Coronavirus Briefing: Vaccinations Begin in the U.S.

Today an array of frontline health care workers received the first doses of a mass vaccination campaign that could bring an end to the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.

A nurse from an intensive care unit in New York, an emergency room doctor from Ohio and a hospital housekeeper in Iowa were among the first to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

The most hopeful moment since the pandemic began also comes at its bleakest time, as the U.S. death toll tops 300,000 and the nation averages more than 2,400 deaths a day. Even as applause rang out at hospitals, many intensive care units remained near capacity.

“I have seen the alternative, and do not want it for you,” said Sandra Lindsay, an intensive care nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens, the first known person to receive the vaccine in the U.S. since it was approved by the Food and Drug Administration. “I feel like healing is coming. I hope this marks the beginning of the end of a very painful time in our history.”

“African-Americans have suffered quite the repercussions of Covid-19,” said Dr. Sylvia Owusu-Ansah, 42, an emergency physician at the UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, who is Black and was among the first people to be vaccinated. “I wanted to share with my community that it is OK, that this vaccine is the thing to do to keep us safe, to keep us healthy and to keep us alive.”

The first three million doses of the vaccine, which must be kept at ultracold temperatures, are being distributed by trucks and cargo planes to hospitals in all 50 states. According to Gen. Gustave F. Perna, the chief operating officer of the federal effort to develop a vaccine, 145 sites were set to receive the vaccine on Monday, 425 on Tuesday and 66 on Wednesday.

Residents of nursing homes, who have suffered a disproportionate share of Covid-19 deaths, are expected to begin receiving vaccinations next week. But the vast majority of Americans will not be eligible for the vaccine until the spring or later.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said the average person with no underlying conditions would get the vaccine by the end of March or beginning of April, with most people vaccinated by late spring or early summer. Until then, social distancing and masks will remain crucial.

For many Americans who have lost loved ones to Covid-19, news of the vaccination rollout was bittersweet. It did not come soon enough for Mary Smith’s husband, Mike, who died from the virus in November at the age of 64.

“It was so close,” Ms. Smith told our colleague Julie Bosman.

In other vaccine news:

  • President Trump rescinded a plan to have senior White House staffers receive some of the first doses.

  • Here are answers to some commonly asked questions about coronavirus vaccines.

  • The Wall Street Journal has a rundown of the complicated supply chain that must deliver vaccine doses, dry ice, ultracold freezers and other medical supplies at precisely the right moment.

Germans will be forced into a strict lockdown over Christmas after weeks of milder restrictions failed to prevent the coronavirus from spreading through the country, leading to record numbers of new infections and deaths.

“The ‘lockdown light’ had an effect, but it was not enough,” said Markus Söder, the governor of Bavaria, referring to the partial restrictions that have been in place since early November.

On Wednesday, as part of the new order, the country will shutter nonessential stores and restrict private gatherings. And, most notably, it will close its schools.

This fall, even as cases surged across Europe, Germany worked hard to keep schools open, prioritizing in-person learning over restaurants and bars. But even in a country once seen as a success story, that strategy is no longer viable.

“It sends the message that Germany lost control of the pandemic entirely,” said Melissa Eddy, a Times correspondent in Berlin. “The schools got sacrificed because they failed to lock down everything else strictly enough.”

Germany, Europe’s largest economy, initially took an aggressive, science-first approach to containment. But pandemic fatigue, complacency and political squabbling allowed the virus to tighten its grip. Now, infections and fatalities continue to climb among older people, especially those in nursing homes, and health experts worry that more cases could overwhelm the health system.

During the Christmas lockdown, the government will compensate affected businesses and freelancers for up to 90 percent of fixed costs, or up to 500,000 euros, equivalent to $605,000.

“The faster we bring down the numbers of new infections, the faster our economy will be able to recover,” said Peter Altmaier, the economic minister.

  • In South Korea, schools in the Seoul metropolitan area will move online Tuesday until the end of 2020.

  • The Netherlands will lock down for at least five weeks. Schools, shops, gyms, cinemas and more will stay closed until mid-January.

  • In London, theaters will close Wednesday, just days after most reopened. Museums will, too, and pubs and restaurants can only offer takeout.

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

  • In obituaries for people who have died of the coronavirus, families have started to write warnings alongside personal details. “This disease is real, it is serious and it is deadly,” Kim Miller wrote in her husband’s obituary. “Wear the mask, socially distance, if not for yourself then for others who may lose a loved one to the disease.”

  • Australia and New Zealand plan to join together in a travel bubble next year, which would allow people to travel freely between the two countries without needing to quarantine for two weeks on arrival. The planned move is a clear marker of both countries’ success in suppressing the virus.

  • Political infighting, haphazard planning and a rising anti-vaccine movement have turned Brazil into a cautionary tale.

  • Major airlines, including United, JetBlue and Lufthansa, plan to introduce a health passport app that will verify passengers’ coronavirus test results and, perhaps soon, their vaccination status.

  • Restaurants in New York City are laying off workers as a new ban on indoor dining begins. The Times’s restaurant critic Pete Wells called it “one more kick at the tail end of a year when everyone and everything seemed to conspire against them.”

  • Businesses now face a new ethical dilemma: Should they mandate vaccines?

  • Ambrose Dlamini, the prime minister of Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland), died of Covid-19 on Sunday. He was 52.

  • For very sick patients, an arthritis drug, baricitinib, might speed up recovery when added to Covid-19 treatment regimens that include the antiviral drug remdesivir, according to a new study.

  • Some pregnant people who have contracted the coronavirus experienced fear, shame and unhealthy levels of stress. “As a mom, I felt a lot of guilt,” said Kate Glaser, who tested positive right before she gave birth. “What did I do wrong?”

Since the virus is keeping our extended family apart during the holidays, one of my brothers started his own version of an Advent calendar. Every morning he sends a Christmas photo from a collection that spans at least 70 years. The recipients are encouraged to add our recollections and other photos. So many happy memories and a wonderful way to start the day.

— Ellen Sculley, Bradenton, Fla.

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