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First COVID immunizations could arrive in the U.S. on Dec. 12

A Food and Drug Administration advisory committee is set to meet Dec. 10 to discuss Pfizer Inc.'s request for an emergency use authorization.

WASHINGTON — The head of the U.S. effort to produce a coronavirus vaccine says the first immunizations could happen on Dec. 12.

A Food and Drug Administration advisory committee is set to meet Dec. 10 to discuss Pfizer Inc.'s request for an emergency use authorization for its developing COVID-19 vaccine.

Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech recently announced that the vaccine appears 95% effective at preventing mild to severe COVID-19 disease in a large, ongoing study.

Dr. Moncef Slaoui, head of the Operation Warp Speed, the coronavirus vaccine program, says plans are to ship vaccines to states within 24 hours of expected FDA approval. 

Slaoui told CNN he expects vaccinations would begin on the second day after approval, Dec. 12.

Pfizer formally asked U.S. regulators Friday to allow emergency use of its COVID-19 vaccine, starting the clock on a process that could bring limited first shots as early as next month and eventually an end to the pandemic -- but not until after a long, hard winter. 

With the coronavirus surging around the U.S. and the world, the pressure is on for regulators to make a speedy decision.

RELATED: Pfizer seeking emergency use of its COVID-19 vaccine in US

“Help is on the way,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert said on the eve of Pfizer's announcement, adding that it's too early to abandon masks and other protective measures. “We need to actually double down on the public health measures as we're waiting for that help to come.”

Friday’s filing sets off a chain of events as the FDA and its independent advisers debate if the shots are ready. If so, still another government group will have to decide how the initial limited supplies are rationed out to anxiously awaiting Americans. 

How much vaccine is available and when is a moving target, but initial supplies will be scarce and rationed. Globally, Pfizer has estimated it could have 50 million doses available by year's end. 

Lauren Neergaard contributed to this report.