Over 550,000 Americans have received their first dose of the vaccine against the coronavirus as of Sunday night, according to new figures released online by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of vaccinated Americans is encouraging news as covid-19 continues to devastate the U.S., a country that has averaged over new 216,000 cases of the disease per day over the past seven days.
The CDC reports that over 2.8 million doses of the new vaccine have already been “distributed,” though it’s not clear how that word is being defined. It could mean that 2.8 million doses have been handed off to state governments or it could mean that those doses have made their way further down the supply chain, to health care providers, for example.
Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine is the only inoculation that’s been injected into the arms of Americans as of Sunday night, and it requires two doses administered 21 days apart. A vaccine produced by Moderna was authorised for emergency-use by the FDA on Friday and is currently being shipped out to health care providers across the country. The Moderna vaccine requires two doses 28 days apart.
It’s great to see vaccines finally being injected into Americans, a step on the country’s road to recovery. But there have been plenty of challenges in such a historic rollout. One of the leaders of Operation Warp Speed, the federal government’s vaccine planning and distribution group, apologised on Saturday for overestimating the number of doses that would reach some states last week. Governors from over a dozen states, from Michigan to Washington, complained that they didn’t receive as many doses as they were promised.
“I failed, nobody else failed,” General Gustave Perna, the top military official at Operation Warp Speed, said on Saturday according to Stat News.
Perna shot down rumours that there had been production issues with Pfizer’s vaccine and took full responsibility for miscalculations about how quickly doses could be delivered to health care providers over the past week.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which requires ultra-cold storage of minus-70 degrees Celsius, has been shown to be 95% effective and prevents serious disease and death in individuals who get both doses. Everyone who received the vaccine in Phase 3 clinical trials avoided serious cases of covid-19, a tremendously encouraging sign. The Moderna vaccine was 94.1% effective in clinical trials and does not require ultra-cold storage.
The U.S. has recorded over 17.8 million covid-19 cases and 317,600 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins University, with both the number of cases and deaths accelerating over the past week.
The U.S. has been the hardest hit country in terms of pure numbers, but other countries are struggling with the pandemic as well. The UK, most notably, has seen a resurgence of the virus this winter, with almost 36,000 new cases of the virus on Sunday alone. Over a dozen countries banned travellers from the UK over the weekend, driven not just by a large number of cases but reports that Britain has seen a mutation of covid-19 that’s created a more contagious strain of the virus.
The UK also instituted new internal travel restrictions for this week, a reversal from the conservative government led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who had promised more relaxed rules just before Christmas. The UK was the first western country to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for emergency use, though only 350,000 people in Britain have received the first dose of the vaccine as of this weekend.
Other countries are also rolling out vaccines, some made by Pfizer-BioNTech, and others made by China and Russia. China’s local health ministry has a goal of immunizing 50 million people by February 15, the start of a busy travel season in China with the Lunar New Year. It’s an ambitious plan, but China has previously met other seemingly impossible tasks, like testing all 11 million residents of Wuhan in just over a week when a new outbreak of the coronavirus appeared in May. The city of Wuhan, the original source of the virus, hasn’t had a case of community transmission in months and life has largely returned back to normal.
The vaccine will take time to reach all Americans, to say nothing of everyone in the world. But it’s a huge relief to see positive news about coronavirus for once. Roughly 550,000 Americans now have some degree of protection from the worst global health crisis in our lifetimes. And they’ll have even more protection when they get their second doses three weeks from now.