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Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

Nine months into the pandemic, we have some potentially game-changing vaccine news.

The drugmakers Pfizer and BioNTech announced early results from their joint coronavirus trial, which suggests that their vaccine is over 90 percent effective. No serious safety concerns have been observed, the companies said.

Our colleague Carl Zimmer, who covers science for The Times, told us that this was the first significant sign that a coronavirus vaccine could actually work. “Up until now, we’ve seen promising hints,” he told us.

The technology behind the vaccine, which requires two doses, has not previously been approved for use in humans. It takes genetic material called messenger RNA and injects it into muscle cells. Those cells then build a protein that is also found on the surface of the coronavirus, which stimulates the immune system to hunt down those proteins in the actual virus.

The Food and Drug Administration had told pharmaceutical companies that for vaccines to be approved, they would only need to be at least 50 percent effective. A 90 percent success rate would offering a level of protection similar to childhood vaccines for diseases such as measles.

Still, scientists cautioned against hyping early results until long-term safety and efficacy data come in, and no one knows how long the vaccine’s protection might last. Also, the sparse details Pfizer released today were delivered in a news conference, not a peer-reviewed medical journal.

“Even so, nobody knew if a vaccine against a coronavirus was going to work at all, and this is incredibly encouraging,” Carl said.

A possible timeline for the vaccine, Carl said, could look something like this: At the end of this month, Pfizer and BioNTech may apply for emergency use authorization. It will probably take a few weeks for the F.D.A. to make a decision. If authorized, we may see the first few million doses of the vaccine given out at the beginning of January to at-risk people like health care workers.

Other vaccines like Moderna’s, which uses similar technology to Pfizer’s, may soon join the party, adding to the overall supply. If all goes well, everyone who wants a vaccine should be able to get one by summer, Carl said.

But first, we have to get through winter, which is looking increasingly dark as cases, hospitalizations and deaths soar.

“This winter is going to be rough, and vaccines aren’t going to help us,” Carl said. “People still need to be wearing masks and social distancing.”

President-elect Joe Biden vowed today to make defeating the pandemic his No. 1 priority when he replaces President Trump on Jan. 20. If current trends in the U.S. hold, it will be an incredibly daunting challenge.

The country is averaging more than 110,000 cases per day, hospitalizations have nearly doubled since mid-September, and 29 states have set weekly case records. The United States surpassed 10 million cases over the weekend, more than any other country, and a shocking one in 441 Americans have tested positive for the virus just in the last week.

We’ll be examining Mr. Biden’s efforts to confront the virus more in the coming days, but today his transition team made some important moves with the appointment of a 13-member Covid-19 advisory board that will have three high-powered doctors as co-chairs.

Another panel pick: Dr. Rick Bright, a former top vaccine official in the Trump administration, who was ousted as the head of a federal medical research agency. Dr. Bright submitted a whistle-blower complaint to Congress in May and told lawmakers that officials in the government had failed to heed his warnings about acquiring masks and other supplies.

  • A 51-year-old air cargo worker has been infected in Shanghai, China’s biggest city, prompting an immediate effort to contain the virus.

  • Hungary and Portugal are the latest European countries to adopt new measures like curfews and limits on gatherings to curb rapid rises in new coronavirus cases.

  • Gov. Philip Murphy of New Jersey laid out new restrictions for the state, shutting down indoor service at restaurants and nightclubs at 10 p.m. starting Thursday.

  • New York City recorded more than 1,000 cases four days in a row this past week, a level not seen since May.

  • As cases soar in Utah, Gov. Gary Herbert announced a new state of emergency, including a mask mandate that would apply statewide.

Here’s a roundup of restrictions in all 50 states.

We’ll adapt the way we usually celebrate the great feast of Thanksgiving. Usually it’s 25-ish friends and family, almost everyone brings a dish to pass. This year is the pandemic re-mix, as one friend called it. Bring your fully cooked dish to our house the day before Thanksgiving. My husband and I will portion it all out into take-out containers, a little bit of everything for everybody. Then come to our garage between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Thanksgiving day to pick up your portion. Go home, re-heat, and get onto Zoom at 4 p.m., when we’ll light our Thanksgiving remembrance candles, and share in a feast, separately together.

— Barbara Steer, Ann Arbor, Mich.

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