Pfizer is the first company to receive emergency use authorization of a COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S.

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A staff nurse at the Royal Cornwall Hospital prepares to administer Covid-19 vaccinations as the hospital began their vaccination programme on December 9, 2020 in Truro, United Kingdom. More than 50 hospitals across England were designated as covid-19 vaccine hubs, the first stage of what will be a lengthy vaccination campaign. NHS staff, over-80s, and care home residents will be among the first to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which recently received emergency approval from the country's health authorities
Credit: Hugh Hastings/Getty Images

Nearly one year after the coronavirus pandemic began, a COVID-19 vaccine is (finally) becoming a reality. On December 11, 2020, Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine received emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration — the first COVID-19 vaccine to be granted this status.

The FDA announced the news after its vaccine advisory committee — comprised of independent experts including infectious disease doctors and epidemiologists — voted 17 to 4 in favor of recommending Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for emergency authorization. In a press release, FDA commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, M.D., said the EUA represents "a significant milestone in battling this devastating pandemic that has affected so many families in the United States and around the world."

"The tireless work to develop a new vaccine to prevent this novel, serious, and life-threatening disease in an expedited timeframe after its emergence is a true testament to scientific innovation and public-private collaborations worldwide," continued Dr. Hahn.

The green light from the FDA for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine comes less than a month after the biopharmaceutical company shared encouraging data from a large-scale clinical trial of more than 43,000 people. The results showed that Pfizer’s vaccine — which involves two doses given three weeks apart — was “more than 90 percent effective” in protecting the body from COVID-19 infection with “no serious safety concerns,” according to a press release. (Related: Can the Flu Shot Protect You from Coronavirus?)

Once Pfizer’s vaccine received its EUA, distribution to doctors' offices and immunization programs began immediately. In fact, some people are already getting vaccinated. On December 14, the first doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine were given to health-care workers and nursing home staffers, reports ABC News. Among them was Sandra Lindsay, R.N., a critical care nurse at Northwell Long Island Jewish Medical Center, who received the vaccine during a live-streamed event with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. "I want to instill public confidence that the vaccine is safe," Lindsay said during the live-stream. "I feel hopeful today, [I feel] relieved. I hope this marks the beginning of the end of a very painful time in our history."

Not everyone will get a COVID-19 vaccine that quickly, though. Between a limited initial supply of the vaccine and the need to prioritize those with COVID-19 risk factors, supply chains will need some time to catch up to demand. That means the majority of the general public probably won’t have access to a vaccine until around spring of 2021, at the earliest, CDC director Robert Redfield, M.D., said during a recent hearing of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee reviewing coronavirus response efforts. (More here: When Will a COVID-19 Vaccine Be Available — and Who Will Get It First?)

In the meantime, Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine is rounding the corner to its own EUA. The FDA is expected to release an assessment of Moderna’s vaccine on December 15, then the agency's vaccine advisory committee — the same one that just reviewed Pfizer's vaccine — will conduct its own review two days later on December 17, The Washington Post reports. If the committee votes in favor of authorizing Moderna’s vaccine as it did with Pfizer’s, it's safe to expect the FDA will move forward with Moderna’s EUA as well, according to the publication.

As exciting as it is to start a new chapter in this pandemic, don’t forget to continue wearing your mask around others outside your home, keep practicing social distancing, and always wash your hands. Even once people start getting vaccinated, the CDC says all of these strategies will remain essential in protecting people from and slowing the spread of COVID-19.

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. As updates about coronavirus COVID-19 continue to evolve, it’s possible that some information and recommendations in this story have changed since initial publication. We encourage you to check in regularly with resources such as the CDC, the WHO, and your local public health department for the most up-to-date data and recommendations.