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U.S. begins vaccinations as COVID-19 deaths reach 300,000

The U.S. passed 300,000 deaths from COVID-19 on Monday just hours after vaccine doses rolled out to Americans for the first time. William Brangham reports on a day that has brought landmark moments in the pandemic.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We have important news on three fronts tonight, the pandemic, the Electoral College vote for president, and the surprise departure of the U.S. attorney general.

    We start with the pandemic.

    For the first time today, Americans are getting a COVID-19 vaccine, and not a moment too soon. The nation passed 300,000 dead today, as vaccine doses rolled out and sleeves rolled up.

    William Brangham reports.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • William Brangham:

    New York, once the epicenter of the pandemic, saw one of the first rays of hope for its end. Vaccinations began in Queens, where critical care nurse Sandra Lindsay received the first federally-authorized shot.

  • Sandra Lindsay:

    Working on the front lines alongside my team, I saw a lot of pain, hurt, suffering, death. And so I felt a huge sense of relief after I got the vaccine.

  • William Brangham:

    In Washington, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar hailed the start of the largest vaccination campaign in U.S. history.

  • Alex Azar:

    Our war against the virus is not over yet, but, this week, we're taking a major step toward our eventual victory.

  • William Brangham:

    On Sunday, the federal government, utilizing the military, in part began distributing the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, 2.9 million doses initially. They will reach 145 sites by the end of today, more than 600 locations total by Wednesday, and, by next Sunday, more than 1,200 sites will have the vaccine.

    The Food and Drug Administration approved emergency authorization for the Pfizer vaccine on Friday, marking an unprecedented pace of scientific development, with a vaccine for a virus that was only identified earlier this year.

    As the first shipments arrived in different states, governors celebrated.

  • Gov. Andy Beshear:

    We are going to defeat COVID, and it starts right there.

  • William Brangham:

    But initial supplies of the vaccine are limited, so front-line health care workers are first in the queue. Older Americans living in long-term care facilities should begin receiving the vaccine next week.

    How the shots are administered is left up to individual hospitals.

  • Nicholas Kman:

    What our groups have been doing is really try to prioritize the people that are at the most risk in the workplace.

  • William Brangham:

    As initial inoculations begin, the Department of Health and Human Services plans to spend $250 million on a public education campaign to encourage people to get the vaccine and to try to dispel myths and misinformation.

    It's unclear when President Trump will get the vaccine. His previous infection likely gave him some immunity. There had been reports that top officials in the White House would receive it this week, but, overnight, the president tweeted that they would wait until later, and that he looked forward to getting his shots at the appropriate time.

    Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, said he will get his shot, also in public, sometime in the next few weeks. He spoke earlier today.

  • Anthony Fauci:

    The vaccine that is 94, 95 percent effective against clinical disease and very, very effective against serious disease, I mean, that is a historic, unprecedented achievement.

  • William Brangham:

    Still, as the campaign gears up, the virus is killing more Americans than ever before. On several days last week, over 3,000 Americans died each day. That's one September 11 happening day after day. The U.S. has one of the worst death rates in the developed world.

    Across the nation, the spread of cases and deaths remains uneven. The Midwest and Plains states are trending better, while California, Texas, and much of the Southeast are moving in the wrong direction.

    And the virus continues to fall hardest on Black and brown communities. They're more likely, per capita, to get the virus and to then die from it. Right now, Blacks and African-Americans are dying from COVID-19 at nearly double the rate of whites.

    The hope now is that vaccines and continued public health measures will finally slow and perhaps ultimately halt the virus' deadly progress.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm William Brangham.

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