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What you need to know about coronavirus on Wednesday, December 30

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The green light also shores up Britain’s race to vaccinate more people against the spread of the virus in the country, which on Tuesday broke its daily record of cases for a second consecutive day. Previously, the team developing the vaccine said that two doses of the shot had an “an average efficacy of 70%,” with one regimen (a half-dose followed by a full dose) showing an efficacy of 90%. On Wednesday, the UK government announced that the first dose will be given to as many people as possible. Clinicians have also been advised to wait as long as 12 weeks to give the second dose.

According to Health Secretary Matt Hancock, regulators found that the first dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine offers “very effective protection” from coronavirus, allowing for people to be protected for a longer period of time before receiving a second dose. This contrasts with Pfizer/BioNTech’s two-dose shot, which has to be administered three weeks apart but which has an efficacy of nearly 95%.

Most importantly, AstraZeneca has promised to supply hundreds of millions of doses to low- and middle-income countries on a not-for-profit basis. This vaccine is also much easier to administer than its rivals since it does not need to be stored at very low temperatures. “Approval of this vaccine is a turning point for the pandemic because it has been deliberately developed to have global impact; that includes people living in the most fragile and poorest regions of the world,” Helen Fletcher, Professor of Immunology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said in a statement.

YOU ASKED. WE ANSWERED

Q: How long does Covid-19 immunity last?

A: In August, researchers from the University of Hong Kong said a 33-year-old man had been reinfected with Covid-19 — 4.5 months after he was first infected. That seemed to confirm what some people were afraid of — that it was possible to be infected twice.

The good news, according to Peter Collignon, a professor of microbiology at the Australian National University, is that while some people can become infected twice, “it’s such a rare event that you get put in a medical journal.” Around 99% of people infected with the virus don’t seem to get infected again for at least six months after they are infected, Collignon said.

The big question, then, is how long does natural immunity from the virus last? Scientists can’t answer that yet as the virus hasn’t been with us for long enough. The same is true for the vaccine — we don’t know how long the immunity for that lasts either.

Send your questions here. Are you a health care worker fighting Covid-19? Message us on WhatsApp about the challenges you’re facing: +1 347-322-0415.

WHAT’S IMPORTANT TODAY

US sees first confirmed case of Covid-19 variant, amid woefully slow vaccine rollout

The first known US case of a new Covid-19 variant, which was first identified in the UK, was discovered in Colorado Tuesday, according to state health officials. The infected man appears to have no travel history — which could mean the variant has already spread throughout the community.

The news comes as alarm bells are going off among health officials over the slow effort to administer the Covid-19 vaccine in the US. The federal government’s Operation Warp Speed had promised that 20 million doses would be administered before January 1. Yet the latest data shows that just over 11 million doses have been distributed, and only 2.1 million have actually been administered to people. America’s top infectious diseases specialist Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN that the US is “certainly not at the numbers that we wanted to be at the end of December.”

President-elect Joe Biden called out the Trump administration Tuesday over the slower-than-expected pace. “As I have long feared and warned, the effort to distribute and administer the vaccine is not progressing as it should,” Biden said in remarks in Wilmington, Delaware. “If it continues moving as it is now, it will take years, not months to vaccinate the American people.”

China’s Sinopharm says its vaccine is 79% effective

China’s state-owned pharmaceutical giant Sinopharm has announced its coronavirus vaccine is 79.34% effective. While it is less effective than those developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, which have an efficacy rate of about 95%, its average efficacy is higher than the Oxford/AstraZeneca shot.

Though few details were provided, the statement released Wednesday said the vaccine met the standards of the World Health Organization and China’s own regulator. The announcement is expected to pave the way for the vaccine’s large-scale rollout both within China and globally.

Russian official acknowledges actual death toll is much higher than official figures

Russia’s true coronavirus death toll is more than three times higher than the country’s official statistics show, a statement from Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova indicates. New data from the country’s statistics agency, Rosstat, shows that during the first 11 months of 2020, there was an increase of more than 229,700 more deaths in Russia than during the same period in 2019.

Golikova, who is in charge of the country’s coronavirus response, said Monday that “more than 81% of this increase in mortality over this period is due to Covid.” According to a CNN calculation, that means 186,000 Russians died from coronavirus in these months.

ON OUR RADAR

Witnesses said the crowd at Sydney's Bronte Beach on Christmas afternoon was in its "hundreds," many of whom were drinking alcohol and not wearing face masks.
  • A massive Christmas beach party in Sydney sparked a deportation threat from Australia’s immigration minister to any visitor caught breaking Covid-19 rules.
  • 2020 was supposed to be the watershed moment for action on climate change, the year the world woke up to the challenge and started taking it seriously. Covid-19 derailed those plans.
  • People in Spain who decline to be vaccinated against coronavirus will be listed in a new register that will be shared with other European Union nations
  • Amid this year’s chaos and uncertainty, key workers including farm staff, transport employees and postal workers continued to perform their jobs as normal, forming an often invisible frontline during the pandemic. Here are their stories.
  • Mike and Carol Bruno did everything right to avoid Covid-19. But a simple family visit to get a haircut claimed both of their lives.
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