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Thursday, May 23, 2024

The First Shots, Grim Milestones, and More Coronavirus News

An FDA advisory panel authorizes the first vaccine, the US hits grim milestones, and cases rise worldwide. Here’s what you should know:

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FDA advisory panel authorizes the US’ first vaccine, and it may soon be on the way

On Thursday night, an independent advisory panel reporting to the FDA gave Pfizer and BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine the green light. Hours later, the FDA said it will work to quickly issue the shot an emergency use authorization. Once the EUA is issued, ultracold trucks packed full of vaccines will leave Pfizer’s Kalamazoo plant and head to distribution sites around the US. Vaccines can start being doled out as soon as the CDC officially recommends it, and its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has emergency meetings on the books for today and next Monday.

Once it’s here, how will the vaccine make it into the arms of Americans in need? On Thursday, FedEx and UPS executives told a Senate transportation subcommittee that they will provide location tracking and priority flights for vaccine shipments, even during the busiest holiday shipping season on record. Meanwhile, Walmart announced that it is preparing more than 5,000 of its pharmacies to administer the vaccine. Each of us can do our part to prepare too, by encouraging skeptical loved ones to get on board with receiving a shot.

The pandemic hits grim milestones in the US

This week, coronavirus numbers in the US continued to get bleaker. On Thursday, as cases and hospitalization rates rose further, the country hit a grim milestone: The total number of Americans who have died from Covid-19 surpassed the number of US service people who died in combat during World War II. The day before, the US set a new record for the most Covid-19 deaths in a day at 3,054, a total that exceeds the death tolls of 9/11 or Pearl Harbor. CDC director Robert Redfield warned that deaths are likely to exceed those numbers for the next 60 to 90 days.

In response, many states are implementing new restrictions. Virginia imposed a new curfew and expanded its mask mandate, while Maryland and New York City did away with indoor dining. New Mexico has temporarily suspended all nonessential surgeries to alleviate the strain on the state’s hospitals. A plan has also been put in place that would allow doctors to ration supplies and determine who to care for based on their likelihood of survival, should that be necessary. Part of the challenge is that policymakers and public health experts know the sum of all these different interventions reduces spread, but it’s unclear which are the most effective on their own. Without that information, it’s essential that everyone follows all the guidelines we have as best we can.

Other countries double down on interventions as cases rise worldwide

Outside of the US, cases are also on the rise, even in countries where infection rates were once enviably low. Cases and hospitalizations are up in Japan, prompting experts to urge people not to travel for New Year’s, a time when it is customary for many to return to their hometowns. South Korea, whose numbers were once as low as two new cases per day, is struggling to contain a new swell too. Both countries have also deployed military personnel to assist health care workers in the throes of handling the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine all saw record-high daily death tolls this week as well. France’s stay-at-home order will lift next week as planned, but because numbers remain high, the government has announced that cultural venues will stay shuttered and a curfew will go into effect. The UK had an exciting week after rollout of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine began on Tuesday, but cases are going up rapidly in London, where stricter restrictions seem likely to go into effect next week.

Daily Distraction

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Something to Read

“All of life—every part of being a biological entity, especially a mammal—suddenly seemed reducible to temperature. You’re warm when you’re alive. Too hot and you’re incinerated. Too cold and you’re a corpse.” After her own close encounter with fire, writer Virginia Heffernan sought to understand what happens when flesh meets flame.

Sanity Check

Keep your loved ones warm this winter: Check out our gift guide for people who are perpetually cold.

One Question

What does it mean to test positive for Covid-19?

When you receive a Covid-19 test, it comes back either positive or negative. But some experts say we’d benefit from developing a more nuanced approach that takes into account the sensitivity of different kinds of tests and how much virus they detect. Even the way labs analyze tests can have an impact on your results: Not all of them use the same thresholds for figuring out if a sample is positive for the presence of the virus. And a patient’s viral load rises and falls over the course of a few days, which means some people who receive positive tests may actually be nearing the end of their illness, and some who receive negative results may in fact have the virus but not be sick yet. It’s one of many reasons why testing is not, on its own, an effective way of curbing Covid-19.

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