It’s been nearly a year since cases of Covid-19 were first reported and the novel coronavirus began to spread around the world. And though there’s still a long road ahead, an end to the pandemic may now be in sight. The United States has just authorized distribution of the first vaccine shown to protect people from the virus that causes Covid-19. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted the medication emergency use authorization, which will help speed up the delivery of the new medical treatment to the public during the current health emergency.
Vaccines not only protect the people who receive them from getting sick, but they also protect others through a phenomenon known as herd immunity. When most of a population can’t contract a disease, it helps prevent the spread of the illness to individuals who aren’t immune, or protected against the infection (see How Herd Immunity Works). Scientists estimate that once 70 percent of people become immune to the novel coronavirus, widespread transmission of the disease will stop.
Millions of doses of this newly authorized vaccine, created by the pharmaceutical company Pfizer and the German biotechnology company BioNTech, have already been manufactured. Now, Pfizer-BioNTech, government officials, and hospitals plan to immediately begin distributing the vaccine to people in high-risk groups. These include health-care workers and the elderly (particularly those in long-term care facilities). On December 2, the U.K. became the first country to authorize emergency distribution of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. A week later, Canada granted official approval to the vaccine.