By Staff

BOSTON (CBS/AP) – A U.S. government advisory panel has endorsed Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine, in a major step toward an epic vaccination campaign that could finally conquer the outbreak. The Food and Drug Administration is expected to follow the recommendation issued Thursday by its expert advisers.

“A vaccine with high efficacy can save many lives,” said Dr. Kathrin Johnson, a researcher with Pfizer who made a pitch to the FDA and its vaccine advisory group.

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The group concluded that the shot appears safe and effective against the coronavirus in people 16 and older.

Three Boston Doctors sit on the group, Dr. Cody Meissner from Tufts Medical Center, Dr. Eric Rubin from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and Dr. Ofer Levy from Boston Children’s Hospital. Rubin and Levy voted with the majority Thursday night in favor of recommending the vaccine for emergency use. Dr. Meissner abstained from voting.

Researchers spent hours assuring the group that Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate is safe, and it works. “The vaccine, at 30 micrograms provides protection against COVID-19 and participants who had or did not have prior SARS coronavirus infection,” said Dr. William Gruber of Pfizer.

Anticipating emergency use authorization, cities and towns like Marshfield spent the day preparing. “Now we’re starting to put some plans in place on how we would actually do that,” said Town Administrator Michael Maresco. “We’re making sure that we have people in place.”

The distribution of the first round of COVID-19 vaccine shipments to Massachusetts is set to begin as early as next week, Gov. Charlie Baker announced Wednesday.

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Orders of ultra low-temperature freezers are on the way to Marshfield, where the town is eyeing the fairgrounds as a possible location for an outdoor vaccine clinic. At the fire department, 50 paramedics are certified to give out shots. Pharmacies are on standby.

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The town administrator says the news couldn’t come at a more urgent time. “We were notified today (Thursday) we’re back in the red zone. We keep reminding people to wear a mask. We have signs up all around town.”

“I think the vaccine will be very successful,” said Dr. Robert Finberg, who ran a trial for Pfizer.

The advisory group’s vote is not binding. Ultimately it will be up to the FDA to decide whether to act on the group’s recommendation to approve the vaccine.

The state’s first shipment of nearly 60,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine was ordered from the federal government Friday and will be delivered directly to 21 hospitals, as well as to the Department of Public Health Immunization lab, beginning around Dec. 15.

Doses will then be redistributed for access to 74 hospitals across all 14 counties for front-line medical workers.

The next 40,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine will be allocated to the Federal Pharmacy Program to begin vaccinating staff and residents of skilled nursing facilities, rest homes and assisted living residences, according to Baker.

The vaccine is being prioritized for these groups to maximize the preservation of life and to support the health care system, Baker said.

Cambridge-based Moderna has also submitted its vaccine candidate for emergency use to the FDA. That advisory committee meeting is scheduled to happen on Dec. 17.

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(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.) Staff