The first patient enrolled in Pfizer's COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine clinical...

The first patient enrolled in Pfizer's COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine clinical trial at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore on May 4, 2020. Pfizer and BioNTech have won permission for emergency use of their COVID-19 vaccine in Britain. Credit: AP

A COVID-19 vaccine is on its way.

In just two weeks, the first 170,000 New Yorkers may start receiving the Pfizer vaccine.

That's an enormous step out of this hell, one that merits a healthy dose of optimism and hope.

But to get this right, federal regulators, scientists and experts must still conduct thorough, independent reviews, and make some difficult choices. And Americans must be able to trust those assessments, have confidence in the decisions, and maintain some patience.

The British government's approval of the Pfizer vaccine Wednesday is another piece of good news. Yet some in the Trump administration are reportedly upset the United States wasn't first. White House chief of staff Mark Meadows has met with Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn two days in a row, reportedly pressing him to move even faster.

But the FDA is already on a fast track toward its own emergency authorization. FDA officials will meet Dec. 10 to discuss the Pfizer vaccine, and Dec. 17 for the Moderna vaccine, in sessions open to the public, complete with data and other materials. That public review process is important, not only for the federal approval itself, but also to gain public trust and allow states like New York to satisfy their own questions.

Even assuming the FDA does approve the vaccine's emergency use next week, and New York has access to it by Dec. 15, as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Wednesday, the wait won't be over for most of us. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory group rightly voted Tuesday to give priority to long-term care facilities' residents and staff, and to health care workers.

Those recommendations make sense. Residents and staff of long-term care facilities account for about 40% of all COVID-19 deaths. Here in New York, we've lost thousands of our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends. Helping the most vulnerable populations first and those who take care of them is critical to ending this tragic chapter.

But that means it's going to be months before a broad swath of New Yorkers has access to one of the vaccines, and even longer before they reach children. So, herd immunity — the concept of vaccinating enough residents to protect the entire population — is still a ways away. For the foreseeable future, the broader spread of the pandemic is likely to continue, especially if people continue to flout restrictions and rules.

But while we wait, we have the ability to slow that spread ourselves — if we hunker down, stay home, wear masks and cancel the parties, gatherings and outings. Meanwhile, state officials have a lot to do to make sure they can distribute the vaccines to all corners of the state, keep track of who gets what, and convince New Yorkers of all ages that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, each of which requires two doses weeks apart, are safe and effective.

The vaccine is coming. We just have to wait a little while longer — and stay safe while we do.

— The editorial board

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