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Covid-19 vaccine distribution ramps up for 20 million to be immunized by the start of the new year

In the midst of the holiday season, cases have surged to more than 17.8 million people infected and 317,668 people killed by the virus since the pandemic began, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. It will be months before the wider American public receives the vaccines prioritized for healthcare workers and long-term care patients, but health officials are working to have 20 million people inoculated by the first week of January, Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Brett Giroir told ABC.

“This is also really an incredible feat” Dr. Amanda Cohn, executive secretary for the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, said during a committee meeting on Sunday. “We are hopeful that they will continue to increase production, as well as potentially have new products early next year.”

But while the US waits on vaccine distribution for more of the public, they have to contend with the possible surge of the winter holidays.

More than a million Americans passed through airport security checkpoints both Friday and Saturday — a first since the pandemic began. Cases spiked after Thanksgiving travel and gatherings, and experts warn repeating the behavior over Christmas could result in a surge on top of a surge.

Another surge like that is something Tennessee cannot sustain, Gov. Bill Lee said Sunday.

“Tennesseans have two weapons that they must use in the next 30 days: only gather with your household and wear a mask,” Lee said.

Illinois nears 1 million cases

In a time of unprecedented coronavirus spread, three states have crossed the grim threshold of more than a million cases: California, Texas and Florida.

On Sunday, Illinois got a step closer to joining that list when it surpassed 900,000 cases since the start of the pandemic, the state department of public health said in a news release.

New York, once the epicenter of the pandemic in the US, hopes to mitigate a surge of their own. Starting Monday, long-term care facilities in the state will begin receiving vaccines, Gareth Rhodes, special counsel to the state Department of Financial Services, said during a press briefing Friday.

Across the state, 618 long-term care facilities have enrolled to have employees with CVS and Walgreens administer vaccines to residents and staff, Rhodes said.

New Jersey will administer its nursing home vaccines December 28, after state officials missed a federal deadline for registering their facilities, New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said.

“In order to start on the 21st, there was a deadline of the 7th for input of all the registered skilled nursing facilities, long term care facilities, assisted living facilities, of which we have about … over 650. We missed that date, by a day,” she said, citing the volume of information needed to be inputted.

Slaoui believes vaccines will still be effective after virus variation

While both the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and the Moderna vaccine have shown efficacy rates of around 95% in clinical trials, there’s been growing concern about whether the vaccines would work on new variants of the coronavirus — like one that is spreading in the UK.

Top health officials say there is still a lot they don’t know about the variant, and to mitigate its spread a growing list of countries have blocked travel from the UK, including Canada, Argentina, Israel, Germany and France.

US army scientists examine new UK coronavirus variant to see if it might be resistant to vaccine

Scientist at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research are examining the variant and expect to know in the next few days if there is a concern that vaccines might not work against it.

But “up to now, I don’t think there has been a single variant that would be resistant to the vaccine,” Slaoui sad. “We can’t exclude it, but it’s not there now.”

He said the novel coronavirus may be prone to variance. But critical aspects of the virus, such as the spike protein involved in a vaccine, are very specific to the novel coronavirus and unlikely to mutate much.

“Because the vaccines are using antibodies against many different parts of the spike protein, the chances that all of them change, I think, are low,” Slaoui said.

CNN’s Virginia Langmaid, Raja Razek, Pete Muntean, Jacqueline Howard Melissa Alonso, Hollie Silverman, Naomi Thomas and Gisela Crespo contributed to this report.

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