For weeks, Britain has reported alarming coronavirus death numbers, hospitals have continued to fill up, and fears have risen that it will take months to control the spread of a more transmissible variant first detected in the Kent region of Englandlast year.
On Friday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said at a news conference the new variant may also be associated with a slightly higher chance of death, even as he acknowledged it was too soon to be sure, and his own scientific advisers urged restraint in interpreting preliminary evidence.
Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, said that the data indicating an increase in the risk of death in those infected with the new variant are preliminary and based on small numbers. The absolute risk of dying from Covid-19 still remains low.
“That evidence is not yet strong, it’s a series of different bits of information that come together to support that,” Mr. Vallance said.
Referring to the country’s overstretched National Health Service, Mr. Johnson said that “it’s largely the impact of this new variant that means the N.H.S. is under such intense pressure.”
Yet as Britain’s top health authorities have warned about grim weeks ahead, the latest vaccination figures have offered a glimmer of hope: Nearly 5.5 million people had received a first vaccine dose in Britain as of Friday, according to government data. That amounts to about 8 percent of the population.
By comparison, the United States has vaccinated around 4.5 percent of its population, and most European countries have vaccinated less than 2 percent.
Fewer than 500,000 people in Britain have received a second injection, as the National Health Service is prioritizing first injections and second doses are being given up to 12 weeks after the first.England’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, said the first shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Astra Zeneca vaccines gave a “great majority of the protection.”
Since the authorities imposed new lockdown restrictions in England this month, Britain has reported its highest daily death figures. The country remains one of the worst-hit in Europe. and the authorities have said that England’s lockdown could remain in place throughout the spring.
“We will have to live with the coronavirus, one way or another, for a long time to come,” Mr. Johnson said on Friday.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The situation is so bleak that, according to British news reports, the authorities are considering offering £500 (about $680) to anyone testing positive for the virus to help them stay in quarantine for the full 10 days, which many currently do not.
There are also fears that cuts in vaccine deliveries from Pfizer, which is retooling a major manufacturing plant in Belgium, may slow down the vaccination campaign, and that variations in vaccination rates are putting some areas of the country at a disadvantage.
In Britain, a racecourse, rugby fields and religious buildings have been turned into vaccination centers, and shots are also begin given at 1,200 hospitals and medical offices. More than two million people were vaccinated in the past seven days, twice as many as two weeks ago.
At that rate, Britain could still fall short of its goal to vaccinate 13.9 million people by mid-February, but the authorities have said they can reach the target if they continue to increase the pace.
Mr. Johnson struck a careful tone about the vaccine rollout on Friday, offering a reminder that a successful vaccine rollout alone couldn’t defeat the virus. “It depends on everybody doing the right thing and avoiding transmission,” Mr. Johnson said.
The encouraging vaccination figures have come in stark contrast to sluggish rollouts elsewhere in Europe. Several leaders expressed frustration on Thursday, and members of the European Union have urged the bloc’s authorities to accelerate vaccine deliveries.
Government officials in Romania and Poland said that Pfizer had halved the amount of vaccine doses being delivered to their countries, and Italian officials have threatened legal action against the U.S. vaccine maker.
“Leaders want vaccination to be accelerated,” said Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, the group of E.U. leaders.
In Britain, Mr. Whitty said more vaccine and antiviral drugs would be rolled out later this year. “I don’t think this virus is going anywhere,” Mr. Whitty said. “It’s going to be around probably forever, but it will be controlled.”