The combined will of the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense has brought the fight with COVID-19 to the “beginning of the end,” according to the head of Operation Warp Speed, with Monday’s first vaccine deliveries on schedule.
General Gus Perna, the Operation Warp Speed COO, said the effort will result in vaccine delivery beginning Monday to 145 of the 636 locations in the U.S. All locations will have initial doses of the vaccine by Wednesday.
Food and Drug Administration scientists authorized Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine on Friday, clearing the way for a rollout.
The lengthy, unique plan, with $18 billion in funding, will contain 2.9 million vaccines in the first week.
The timing is critical because of the skyrocketing highs in coronavirus deaths and hospitalizations. On Friday, the U.S. reported an all-time high of 3,309 COVID-19 deaths in a single day, according to Johns Hopkins University.
In an interview with TIME last week, before the FDA authorization, Perna compared Monday’s activity to the Allied invasion of Normandy during World War II.
“This is a game changer,” he said. “Not to dramatize the situation we’re in, but we’re at war with this virus. And the vaccine is the beginning of the end.”
Perna continued that theme at his Saturday briefing.
“When the decision occurred last night, we immediately went into action and implemented our hourly, and now, our ‘D-Day’ sequence,” he said, adding that the supplies that complement the vaccine, including needles and syringes, were previously distributed to the sites.
Officials hope for another FDA approval during the coming week, when the Moderna vaccine should also receive emergency authorization. If that happens, there would be enough vaccine to inoculate 20 million people before the end of the year.