The vaccine as a fire hose

Dec 08, 2020 Travel News

The vaccine as a fire hose

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Vaccine news continues to look very encouraging. Britain started its mass vaccination effort today, and the United States is not far behind.

But there’s still a dark cloud hanging over vaccines that many people don’t yet understand.

Vaccines will be much less effective at preventing death and disease in 2021 if they are introduced into a population where the coronavirus is raging – as is now the case in the United States. This is the central argument of a new article from the journal Health Affairs. (One of the authors is Dr. Rochelle Walensky of Massachusetts General Hospital, whom President-elect Joe Biden has chosen to lead the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

An analogy may be helpful here. A vaccine is like a fire hose. A vaccine that is 95% effective, as the Moderna and Pfizer versions appear to be, is a powerful fire hose. But the size of a fire is always a determining factor in the extent of the destruction.

I asked the authors of the Health Affairs study to put their findings in terms that we non-scientists could understand, and they were kind enough to do so. The estimates are quite astonishing:

  • At the current level of infection in the United States (about 200,000 new confirmed infections per day), a 95% effective vaccine – delivered at the expected rate – would still leave a terrible toll within six months of its introduction. Nearly 10 million Americans would contract the virus and more than 160,000 would die.

  • This is much worse than the toll in another universe in which the vaccine was only 50 percent effective, but the United States had reduced the infection rate to its level in early September (about 35,000 new cases per day). In this scenario, the death toll over the next six months would be maintained at around 60,000 people.

It is worth dwelling on this comparison for a moment, for it is deeply counter-intuitive. If the United States had maintained its infection rate from September, and Moderna and Pfizer announced this fall that their vaccines were only 50% effective, many people would have panicked.

But the reality we have is actually worse.

How could it be? No vaccine can eliminate a pandemic immediately, just as no fire hose can put out a forest fire. While the vaccine is being distributed, the virus continues to wreak havoc. “Stated bluntly, we will get out of this pandemic faster if we give the vaccine less work,” A. David Paltiel, one of the health affairs authors and professor at the Yale School of Public Health, told me. .

There is a positive way of looking at this: Measures that reduce the spread of the virus – like wearing a mask, social distancing and rapid testing – can still have far-reaching consequences. They can save more than 100,000 lives in the coming months.

The virus

  • In the past seven days, 15,813 people in the United States have died from the virus, breaking a record since mid-April.

  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said New York will restrict indoor dining if hospitalization rates do not stabilize. New York could lose its meals indoors as early as Monday.

  • Once Pfizer delivers its first 100 million doses of the vaccine to the United States, the country may not receive another batch until June. That’s because the Trump administration made a deal last summer to get more shots, and the European Union bought them.

The presidential transition

The social life of forests: Do trees communicate and cooperate with each other? It seems so. Read the story in the magazine or hear it in a special episode of “The Daily”.

A debate: A former Medicare chief calls Xavier Becerra a “good candidate” to head the Department of Health and Human Services, reports the Washington Post. In his Times Opinion column, Ross Douthat says the appointment is a warning sign that Biden will abandon the moderate approach that offers his best chance for political success.

Lives lived: As a professional wrestler, Pat Patterson has delighted fans. As the head of World Wrestling Entertainment, he introduced the Royal Rumble, a free last man-standing for everything that’s been popular ever since. When he announced in 2014 that he was gay, Patterson’s fans remained loyal. He died at 79.


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Bob Dylan sold his catalog of more than 600 songs to Universal Music for an estimated $ 300 million. This is perhaps the biggest acquisition of a songwriter’s publishing rights, and it’s another milestone for Dylan, who won the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature.

Universal will now collect a fee whenever Dylan’s songs are sold, streamed, covered by another musician, or used in commercials and movies. This makes Dylan’s catalog particularly lucrative: other artists have recorded his songs over 6,000 times, and they have appeared in films often, including “The Big Lebowski” and “Bad Santa 2.”

The deal is the latest in a series of such purchases: in October, DJ Calvin Harris sold his publishing catalog for around $ 100 million, and last week, the singer-songwriter Stevie Nicks sold a controlling stake in his catalog for an estimated $ 80 million.

As streaming dominates the music market, more and more investors are grabbing the copyright in music. “Streaming has changed the landscape, from a licensing and royalty perspective,” an expert told The Washington Post. “Even though there are some mind-blowing price tags, if you look at the returns in five, 10, or 20 years, those are considered very good investments.”

What to cook

Yesterday’s Spelling Bee pangram was helmet. Today’s puzzle is above – or you can play it online if you have a Games membership.

Here are today’s mini crosswords, and a hint: GPS suggestion (5 letters).


Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. – David

PS Marc Lacey, national editor of The Times, will be Live’s new associate editor, where he will lead a team focused on briefings, blogs and discussions.

You can see the first printed page of the day here.

Today’s episode of “The Daily” is about Trump’s immigration legacy. On the latest “Sway,” Kara Swisher interviews the CEO of Cameo, the custom celebrity market.

Claire Moses, Ian Prasad Philbrick and Sanam Yar contributed to The Morning. You can join the team at themorning@nytimes.com.

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