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Covid-19: What you need to know today

The US registered 2,760 deaths on Wednesday, according to the New York Times. This is the highest daily death toll in the country since the beginning of the pandemic (caveat: just like the death toll on any other day, this does not mean 2,760 people died from Covid-19 on Wednesday, just that their deaths were recorded on that day).

There’s a high probability that this number will increase in the coming days. According to the New York Times, hospitalisations in the US have now exceeded 100,000. On Wednesday, the US had 5.57 million infections, according to worldometers.info — a staggeringly high number, it’s almost 40% of the total of 14.3 million cases the country has seen thus far.

The country has seen a little less than 14 million cases, according to the NYT database (there has always been some divergence between the two readings). In the week to December 2, the US saw 164,024 daily cases on average (according to the NYT database). Last week it crossed the 200,000 mark in terms of daily cases for the first time. The third wave of infections, the rush of hospitalisations, and the spate of deaths, can be attributed to opening up, the onset of winter, the holiday season – experts are dreading the impact of Thanksgiving, which they expect to start showing up by late this week – and, of course, the stupidity of people. Show me a superspreader event and I will show you one idiot, perhaps more. It’s going to be a long, dark winter for the US.

Sometime before December 15, though, the US Food and Drug Administration is almost certain to approve the country’s first Covid-19 vaccine. And before Christmas, it could approve the second. The agency is expected to take a decision (or at least critical steps towards taking an eventual decision) on the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech on December 10, and on the one developed by Moderna on December 17.

Given what we know of the results of the trials for both vaccines, regulatory approval for both is almost a certainty. The UK has already approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine (this happened on Wednesday), and media reports in the US point to some level of angst that FDA is taking its time. A report in AFP quoted Moncef Slaoui, the scientific adviser to Operation Warp Speed, the US government programme that has ploughed billions of dollars into vaccine developers – it is probably the Trump administration’s biggest success – as saying that vaccinations in the country could start in the middle of December and that by the “end of February, we will have potentially immunised 100 million people”.

Excluding those below the age of 18 years, who will not be administered the vaccine till much later in the year (and this is not just in the US, but everywhere; Dispatch 217 on Thursday explained why), this will cover around 40% of those who need vaccines. Earlier this week, the executive in charge of supply and distribution for Operation Warp Speed told MSNBC that all Americans who want vaccines will have it by June.

In both the UK and the US, which will be the first countries to start vaccinating people with shots that have cleared Phase 3 trials – Russia and China are also vaccinating people under emergency use, but the final results of trials are still awaited in the case of the two vaccines approved by the former, and the three by the latter – the challenge for administrators and health officials is to convince everyone to get vaccinated. Both countries have a significant population of anti-vaxxers.

With the UK, the US, and other rich countries hogging much of vaccine supply though, 2021 is likely to result in a new kind of inequality – and because vaccines are relevant from the perspective of both lives and livelihoods, this will only accentuate existing fractures between the global north and the global south.

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