Covid-19 Updates: C.D.C. Outlines Ways to Shorten Recommended Quarantine Times After Exposure

The U.K. becomes the first country to approve Pfizer’s vaccine, paving the way for mass inoculations. As hospitalizations and infections surge across the U.S., California officials warn of severe shortages of beds and staff.

Here’s what you need to know:

The C.D.C. outlines two ways to shorten the recommended quarantine times for people exposed to the virus.

A sign about a quarantine in Pennsylvania last week. Credit…Ted Shaffrey/Associated Press

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday outlined two ways to shorten the recommended quarantine times for people who may have been exposed to the coronavirus.

The C.D.C. previously had recommended a 14-day quarantine period following potential exposure, and officials said they still supported the longer period as the safest option. But officials also recommended two alternatives.

Those without symptoms may end quarantine after seven days, followed by a negative test for the virus, or after 10 days without a negative test, agency officials said at news briefing. P.C.R. or rapid tests are acceptable, the agency said.

“We can safely reduce the length of quarantine, but accepting that there is a small residual risk that a person who is leaving quarantine early could transmit to someone else if they became infected,” said Dr. John Brooks, the C.D.C.’s chief medical officer for the Covid-19 response.

(Quarantine refers to people who are well but may become ill; isolation refers to those known to be ill.)

A shortened quarantine period may be more palatable to people, with reduced economic impact, and may improve compliance, officials said. But the more relaxed guidance may lead to some infections being missed.

Studies have found that the median incubation period for the virus is five days. But symptoms do not develop in a few patients until nearly two weeks after exposure.

Roni Caryn Rabin

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The U.K. approves a vaccine, becoming the first nation in the West to do so.

British authorities are planning to use The Excel Center in London, home of the Nightingale Hospital, as a vaccination hub starting next week.Credit…Andrew Testa for The New York Times

LONDON — Britain gave emergency authorization on Wednesday to Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine, leaping ahead of the United States to become the first Western country to allow mass inoculations against a disease that has killed more than 1.4 million people worldwide.

The decision kicked off a vaccination campaign with little precedent in modern medicine, encompassing not only ultracold dry ice and trays of glass vials but also a crusade against anti-vaccine misinformation.

Britain beating the United States to authorization — on a vaccine codeveloped by the American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, no less — may intensify pressure on U.S. regulators, who are already under fire from the White House for not moving faster to get doses to people. And it has stirred up a global debate about how to weigh the desperate need for a vaccine with the imperative of assuring people that it is safe.

“Help is on its way with this vaccine — and we can now say that with certainty, rather than with all the caveats,” the British health secretary, Matt Hancock, said on Wednesday, as the government exulted in the authorization.

While the go-ahead bodes well for Britain, which broke from the European Union’s regulatory orbit to approve the shot early, it will have no effect on the distribution of the hundreds of millions of doses that other wealthy countries have procured in prepaid contracts.

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It also offers little relief to poorer countries that could not afford to buy supplies in advance and may struggle to pay for both the vaccines and the exceptional demands of distributing them.

The Pfizer vaccine, developed with BioNTech, a smaller German firm, must be transported at South Pole-like temperatures, a requirement that could dictate who will be vaccinated first in Britain: Nursing-home residents were supposed to be the top priority under an advisory committee’s plans, but efforts to limit transportation of the vaccine and ensure it remains cold may mean that National Health Service staff will receive the shots first.

The government said on Wednesday that 800,000 doses would be available by next week for health workers to begin administering. For Britain, which has suffered one of Europe’s highest per capita death tolls from the virus, the decision by its drug regulator testified to a vaccination strategy that has been the most aggressive in the West.

After the government strengthened an old law that allows Britain to step out from under the European Union’s regulatory umbrella in public health emergencies, its Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency fast-tracked a review of the Pfizer vaccine, which was 95 percent effective in a late-stage trial.

The White House, concerned that Britain would approve a vaccine first, summoned Dr. Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, for a meeting on Tuesday. A panel of outside advisers to the F.D.A. is scheduled to meet on Dec. 10 to decide whether the agency should grant emergency authorization to the Pfizer vaccine.

While American regulators pore over raw data from vaccine makers to validate their results, their counterparts in Britain and elsewhere in Europe lean more heavily on companies’ own analyses. The European Union is set to conduct its own review of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine, after the companies submitted their final application to the bloc’s health authorities on Tuesday.

The global race to develop a vaccine is poised to shatter records for time to market. Around the world, researchers are testing 57 vaccines in clinical trials, and nearly 100 others are being tested in animals or cells. China and Russia have approved vaccines without waiting for the results of late-stage trials, known as Phase 3, which experts say raises serious risks.

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