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Health care worker Demetra Ransom comforts a patient in the COVID-19 ward at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, Texas, on Dec. 4. Photo: Mark Felix/AFP /AFP via Getty Images

The first truckloads of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine were set to leave a Michigan manufacturing plant Sunday for distribution across the U.S., offering hope that a mass rollout will alleviate the strain on hospitals and medical staff.

The big picture: Coronavirus hospitalizations are soaring, and surging U.S. case numbers surpassed 16 million Saturday. Some 3 million vaccine doses are being distributed this week. Health care workers are being prioritized for inoculations. NIAID director Anthony Fauci stressed to Axios there's still a fair way to go, with 75%–80% of Americans needing to get vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.

Vail Health Hospital pharmacist Jessica Peterson places two boxes of mock COVID-19 vaccines into the hospital's ultra-cold freezer at the hospital on Dec. 8 in Vail, Colo. Photo: Getty Images
Workers test residents for COVID-19 and coronavirus antibodies at a mobile test site being run by Roseland Community Hospital on Dec. 12, in Chicago, Ill. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images
A St. Joseph Health clinical pharmacist opens a freezer at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital on Wednesday, Dec. 9, in Santa Rosa, Calif., which can hold 250,000 doses of the vaccine for COVID-19. Photo: Yalonda M. James/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images
Health care workers carry signs in support of resident physicians, interns and fellows at UCLA Health as they protest for improved COVID-19 testing and workplace safety policies outside of UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, Calif., Dec. 9. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images
Medical staff members dance to a Christmas song at a nursing station in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at the United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, Texas, on Dec. 10. Photo: Go Nakamura/Getty Images
A nurse writes a note to communicate with staff outside the room of a COVID-19 positive patient at UMass Memorial Hospital in Worcester, Mass., on Dec. 4. Photo: Allison Dinner/AFP via Getty Images
Medics transfer a patient on a stretcher, Dec. 10, from an ambulance outside of emergency at Coral Gables Hospital, where coronavirus patients are treated in Coral Gables, Fla. Photo: Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images
A testing site in a parking lot at Bergen Community College run by Bergen County and the Bergen New Bridge Medical Center on Dec. 3 in Paramus, N.J. Photo: David Dee Delgado/Getty Images
Health care workers prepare COVID-19 tests to hand out to people who self-administer the tests at Long Beach City College-Veterans Memorial Stadium on Dec. 9 in Long Beach, Calif. Photo: Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
A staff member holds a bag of appreciation gifts during a Christmas party at the Goodwin House senior living community center in Falls Church, Va., on Dec. 10. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Go deeper: Hospitals prepare to vaccinate workers

Go deeper

Jan 30, 2021 - World

Science helps New Zealand avoid another coronavirus lockdown

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (L) visits a lab at Auckland University in December. Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images

New Zealand has avoided locking down for a second time over COVID-19 community cases because of a swift, science-led response.

Why it matters: The Health Ministry said in an email to Axios Friday there's "no evidence of community transmission" despite three people testing positive after leaving managed hotel isolation. That means Kiwis can continue to visit bars, restaurants and events as much of the world remains on lockdown.

Jan 29, 2021 - Health

J&J says its one-shot vaccine is 66% effective against moderate to severe COVID

Photo: Thiago Prudêncio/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Johnson & Johnson announced Friday that its single-shot coronavirus vaccine was 66% effective in protecting against moderate to severe COVID-19 disease in Phase 3 trials, which was comprised of nearly 44,000 participants across eight countries.

Between the lines: The vaccine was 72% effective in the U.S., but only 57% effective in South Africa, where a more contagious variant has been spreading. It prevented 85% of severe infections and 100% of hospitalizations and deaths, according to the company.

Jan 29, 2021 - Health

Ex-CDC director Tom Frieden on the next COVID-19 vaccines

Americans fortunate enough to receive COVID vaccines now, outside of clinical trials, are getting shots made by either Pfizer or Moderna. But newly released data from Novavax and Johnson & Johnson suggests that more vaccines could be on the way, with J&J's requiring a single dose.

Axios Re:Cap digs into the news and why it matters with Tom Frieden, former head of the CDC, as COVID-19 variants spread globally.