British health officials recommended that people with a history of severe allergic reactions forgo Pfizer’s vaccine after two such people experienced anaphylaxis. Both have recovered.
Each Friday, The Times will take a look back at this week in virus data. More than 3,000 people died in the United States from the virus on Wednesday alone. “We’re seeing steady case growth and explosive increases in deaths,” our colleague Mitch Smith wrote.
The Food and Drug Administration is expected to issue an emergency authorization for Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine on Friday evening — a historic turning point in a pandemic that has taken more than 294,000 lives in the United States alone.
The decision had not been expected until Saturday — after an expert panel gave its approval on Thursday. It was accelerated after President Trump attacked the agency’s commissioner, Dr. Stephen Hahn, for not approving a vaccine more quickly, and the White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, threatened to fire him, according to a senior administration official.
The agency has tried to fast-track vaccine approval without undercutting public confidence in the process. The timing of the announcement appears unlikely to speed up the shipment of the initial doses of the vaccine.
Federal officials have said 2.9 million doses could be sent across the country within days to the first round of recipients, made up of health care workers and nursing home residents. Britain, Canada and Saudi Arabia have already cleared the two-shot treatment, which has been 95 percent effective in preliminary trials.
Community leaders and health officials are working to dispel doubt about the vaccines’ safety. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, said he would get the vaccine publicly to help build confidence.
But not everyone is as sure — even among people who know the toll the virus can take.
“Why not start with vaccinating the president and the people who developed the vaccine?” asked Maria Isabel Ventura, 59, whose husband spent two weeks in the hospital with a severe case. “I am afraid, more than anything, of this vaccine because we don’t know what reaction we will have to it. Maybe in a few months we’ll know more.”
Our colleagues interviewed people across the United States. Some are skeptical, some are impatient, and many spoke with candor and grace. Read this portrait of a country preparing for a vaccine.
An unsettling raid in Florida
On Monday, state agents pounded on Rebekah Jones’s door in Tallahassee, Fl., guns drawn, with a search warrant in a criminal investigation.
Seven months earlier, Ms. Jones was fired from her job at the Florida Department of Health after she helped build the state’s virus statistics dashboard. She lost her job, she said, because she had refused to manipulate data to show that rural counties were ready to reopen from coronavirus lockdowns.
At the time, Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican allied with President Trump, painted her as a disgruntled former employee. “Our data is transparent,” he said. Any insinuation otherwise, he said, would be “partisan” spin.
Florida, which has been hesitant to mandate broad restrictions, has kept its data close. Early in the pandemic, the state only released information about hospitalizations and cases in long-term care facilities under threat of litigation. Comprehensive data is scarce. Local health officials rarely show or face pressure to share only limited information. Many Floridians wonder if they can trust official data.
With distribution of a coronavirus vaccine beginning in the U.S., here are answers to some questions you may be wondering about:
- If I live in the U.S., when can I get the vaccine? While the exact order of vaccine recipients may vary by state, most will likely put medical workers and residents of long-term care facilities first. If you want to understand how this decision is getting made, this article will help.
- When can I return to normal life after being vaccinated? Life will return to normal only when society as a whole gains enough protection against the coronavirus. Once countries authorize a vaccine, they’ll only be able to vaccinate a few percent of their citizens at most in the first couple months. The unvaccinated majority will still remain vulnerable to getting infected. A growing number of coronavirus vaccines are showing robust protection against becoming sick. But it’s also possible for people to spread the virus without even knowing they’re infected because they experience only mild symptoms or none at all. Scientists don’t yet know if the vaccines also block the transmission of the coronavirus. So for the time being, even vaccinated people will need to wear masks, avoid indoor crowds, and so on. Once enough people get vaccinated, it will become very difficult for the coronavirus to find vulnerable people to infect. Depending on how quickly we as a society achieve that goal, life might start approaching something like normal by the fall 2021.
- If I’ve been vaccinated, do I still need to wear a mask? Yes, but not forever. The two vaccines that will potentially get authorized this month clearly protect people from getting sick with Covid-19. But the clinical trials that delivered these results were not designed to determine whether vaccinated people could still spread the coronavirus without developing symptoms. That remains a possibility. We know that people who are naturally infected by the coronavirus can spread it while they’re not experiencing any cough or other symptoms. Researchers will be intensely studying this question as the vaccines roll out. In the meantime, even vaccinated people will need to think of themselves as possible spreaders.
- Will it hurt? What are the side effects? The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is delivered as a shot in the arm, like other typical vaccines. The injection won’t be any different from ones you’ve gotten before. Tens of thousands of people have already received the vaccines, and none of them have reported any serious health problems. But some of them have felt short-lived discomfort, including aches and flu-like symptoms that typically last a day. It’s possible that people may need to plan to take a day off work or school after the second shot. While these experiences aren’t pleasant, they are a good sign: they are the result of your own immune system encountering the vaccine and mounting a potent response that will provide long-lasting immunity.
- Will mRNA vaccines change my genes? No. The vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer use a genetic molecule to prime the immune system. That molecule, known as mRNA, is eventually destroyed by the body. The mRNA is packaged in an oily bubble that can fuse to a cell, allowing the molecule to slip in. The cell uses the mRNA to make proteins from the coronavirus, which can stimulate the immune system. At any moment, each of our cells may contain hundreds of thousands of mRNA molecules, which they produce in order to make proteins of their own. Once those proteins are made, our cells then shred the mRNA with special enzymes. The mRNA molecules our cells make can only survive a matter of minutes. The mRNA in vaccines is engineered to withstand the cell’s enzymes a bit longer, so that the cells can make extra virus proteins and prompt a stronger immune response. But the mRNA can only last for a few days at most before they are destroyed.
Ms. Jones has become an outspoken critic of how Florida has shared coronavirus data. By June, she had built her own dashboard to rival the state’s, funded in part by donations from hundreds of thousands of her followers on social media. In July, she filed a formal whistle-blower complaint.
Monday’s raid leaves more questions than answers. State investigators say they have traced unauthorized messages sent to employees of the Health Department back to her computer. But it’s possible that someone could have impersonated her internet protocol address, a unique number sequence assigned to each computer connected to the web. And several people on the system shared the same user name and password.
This holiday season won’t be the first time that the United States celebrated the winter holidays during a pandemic. Our colleague Jacey Fortin dug into the archives and spoke to historians about what the holiday season looked like in 1918, during a devastating influenza outbreak.
“The winter holidays in 1918 were marked by grievous loss,” Jacey wrote. “They came during a relative lull after the deadliest wave, in the fall. Another, smaller surge would peak shortly after New Year’s Day.”
If we heed the lessons of that holiday season, the past might well stay the past. If not, many more people could die before we emerge from this pandemic.
In 1918, as the flu dragged on, our forebears suffered pandemic fatigue, too. Families gathered for Thanksgiving, “often with an empty chair at the table,” Jacey wrote. World War I had just ended, and the Allied victory was an excuse to let loose and celebrate.
On Christmas Eve, The New York Times reported that thousands of soldiers were welcomed into homes in New York City and invited to dances and feasts. Some cities lifted monthslong shutdowns, opening churches and movie theaters. Shopping adapted, too; The Sacramento Bee reported that “merchants report a good holiday business.”
Revelry soon gave way to rising infection rates.
Shortly after the holidays, people started getting sick. Reports from a Chicago newspaper about families who had gathered for visits with their relatives were peppered “with notices about people who had fallen ill or died of influenza,” Jacey wrote. The third and final wave, which killed thousands more Americans, didn’t fade until the summer of 1919.
That could well happen in 2020. This week, Dr. Fauci warned of another surge of coronavirus cases after Christmas and said the holidays later this month could be a “greater challenge” than Thanksgiving. He also said that holiday gatherings should include fewer than 10 people.
Indoor dining in New York City will shut down on Monday as the city tries to avert a second wave.
Switzerland ordered shops, bars, restaurants and sports facilities across much of the country to close at 7 p.m. each night starting Saturday, after a sharp rise in new cases.
Several states in Germany are planning tight lockdowns as the country sees record levels of coronavirus infections and deaths.
What else we’re following
Australia has abandoned a vaccine — one of dozens being tested worldwide — after the inoculation produced some false positive test results for H.I.V.
Women could suffer losses to retirement accounts as they disproportionately leave the work force during the pandemic.
The Senate approved a stopgap bill to fund the government on Friday, delaying a potential shutdown. Negotiators now have one more week to reach an agreement on a spending package and a coronavirus aid plan.
A 32-year-old close to Dr. Fauci — the brother of his daughter’s boyfriend — has died of Covid-19. “He’s a perfectly healthy 32-year-old guy who got Covid, got the cardiac complications and died within like a week.”
Vaccine makers in Britain and Russia will combine their vaccines, hoping to strengthen the efficacy of both.
More than 6,600 college athletes, coaches and staff members have tested positive for the coronavirus this year, according to a New York Times analysis. But that’s far from the total picture. Many colleges are reluctant to release data, especially about college football, which is often their most lucrative program.
What you’re doing
What I did after working in a supermarket during Covid, wearing a mask and gloves for the six-hour shift, was quit. The market had a sign on the front door that said masks were “required” but did not enforce requirement. A man coughed in my face and I said to myself, “That’s it! I’m out!” Of course, I’m not eligible for unemployment benefits. So I sit in my house slowly becoming agoraphobic and broke.
— Deborah Fitton, Englewood, Fla.
Let us know how you’re dealing with the pandemic. Send us a response here, and we may feature it in an upcoming newsletter.
Remy Tumin and Jonathan Wolfe contributed to today’s newsletter.