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Vaccine Update

GETTING TESTED In November, people wait to be tested for COVID-19 in Miami Beach, Florida, as the pandemic surges in the U.S. CHANDAN KHANNA—AFP/GETTY IMAGES

The drug company Moderna has asked the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency approval of its COVID-19 vaccine. It made the request on November 30. If the FDA agrees, enough vaccine for millions of Americans could be ready by the end of the year.

Emergency approval means a drug can be used before testing is complete. Moderna is the second company to ask for it. Pfizer was the first. It made its request on November 20. Its vaccine was approved in the United Kingdom on December 2.

Cases of COVID-19 are on the rise in the U.S. Recently, there have been more than 160,000 new cases per day. Daily, there have been more than 1,400 deaths. Officials say the numbers could be even higher in the coming weeks. At press time, the novel coronavirus had infected nearly 14 million people in the U.S. More than 268,000 had died. Worldwide, 63 million people had caught the virus. Nearly 1½ million had died.

IN THE LAB A scientist prepares a blood sample during a Moderna vaccine trial in August.


The FDA must decide if Moderna’s vaccine works and is safe. A late phase of vaccine trials began in July. The trials involved 30,000 people. Moderna says its drug is about 94% effective at preventing COVID-19. And it is 100% effective at preventing severe cases of the disease, the company says.

With FDA approval, Moderna says it could have 20 million doses ready for Americans by late December. That’s enough for 10 million people. Each person will need two doses. The first to be vaccinated will be healthcare workers and the elderly. Pfizer expects to have enough doses for more than 12 million Americans. It will be at least spring before any vaccine reaches the general U.S. population.

Stop and Think! How does the author use data to tell this story? What does data tell us about the COVID-19 vaccine and why it is needed? Which numbers stand out to you, and why?

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