An independent advisory council’s recommendation on Thursday cleared the way for an “all but certain” U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval that would likely result in health care workers and nursing home residents starting to receive Pfizer/BioNTech's genetic vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 early next week, the Washington Post reported (12/10/20). The council of experts recommended that the agency provide “emergency use authorization” for the vaccine in adults age 16 and older. Ongoing studies will continue to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine.  Following FDA approval, an advisory committee to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will vote on its recommendations for which groups to vaccinate first, the story states. “But states have the final say on who gets the first shots and where they are administered,” write Laurie McKinley and Carolyn Y. Johnson. Moderna’s genetic vaccine is also set for review by the FDA in the coming days.

The UK this week became the first nation to give the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 to people who were not enrolled in a research experiment. Caregivers at nursing homes and people over 80 years old will be first in line in the UK for the genetic vaccine, report William Booth and Karla Adam at The Washington Post (12/8/20). Emergency authorization of the same Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, a genetic (mRNA) vaccine which requires two doses three weeks apart, is expected in Europe by the end of the month, the story states. A mass vaccination effort started in Russia last weekend, and China “claims it has already injected a million of its citizens with one of its five experimental vaccines,” the story states.

Is the “natural" immunity you get from surviving a SARS-CoV-2 infection stronger than the immunity you'd get from a vaccine? Researchers don’t know, reports Apoorva Mandavilli at The New York Times (12/8/20). But even for young people, taking a chance on getting COVID-19 is far more risky than getting vaccinated, according to experts quoted in the story. “Nobody is immune to severe [COVID-19] disease,” says Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, of the American Academy of Pediatrics, who is quoted from the story. And a large fraction of people who recover from the disease have long-lasting problems afterwards, such as extreme fatigue, mental fog, heart problems, and sometimes symptoms like those found in lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, the story states. The vaccines “carry little known risk,” Mandavilli writes.

Feelings of fatigue, headaches, body aches, and arm pain are normal after receiving the SARS-CoV-2 vaccines that are engaged in federal approval processes this month in the U.S., reports Allyson Chiu at The Washington Post (12/3/20). “There’s nothing dangerous or bad about these reactions,” says Dr. Kelly Moore of the Immunization Action Coalition, who is quoted in the story. Mark McClellan, a former U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner, is quoted as saying that the vaccines against the coronavirus are “likely to be more unpleasant than a flu vaccine,” but also “on average, COVID-19 is a lot worse than the flu.” The reactions show that the vaccine is working, I’ve heard and read in various reports; in other words, it is prompting an immune response that your system should remember and re-summon if it is exposed to the virus in the near future.

I wrote a story for New York magazine that looked into the troublesome and widely used “positivity rate” statistic for the new coronavirus (12/7/20). It often doesn’t really mean what it is taken to mean by officials nationwide. To get a handle on community, city and school outbreaks, we need random testing.

The pandemic has worsened mental health, per three studies rounded up by Claudia Wallis for Scientific American’s December issue. A U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report “found a tripling of anxiety symptoms and a quadrupling of depression” among a survey of U.S. adults compared with a similar study of adults in 2019, Wallis writes. Groups most likely to be affected, per a nationally representative survey in the U.S. in April: those who already had mental health issues, low-income people, people of color, and people close to someone who had COVID-19 or died from it, Wallis reports. Multiple surveys have found that the pandemic is taking a higher mental toll on young adults than it is on other age groups, the story states. Solutions include less exposure to the media and keeping in touch with people over Zoom, the phone, or other “COVID-safe methods,” according to University of Texas at Austin psychologist quoted in the piece.

You might enjoy, “The Thing with Feathers,” by Jenny Allen for McSweeney’s (12/10/20).