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Alexandra Sifferlin
Health and science journalist. Former editor of Medium’s Covid-19 Blog and deputy editor at Elemental. TIME Magazine writer before that

Whether it’s a rare disease or Covid-19, the process of reaching a diagnosis can be fraught. There’s ways to make it better.

Photo: Robina Weermeijer/Unsplash

When she was in her early 20s, Louise Benge — then Louise Proctor — worked in a small office in Mount Vernon, Kentucky for the state’s department of human resources. When it was time for her daily break, she would walk down a small hill to grab lunch. Though Louise was in otherwise great shape for a woman in her early 20s, the walk up the hill back to her office was hard. It wasn’t that she was out of breath, but her legs ached as she climbed. …


Dear Reader,

Here’s a first: Some non-Covid news to share with you all. It’s bittersweet to announce that this is my final Coronavirus Blog newsletter. Today is my last day at Medium, as I am beginning a new role at the New York Times. It’s been an honor to navigate the ups and downs of the Covid-19 pandemic with you. I will miss sharing space in your inbox each week.

I’m thrilled to pass the torch on to Yasmin Tayag, someone Blog readers will be quite familiar with. Yasmin has written many important stories on the science of Covid-19 and…


Anecdotally, some people have reported feeling side effects after their second shot of an mRNA Covid-19 vaccine. Science reporter Katherine Wu digs into the reasons why in a new piece for The Atlantic. Bottom line: It’s a sign the immune system is kicking into gear. Wu writes:

My husband had side effects after his first dose too: a headache, some fatigue, a touch of dizziness — all of which I can safely blame on his innate immune system. Those same innate responses return for another round of inflammation after the second shot. …


Dear Reader,

The vaccine rollout is happening worldwide with varied success. But the promise of adding more vaccines to the arsenal is really encouraging news. AstraZeneca and University of Oxford released data today showing their vaccine cuts down on transmission. Great!

As I wrote earlier this week, some may wonder what happens if some vaccines are more effective than others. On a population level, researchers have found that it makes sense to vaccinate with whatever is available (given it’s safe and effective).

But what about on a personal level? Epidemiologist Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz puts it really well, saying: Forget about society…


Even if there’s varying effectiveness

Credit: Boston Globe / Getty Images

The vaccine rollout is happening worldwide with varying degrees of logistical success. In the United States, the two vaccines currently approved for emergency use include one from Moderna and one from Pfizer-BioNTech, both with over 90% reported efficacy rates.

Other vaccines will likely soon be reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for possible emergency approval. They include a one-dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson. At the moment, that vaccine is shown to be effective but not quite at the level reported by Moderna and Pfizer. However, Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine still looks good, experts say. …


Dear Reader,

More infectious variants of the coronavirus have been confirmed in the United States. Most recently, the South Africa variant B.1.351 was detected in two people in South Carolina. As you can read here and below, some of the Covid-19 vaccine makers are confident their vaccines still work against the variants, and are already working on booster shots.

READ: How Vaccines Are Faring Against The Variants

This morning, data released from Johnson & Johnson showed that its one-dose vaccine has an efficacy rate of 72% against moderate to severe Covid-19 in the U.S., …


Dear Reader,

It’s a unique moment in the pandemic. Things are objectively not great with very high numbers of people dying from Covid-19 each day. But there are some encouraging signs: Cases, hospitalizations, and deaths seem to be easing after a scary holiday surge. People are continuing to be vaccinated (though I think everyone wishes it would go faster).

The need to vaccinate people quickly is clear, and as former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Tom Frieden, MD, wrote this week on Medium, “never under-estimate the enemy.”

With more infectious variants circulating, you may…


There are a few states that are progressing faster than others when it comes to getting residents vaccinated. West Virginia is one of those states. According to Bloomberg, the state has used 73% of its shots so far. The reason? As Yuki Noguchi reports for NPR, West Virginia is the only state that opted out of working with CVS and Walgreens on distribution. Instead, the state is relying on its many small and independent pharmacies. So far, it seems to be working. Noguchi reports:

Many long-term care sites in the state already use local pharmacies for other vaccines and medicines…


Dear Reader,

There’s early momentum by the new Biden-Harris administration to change the trajectory of the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States. Masks are required in more places, and the manufacturing of protective gear and vaccines will ramp up. People will finally hear from the nation’s doctor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, once again. 🙏

What comes next is important. At the moment, cases of Covid-19 appear to be dropping in most states. There’s some debate over whether the country is coming down from its worst, final surge post-holiday or whether the new virus variants mean the situation will worsen.

What’s clear…

Alexandra Sifferlin

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