Washington DC: A panel of outside advisors to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has overwhelmingly endorsed emergency use of Moderna Inc's coronavirus vaccine, a key step paving the way to distribute the second Covid-19 vaccine in the United States next week.

In the US, where 3,249 new deaths were recorded in the last 24 hours alone, emergency approval of the Moderna jab -- the second vaccine allowed in a Western country -- would pave the way for six million doses to potentially start shipping as soon as this weekend.

The nonbinding decision, which was adopted 20-0 with one abstention, by the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee came exactly a week after the outside group of vaccine and infectious disease experts voted to recommend Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine for an emergency use authorization, or EUA. The agency granted Pfizer’s EUA the next day, and the first inoculations in the US were given Monday.

That vaccine is being distributed throughout the country. A massive inoculation program began at US hospitals on Monday.

The Moderna vaccine is set to begin distribution as soon as the FDA gives the green light.

Unlike Pfizer's vaccine, which comes with complex distribution challenges due to its need to be shipped and stored at -70 Celsius (-94 F), Moderna's vaccine does not require specialised ultra-cold freezers or vast quantities of dry ice, making it easier to supply rural and remote areas.

About 20 million doses are expected to be delivered this month, with the rest of the initial purchase coming in the first quarter of next year.

The United States in August entered a $1.5 billion pact with Moderna to acquire 100 million doses of its vaccine.