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Solving COVID: December 23, 2020

By The Week Staff

1. Biden receives Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine: 'There's nothing to worry about'

President-elect Joe Biden received his first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine on live TV on Monday, and called on all Americans to do so when they can. Biden's vaccination at a hospital in Delaware followed those of Vice President Mike Pence, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and other top politicians. Biden's wife, Jill Biden, also received a dose of the vaccine. "I'm doing this to demonstrate that people should be prepared, when it's available, to take the vaccine," the president-elect said. "There's nothing to worry about. I'm looking forward to the second shot." Biden also praised scientists and frontline workers, saying "we owe these folks an awful lot," but he noted it will "take time" to get the general population vaccinated and urged Americans to avoid traveling as COVID-19 cases surge in the U.S. [Associated Press, Axios]

2. Fauci gets Moderna vaccine: 'I feel extreme confidence'

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on Tuesday publicly received a dose of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine, as did Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, and numerous frontline health care workers. Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, said it was important for him to do so not only because he regularly sees patients but also to show his confidence in the vaccine, calling it "as important, or more important, as a symbol to the rest of the country that I feel extreme confidence in the safety and the efficacy of this vaccine." He also encouraged every American who can to get vaccinated. [NBC News]

3. BioNTech chief: 'Highly likely' COVID-19 vaccine will hold up against U.K. coronavirus mutation

BioNTech's chief executive Ugur Sahin told reporters it is "highly likely" his company's COVID-19 vaccine, which was developed alongside Pfizer and has been rolled out in several countries, will hold up against the new coronavirus variant that was first identified in the United Kingdom. Scientists have many questions about the new strain, which appears to be more transmissible, including how it affects vaccine efficacy. Per Reuters, Sahin said he'll need another two weeks of study to determine whether the Pfizer-BioNTech shot will remain effective, but he is confident the mutations won't be enough to evade the immune response it induces. "Ninety-nine percent of the protein is still the same," Sahin said. Even if an adjustment is required, the mRNA technology used in both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines would theoretically allow the companies to "engineer a vaccine which completely mimics the new mutation," he added. [Reuters]

4. Pfizer will sell U.S. 100 million additional vaccine doses

Pfizer and BioNTech will sell the U.S. an additional 100 million doses of their COVID-19 vaccine, the drugmakers said Wednesday. At least 70 million doses will be delivered by June 30, and the rest will come by July 31, according to the terms of the $2 billion deal. The U.S. can also opt to buy another 400 million doses, The Associated Press reports. Pfizer's vaccine is 95 percent effective in preventing transmission of coronavirus. It was the first to gain FDA approval, and is being distributed across the U.S. The Trump administration purchased 100 million vaccine doses from Pfizer over the summer, as well as 100 million from Moderna, and millions more from developers still testing their vaccines. Earlier reports indicated Pfizer had later offered the U.S. an additional 100 million doses, but the Trump administration turned them down. [Associated Press]

5. U.S. airport traffic high despite public health pleas to avoid holiday travel

On Friday and Saturday, more than one million people made their way through U.S. airport security checkpoints, as public health officials urge Americans not to travel for the holidays due to the surge in coronavirus cases. U.S. airports had screened more than one million people a day only four times since mid-March, with three of those times coming around Thanksgiving. Now, the seven-day rolling average of new coronavirus cases is more than 215,000 a day, up from about 176,000 on the day before Thanksgiving. Public health experts believe Thanksgiving travel is one reason why the number has increased. In an advisory, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explained that "postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19." Still, AAA projects about 85 million Americans will travel between Dec. 23 and Jan. 3, primarily by car. [ABC News]


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