Airports are, unfortunately, not this empty anymore. (Pexels/)

The first wave of COVID-19 vaccines are rolling out across the country, quite possibly the best holiday gift those folks will receive this year. More than 500,000 people have already been vaccinated, most of them health care workers and nursing home residents and staff, which were the two groups first in line to get the vaccine. Moderna’s vaccine, which was granted emergency use authorization from the FDA on December 18, will be shipped across the country starting this week, likely increasing the rate of vaccinations.

As we head into 2021, it will become more important than ever to take precautions against the novel coronavirus. Both of the vaccines that have emergency use authorizations from the FDA—which include Pfizer’s and Moderna’s products—are extraordinarily effective, at least as far as we can tell from clinical trial testing, which means there’s a chance to create a high level of community-wide protection from the virus. But right now, cases are still spiking. The US is currently averaging more than 200,000 cases per day, a 10 percent increase from just two weeks earlier. That’s more than 1.4 million every week. While the vaccines are on their way, remaining vigilant will likely save many lives.

Adults 75 and over are the next in line for the COVID-19 vaccine

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) has recommended to the CDC that adults age 75 and up should be the next group to get the COVID-19 vaccine after frontline essential workers like those in food service, postal and public transit workers, and grocery store employees (health care workers and nursing home residents and staff members are already getting the vaccine). After that, the ACIP voted that those aged 16 to 64 with high-risk medical conditions get the shot, followed by any essential workers not already vaccinated.

People are eager to get their vaccine, but most will have to wait quite a while. Those top three priority groups encompass 202 million people, which is double the number that the US can expect to be able to vaccinate by the end of February 2021. You might be disappointed to hear that you’re not in that top group, but remember: 202 million people is more than 60 percent of the US population. Distributing a vaccine to the US’s nearly 330 million residents is a massive undertaking, and it’s going to take some time—right now, we have to protect those most vulnerable.

Anyone with a history of severe allergic reactions to any ingredient in the vaccine shouldn’t get it

A few individuals who have gotten Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine have had anaphylactic responses, and the FDA is now adding a warning label to note that anyone who has had a previous allergic reaction to any component of the vaccine shouldn’t get it. If you are unsure, you should talk to your doctor, who can help you figure out if you meet that criteria.

That’s similar to the advice given out by UK health officials, that anyone with a history of vaccine allergies not get the COVID-19 vaccine, though the FDA didn’t go that far. If you’ve had a severe reaction to a vaccine in the past, you can still get this shot—you just need to talk to your doctor about it so they can take extra precautions. Generally a doctor’s office will have you stick around for about 30 minutes after getting the vaccine so they can monitor you and intervene should anything serious happen.

There’s a new strain of COVID in the UK, but the new travel bans are probably an overreaction

Widely publicized reports about a new, more contagious strain of COVID-19 have caused several countries to implement travel bans for anyone coming from the UK, but the actual evidence about how dangerous this new variant might be is pretty limited. One study found that the VUI 202012/01 strain might be 70 percent more contagious—but that was based solely on modeling, and virologists are urging caution about interpreting what that might mean in practice.

Viruses mutate all the time—there are thousands of SARS-CoV-2 strains already—so the truth is that there are some popping up around the world at any given moment. Some will undoubtedly get a new, advantageous mutation that allows that version to spread more quickly. But reports that this UK strain is going to escape our vaccines rapidly are unfounded. It takes even the influenza virus five to seven years to become so different as to evade the vaccine entirely.

Though the vaccine rollout feels slow, the more people we can prevent from getting the virus—and the more people who get immunized—the harder it is for SARS-CoV-2 to evolve. Let’s give it a real challenge.

By ASNF