The U.S. is possibly days away from having two authorized COVID-19 vaccines after the Food and Drug Administration’s review of the Moderna vaccine signaled a strong endorsement. The news comes as the Pfizer vaccine, which rolled out Monday, is being administered in places like New York’s Mt. Sinai hospital, which just seven to eight months ago, was overwhelmed with coronavirus patients.
The FDA on Tuesday said the Moderna vaccine is 86.4% effective in people 65 and over. Like the Pfizer vaccine, it’s given in two doses. But Moderna’s doses can be stored at normal refrigerator temperatures for 30 days. Six million doses could go out as soon as the FDA gives the green light.
“We were kind of starting off with just a 50% requirement and when we saw that particular number, it was fantastic,” said Dr. Bindu Balani of Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine.
Frontline healthcare workers at another 425 hospitals began getting their shots of the Pfizer vaccine, including Dr. Umesh Gidwani. He and his fellow doctors and nurses at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York were overcome with emotion.
Gidwani noted it was “remarkable” how quickly they were able to get to this point. “It’s a beautiful thing to see everyone’s hopes realized, everyone’s hard work rewarded,” he told CBS News.
It was the same scene from Chicago to Houston. But the COVID-19 death toll is mounting. More than 110,000 hospitalized and 76% of the nation’s ICUs full. In California, Governor Gavin Newsom is preparing for a surge in deaths.
“Refrigerated storage units are currently on standby in counties and hospitals and we just had to order 5,000 additional body bags,” he said.
In remembrance, bells at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., rang out 300 times to remember the 300,000 Americans who lost their lives to the virus.
Some remember all too well, like Gidwani, who, in the early days of the pandemic, kept a video diary of the daily emotional trauma. “What we could have done better. What could we have done different? Could we have saved another life?” Gidwani asked.
The hope is that this vaccine will finally extinguish this fire that’s been raging and destroying not only the U.S., but the world.
Health officials continue to stress that we are not in the clear yet. That the virus is still raging partly due to asymptomatic spread. But the FDA on Tuesday authorized the first COVID test that you can take at home without a prescription. That test catches infected people without symptoms 91% of the time.
Editor’s note: In a previous version of this story, we reported the efficacy rate for the Moderna vaccine in people over the age of 65 and over was 100%. This was based on the initial data review submitted to the FDA by the company on November 30. On December 7, Moderna provided secondary follow-up data to the FDA from its vaccine trials which lowered the rate to 86.4%, which we missed in our own review of the submission. We have updated this story to include the newer efficacy rate of 86.4% for those 65 and older.