The federal government plans to distribute over the coming week a total of 7.9 million doses of vaccines from Moderna and

Pfizer Inc.,

which developed the first Covid-19 shot authorized for use in the U.S.

“The second vaccine from Moderna, added to the Pfizer vaccine, now allows us to be on the offense” against the coronavirus pandemic, Gen. Gustave Perna, who is overseeing the federal vaccine-distribution plan, said Saturday.

Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine was cleared for use in the U.S. by health regulators Friday, the second shot to get the green light. WSJ’s Peter Loftus explains how Moderna’s vaccine may boost scarce supplies and sidestep some of the logistical issues encountered by Pfizer’s vaccine. Photo: AP

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday authorized the emergency use of Moderna’s vaccine in people 18 years and older, citing the shot’s high effectiveness in preventing Covid-19 in a large clinical study.

A panel of doctors and public-health officials advising the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voted on Saturday to recommend that people receive the Moderna vaccine.

“This represents progress toward ending this horrific pandemic,” said committee member Beth Bell, a professor of global health at the University of Washington.

The clearance came a week after the FDA authorized use of the first Covid-19 vaccine in the U.S., developed by Pfizer and its German partner

BioNTech SE.

The CDC committee also recommended the Pfizer vaccine last week.

Health authorities view inoculations as crucial to allowing people to gather in large numbers, and for schools, businesses and other establishments to fully reopen.

During the first week of the mass immunization campaign, Pfizer shipped 2.9 million doses of its vaccine, which largely went to health-care workers and residents of long-term care facilities.

Many hospitals, nursing homes and other sites in more rural areas, however, missed out because they lacked the freezers capable of storing the shots at ultracold temperatures.

These hospitals and other vaccination sites have been waiting for Moderna’s vaccine, which also must be kept cold but at higher temperatures that most standard medical freezers can accommodate.

Another factor making Moderna’s shot more accessible for smaller and harder-to-reach vaccination sites, Gen. Perna said, is the shipment sizes. An order for Moderna’s vaccine contains 100 doses, while Pfizer’s has 975.

George Garrow,

chief medical officer for the Primary Health Network, said the health centers it covers across rural Pennsylvania are pleased that they will be among the first to receive the Moderna vaccine this week. They have been preparing for the vaccine since mid-November by training staff in procedures, finding venues to administer it, developing a tracking process to ensure follow-up immunizations and determining vaccine demand among staff and administration capabilities at various clinics, he said.

“We recognized that the Pfizer vaccine was not a good option for smaller Community Health Centers due to the cold-storage requirements and the incremental allotments of 975 doses,” Dr. Garrow said in an email.

This week, the federal government planned for deliveries of 5.9 million doses of Moderna’s vaccine and two million doses of Pfizer’s.

Distribution Plan

Public health authorities have started setting priorities for who should get the Covid-19 vaccine first. Based on targets for distribution, here’s a potential scenario for how doses of Moderna and Pfizer’s vaccines could be distributed:

distribution target 20 million people

Health-care personnel

21 million

(U.S. population)

Long-term care facility residents

3 million

Each figure = 1 million people

distribution target 30 million people

Essential workers

(non-health care)

87 million

distribution target

at least 50 million people

distribution target 50 million people

100 million

Adults with high-risk medical conditions

 

53 million

Adults age 65+ years

Michael Dacey, president of Riverside Health System, a Virginia-based health-care provider that encompasses five hospitals and 10 nursing homes, said his company is anticipating an allocation of 5,000 initial doses of the Moderna vaccine in the coming weeks.

Riverside has already received 2,800 initial doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, according to Dr. Dacey. Altogether, he said, the supplies won’t be enough for a system with 10,000 employees, as well as 1,300 nursing-home residents.

“It is going to leave us short, no doubt,” he said.

Jimmy Lewis, chief executive officer of HomeTown Health LLC, an Atlanta-based company that serves as a consultant to rural hospitals throughout Georgia, expressed concern that some people living around the hospitals might be hesitant to take the vaccine.

“We get the vaccines, but how do we convince people that this is the right thing?” he said.

Other challenges remain in rolling out both vaccines. This past week, some shipments of Pfizer’s vaccine had temperature variations that required them to be returned for replacement doses.

And several states, including Illinois, Michigan and Iowa, complained they weren’t getting as many doses of Pfizer’s vaccine as expected.

Gen. Perna apologized for the miscommunication, saying he had given states larger estimates earlier based on projections of how many Pfizer doses would be available for shipment.

Pfizer said it is coordinating closely with federal officials to deliver as many doses as possible to people in the U.S.

Gen. Perna said he still expects that enough doses to vaccinate about 20 million people will be allocated by the end of December, though distribution of those doses might now spill into the first week of January.

Moderna, of Cambridge, Mass., has been manufacturing doses of its vaccine at its plant in nearby Norwood, Mass. Contract manufacturer

Lonza Group AG

is also making doses at plants in New Hampshire and Switzerland.

The U.S.-made doses are sent to a plant in Bloomington, Ind., operated by contract manufacturer

Catalent Inc.

It fills vials with the vaccine and packs them for shipment.

Catalent said its employees are working around the clock to supply 20 million doses of Moderna’s vaccine by the end of the month, and hundreds of millions of doses next year.

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McKesson started picking up the doses from Catalent on Saturday and moving them to distribution hubs. UPS and FedEx began collecting the supplies Sunday and delivering them to sites. The first truck, belonging to FedEx, left McKesson’s distribution center in Olive Branch, Miss., about 9 a.m., a McKesson spokeswoman said.

UPS and FedEx will deliver both vaccine doses and kits that contain needles and syringes necessary to inject the shots.

Doses are being sent to hospitals initially because federal and state officials have said health-care workers should be among the first to be vaccinated with the limited supply.

Another priority group, residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, are also starting to get inoculated. Pharmacy chains

CVS Health Corp.

and

Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc.

are conducting vaccinations at these sites.

More on the Covid-19 Vaccines

Write to Peter Loftus at peter.loftus@wsj.com and Charles Passy at cpassy@wsj.com

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