the hospitals are running out of beds for the sickest patients. San Joaquin is part of a 12-county region that on Saturday, according to the California Department of Public Health, had 100% of its intensive care unit beds filled, the highest rate anywhere in California. And with cases continuing at an unprecedented rate, the death toll inevitably will grow, too.

A new stay-at-home order was imposed this week but it is unknown whether it will have the intended consequence of finally changing enough people’s behavior to slow infections as a vaccine is widely rolled out.

UPS Worldport hub in Louisville to soon ship vaccine

The first shipments of Pfizer/BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine will move through UPS’ Worldport global air hub at the Louisville, Kentucky, airport Sunday, a company spokesman told The Courier Journal, part of the USA TODAY Network. UPS said the vaccine will originate from storage sites in Michigan and Wisconsin. The shipments “will be expedited Next Day Air to select destinations, including hospitals, clinics and other medical facilities, to inoculate healthcare workers,” the company said in a news release.

The shipments will arrive at the hub to be sorted and will be shipped out — all on Sunday, UPS spokesman Jim Mayer said. He said he did not know how many doses will be moving through. Mayer previously said that UPS will deliver to states in the eastern half of the United States. FedEx will deliver to the western half of the U.S.

– Ben Tobin, Louisville Courier Journal

FDA: No corners cut in reviewing Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine

Amid concerns about how quickly the FDA issued an emergency authorization for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, agency leaders  stressed Saturday that they conducted a thorough, transparent review. FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said reports Friday that the White House had threatened to fire him if the agency did not authorize the vaccine were “inaccurate.”

“Science and data guided the FDA’s decision. We worked quickly because of the urgency of this pandemic, not because of any other external pressure,” Hahn said. “I will absolutely take this COVID-19 vaccine.”

Hahn said the agency was concerned about vaccine “hesitancy” and and stressed that “efficiency does not mean any cutting of corners.” Hahn said. Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said the FDA requires vaccine developers to monitor for any significant adverse events as they seek standard approval. The FDA and the CDC are monitoring as well, he said.

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USA TODAY

Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine gets FDA authorization

In what is hoped to be the beginning of the end of America’s COVID-19 pandemic, the FDA on Friday evening authorized the first vaccine to prevent people from getting sickWhat this means: The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine received emergency use authorization, which is not full approval. Although it has received all the standard short-term safety and effectiveness reviews, the vaccine has not been tested for the two years typical of an approved vaccine. So it is not yet clear how long protection will last.  

When will you get it? Front line health care workers and nursing home residents are expected to get the vaccine first. More doses will be rolled out in the weeks and months to come, with Pfizer and Moderna each expected to deliver 100 million doses of their vaccines by the middle of next year. 

What about other vaccines? Next week, a similar COVID-19 vaccine developed by the Massachusetts-based Moderna will go through the same review process, and could swiftly be cleared for use.

– Karen Weintraub

Contributing: Kristen Jordan Shamus, Detroit Free Press; The Associated Press

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