Nursing home residents and workers may start receiving the first doses of Pfizer-BionNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine as early as today after the vaccine gained key federal approvals over the weekend. 

The Food and Drug Administration granted an emergency use authorization for the vaccine late Friday in what the agency called a “significant milestone in battling this devastating pandemic.” 

Immediately after the FDA’s authorization, the federal government and its private sector partners immediately began shipping the vaccine to designated sites across the country, according to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. 

“With about 3 million doses on the way, this means that healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities across America will begin receiving vaccines in the coming days,” Azar said during a press briefing Saturday morning. 

Most residents should be vaccinated by Christmas, he told CBS’ Face the Nation Sunday

Also over the weekend, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted to recommend the vaccine for use in people ages 16 or older in the United States, agreeing that it was safe and effective. On Sunday, the CDC accepted the panel’s recommendation giving the vaccine its final approval needed to be administered across the United States.

CVS Health and Walgreens have partnered with the federal government to administer the vaccines free of charge to long-term care facilities, and more than 99% of skilled nursing facilities have signed up for the program. 

Most states have also pledged that the initial doses of the coronavirus vaccine would go to long-term care facilities first.

Long-term care providers applauded the FDA’s approval. 

“The delivery of a safe and effective vaccine can’t come soon enough. More than 100,000 in long-term care have died from this virus in the U.S. and our nursing homes are now experiencing the worst outbreak of new cases since last spring with more than 2,000 residents succumbing to this virus each week,” Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association, said. 

“It is vital that governors and state health agencies are ready to distribute the vaccine to our long term care residents and staff as soon as possible to save as many lives as possible,” he added. 

LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan noted that the move brings the country “one step closer to ending a nine-months long nightmare.” 

“Everyone is weary, but we cannot let down our guard. Federal recommendations prioritize older adults and long-term care staff, which is the step in the right direction. But the coming days and weeks are critical to ensuring that the lives of more older Americans and those who care for them will not be lost,” Sloan said. 

“While the vaccine is not a panacea, it is a ray of hope for many older adults who have been so cut off from their family and friends over these past many months,” she added.