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Vaccination efforts will speed up “pretty massively” in the next couple of weeks, says a U.S. federal health official heading up the distribution of vaccines against the new coronavirus, Andrew Joseph at STAT reports (1/5/21). The recent holidays as well as unfamiliar procedures for working with the new messenger-RNA vaccines account for some of the slow roll-out, the story suggests. Nancy Messonnier, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, is quoted as saying that state and local health departments and hospitals should “use their full supply of vaccines, even if people wind up getting ahead of their spot in line.”

A 1/3/21 opinion essay by Dr. Leana Wen of George Washington University’s School of Public Health calls for the federal government to take the following measures to speed up U.S. vaccination: give states “use it or lose it” deadlines for administering their doses; find resources to help state and local health departments set and hit ambitious vaccination targets; “recruit an army of vaccinators”; “pilot mass vaccinations in select cities,” such as New York, which “has one of the most well-funded public health systems in the country”; “build community vaccination centers” rather than relying on hospitals and pharmacies; and set up a streamlined process to eliminate on-site registration for shots. Despite the recent holidays and the enormity of setting up a massive vaccination program, there are some success stories. “In West Virginia, all 214 long-term care facilities have completed delivering their first dose of their vaccinations. Some hospitals in Texas provided shots around-the-clock until all employees received them,” Wen writes in The Washington Post.

A U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) official said on 1/6/21 that the benefits of vaccinations against SARS-CoV-2 outweigh the risk of an allergic reaction to them, report William Wan and Joel Achenbach at The Washington Post on the same day. “Of the 1.9 million people who received a shot during the first two weeks of vaccination, 21 experienced severe allergic reactions, according to a CDC study released [1/6/21],” the story states. Severe allergic reactions are treatable, the story states, whereas a sizable portion of people infected with SARS-CoV-2 get severe and potentially fatal cases of COVID-19. Researchers currently are designing a study to determine which component of the vaccines could be provoking the know allergic responses, Wan and Achenbach report.

Bloomberg is updating a “Covid-19 vaccine tracker” page that includes U.S. and global maps illustrating the percentage of each region’s population that has been vaccinated. As of 1/6/21, the U.S. had administered 5.48 million shots/doses, with 15.9 million total shots/doses given in 37 countries worldwide, the page states [China has approved a vaccine for the general public, per this 12/31/20 Washington Post story by Lily Kuo]. “Delivering billions more will be one of the greatest logistical challenges ever undertaken,” according to Bloomberg. The page also features a research and development timeline for “nine of the globe’s most promising vaccines” against the novel coronavirus. “A total of seven vaccines are now available for public use, in limited quantities, in dozens of countries,” according to Bloomberg.

A masterful (and lengthy) feature story by Lawrence Wright at The New Yorker (Jan. 4 & 11, 2021, issue) lays out new details about three key points that he describes as defining the U.S.’s weak response to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic — 1) an early failure to understand the role of asymptomatic transmission, 2) the “testing fiasco” at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, and 3) delayed and mixed messages about the importance of mask-wearing. Some of the most engaging new material in this definitive piece describes the experience of an anesthesiologist at the University of Virginia School of Medicine in caring for COVID-19 patients (she hasn’t seen her family in 10 months, the story states) as well as a description of crucial work done by the deputy director of the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a colleague to develop structure-based methods for developing messenger-RNA vaccines, such as Moderna’s and Pfizer/BioNTech’s for the new coronavirus. There are also revealing details about Deborah Birx’s career prior to serving on the White House Coronavirus Task Force as well as stories about what she did this summer.

For Nature, Michael Eisenstein has rounded up various digital tools for estimating one’s risk of catching and/or dying of the new coronavirus, of contracting severe COVID-19, or of coming into contact with someone who has the virus (12/21/20). “These calculators are currently focused on the United States, although the Georgia Tech team [behind the “COVID-19 Event Risk Assessment Planning Tool,” which the story describes as the most straightforward approach] has extended its tool to cover ten European countries,” Eisenstein writes.

Melinda Wenner Moyer has written the most comprehensive and evidence-based guide I’ve come across for coping with “this dark pandemic winter.” Many of the tips come from researchers who specialize in trauma and disaster recovery, the story states. Advice starts in the 2nd section of the piece and includes descriptions of warning signs for declining mental health as well as ways to work through pandemic-induced feelings and problems. One resource noted in the story: “Caring Calls, a service organized by the nonprofit organization DOROT, which facilitates once- or twice-weekly telephone conversations between older adults and volunteers.” See the story for the sign-up phone number, as well as links for services that connect “older adults with younger people through video calls,” according to the 12/21/20 Scientific American story.

Pandemic or no pandemic, it’s good for you to talk to yourself, which more people who live by themselves notice they are doing, according to this Washington Post piece by Zachary Pincus-Roth (1/5/21). “Our urge to talk reveals just how much COVID-19 is a mental test as well as a physical one,” Pincus-Roth writes.

You might enjoy “Things I didn’t have on my 2020 Bingo card Bingo,” by Kim Harrington for McSweeney’s (12/21/20).