EDITORIAL: A dose, a relief, in sight

York Dispatch Editorial Board

News of several vaccines against the coronavirus — one of which has been approved for use in the UK — is a welcome sign that, eventually, life might return to something close to normal.

But the operative words there are "eventually" and "close to."

While the British government is preparing to start vaccinating people within days, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is still going through thousands of pages of research from Pfizer and Moderna before approving the use of those companies' vaccines in the United States. The FDA will consider those vaccines for emergency use in the next weeks.

Despite whining from President Donald Trump that drug companies and the government slowed down approval to make him look bad, everyone is working as quickly as they can to ensure a vaccine that is rolled out is both safe and effective.

“No one at FDA is sitting on his or her hands. Everyone is working really hard to look at these applications and get this done,” Stephen Hahn, the head of the FDA, told ABC in an interview on Instagram Live. “But we absolutely have to do this the right way.”

More:WellSpan to redeploy staff, create acute care unit amid COVID-19 surge

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The U.S. will obtain at most 20 million vaccines by the end of the year, which will be enough to vaccinate 10 million people, since all the vaccines in the pipeline require two doses, spaced three to four weeks apart.

So, 10 million people in a nation of more than 330 million might receive the two doses of vaccine by mid-January, if the vaccines are approved in the next two weeks. With the recommended wait time of two weeks before full immunity is achieved, that means Feb. 1 before anyone in the country can be considered immune.

Feb. 1. And that's only for 10 million people, less than half of the 21 million health care workers in the country who will be at the front of the line to receive the vaccine, along with 3 million nursing home residents, according to recommendations from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices announced Wednesday.

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams has said he expects the vaccine to be widely available by early in the second quarter of 2021, which begins in April, according to Bloomberg.

No, the vaccine won't make life normal again for quite a while.

A COVID-19 particle is pictured in this image provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC/TNS)

And York County, along with the rest of the country, is seeing a surge in new cases, hospitalizations and deaths right now.

On Thursday, York County set yet another record in the number of new cases, with 677 diagnoses added for an ongoing total of 12,388. In the past seven days alone, York County has added 1,960 COVID-19 cases and 21 deaths.

WellSpan Health has 355 patients across its hospitals who have tested positive, a third of the total patient load, spokesperson Ryan Coyle said. 

WellSpan is converting WellSpan Surgery & Rehabilitation Hospital in York Township into an acute care hospital and bringing in staff from Apple Hill Surgery Center to make up for staffing shortages, Coyle said.

This is not the time to be relaxing our guard.

It's also not the time to be planning large holiday gatherings.

Yes, we know, holidays are a time for big, shiny parties and big, family dinners. Just  consider the galas planned at the White House over the next month.

But we all need to keep our heads this holiday season.

The vaccine isn't here and won't be, for most of us, for several months. While we are getting closer to ending the pandemic, we still have a long way to go.

So be smart. Wear a mask. Keep your distance from people. Stay home when you can.

Maybe next Christmas we'll be able to gather with friends and family and celebrate the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. But we all have to get there first.