'For the patients we couldn’t save'

Ashley Shaffer, USA TODAY

More Americans are willing to get a COVID-19 vaccine. This year has been the deadliest in U.S. history. And somewhere in Florida, an iguana is falling from the sky.

It's Ashley. Let's do the news thing.

But first, ma'am, this is an airport: It's not every day you see a plane's emergency slide in use. It's even less often you see two passengers use it to slide out of a plane with their dog.

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You ready for this vaccine, America?

Are you planning to receive a COVID-19 vaccine when you can? Americans are starting to warm up to the idea now that two vaccines have been authorized by the FDA and health care workers have begun receiving the shots (shout out to Anthony Fauci, who gave two thumbs-up after being vaccinated Tuesday). In a new USA TODAY poll, 46% of respondents say they will take the vaccine as soon as they can. That's almost double the 26% in a USA TODAY poll in late October. That growing acceptance is a reassuring sign for public health experts who call distribution of the vaccine crucial to controlling the pandemic that has killed more than 321,000 people in the USA.

Still on the fence? I totally understand. To ease my own apprehension, I asked a few friends in health care to tell me why they chose to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Here's what they had to say:

"I got vaccinated for my family, for the patients we cared for that we couldn’t save, and for the 1.6 million lives lost throughout the world. When I think back to March, I can’t believe we are still here. My saving grace has been the wonderful team I work with. I couldn’t have gotten through this without them or my incredibly supportive family."

– Kelsey Palatiello, Medical Intensive Care Unit at New York-Presbyterian/Weill-Cornell

Kelsey Palatiello of the Medical Intensive Care Unit at New York-Presbyterian/Weill-Cornell says she couldn't have gotten through the past year without "the wonderful team I work with" and "my incredibly supportive family."
Kelsey Palatiello of the Medical Intensive Care Unit at New York-Presbyterian/Weill-Cornell says she couldn't have gotten through the past year without "the wonderful team I work with" and "my incredibly supportive family."

"I feel honored and privileged to partake in this moment in scientific history. As a childhood cancer survivor and now a pediatrician, I know how critical vaccines are for the health and safety of our community. We know that vaccines are safe, that they work, and that they save lives. When you get a vaccine, you are not just protecting yourself, but also those around you."

– Shira Einstein, pediatric resident, Doernbecher Children’s Hospital

"I feel honored and privileged to partake in this moment in scientific history," says Shira Einstein, pediatric resident at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland, Ore.
"I feel honored and privileged to partake in this moment in scientific history," says Shira Einstein, pediatric resident at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland, Ore.

"I am so grateful and honored to have gotten the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine this week. This shot has been a small but powerful dose of hope that me and my fellow health care workers have desperately needed. Thank you, science, and thank you to all the amazing minds that spent countless hours on making this vaccine possible."

– Jennifer Deutsch, a nurse in Washington

The COVID-19 vaccine is "a small but powerful dose of hope" for Jennifer Deutsch, a nurse in Washington.
The COVID-19 vaccine is "a small but powerful dose of hope" for Jennifer Deutsch, a nurse in Washington.

Want to share your vaccine story? As health care workers get the COVID-19 vaccine, we want to hear your reasons why – and see your selfies. Email me at TheShortList@usatoday.com to share yours.

Why is the vaccine important? It's been a deadly year

This year has been the deadliest year in U.S. history. Deaths are likely to top 3 million for the first time – mainly because of the pandemic. Preliminary numbers show the country will have more than 3.2 million deaths, at least 400,000 more than in 2019. U.S. deaths increase most years, so some annual rise in fatalities is expected. But the 2020 numbers amount to a jump of about 15%, and could go higher once all the deaths from this month are counted. That would mark the largest single-year percentage leap since 1918, when tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers died in World War I and hundreds of thousands of Americans died in a flu pandemic.

What everyone’s talking about

Alex Padilla to fill Kamala Harris' Senate seat, becoming the state's first Latino US senator

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is headed to the White House, leaving big shoes to fill. Meet California Secretary of State Alex Padillla. Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Padilla on Tuesday as the state's next U.S. senator to fill the seat being vacated by Harris. The child of Mexican immigrants, he will give a new level of representation to Latinos, the demographic group that makes up nearly 40% of California's population. Padilla, 47, has been California’s top elections official since 2015 and was widely expected to be Newsom's pick.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla will fill in for Kamala Harris in the Senate as she assumes her vice presidential duties.
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla will fill in for Kamala Harris in the Senate as she assumes her vice presidential duties.

Has Walmart fueled opioid abuse? The Justice Department says yes

The Justice Department accused Walmart on Tuesday of contributing to the deadly opioid epidemic by filling thousands of invalid prescriptions and failing to report suspicious orders of opioids and other drugs placed by its pharmacies. In a civil complaint, federal authorities allege "hundreds of thousands of violations" of the Controlled Substances Act, and they seek billions of dollars in penalties. Anticipating the lawsuit, Walmart filed a legal action of its own in October, claiming that justice officials were "more focused on chasing headlines than fixing the (opioid) crisis." Tuesday, Walmart sought to blame the government for not monitoring suspicious doctors closely enough.

The best of 2020: Money

USA TODAY editors came together to select the best stories of 2020. (Trust us, it wasn't easy.) Every day until we ring in 2021, I'll be rounding up some of the year's most powerful stories:

It's a bird, it's a plane. Nope, just a falling iguana

Just another weather forecast in Florida: falling iguanas. The National Weather Service in Miami issued an unofficial warning Monday for possible "falling iguanas" this week. "Brrr!" the Weather Service tweeted. "Much colder temps expected for Christmas. Low temperatures in the 30s/40s and falling iguanas are possible." Once temperatures reach a certain level, iguanas stiffen up and fall out of trees, meteorologists say. But they aren’t dead! According to the Weather Service in Florida, "Iguanas are cold blooded. They slow down or become immobile when temps drop into the 40s. They may fall from trees, but they are not dead."

It's not the first time in 2020 that iguanas have been knocked cold. It happened in Cherry Creek Park in Oakland Park, Fla., in January. The National Weather Service in Miami tweeted this week that residents shouldn't be surprised if they see iguanas falling from trees as low temperatures drop into the 30s and 40s.
It's not the first time in 2020 that iguanas have been knocked cold. It happened in Cherry Creek Park in Oakland Park, Fla., in January. The National Weather Service in Miami tweeted this week that residents shouldn't be surprised if they see iguanas falling from trees as low temperatures drop into the 30s and 40s.

A break from the news

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID-19 vaccine, Alex Padilla, Fauci, Walmart, iguana: Tuesday's news