Alexandra Sifferlin
Editor of Medium’s Covid-19 Blog. Deputy Editor, Elemental. Prior: TIME Magazine. I’ve covered epidemics, including MERS, Ebola, Zika, and now Covid-19.

Dear Reader,

Health care expert Andy Slavitt, a regular Blog contributor, will be headed to the White House to serve as a senior advisor on Covid-19. Slavitt spends his days talking to the top health and science experts about Covid-19 and distills those findings for his followers. Right now, he’s hopeful that with vaccines and new leadership, the U.S. can finally get control of the virus.

“2021 can be an extraordinary year if we make it so,” he writes. “Little by little, step by step, it’s time we defeat this. …

Dear Reader,

There’s evidence to suggest the vaccine rollout will pick up speed. States that were letting doses go unused are making changes, and the government is telling states to expand their eligibility pools to include people age 65 and older. The hope is that more people can get vaccinated faster, though there is some concern over whether states and vaccine manufacturers can keep up with the pace.

The Infectious Diseases Society of America released a statement yesterday saying that accelerated vaccine rollout is critical to pandemic control and called on the federal government to ensure states have the financial resources they need to complete the task. …

Dear Reader,

The vaccine distributions are off to a rocky start, but some states are moving through doses much faster than others. Connecticut is one of those states. What’s the secret? As I found out this week, the state is aggressive about making sure every dose is used and none are left sitting on shelves.

To do this, the state developed a “just-in-time inventory” system where unused doses of vaccine at a given location can be transferred to other facilities where there is demand at the end of each day. The state governor, Ned Lamont, is also allowing more flexibility over who can be vaccinated. Health facilities can determine who they think meet the eligibility requirements, and they should have a waitlist of people to call if they have more doses than expected. The priority is getting vaccines into arms, versus potentially letting vaccines go to waste by rigidly following eligibility criteria.

Here’s what it’s doing right, so far

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Credit: Murat Taner / Getty Images

The vaccine rollout in the United States is progressing — albeit not as quickly as anyone would like. But there isn’t a single “vaccine rollout” — instead responsibility for distributing the vaccines has been delegated to states, and some states are getting shots into arms faster than others. Connecticut is one of those states.

Connecticut was one of the first states in the U.S. to get over 2% of the population vaccinated with the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. It’s also ranked #1 in vaccine distribution in nursing homes, according to local news outlets. As of Wednesday, the state has administered 93,056 doses, according to Bloomberg, which means it has used 62.1% of its shots so far — a notably high percentage compared to other states. New York is at 33.5% of shots used and Massachusetts is at 37.8%. …

Dear Reader,

The new variant of the coronavirus — called B.1.1.7 — is becoming more widespread in the United States. This is concerning, because while many virus mutations are benign, this one has made the virus more contagious.

As Robert Roy Britt reports, this means the virus could rapidly increase the number of people infected with Covid-19, which will then significantly increase the number of people hospitalized. Hospitals in the United States are already under significant pressure from the pandemic. You do not want to get Covid-19 right now. Actually, you don’t want any kind of medical emergency right now.

A frustrating aspect of this pandemic is getting enough people to care. The amount of photos of people gathering in large groups unmasked and indoors over the holidays was deeply shocking. …

Science writer Robert Roy Britt has detailed several recent developments and ominous trends related to Covid-19, including mutated strains and vaccine rollout woes. Get caught up below.

The world has reached a unique moment in the pandemic. Cases and hospitalizations are rising at the same time that vaccines are being approved for use. It can be challenging to keep up to date on the latest scientists and expert thinking (though hopefully you read the Coronavirus Blog!). I’m recirculating Elemental’s list of 50 experts to trust in a pandemic so you can follow their insights. Check out the full list here, and check out the Twitter list here.

During the holidays, the liver tends to work overtime digesting food and cocktails. As Angela Lashbrook reports for Elemental, “like an office manager who remembers everyone’s birthdays and duties while their own contributions are forgotten, the liver keeps the rest of the body’s functions running smoothly.” The liver is a critical body detoxifier and also one of the only irreplaceable organs. Yet it doesn’t always get the credit it deserves. Lashbrook writes:

Luckily for holiday revelers everywhere, the liver is the salamander’s tail of the human body: It’s the only internal organ with regenerative abilities. Scientists aren’t totally sure why it can regenerate while others can’t, but this plays an important role in liver transplants. While humans can’t live without a liver, they can live with just a piece of it. (This means that sometimes, instead of a whole new liver, a recipient will get a large piece of the liver from someone currently alive, such as a relative. The chunk of liver then regenerates to form a complete — but maybe somewhat misshapen — new organ.) …

Dear Reader,

Nearly 11 months into the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States, there are a lot of lessons learned. Scientists know much more about the virus that causes Covid-19 than they did several months ago. The pandemic has also changed many aspects of modern life, and researchers are also sharing new insights into why people behave in certain ways.

Below are some of my favorite stories explaining the nuances and difficulties of pandemic life, as well as the virus itself.

Have a happy new year, and here’s to better news and more science in 2021.

Be well,

Alexandra Sifferlin
Editor, Medium Coronavirus…

While SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, acts like a textbook virus in many ways, its impact on people’s health has been widely varied. Though some people develop very few if any symptoms, there are other people whose symptoms of the virus linger for many months. These people are often referred to as Covid-19 long-haulers or people with long Covid. Medicine is still trying to understand how to best treat this patient population, and many people with long Covid must become their own advocates. Thankfully, large support groups like Body Politic have emerged to help people navigate these issues together and search for relief. …

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