A version of this story appeared in the December 8 edition of CNN’s Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction newsletter. Sign up here to receive the need-to-know headlines every weekday.
The United Kingdom has begun administering the first doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine outside clinical trials, launching a sprawling public health campaign to vaccinate tens of millions of people in just a matter of months. It marks a significant turning point in the fight against Covid-19, months into a pandemic that has left more than 1.5 million dead.
Margaret “Maggie” Keenan, who turns 91 next week, became the first person in the world to receive an authorized, fully-vetted coronavirus vaccine.
“It’s the best early birthday present I could wish for,” Keenan said after receiving the jab in Coventry, England, dressed in a festive “Merry Christmas” T-shirt. “It means I can finally look forward to spending time with my family and friends in the New Year after being on my own for most of the year.”
The second patient to receive a shot was an 81-year-old man named William Shakespeare (yes, you read that right).
Keenan and Shakespeare were among a handful of people across Britain — those aged over 80, nursing home staff and health care workers — who were administered doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on Tuesday morning, a week after the UK leapfrogged the rest of Europe and the United States to become the first Western nation to approve it.
The process, which is complicated by the need to store the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in ultracold conditions, will be closely watched from around the globe. The speed with which UK regulators approved the vaccine raised questions in some quarters. But Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said the process had been “incredibly robust.”
Other nations are not far behind the UK. The US regulator, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has scheduled a meeting of its vaccine advisory committee on Thursday to discuss Pfizer/BioNTech’s emergency authorization application. It will meet again on December 17 to consider the application for Moderna’s vaccine candidate.
Meanwhile, vaccination centers across Moscow started to distribute Russia’s Sputnik vaccine on Saturday, initially to groups such as teachers, health professionals, and municipal services workers, after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered large-scale vaccination to begin across the country.
YOU ASKED. WE ANSWERED
Q: Does a Scotch egg count as a meal?
A: In case you’ve never had the pleasure: a Scotch egg is a boiled egg, wrapped in sausage meat, rolled in breadcrumbs and deep-fried.
Whether the grab-and-go British snack constitutes a substantial meal has become the subject of intense debate in England, as the nation lifted a month-long lockdown, allowing pubs and bars to reopen — so long as they serve food alongside booze. Government ministers have quibbled and quipped about whether a single Scotch egg or two would suffice. But for the thousands of establishments that have been forced to close amid the pandemic, perhaps never to reopen, the latest restrictions are far from funny.
WHAT’S IMPORTANT TODAY
Trump to sign order aimed at prioritizing Covid-19 vaccine shipment to Americans
President Donald Trump is expected to sign an executive order on Tuesday aimed at prioritizing the shipment of the coronavirus vaccine to Americans before other nations, according to senior administration officials. The signing is slated to take place during a vaccine summit at the White House, with the hope that the order will allay fears that there will not be enough doses of the vaccine to go around after distribution begins.
White House officials described the order as a “reaffirmation of the President’s commitment to America first.” But on a call with reporters Monday evening, in which administration officials asked not to be identified publicly, the White House did not provide specifics on how the order will do that.
The US sees its deadliest Covid-19 week since April
As the US nears 15 million reported Covid-19 infections, it’s adding case numbers at its fastest rate ever – and officials are racing to ramp up vaccine protocols as well.
Every Covid-19 metric has been on the rise. In the five days since December 2, the US has added more than a million new cases, bringing the total to more than 14.9 million, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The nation has also reported 15,658 deaths over the last seven days, making it the deadliest week for the coronavirus since April.
And for the sixth day in a row, more than 100,000 people are being treated for the virus in hospitals across the country.
While the US prepares for a wave of cases that may come from Christmas and Hanukkah on top of the potential Thanksgiving surge, officials are ramping up efforts to distribute the vaccine candidates from Pfizer and Moderna.
Many Covid-19 patients in Venezuela prefer their chances at home
Years of government mismanagement have left Venezuelan healthcare grossly unprepared and under-resourced to handle the Covid-19 pandemic. Over the past decade the country has squandered most of its oil wealth and plunged into a deep economic and humanitarian crisis.
“There’s nothing in this hospital, not even scrubs,” said a senior medical worker who, like many others, spoke to us under the condition of anonymity over fears of government reprisals.
ON OUR RADAR
- Florida police raided the home of a former state coronavirus data scientist who has accused officials of trying to cover up the extent of the pandemic.
- Traditional Indian wedding finery gave way to hazmat suits and masks in a remote north Indian village, after the bride tested positive for Covid-19 just hours before the marriage, a local health official said.
- A man in Taiwan broke quarantine regulations for just eight seconds, and got slapped with a $3,500 fine.
- South Korea and Japan have called in the military to fight Covid-19. As winter looms, they aren’t taking any chances.
- The proportion of coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants has reached a record high in Germany, according to official data from the country’s center for disease control.
Seniors in nursing homes and assisted living centers will be among the first Americans vaccinated, following recommendations this week by a federal advisory panel. Older adults living at home will need to wait a while longer.
Many uncertainties remain. Among them: What side effects can older adults anticipate and how often will these occur? Will the vaccines offer meaningful protection to seniors who are frail or have multiple chronic illnesses?
“The actual injection felt, at first, just like a flu shot, which is basically just a little pinch in the side of your arm.” – Yasir Batalvi, a volunteer in Moderna’s vaccine trial
Very soon, the first Covid-19 vaccine could be authorized for public use in the US. Is it like a flu shot? What does it feel like? Dr. Sanjay Gupta sits down with Batalvi to walk us through what it’s like to get a Covid-19 vaccine. Listen Now.
An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of vaccine recipient William Shakespeare. This has been corrected.