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By Mandy Oaklander
Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 17, 2021
BY MANDY OAKLANDER

Vaccine Hesitancy Is the Next Big Threat

Right now, booking a coronavirus vaccine appointment can feel like winning the lottery. With demand far outstripping supply, it's hard to imagine a time when it will be easy to get one whenever you want—yet difficult to convince skeptical people to roll up their sleeve for a shot.

But that future may be coming soon. A new TIME-Harris poll sheds light on COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy, and the trends are troubling. Of the 854 respondents, only about half (52%) said they planned to get a COVID-19 vaccine once it was available to them. A quarter (26%) say they won't get one, and 21% haven't yet made up their minds.

Those numbers fluctuate when you zoom in on demographic data. Black Americans are the least enthused about the shot, with only 34% planning to get it, and 33% set against it. Hispanic Americans are only a bit more likely to say they'll get it (38%), followed by Native Americans or Alaskan Natives (43%). Those most likely to want the vaccine are white Americans (58%) and Asian Americans (80%).

The reasons why Americans would pass on a free shot designed to protect them from a virus that kills hundreds or thousands a day are myriad, ranging from misinformation about the vaccine to, in the case of racial minorities, distrust in a medical system that has historically lied to them, harmed them or otherwise let them down.

Yet vaccine hesitancy is not a uniquely American problem, as my colleague Vivienne Walt reports. Doctors in France are facing death threats after speaking publicly about the importance of getting vaccinated, she writes. Distrust of vaccines is widespread in France—particularly surrounding the coronavirus shot, which many French believe to be part of a government conspiracy or a money-making tool of the pharmaceutical industry.

"There is a really, really strong link between skepticism of the vaccine, and distrust of political institutions," one French researcher told Vivienne. "We have a very, very high level of political distrust."

A Kantar Public poll this month found that 37% of people in France would definitely or probably not get vaccinated, compared to 26% in the U.S. Partially as a result of that hesitancy, France is lagging behind in vaccine administration compared to other European countries—only about 3.4% of people in France have received a shot, far less than the 23% of people vaccinated in the U.K.

One of the best ways to change false beliefs about vaccination is to spread true information, and that's exactly what doctors in France are doing. Despite being threatened and verbally abused, they aren't stopping in their quest to convert skeptics. "It is very, very important that we do not shut up when we are harassed," one told Vivienne. "What we are saying about the vaccines is true, with science." Many doctors and other experts in the U.S., meanwhile, are taking a similar approach as vaccination efforts here continue apace.

Read more here.


VACCINE TRACKER

48.9 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been shipped to various U.S. states as of this morning, while about 39.7 million doses have been administered thus far, according to TIME's vaccine tracker—representing 12% of the overall U.S. population who have received at least one dose.

Japan launched its vaccine rollout program today, the New York Times reports, starting with medical workers. The program is beginning later than those in other countries because Tokyo requested that Pfizer—the company behind the first authorized vaccine in the country—run separate trials in Japan, in order to prove the safety and efficacy of the vaccine to residents. Meanwhile, the Olympics are still scheduled to take place in Tokyo in July, but some believe Japan's vaccine rollout won't be far enough along by then to safely hold the games there.

South Africa will share 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine with the African Union for distribution to other member countries, its health minister said yesterday. The move comes after the vaccine underperformed in a small trial against a coronavirus variant rapidly spreading throughout South Africa; the hope is that the doses will be better used in countries that aren't yet grappling with that variant. South Africa now plans to give the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which it has not yet formally approved, to health workers on a trial basis.

Gaza received its first doses of the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine today after Israel approved the delivery, the New York Times reports. Dialysis patients and those who have recently gotten organ transplants are first in line to receive the vaccine, with health care workers next up. Israel leads the world in vaccinations per capita, with about 45% of its population vaccinated, but it faces criticism for leaving out Palestinians; some argue that Israel is responsible for providing vaccine access to Palestinians living on occupied land. However, the vaccines delivered to Gaza today were supplied by the Palestinian Authority, not Israel.


TODAY'S CORONAVIRUS OUTLOOK

The Global Situation

More than 109.5 million people around the world had been diagnosed with COVID-19 as of 1 a.m. E.T. today, and more than 2.4 million people have died. On Feb. 16, there were 347,722 new cases and 10,770 new deaths confirmed globally.

Here's how the world as a whole is currently trending:

Here's where daily cases have risen or fallen over the last 14 days, shown in confirmed cases per 100,000 residents:

And here is every country with over 1.5 million confirmed cases:

A first-of-its-kind "human challenge" COVID-19 study will begin within a month in the U.K., according to a statement today from the British government. In the trial, up to 90 people between the ages of 18 and 30—some of whom will be vaccinated first—will be purposefully injected with a small amount of the virus. The hope is that the research will help scientists identify the most effective shots and develop new vaccines and treatments. But such trials are also controversial, since participants are being deliberately exposed to a potentially fatal pathogen.

The number of new coronavirus cases worldwide dropped by 16% last week, the World Health Organization reported yesterday. Every region experienced a double-digit percentage decline in new cases, except for the Eastern Mediterranean, which showed a rise of 7%. Additionally, new global COVID-19 deaths declined by 10%. While it's too soon to know the exact cause of the falloff, there's a chance that global vaccination efforts are having at least some effect.

The Situation in the U.S.

The U.S. recorded more than 27.7 million coronavirus cases as of 1 a.m. E.T. today. More than 487,000 people have died. On Feb. 16, there were 59,598 new cases and 1,602 new deaths confirmed in the U.S.

Here's how the country as a whole is currently trending:

Here's where daily cases have risen or fallen over the last 14 days, shown in confirmed cases per 100,000 residents:

The U.S. House of Representatives is set to debate a bill that would provide $1.75 billion for genomic sequencing in order to identify new coronavirus mutations, the Associated Press reports. The funds would significantly expand the country's ability to understand how prevalent these mutant strains are—right now, the U.S. only sequences about 0.3% of virus samples, but with the additional funds, that rate could grow to double digits. The bill also calls on the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention to track the spread of mutations across the country. Separately, the White House announced today that the Biden Administration is investing $1.6 billion to support COVID-19 testing, nearly $200 million of which will go toward genomic sequencing.

Any American adult who wants a COVID-19 vaccine will likely be eligible to get one by the end of May or early June, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House chief medical adviser, on CNN yesterday. Still, just because people may be eligible for an appointment at that time doesn't guarantee that they'll actually be able to get one. "The whole process is going to take a few months to actually get implemented," Fauci said. He anticipates that most of the willing population will be vaccinated by the end of August or early fall, barring unexpected issues.

All numbers unless otherwise specified are from the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering, and are accurate as of Feb. 17, 1 a.m. E.T. To see larger, interactive versions of these maps and charts, click here.


WHAT ELSE YOU SHOULD KNOW

You Should Take Any Vaccine You Can Get. But People Aren't Listening

Not every vaccine is going to be as effective as the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna shots. But other vaccines coming down the pike have other important strengths—some are cheaper and easier to store, for instance, in addition to preventing severe disease and death. Still, people have already bought into the myth of the "good" COVID-19 vaccines versus the "bad" vaccines, and it's a hard belief to dispel, reports STAT's Helen Branswell. Read more here.

Why Social Anxiety Is Peaking During the Pandemic

For many, social anxiety is escalating during the pandemic. "It's as if my socializing muscles have atrophied during the year at home, making way for anxiety to dominate," writes Lauren Corriher in Elemental. But several strategies, like keeping video calls to a small number of participants and practicing breathing techniques, can help quiet the fear. Read more here.

Spring Will Be a Depressing Slog—Unless We Change Course

Wear a high quality mask correctly. Stay in your family bubble. Get vaccinated. And if you're the government: help small businesses survive while protecting frontline workers. In a New York Times opinion piece, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, Rick Bright and Dr. Céline Gounder—all of whom counseled President Joe Biden on COVID-19 during the post-campaign transition—argue that taking these five steps can prevent a spring surge of the disease. Read more here.


Thanks for reading. We hope you find the Coronavirus Brief newsletter to be a helpful tool to navigate this very complex situation, and welcome feedback at coronavirus.brief@time.com. If you have specific questions you'd like us to answer, please send them to covidquestions@time.com.

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Today's newsletter was written by Mandy Oaklander and edited by Alex Fitzpatrick.

 
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