PORTAGE, Mich. — West Michigan is in the national spotlight as Pfizer begins shipping the first FDA-approved vaccine for COVID-19 out of its Portage plant.
City and state leaders reacted to the historic day, along with one business owner who is hoping this will set the stage for them to reopen.
“Well, everybody's gonna know where we're at. Portage, Michigan? We know that is the vaccine came from there,” said Sherry Drenth, owner, Bucky's Cafe.
Sunday marked the start of the very first vaccine distributions for COVID-19, being sent around the U.S. from Pfizer's plant in Portage.
Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine is officially off! It will be distribute across the US today. We are nearing the end of the pandemic. pic.twitter.com/kNxkfaX5LZ— 𝗘𝗿𝗶𝗸 𝗞𝗼𝘀𝘁𝗿𝘇𝗲𝘄𝗮 (@FOX17Erik) December 13, 2020
“It’s very exciting. It’s long anticipated. It is definitely hope for all of humanity,” Portage Mayor Patricia Randall said. “It puts Portage, Michigan on the globe, on the map.
“It isn’t just the employees of Pfizer that we’re proud of. We’re proud of the teachers that are teaching the school children. We are proud of the restaurants that are having to-go meals.”
Pfizer began loading trucks with the vaccine Sunday after the FDA voted over the weekend to approve the vaccine for emergency use, with states expecting to start immunizing people as early as Monday.
"We expect 145 sites across all the states to receive vaccine on Monday, another 425 sites on Tuesday and the final 66 sites on Wednesday," said Gen. Gustave Perna, chief operating officer, Operation Warp Speed.
Some 3-million doses are expected to be in the initial shipment.
States have the final say as to who receives the immunization first, but it's expected health care workers and nursing home residents will be first in line.
“The distribution is going to be critical,” said U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph). “And of course, a lot of preparation has been made with both FedEx and Ups. We know that our health care workers are our number-one priority in terms of being vaccinated. And there's a whole pecking order of folks with pre-existing conditions and seniors. ... There is going to be a huge demand for this. And as we see other companies, Moderna probably later this week, AstraZeneca now and others, it's important that it be safe, that we distributed that priority lists to be maintained, so that we can get to the end of this terrible year with a real prospect for a good year in 2021.”
Portage business owner Sheryl Drenth said she hopes this vaccine is the light at the end of the tunnel restaurant and bar owners have been waiting for.
“I think it's a wonderful thing,” Drenth said. “I think it's gonna help everybody. I, I'm excited for it. I'm done with this COVID stuff. I'm ready for it to be over. I'm ready for a normal life. I'm ready for kids to be back in school. I'm ready for restaurants to be open.
FOX 17 asked Drenth if she'd take the vaccine.
"Absolutely," she said. "Without a blink."
When asked if she's worried about side effects, she said, "You take that risk with every shot you take. So I'm ready."
The vaccines will be distributed in many states, including Michigan, as early as tomorrow.
“The rest of the world will be enjoying the benefits of a healthy corporation that has been able to thrive in the city of Portage, Michigan for years to come,” Randall said. “So it’s been a long nine months for everybody, and I think the optimism and the hope that this vaccine provides for not only Portage, Michigan, but the world as well is a gift for the holidays that we will never forget.
“To come in to actually see hundreds of millions of doses produced right here in southwest Michigan, that will now scatter around the world. … Thank God we have people like we do in southwest Michigan.
The FDA could approve Moderna as the second vaccine later this week.