Two U K studies released Monday showed that COVID-19 vaccination programs are contributing to a sharp drop in hospitalizations, boosting hopes that the shots will work as well in the real world as they have in carefully controlled studies.

Preliminary results from a study in Scotland found that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine reduced hospital admissions by up to 85% four weeks after the first dose, while the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot cut admissions by up to 94% .

Related discussion: A pandemic and schools disrupted

“This new evidence shows that the jab protects you, and protects those around you," U K Health Secretary Matt Hancock said. “It is important that we see as much evidence as possible on the vaccine’s impact on protection and on transmission and we will continue to publish evidence as we gather it."

The news out of Britain comes as the US is working to redouble efforts to get the coronavirus vaccine into peoples' arms as soon as possible after last week's winter weather closed clinics, slowed vaccine deliveries and forced tens of thousands of people to miss their shots — all as the nation passed 500,000 deaths from COVID-19.

President Joe Biden marked the grim milestone with a moment of silence and a candle-lighting ceremony at the White House.

Related discussion: Airborne transmission, ventilation, and reopening schools and workplaces

And now the emergence of coronavirus variants  raises new questions about ongoing efforts to slow the pandemic.

As part of The World's regular series of conversations about the coronavirus with Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, reporter Elana Gordon moderated a live discussion with Harvard epidemiologist William Hanage which explored the implications of the new variants and vaccine effectiveness.

This conversation is presented jointly by The Forum at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and The World.

The Associated Press contributed to this post.

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