Covid vaccinations begin as pandemic intensifies

Covid vaccinations begin as pandemic intensifies

 The U.S. administered the first shots of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine to frontline healthcare workers and nursing-home residents this week, offering hope that the disease could be contained even as the pandemic entered its deadliest stretch, with the nation’s coronavirus death toll topping 300,000 after 17,000 fatalities were registered in seven days. 

Sandra Lindsay, a 52-year-old intensivecare nurse in New York City, was the first American to get the vaccine outside of a clinical trial. “I hope this marks the beginning of the end of a very painful time in our history,” Lindsay said. About 2.9 million shots of Pfizer’s vaccine are being delivered across the country. The firm hopes to deliver 25 million doses by Dec. 31—enough to inoculate 12.5 million people. Moderna could soon start shipping 20 million shots of its experimental two-dose vaccine, which the FDA said this week is 94 percent effective in preventing the illness. But with more than 200,000 new Covid cases being registered daily in the U.S., and a record 112,000 people hospitalized with the disease, epidemiologists project that vaccines will prevent only 25,000 deaths by April 1. At that point, the death toll could be at 500,000. 

The Trump administration has ordered enough doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to immunize 150 million Americans by July 1, less than half the U.S. population. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, says the general population could start being vaccinated in late March if other shots now being trialed— such as Johnson & Johnson’s and AstraZeneca’s—prove effective. 

Developing these vaccines in record time was an extraordinary achievement, said The New York Times. But we risk messing up the next big challenge: “actually getting people vaccinated.” Most states lack plans to distribute the vaccine, and nearly half don’t have databases to track who gets inoculated—crucial information when a vaccine requires two shots, several weeks apart. Hospitals, state health departments, and other institutions that will help administer vaccines “are running on fumes,” and the federal government has so far funded “less than $400 million” of the estimated $8.4 billion needed to execute this epic operation. The arrival of effective vaccines is a victory for the Trump administration amid “its otherwise disastrous handling of the contagion,” said the San Francisco Chronicle. Yet even this success “has been marred by missteps,” such as the administration’s decision in November to not lock in an extra 100 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine for delivery by June 2021. That mistake will “prolong an unprecedented mass inoculation that is already expected to take months.” 

States will select their own order of priority for vaccinations, said Dr. Leana Wen in WashingtonPost.com, and whatever they decide, “many people will be angry.” Ethical questions are piling up: Should people with a higher risk for severe disease, such as the elderly, be prioritized over “those living in conditions rife for infection, such as inmates”? Is a meat-packer more of an essential worker than a teacher? These hard choices must be made quickly. With bodies piling up, “it would be tragic for vaccines to sit, unused, while policymakers argue.” Businesses are already lobbying to jump the vaccination line, said Walter Shapiro in NewRepublic.com. 

The American Bankers Association wants the Centers for Disease Control to define bank employees as “essential workers.” The NHL is reportedly seeking a “private supply of the vaccine for its players.” Uber is pressuring California to give its “underpaid drivers” priority. Joe Biden must use his presidency to “call out anyone who elbows his or her way into line” and to remind people that “we’re all in this together as Americans.” “This should be a season of hope,” said Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times. We now have two highly effective vaccines, and by next summer we should be able to meet and hug each other again. “Except that by then hundreds of thousands of us will no longer be around.” More Americans have died from Covid in nine months than in combat during four years of World War II. We’re losing more Americans to the virus daily than perished on 9/11. The death toll in the coming months could be massively reduced if only more of us would wear masks and avoid crowded indoor spaces where the virus lingers in the air. “This is the test of our lifetimes. Let’s stop failing it.”

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