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First vaccines could be distributed Monday, health officials say

Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the FDA, testifies in

Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the FDA, testifies in the Senate in September. The FDA this week will consider approving a second coronavirus vaccine. Credit: AP/Graeme Jennings

The head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said the first coronavirus vaccines could be administered as early as Monday, and the Health and Human Services secretary said nursing home patients could receive the vaccine by Christmas.

Federal officials made the pronouncements during Sunday morning news programs, discussing the specifics of the rollout and plans to express confidence in the vaccine's safety and effectiveness.

On Friday, the FDA gave its final approval to Pfizer's vaccine, signing off on an emergency rollout.

Dr. Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the FDA, said on CNN, "My hope, again, is that this happens very expeditiously, hopefully tomorrow." He added, "It would be my greatest hope and desire that that occur tomorrow."

There could be two vaccines approved by the FDA by week's end after the agency meets Thursday to discuss authorization for a coronavirus vaccine from Moderna.

Hahn said the FDA later this week "will publish our assessment of the data in advance of that meeting. And we will have another public discussion ... My sincerest hope is that we move forward and we will do so expeditiously, but [I] don't want to prejudge that decision."

Hahn made the statements after President Donald Trump continued to needle the FDA commissioner publicly.

On Friday, Trump tweeted that the FDA is "a big, old, slow turtle. Get the dam [sic] vaccines out NOW, Dr. Hahn," encouraging him to "stop playing games and start saving lives!!!"

Hahn tried to rebut a new Washington Post report article claiming that White House chief of staff Mark Meadows had pressured Hahn to resign if his agency did not approve the vaccine by the end of the day on Friday.

Hahn said on CNN's "State of the Union" that The Washington Post story was "an inaccurate representation of the conversation."

Declining to divulge specifics of the conversation, Hahn told CNN's Jake Tapper, "we have heard from a number of sources, including the White House, that there was a desire for us to move as quickly as possible. And, Jake, we have, but our absolute obligation to the American people was to make sure that we did a thorough scientific review. We needed to ensure that our gold standard of assessing the safety and the efficacy of [the] vaccine was done and was done properly. We had to get this right. And I believe we did."

On ABC's "This Week," Hahn said: "We do not feel that this could have been out a week earlier. We went through our process."

Also Sunday, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, speaking on CBS' "Face the Nation," addressed the timing of vaccines for nursing home patients.

"We could have every nursing home patient vaccinated in the United States by Christmas," Azar said Sunday. "It's really a remarkable, remarkable prospect for all of us who have loved ones in nursing homes that we may approach Christmas with that level of comfort that our loved ones have gotten some initial protection already."

Federal officials on Sunday continued to argue that the vaccines would be safe for all Americans to take.

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said on NBC's "Meet the Press," that vaccine skepticism "is a source of great concern for all of us, and I would like to plead to people who are listening to this this morning to really hit the reset button on whatever they think they knew about this vaccine that might cause them to be so skeptical."

"People are dying right now. How could you possibly say 'let's wait and see' if that might mean some terrible tragedy is going to befall, and especially for health care providers?" he said. "Please, people. When you look back in a year, and you say to yourself, 'Did I do the right thing?' I hope you'll be able to say, 'Yes, because I looked at the evidence.' "

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