The vaccine process nears a new phase, Biden plans his pandemic response, and the winter surge arrives. Here’s what you should know:

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Pfizer may soon have a vaccine—but challenges lie ahead

Pfizer and BioNTech put out a press release this week announcing that its Covid-19 vaccine is more than 90 percent effective for participants who were definitely Covid-free before the trial started then developed symptomatic cases. So far, there have been no serious safety concerns. The first of its kind, this vaccine is made up of mRNA that helps the body make proteins that train the immune system to recognize SARS-CoV-2. Pfizer will likely have the safety data it needs to apply for FDA approval by the end of the month. If it’s greenlit, it will be the first mRNA vaccine cleared for use in humans. Moderna, which is also making an mRNA vaccine, is expected to release early data in the coming days as well.

Though an approved vaccine would be exciting, distributing the Pfizer shot comes with its share of logistical problems. It requires two doses and must be stored at -94 degrees Fahrenheit or -70 degrees Celcius in order to be effective, which will make distribution across the US—not to mention worldwide—difficult and complicated. Then there’s the fraught question of who should get it first. Regardless, inoculating the whole world will require more than Pfizer’s vaccine alone.

Biden plans his coronavirus response as a new outbreak hits the Trump administration

Earlier this week, Joe Biden announced the members of his coronavirus task force. The 13-member team of doctors and health experts will help the president-elect develop a plan for tackling the pandemic and work with governors to develop consistent messaging at the state and federal levels. Separately, he is also forming a special transition team for coordinating the Biden White House’s coronavirus response with other federal agencies. Yesterday Biden also joined Democratic legislators in demanding a new stimulus package before the end of 2020.

Meanwhile, yet another coronavirus outbreak has hit the White House, likely after a crowded party on election night. Mark Meadows, the president’s chief of staff, and campaign adviser Corey Lewandowski are among those who have tested positive. More than 130 Secret Service officers who protect the president and the White House have recently been ordered to isolate or quarantine as well.

As people migrate indoors, cases rise in record numbers

As winter approaches, the pandemic continues to accelerate at an alarming rate: It has been just over a week since cases in the US first topped 100,000, and yesterday there were more than 160,000. In response, governors in Ohio and Utah have instituted mask mandates, and those in Illinois, Maryland, and Washington have raised the possibility of reinstating stricter lockdowns. And with the holidays just a few weeks away, experts are emphasizing that there is no way to travel and gather with family that is completely risk-free.

Part of the problem is that people are more likely to gather indoors as the weather cools and daylight hours wane. New research found that crowded indoor venues may have accounted for eight in 10 new cases in the early months of the pandemic. How can we make our indoor spaces safer? Given that viruses have an easier time spreading through dry air, researchers are investigating whether humidifiers could help keep Covid-19 at bay inside. Questions about air quality and flow could create the opportunity to transform how we ventilate buildings for the better.

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One Question

What is ‘proning,’ and does it help Covid-19 patients?

Proning, an emergency medical procedure, entails flipping people over onto their stomachs. Doing this allows gravity to pull fluid away from the back of the body and make more space for oxygen in the lungs. It’s also safer for health care workers trying to avoid getting sick. It hasn’t been the subject of much research or attention, in part because it’s so simple it almost seems a misnomer to call it a “medical procedure.” But it’s become much more widespread since the spring, and some experts say this could be part of the reason why we’re seeing fewer deaths even as cases rise.

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