A New York City intensive care unit nurse has become the first person in the US to receive a coronavirus vaccine, as the nation's COVID-19 death toll crossed a staggering 300,000 lives lost.
Sandra Lindsay, who has treated some of the sickest COVID-19 patients for months, was inoculated at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in the New York City borough of Queens, an early epicenter of the country's coronavirus outbreak, receiving applause on a livestream with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
"It didn't feel any different from taking any other vaccine," Lindsay said. "I feel hopeful today, relieved. I feel like healing is coming. I hope this marks the beginning of the end of a very painful time in our history.
"I want to instill public confidence that the vaccine is safe," she added.
"This is what heroes look like," Cuomo wrote in the caption of a photo of Lindsay, wearing a mask and staring resolutely ahead, that he posted on Twitter.
Similar scenes played out at select hospitals in other cities, including Los Angeles, where California Governor Gavin Newsom applauded as a Kaiser Permanente emergency room nurse rolled up her sleeve for a needle jab on live television.
"It's been an incredible morning. It's historic," said Dr. Leonardo Seoane after he received a shot at Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans, where he has led some of the clinical trials that found the vaccine 95 per cent effective in preventing COVID-19 illness.
The made-for-TV events - the first US coronavirus immunizations outside of clinical trials - were part of a broad campaign by public health authorities and political leaders to reassure Americans of the vaccine's safety as they launched a national immunization program of unprecedented scope.
Developed by Pfizer Inc and German partner BioNTech SE, the vaccine, given as two doses three weeks apart, won US emergency-use authorization on Friday.
By day's end on Monday, vaccine shipments had made it to nearly all of the 145 US distribution sites pre-selected to receive the initial batch of doses, with a number of major hospital systems launching immunizations immediately.
"This is a race against time," said Greg Adams, chairman and CEO of the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan Inc.
US officials said no major hiccups were reported. US Army General Gustave Perna said on a call with reporters that severe storms forecast this week could potentially hamper rounds of shipments to another 491 locations.
The vaccine's arrival provided hope as the country passed 300,000 lives lost. Mounting COVID-19 hospitalisations - a record 109,000 patients reported on Monday alone - have strained healthcare systems to the breaking point, and more than 16 million US coronavirus cases have been recorded to date.
Over the past seven days, the US has averaged 2,462 deaths a day, the highest since the pandemic started, according to a Reuters count.