The Oxford University/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine was added to the world’s arsenal of Covid-19 shots when the first people received it outside of clinical trials in the United Kingdom this morning.
The AstraZeneca vaccine is the third to be rolled out in the Western world, after the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna inoculations. Health officials are hoping the AstraZeneca vaccine could be a game changer, especially for developing countries, because it is much easier to transport than the Pfizer vaccine which requires ultra-low temperatures.
India has made a big bet on the AstraZeneca vaccine, making it a key part of its ambitious plan to inoculate 300 million people by August. Indian drug regulators approved the vaccine yesterday, along with another one developed domestically. The Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine maker, is producing the AstraZeneca vaccine locally, with a plan to eventually distribute it around the world — but not until March or April, as the Indian government has restricted them for export.
So even as more vaccines come to the market, it is becoming clear that their rollouts are more challenging and slower than expected. Top health officials in the United States had repeatedly promised that 20 million people would have been given at least the first doses of a vaccine by the end of 2020. But as of Saturday, only 4.2 million people had been vaccinated, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Government officials around the world are now looking at ways to stretch the vaccine supply. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has already said it may be possible to yield six or even seven doses of the Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccines from the vials instead of the five indicated on the label, because the company overfills them. The FDA will consider this week giving half-doses of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine to people aged 18 to 55.
In the UK, the medicines regulator decided to delay second doses of the Pfizer vaccine in order to prioritize first doses. Separately, the UK government also suggested that while “every effort should be made” to use the same Covid-19 vaccine for both doses, it was permissible to use a different vaccine for the second dose if the same vaccine used for the first dose was not available, and if a person was high-risk or unlikely to return to the doctor for a shot. The idea raised concerns among experts, including the Doctors’ Association UK.
YOU ASKED. WE ANSWERED
Q: If someone already had Covid-19, should they still get the vaccine?
A: Yes. The immunity you get from contracting Covid-19 does last for a certain amount of time, but the nature of the vaccine should provide longer immunity, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta said.
Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and the Moderna vaccines come in two doses: the first dose primes the immune system, and the second dose acts like a booster. That makes it a better option for obtaining immunity, Gupta said.
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WHAT’S IMPORTANT TODAY
Europe has kept its schools open. Now closures loom
Video: Dr. Fauci says US won’t delay second dose of vaccine (CNN)
Millions of European children have suffered immensely during the pandemic, with months of confinement only giving way to some sense of normality when schools in most countries reopened in the summer and autumn.
Now even that is under threat, Angela Dewan reports. Students in the UK were due to return from the Christmas break on Monday, but then the government announced a last-minute delay for almost all high schoolers and some younger children.
In Germany, schools switched back to remote learning in mid-December as infection numbers soared, with a decision on the way forward due on Monday. And in Ireland and Spain, teachers’ unions and some local leaders are calling on federal governments to delay the return to school too.
US Surgeon General says Covid-19 projections are ‘scary’
US hospitals are fighting to stay on top of the surge of coronavirus cases pouring in around the country as the predicted holiday deluge worsens. Surgeon General Jerome Adams called on people to continue to take Covid-19 precautions. “I want people to understand that if we get over this current surge, then things will start to get better but it depends on the actions that we all take right now,” Adams said.
Adams also said he has “no reason to doubt” the CDC’s Covid-19 death toll, contradicting President Donald Trump’s claim that the agency has “exaggerated” its numbers.
Data on new strains’ response to vaccines expected this week
We should know this week whether the new coronavirus variant first identified in the UK might pose a challenge to vaccines, according to a World Health Organization official.
Scientists in the UK and elsewhere have taken blood from people who have been vaccinated and are testing it in the lab to see if the antibodies created by the vaccine protect against the new variant, said Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead for coronavirus response. They’re also taking blood from people who have been infected with the new variant and testing it in the lab to see how well the vaccine works against it, she told CNN.
Scientists are also doing tests to assess the vaccine’s efficacy against a variant found in South Africa.
ON OUR RADAR
- Japan may enter a state of emergency this week as it grapples with soaring coronavirus cases, some of them linked to the more infectious UK variant.
- The Navajo Nation faces a battle to protect its elders and traditions as Covid-19 deaths spike.
- These former nurses were asked to leave retirement and return to the front lines.
- Pope Francis has condemned people who vacationed abroad to escape lockdowns, adding that holidaymakers were not considering the effect of their actions on others.
- Legendary talk show host and longtime CNN interviewer Larry King, 87, has been hospitalized with Covid-19, according to a source close to the family.
- New Year’s Eve parties involving hundreds in New York were busted for violating Covid-19 rules.
- A vaccine appointment at a South Dakota hospital turned into a marriage proposal for one healthcare couple.
How to stay healthy in cold weather
- Wash your hands often.
- Avoid touching your face, something people do between nine and 23 times an hour.
- Stay hydrated; eight glasses a day of water is a good goal, but that could be more or less depending on lifestyle and the size of the person.
- Eat a well-balanced diet. Dark green, leafy vegetables are rich in immune system-supporting vitamins; eggs, fortified milk, salmon and tuna have vitamin D.
- Stay physically active, even during the winter.
- Clean the hard, high-touch surfaces in your home often.
- If your nose or throat gets dry in the winter, consider using a humidifier.
- Get the flu vaccine.
- And one more important thing this year: When it’s your turn, make sure you get the Covid-19 vaccine.
“The in-silico methodology is actually a really widely used methodology, obviously, because it can hasten up the drug discovery process and lower the cost of drug discovery.” — Anika Chebrolu, 2020 winner of the 3M Young Scientist Challenge
Fourteen-year-old Anika Chebrolu is the 2020 winner of the 3M Young Scientist Challenge. In this episode, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta hands things over to her to talk about her discovery of a potential therapy for Covid-19. Listen now.