Still, the country continues to average nearly 190,000 new cases each day, more than any point of the pandemic before December. Deaths from the coronavirus are still extraordinarily high, with more than 4,300 deaths announced on Wednesday, the second-highest daily total of the pandemic. And in some places, there has been no progress at all.

Covid-19 Vaccines ›

Answers to Your Vaccine Questions

While the exact order of vaccine recipients may vary by state, most will likely put medical workers and residents of long-term care facilities first. If you want to understand how this decision is getting made, this article will help.

Life will return to normal only when society as a whole gains enough protection against the coronavirus. Once countries authorize a vaccine, they’ll only be able to vaccinate a few percent of their citizens at most in the first couple months. The unvaccinated majority will still remain vulnerable to getting infected. A growing number of coronavirus vaccines are showing robust protection against becoming sick. But it’s also possible for people to spread the virus without even knowing they’re infected because they experience only mild symptoms or none at all. Scientists don’t yet know if the vaccines also block the transmission of the coronavirus. So for the time being, even vaccinated people will need to wear masks, avoid indoor crowds, and so on. Once enough people get vaccinated, it will become very difficult for the coronavirus to find vulnerable people to infect. Depending on how quickly we as a society achieve that goal, life might start approaching something like normal by the fall 2021.

Yes, but not forever. The two vaccines that will potentially get authorized this month clearly protect people from getting sick with Covid-19. But the clinical trials that delivered these results were not designed to determine whether vaccinated people could still spread the coronavirus without developing symptoms. That remains a possibility. We know that people who are naturally infected by the coronavirus can spread it while they’re not experiencing any cough or other symptoms. Researchers will be intensely studying this question as the vaccines roll out. In the meantime, even vaccinated people will need to think of themselves as possible spreaders.

The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is delivered as a shot in the arm, like other typical vaccines. The injection won’t be any different from ones you’ve gotten before. Tens of thousands of people have already received the vaccines, and none of them have reported any serious health problems. But some of them have felt short-lived discomfort, including aches and flu-like symptoms that typically last a day. It’s possible that people may need to plan to take a day off work or school after the second shot. While these experiences aren’t pleasant, they are a good sign: they are the result of your own immune system encountering the vaccine and mounting a potent response that will provide long-lasting immunity.

No. The vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer use a genetic molecule to prime the immune system. That molecule, known as mRNA, is eventually destroyed by the body. The mRNA is packaged in an oily bubble that can fuse to a cell, allowing the molecule to slip in. The cell uses the mRNA to make proteins from the coronavirus, which can stimulate the immune system. At any moment, each of our cells may contain hundreds of thousands of mRNA molecules, which they produce in order to make proteins of their own. Once those proteins are made, our cells then shred the mRNA with special enzymes. The mRNA molecules our cells make can only survive a matter of minutes. The mRNA in vaccines is engineered to withstand the cell’s enzymes a bit longer, so that the cells can make extra virus proteins and prompt a stronger immune response. But the mRNA can only last for a few days at most before they are destroyed.

Virginia is reporting some of its highest infection numbers yet. New outbreaks are raging in South Carolina. And in parts of Texas, including around San Antonio and along portions of the Mexican border, case numbers are as high as they have ever been. The county that includes Laredo is reporting more than 500 cases each day, a per capita figure more than twice as high as Los Angeles County, which is also struggling.

In places that have seen a slowing of new cases in recent days, local and state health officials were sharing positive — but tentative — news about the virus.

“Everything’s moving the right way,” a smiling Dr. Allison Arwady, the commissioner of public health for Chicago, said at a news conference on Thursday, noting that because of encouraging metrics in the city, museums have reopened, gyms are allowing group classes and more restrictions could be loosened in the coming days. Epidemiologists say that cases rise and fall in cycles controlled almost entirely by human behavior, and some experts worried that new openings of businesses, permitted because of sinking case numbers, might just set off new surges once more.

Gretchen Musicant, the Minneapolis commissioner of health, said that officials in the state were “encouraged, but wary” of the situation, and that they continue to be watchful as Minnesota begins reopening certain sectors of the economy once again.

“We’re watching to make sure that those reopenings don’t escalate our rates again,” Ms. Musicant said.

As epidemiologists warn about the spread of new variants, health officials are racing to vaccinate as many people as possible. As of Thursday, nearly 2.4 million people had been fully vaccinated. More than half of states had administered less than 50 percent of the doses shipped to them.

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