The United States on Monday administered the first shots of Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine to health-care workers, marking a pivotal moment in the country's long march to bring the virus under control.
The vaccine comes at an urgent time, with the U.S. nearing 300,000 total Covid-19 deaths and top health officials warning that daily new deaths might not slow for months, even with a vaccine.
With limited doses available, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised states to prioritize distribution to front-line health-care workers and long-term care residents, who are among the most vulnerable to the disease.
The swift rollout of the vaccine promises to be a monumental logistical challenge. The federal government has partnered with UPS, FedEx, McKesson, CVS and Walgreens, among others, to help distribute the vaccine and actually administer it. But state officials have warned that the so-called last-mile delivery of the vaccine will be the most challenging, and local officials are largely responsible for that effort. State officials have repeatedly called on the federal government to provide more funding to hasten the effort.
"There is not one part of this country that's not being touched today through Wednesday," Gen. Gustave Perna, who is in charge of logistics for Operation Warp Speed, said Monday at a briefing. "It is not a one-and-done delivery. It is a consistent flow of ordering, preparation and delivery."
With distribution challenges ahead and the outbreak still raging, officials and health-care workers took time Monday to celebrate the arrival of the vaccine and the hope it represents. Across the country, images flowed in of health-care workers receiving their first shots and the first doses arriving at more than 100 distribution sites.
Sandra Lindsay, an intensive care nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New York City, was among the first Americans to be vaccinated against the disease shortly after 9 a.m. ET.
"I am very proud to be in this position, to promote public confidence in the safety of the vaccine. I encourage everyone to take the vaccine," she said at a press conference with Northwell Health CEO Michael Dowling and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. "This should be significant for all of us as it signifies hope, healing, restoration of public health and public safety."
At the event, Cuomo thanked health-care workers for serving on the front line of what he called a "modern-day battlefield."
"This vaccine is exciting, because I believe this is the weapon that will end the war," he said. "It's the beginning of the last chapter of the book, but now we just have to do it. Vaccine doesn't work if it's in the vial, right?"
Nearly 100,000 doses of the vaccine will arrive Monday at five large regional hospitals in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a news briefing at Tampa General Hospital.
DeSantis said he was at Tampa General's loading dock to sign for and receive the first shipment of doses. He later introduced Vanessa Arroyo, 31, a nurse at Tampa General, who was the first in Florida to receive the vaccine, according to DeSantis.
Dr. Charles Lockwood, dean of the University of South Florida College of Medicine, compared it to the first lunar landing to convey his excitement.
"From a health-care perspective, this is our magic Neil Armstrong moment," Lockwood said, adding that people should continue to wear their masks, practice social distancing and avoid large crowds.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear marked the historic day at the University of Louisville, where Dr. Jason Smith, the chief medical officer at University of Louisville Health, became the first person in Kentucky to receive the vaccine.
"I fully believe this is a safe and effective vaccine," Smith said before rolling up his sleeve. "I volunteered to go first because of that."
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont on Monday morning welcomed nearly 2,000 doses of Pfizer's vaccine to Hartford Hospital, where Dr. Ajay Kumar, executive vice president and chief clinical officer for Hartford HealthCare, received the first dose.
"This is the dawn of a new day. This is a time for hope. This is a historic moment," Jeffrey Flaks, president and chief executive officer of Hartford HealthCare, said at a news briefing. "Our physicians have described this in many ways for our country, comparable to putting a man on the moon."
Hartford Healthcare officials said 15 front-line health-care workers, including doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists, would be the first people in the state to receive the vaccine.
Front-line workers at Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans were among the first in Louisiana to receive the vaccine, Gov. John Bel Edwards said, calling the day "the beginning of the end."
Dr. Robert Hart, Ochsner's chief medical officer, encouraged everyone to get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible, adding that people should continue to follow public health guidance, such as mask wearing and social distancing. As he spoke, over his shoulder, viewers watched Dr. Leo Seoane, Ochsner's chief academic officer, receive the vaccine.
"It's been an incredible morning. Like everyone says, it is historic," Seoane said. "As a Cuban-American and a first-generation immigrant to this country, it's really an honor and a privilege to be part of the solution for something that we know has been so impactful for the Hispanic community."
Seoane noted that the Hispanic community has been hit with a disproportionate burden by Covid-19. The CDC says that Hispanic and Black Americans have died at a rate of almost three times that of White Americans. Seoane urged members of these communities to get the vaccine as soon as they're afforded the opportunity.
The first vaccinations in the Buckeye State took place at Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center, where Gov. Mike DeWine was on hand to help receive the first shipment Monday morning.
"This is a very exciting day for Ohio. It's the day that starts the process toward the end of the pandemic. The end is a long way off, but the end is in sight," he said on Twitter ahead of the shots. "Every day as we move forward from here, we'll see more and more people vaccinated."
One of the first Ohioans to be vaccinated was Dr. Stella Ogake, an assistant professor of internal medicine in pulmonary and critical care at Wexner.
"It is such a moment of hope because we can see the light. We can see the end of this pandemic," she told CNN.
The first Iowan to receive the Covid-19 vaccine was David Conway, a 39-year-old University of Iowa Health Care emergency department nurse.
"I feel great to have the vaccine and finally be ahead of this virus," he told reporters shortly after receiving the shot. "I've been anticipating this for a long, long time, and it's great to finally have it."
He said he "was pretty shocked" to learn Monday morning he would be the first person in Iowa to receive the vaccine.
He added that "it's a beautiful day for a vaccine."
In the nation's capital, federal officials held a ceremony with faculty and staff at George Washington University Hospital and the GW Medical Faculty Associates.
"The development of a Covid-19 vaccine is nothing short of revolutionary, and I hope everyone appreciates the importance, the significance, the history of this moment," U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said. He also urged people of color to get the vaccine when they can.
"It would be a great tragedy if disparities actually worsen because the people who could most benefit from this vaccine won't take it," he said.
Barbara Neiswander, a nursing supervisor in the emergency department at GW Hospital, then received the vaccination.
Helen Cordova, an intensive-care nurse at Kaiser Permanente in Los Angeles, was the first person to get the vaccine in California, according to Gov. Gavin Newsom's office.
"History made," Newsom tweeted about the occasion.
Cordova said in a video posted to Twitter that she's "feeling great."
"I'm excited. I'm hopeful," she said. "I really encourage everyone to consider receiving the vaccine so we can start putting an end to this pandemic."
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.