Good news about vaccines
For once, we have some good news to talk about: the prospect of another vaccine coming online in the U.S., and a long-awaited indication that at least one vaccine reduces transmission, not just the severity of Covid-19.
Let’s start with the remarkable turnaround of the experimental vaccine from Novavax, a Maryland-based company that has never before brought a vaccine to market.
Last fall, Novavax postponed U.S. clinical trials because of manufacturing delays, jeopardizing the company’s $1.6 billion federal contract and leaving some to wonder whether they should write off the company’s shot entirely. In December, Novavax watched from the sidelines as the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were approved.
But things have changed. Novavax announced last week that its vaccine produced robust protection in a large British trial and that it worked — although far less well — in a smaller study in South Africa. The company has also been able to quickly recruit volunteers for its U.S. trials because the two authorized vaccines have been difficult to get, and many see the Novavax trial as their best chance to get vaccinated.
So the company now stands a chance of having trial results this spring, with possible government authorization as early as April. If everything goes well, and that is a big if, Novavax could deliver enough additional doses to vaccinate 55 million Americans by the end of June. That would be on top of the 400 million doses that Moderna and Pfizer are contracted to supply the U.S. by the middle of the year — enough for 200 million people.
It gets better: Novavax has been laying the international groundwork for the eventual production of two billion doses per year — and its vaccine, unlike Moderna and Pfizer’s, can be stored and shipped at normal refrigeration temperatures.
As for protection against transmission, AstraZeneca recently released a report that offered an answer to one of the pandemic’s big questions: Will vaccines prevent people from giving the virus to others?
Researchers from the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca have found that not only did their vaccine protect people from serious illness and death but also had the potential to reduce transmission. Swabs taken from trial participants showed a 67 percent reduction in virus being detected among those vaccinated, though scientists warned that the data was preliminary and that masking remained necessary for all.
The AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine is in U.S. trials, and the company has a deal to supply 300 million doses, enough for another 150 million people.
Weighing teachers’ eligibility
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, laid out her agency’s position on opening schools.
“There is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen,” she said today at a news briefing, adding, “Vaccination of teachers is not a prerequisite for safe reopening of schools.”
Plenty of teachers don’t agree. In some areas, teachers’ unions say they won’t send members back to classrooms without vaccinations. Teachers in 24 states and Washington have begun receiving vaccines, often ahead of people in professions or living situations that may put them at higher risk.
But in some areas, teachers have taught in person for months and educators are not yet eligible for vaccines. And some say that vaccinating teachers might impede reopenings: In California, unions are calling for all teachers to receive vaccines before returning to the classroom, a demand that Gov. Gavin Newsom said could prevent schools from opening this academic year.
Teacher vaccinations remain a moral quandary for states grappling with how to allocate their growing-but-still-limited vaccine supply, especially as more contagious virus variants begin to spread. Incarcerated people, for example, are vulnerable to outbreaks and death, but often fall behind educators. Older adults, too, have sometimes taken a back seat.
In Oregon, teachers will receive vaccines before some residents who are 75 years or older, who are eligible for shots only in certain counties.
Gov. Kate Brown said the move to start vaccinating Oregon’s teachers was part of her plan to bring students back into the classroom this school year.
“For every teacher who is back in the classroom, they help 20, 30, 35 students get their lives back on track,” she said. “They help ensure 20, 30, 35 kids have access to mental health support. They make sure 20, 30, 35 kids get breakfast and lunch several days a week. And they allow families to know their children are in good hands when they go to work.”
What else we’re following
What you’re doing
We live in a small city apartment and were accustomed to going our own ways during the days before Covid. To keep things fresh while we spend so much time at home, we try to stay out of each other’s way during the day. We also avoid going into the living room. Then when cocktail hour rolls around, we turn on the lights, light the fire, and stream some soft jazz. Meeting there each evening feels as if we have gone out someplace special.
— Susan Hanes, Chicago
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