A version of this story appeared in the December 24 edition of CNN’s Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction newsletter. Sign up here to receive the need-to-know headlines every weekday.

(CNN)While the coronavirus pandemic continued to surge throughout the summer and fall months, federal government officials repeatedly offered a ray of hope: enough vaccine doses to vaccinate 20 million Americans by the end of December.

But after the first week of vaccine distribution and with only nine days left to meet their self-imposed deadline, Operation Warp Speed is on track to fall well short of 20 million shots in arms.One count, from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), shows about 9.5 million doses have been distributed as of Wednesday morning and just over a million people have been vaccinated — not even close to the goal Warp Speed originally set. In an effort to bolster supplies, the Trump administration on Wednesday reached a deal with Pfizer and BioNTech to purchase an additional 100 million doses of their coronavirus vaccine. With this agreement, the federal government will have purchased 200 million doses from Pfizer — enough to vaccinate 100 million people. But the vaccines may come too late for some, as the virus continues to rage across the US. California on Wednesday became the first state to surpass two million confirmed cases — more than most countries. And an ensemble forecast published Wednesday by the CDC now projects there will be 378,000 to 419,000 coronavirus deaths in the US by Jan. 16. Read MoreHealth officials like Dr. Anthony Fauci, long-time director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have said vaccines will help put the pandemic behind us — but most Americans, who won’t get vaccinated until next year, need to be vigilant with mask and social distancing measures for the next few months — especially during holiday gatherings. We’re off tomorrow for Christmas, but will be back with the briefing on Monday, December 28. Happy Holidays everyone and happy birthday to Dr. Fauci, who turns 80 today.YOU ASKED. WE ANSWERED.Q: Can people try to cut the line to get vaccinated?A: Concierge medical services in California have already reported wealthy residents seeking to pay thousands to skip the queue for the vaccine. Gov. Gavin Newsom has vowed to monitor the situation and ensure ethical standards are maintained so “those with influence are not crowding out those that are most deserving of the vaccines.”It’s a matter each state will have to handle individually, but in the grand scheme of a nationwide vaccination campaign, it isn’t the most troubling concern.On the one hand, it’s an indicator of high demand, which means more vaccine acceptance. On the other, those administering the vaccine have enough to worry about without being burdened with checking everyone’s identification, occupation or medical history.Send your questions here. Are you a health care worker fighting Covid-19? Message us on WhatsApp about the challenges you’re facing: +1 347-322-0415.WHAT’S IMPORTANT TODAYVery allergic populations could participate in new Covid vaccine trialsThe frequency of allergic reactions to Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine is greater than what would be expected for other vaccines, Dr. Moncef Slaoui, chief scientific adviser for Operation Warp Speed, said Wednesday. Slaoui said the last time he was updated on allergic reactions was Tuesday, when there were six cases, but that the data on coronavirus immunizations is lagging behind the actual numbers. There are discussions underway between the vaccine makers and the National Institutes of Health to consider running clinical trials of Covid-19 vaccines in very allergic populations, such as those who have to carry an EpiPen with them at all times, he added. Genetics experts worry coronavirus vaccines might not work quite as well against UK variantMichael Worobey, a biologist at the University of Arizona, has seen more than 100,000 different strains of the virus that causes Covid-19. But when he saw the new variant from the UK, he noticed something different: “This is the first variant I’ve seen during the whole pandemic where I took a step back and said: ‘Whoa.'”Health officials have downplayed the possibility that the coronavirus vaccines won’t work against the UK strain, but Worobey and other scientists thinks it’s a possibility — and it’s just a possibility — that this new variant might, to a small extent, outsmart the vaccines. Pfizer and Moderna are testing the vaccine to see if it works against the new variant. She’s one of millions of girls who won’t return to the classroomUnable to continue her studies remotely due to a lack of electricity at her home in Mombasa, and with her mother’s income from selling vegetables on the street slashed, Bella began exchanging sex for cash to help supplement the family’s income. Now three months pregnant, the 19-year-old said she won’t be able to resume her education when Kenya’s schools fully reopen in January.The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization estimates that nearly 24 million children and adolescents, including 11 million girls and young women like Bella, may drop out of education next year due to the pandemic’s economic impact alone. That reality not only threatens to roll back decades of progress made toward gender equality, but also puts girls around the globe at risk of child labor, teen pregnancy, forced marriage and violence, experts say. Wombats, snails, ferrets: The animals that brought us joy during the pandemicIn 2020, shelters reported so many foster and adoption applications that some have run out of animals for the first time ever. But it’s not just cats and dogs enjoying more of our attention; people have embraced more unconventional pets, formed bonds with wildlife, and developed communities around their local animals.With many schools and workplaces moved online, prolonged lockdowns, and heightened isolation, comfort can come in the form of a kangaroo, wombat, ferret, or even a snail. Here are a few stories of people who found joy this year in the most unexpected of creatures. Two of the four wombats that lived with Emily Small in her Melbourne apartment during lockdown.Two of the four wombats that lived with Emily Small in her Melbourne apartment during lockdown.Two of the four wombats that lived with Emily Small in her Melbourne apartment during lockdown.ON OUR RADARThe UK has announced a travel ban on anyone who has been in or transited through South Africa in the past 10 days due to an “increased risk from a new strain of coronavirus.” A Brazilian researcher has said China’s CoronaVac vaccine is the “safest currently tested,” but won’t disclose trial data. Japan has recorded a new record high Covid-19 cases as experts urge the public to cancel holiday travel. South Korea has signed contracts with Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceutical company Janssen to import Covid-19 vaccines. Delta’s CEO gifted an employee who battled Covid-19 for months a first-class trip anywhere in the world. A historic amount of packages and rising employee Covid-19 rates are causing significant backlogs at US Postal Service processing facilities before Christmas.Actor Kirk Cameron is facing criticism for organizing caroling protests in Southern California over stay-at-home mandates as Covid-19 cases in the state surge. TOP TIPSWant to hang with some friends (mask-free) this winter? Make a Covid-19 bubbleDoctors are urging Americans to hunker down in their bubbles as cases of Covid-19 surge this winter.Social distancing bubbles can help you stay safe and sane by seeing other human beings in person. But they only work if everyone follows the same strict rules.Here’s what a bubble is, what the ground rules should be, how to handle tricky conversations with friends and family, and what happens if someone violates (or bursts) the bubble.

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