Vaccinations against the coronavirus have begun in the US and are expected in Canada within days after both countries last week authorised for emergency use.
The vaccine roll-out in the US coincides with the country reporting more than 3000 deaths in one day for the first time, on 10 December.
“Yesterday marked another tragic, preventable milestone in our fight against COVID-19, but this news is a bright light,” President-elect Joe Biden said on Twitter on 11 December after a US Food and Drug Administration panel voted to green-light the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
Officially, nearly 300,000 people have died of covid-19 in the US, but of the true toll.
More countries are expected to authorise the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for emergency use in the coming days, but supplies remain limited. The US has had an initial shipment of around 3 million doses. Canada has received about 30,000 doses, and is expecting around 250,000 in total this year.
Two other coronavirus vaccines, one developed by Moderna and the other by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, could be authorised for emergency use soon in Europe, North America and other regions. Some other vaccines have already been authorised in China, Russia and elsewhere.
In the US, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is being distributed to hundreds of hospitals. Healthcare workers at high risk of being infected should get vaccinated first, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine advisory panel has recommended. Nursing home residents are next in line, and are due to start getting vaccinated from next week.
White House officials were due to be among the first to get the shot. But the Trump administration seems to have backtracked in the face of criticism.
Mass vaccination could be a particular challenge in the US because it lacks a centralised healthcare system. Different states and hospitals can make different decisions on who gets the vaccine.
There is also concern about the rate of uptake, even though the vaccine will be free. Only half of US adults say they will get vaccinated, . Another quarter are unsure and the remaining quarter say they won’t take it.
In the UK, almost 70 per cent of adults say they are , with around a quarter saying they are unlikely to and 10 per cent undecided, according to a survey done in November.
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