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WATCH: HHS holds kickoff event for COVID-19 vaccine

The biggest vaccination campaign in U.S. history kicked off Monday as health workers rolled up their sleeves for shots to protect them from COVID-19 and start beating back the pandemic – a day of optimism even as the nation’s death toll closed in on 300,000.

Watch the kickoff in the player above.

Officials said health care workers along with nursing home residents will be first in line for vaccination, with others to follow in the coming weeks and months.

Speaking at a news conference Monday, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said vaccinations will begin in nursing homes and long term care facilities this week and by next week, vaccination programs should be operational in thousands of facilities and progressing “quite rapidly.”

Packed in dry ice to stay at ultra-frozen temperatures, the first of nearly 3 million doses being shipped are a down payment on the amount needed. More of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will arrive each week. And later this week, the FDA will decide whether to green-light the world’s second rigorously studied COVID-19 vaccine, made by Moderna Inc.

While the U.S. hopes for enough of both vaccines together to vaccinate 20 million people by the end of the month, there won’t be enough for the average person to get a shot until spring.

But with other vaccines on the horizon, Secretary Azar predicted by the end of the first quarter, “by the end of March, a hundred million actual individuals will have had at least a first dose vaccination.”