Medical experts advising the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have recommended emergency approval for the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine.
The decision comes after a 23-member panel met to determine whether the drug’s benefits outweigh the risks.
The Pfizer vaccine has already been approved for the public in the UK, Canada, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
The drug still needs to be formally approved by the FDA’s vaccine chief, which is expected in the coming days.
The recommendation comes a day after the US recorded more than 3,000 deaths in the latest 24-hour period – the highest total in a single day anywhere in the world.
Alex Azar, the US health secretary, said on Wednesday that after the FDA meeting, “we could then have a vaccine within days, and be administering it to the most vulnerable by next week”.
Operation Warp Speed, the federal government’s vaccine distribution programme, has said that vaccine deliveries will begin within 24 hours of approval.
Pfizer plans to have 6.4 million doses ready for the US in its first rollout round in late December. Because two shots are required per person, that is enough for three million people, out of a total US population of 330 million.
Federal officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say the nation’s 21 million healthcare workers should be prioritised first, as well the three million elderly Americans living in long-term care homes.
But there is less consensus on how states should distribute it to other groups. The nation’s approximately 87 million essential workers are expected to be next in line for the jab, but it will be up to states to decide which industries to prioritise.
Officials say vaccinations for groups that are not at a high risk are expected to take place in the spring of 2021.
A second vaccine, developed by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health, is also seeking emergency approval in the US. Like the Pfizer vaccine it requires a second round of injections.