An outbreak of COVID-19 vaccines was a moment of hope in the “darkest days” of a pandemic. But the dark days are not over yet

(CNN) – For many Americans, Monday felt calm. After 10 nightmarish months, the first vaccines against COVID-19 began, a historic milestone in a brutal battle.

“I would never have imagined that within a year of identifying … a new virus, we would have a vaccine administered to people that is safe and effective and that gives us hope,” said Dr. Richard Besser, former interim director of the Centers for Disease Control. and Prevention. “On one of the darkest days in this pandemic, we finally have a ray of hope.”

Across the country, many health workers looked on with respect and disbelief when their co-workers received the vaccine. In California, an ICU nurse became one of the first people in the state to be vaccinated. In Washington, George Washington University Hospital emergency department nurse Barbara Neiswander was among the first health care workers to receive the first dose of the vaccine and report “absolutely no side effects.” And about 200 employees at the University of Southern Nevada Medical Center were also vaccinated Monday, including doctors, nurses and respiratory technicians.

“We really had tears in our eyes when the vaccine got here,” said Mason Van Houweling, CEO.

All 50 states, Washington and Puerto Rico received vaccine doses on Monday. More shipments are expected during the rest of the week, General Gustave Perna, head of Operation Warp Speed, said on Monday, adding that vaccines will also begin in nursing homes.

But vaccines will have little effect on what comes next: a devastating winter projected by top health officials will be one of the most difficult times in the nation’s history.

The U.S. last week averaged more than 215,000 cases a day – a number likely to grow as states continue to report the aftermath of Thanksgiving meetings and travel. Officials also warn that festive gatherings this month could further encourage an already rampant spread of the virus and result in another increase.

COVID-19 hospitalizations are higher than ever – with now more than 110,500 patients nationwide, according to the COVID Tracking Project. Every day over the past week, an average of 2,389 Americans have lost their lives due to the virus. More than 300,000 have died since the start of the pandemic across the country. An additional 186,000 are predicted to lose their lives over the next three months, according to the University of Washington Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation.

“This vaccine, as amazing as it is, is not going to change the trajectory of what we’re going through this winter,” Besser told CNN. “It won’t change what we have to do; it won’t change the need for us all to wear masks, and social distance and wash our hands.”

Overcome vaccine hesitation

To help the United States get to the other side, some of the challenges officials face are dealing with skepticism from many communities about the vaccine.

“Nothing has been in my heart more than this thing for the past weeks to months,” U.S. general surgeon Dr. Jerome Adams told CNN. “I’ve worked with Pfizer, with Modern, with AstraZeneca, with Johnson & Johnson to make sure we have adequate numbers of minorities enrolled in these vaccine trials so that people understand that they are safe.”

Adams said he has worked with leaders in minority communities, including faith leaders and fraternities and sisters, as well as celebrity influencers who can “use their megaphone to share the right information with people because vaccine hesitation is one of the biggest social injustices there. “

“There are tens of thousands of blacks and browns dying every year because they distrust the system,” Adams added. “In many cases, rightly so, but also because they don’t get the facts to help restore their faith in the system.”

Sandra Lindsay, an ICU nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens, New York, was among the first Americans to receive a shot of the vaccine.

“I understand the distrust among the minority community,” she said. “I don’t ask people to do something I wouldn’t do myself, so I volunteered among the first.”

“I didn’t know I was going to make history and that’s not why I did it. I wanted to do it to inspire people who may be skeptical about the vaccine and trust the science,” Lindsay added.

Beginning of the end … but not the end

Effects of the vaccinations will not come suddenly, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Monday.

“It’s not going to be like turning on and off a light switch,” he said during a virtual health event of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “I don’t think we’ll be able to discard the masks and forget about physical separation in meeting arrangements for a while, probably until we get into late fall or early next winter.”

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Monday he believes the general public could be vaccinated in late February and March – earlier than other experts calculated.

“It really, again, will depend on the rulers of our nation, but with the Modern and Pfizer vaccine, we will have, as I said, up to 100 (million) shots by the end of February,” he told NBC on Monday.

“If we get the approval of the Johnson & Johnson or AstraZeneca vaccine in January, when their data comes in, we will have significant additional supplies,” Azar added. “In late February, in the March period, I think you’re going to see a lot more like a flu vaccination campaign – people are going into their Kroger, their CVS or Walgreens, Walmart.”

Returning to normalcy, officials said, will depend on how quickly vaccinations occur – and how many Americans will be vaccinated. About 70% to 80% of the U.S. public needs to be immune to the virus before it will “disappear,” according to Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health.

“We think we’ll be able to get it by June roughly for almost all of the 330 million Americans who are interested in this vaccine,” Collins told NBC on Sunday. “But if only half of them do that, this could go on and on and on.”

Difficult months are ahead

In the meantime, the United States is preparing to face some of the darkest days of the pandemic to date. in California, Governor Gavin Newsom said that although the vaccines offered a moment of hope, he added “we are in the midst of the worst moment of this pandemic.”

The state has added more than 30,000 new cases of COVID-19 during the fourth straight day and hospitalizations and admissions in ICU are ongoing.

Health officials from Los Angeles County said Monday that new cases have grown 625% since Nov. 1, with “youth continuing to push for an increase in community delivery.”

More than 4,200 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, officials said, and 21% of those are in the ICU.

“Our reality is scary right now,” they said. “By next weekend there will likely be more than 5,000 patients hospitalized and more than 50% of ICU beds occupied by COVID-19 patients.”

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio hinted at stricter restrictions in the coming weeks, saying the city has a “very critical” trajectory, “in terms of the number of people getting sick, the number of people we would lose … and obviously the impact. to hospitals, their ability to treat people. “

“We need to start planning for bigger actions now,” he said Monday. “I think the natural time to do that is right after Christmas.”

In Nevada, Gov. Steve Sisolak announced this week that he is extending restrictions on COVID-19 until Jan. 15, saying the state is “at a critical point.”

“We will monitor and assess our current situation on a daily basis and … (we) will remain under the current restrictions for the time being, with the aim of getting through the next month.”

“But I need to be clear,” added the governor. “If officials and experts agree that our tendencies are beyond our ability to respond, I will be forced to come before you all again with more difficult actions.”

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