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COVID-19 news: The COVID-19 (novel Coronavirus) pandemic continues to pose serious challenges to health systems, governments and the population at large. Staying on top of the latest COVID-19 news and information is critical. With that in mind, we will continue to provide regular updates via this blog and our COVID-19 Response Team.
- Global Numbers: 93m cases, 2m deaths, 191 countries.(Source: Johns Hopkins)
- United States: 23m cases, 390,809 deaths. (Source: Johns Hopkins).
- US President-elect Joe Biden outlined his $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief plan in an address to the nation. As part of this, he promised to help vaccinate more Americans against coronavirus by approving a wider range of professionals who can administer vaccines. He also said he would ask Congress to hire 100,000 more public health professionals.
The threat of new, more contagious variants of the coronavirus means the US must double down on efforts to protect people until a large number can be vaccinated, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday. A variant first identified in Britain known as B.1.1.7 is being found in the US as we
- The US death toll from the pandemic could surpass 400,000 before Biden is sworn in on Wednesday, according to a CDC ensemble projection.
- The UK has banned arrivals from multiple Latin American countries and Portugal following reports of a new coronavirus variant in Brazil.
- The US reported more than two million new Covid-19 cases and 24,000 deaths in the first nine days of 2021, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
- China has locked down Shijiazhuang,a city of 11 million people, in an effort to contain the country’s worst coronavirus flare-up in months.
Hopes of a surge in Covid-19 vaccine shipments under a new policy to release second doses held in reserve appear to be evaporating — with the revelation that those doses have already been distributed. A senior Trump administration official told CNN Friday that when the administration announced that it would be releasing reserved doses last week, many of those reserves had already been released into the system starting last year as production was ramping up.
- President-elect Joe Biden’s team is confident that if they release all available doses of Covid-19 vaccine immediately, people will be able to complete the two-dose regimen as planned, Dr. Celine Gounder, a member of Biden’s coronavirus advisory board says.
In wake of the Covid-19 pandemic claiming 2 million lives, the head of the United Nations has called for countries to “commit now” to share excess doses of vaccines: “The world’s leading economies have a special responsibility. Yet today we are seeing a vaccine vacuum. Vaccines are reaching high income countries quickly, while the world’s poorest have none at all,” UN Secretary General António Guterres said in a video message on Thursday.
The United Kingdom will close all travel corridors from 4 a.m. local time Monday, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Friday.
Speaking at a news conference, Johnson stressed the only way to get into the country is by having a negative coronavirus test result.
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- Pfizer is “ready to release millions of doses each day” to meet the plans of the incoming Biden administration, a spokeswoman for the company has said. “Rest assured that Pfizer is working around the clock to manufacture and is ready to release millions of doses each day, ” said Amy Rose, Vice President of Global Media Relations for Pfizer. Her comments came in response to whether the company would be ready to meet the demand of the incoming Biden administration’s plan to release all doses of coronavirus vaccines right away.
More than two million new Covid-19 cases and 24,000 deaths have been reported in the first nine days of 2021 in the US, according to the Johns Hopkins University Covid tracker.As of 3 p.m. ET Saturday, a total of 2,003,618 new Covid-19 cases had been reported in January.An additional 24,260 deaths have also been reported. Since the start of the pandemic there have been at least 21,978,182 cases of coronavirus in the US and at least 370,119 people have died in the country.
The UK has become the first country in western Europe to report more than 3 million coronavirus cases, according to government data published on Saturday. Another 59,937 coronavirus cases have been recorded in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of people who have tested positive for Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic to 3,017,409 in the UK. The country also reported more than 80,000 coronavirus-related deaths, with 1,035 new deaths added to the total in the past 24 hours.
- COVID RELIEF BILL: After some eleventh hour dramatics, the COVID relief and government funding bill was finally signed into law last Sunday. Per CNBC: “President Donald Trump signed a massive coronavirus relief and government funding package into law Sunday, five days he sent Washington into a panic by suggesting he could veto the bill that he considered was a “disgrace.” [Trump] refused to approve the legislation for days after receiving it, blowing past a Saturday deadline to prevent an estimated 14 million people from temporarily losing unemployment insurance.The measure extends the expanded jobless benefits into March, but millions are expected to lose a week of benefits covering these people due to Trump’s delay in signing the bill. Unemployed Americans eligible to receive a $300 weekly supplement will also get the additional money later than they could have.” NOTE: Because Trump did not sign the bill on Saturday, those in the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation programs will likely not receive a payment for the final week of the year. And the $300 federal enhancement may only last 10 weeks instead of 11 weeks for most folks. That’s because states can’t provide benefits for weeks that start before programs are authorized, but the legislation calls for the extra payments to end on March 14.
- DECEMBER IS DEADLIEST MONTH IN U.S.: December has been the nation’s deadliest month since the Covid-19 pandemic’s start — with more than 63,000 Americans lost to the virus in the past 26 days. In comparison, the entire month of November saw about 36,964 deaths.
The death toll comes on the heels of several brutal months, with Covid-19 ravaging communities from coast to coast, crippling hospital systems and prompting new widespread restrictions.
EU VACCINE DISTRIBUTION: The distribution of 200 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech is “scheduled to be completed by September 2021,” a European Commission spokesman told CNN Monday. “The Commission and the Member States are working to activate the additional 100 million doses,” the spokesman added. In November, the European Commission concluded a contract with Pfizer for 300 million doses. The first batches were delivered to countries in Europe on Dec. 26, ahead of the first day of vaccinations in the European Union on Sunday Dec. 27. The deliveries of this vaccine “will continue in December and on a steady weekly basis during the following months,” the spokesman told CNN. NOTE: The delivery of hundreds of thousands of doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine to countries in the European Union has been delayed due to a “minor logistical issue,” Pfizer told CNN on Monday. “We have rescheduled a limited number of our deliveries. The logistical matter has been resolved and those deliveries are now being dispatched,” Pfizer said in a statement.“There are no manufacturing issues to report,” the US pharmaceutical giant added.
- FRANCE EYES POTENTIAL THIRD LOCKDOWN: France’s health minister says he cannot rule out the possibility of a third national lockdown. “We never rule out measures that might be necessary to protect populations,” Olivier Véran told Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper on Sunday. “This does not mean that we have decided, but that we are observing the situation hour by hour,” he added. While the French government had previously announced its aim to reduce the daily increase in new coronavirus cases to 5,000, this goal has yet to be achieved. 8,822 new coronavirus cases were recorded Sunday.
- NOVAVAX VACCINE STARTS PHASE 3 TRIALS: Novavax on Monday announced the start of the Phase 3 trial of its Covid-19 vaccine in the United States and Mexico. It is the fifth company to launch a large-scale trial of a coronavirus vaccine in the United States. The trial for the vaccine candidate, known as NVX-CoV2373, will evaluate safety, efficacy and immune response in up to 30,000 people age 18 and older. It builds on Phase 1/2 studies that demonstrated that the vaccine provoked an immune response and appeared to be safe.The trial is examining whether the vaccine prevents Covid-19 symptoms, as well as moderate or severe Covid-19 symptoms. All participants will be followed for 24 months following their second injection.
- SOUTH AFRICA: South Africa registered 9,502 new cases of Covid-19 Saturday, pushing the total number of cases to 1,004,413 according to data from the country’s health ministry. There were also 214 more fatalities reported, leaving the total death toll at 26,735. South Africa has the highest total number of reported cases in Africa, according to data from Africa CDC. More than 2.6 million cases have been reported across the continent. Earlier this week a new coronavirus variant was reported in South Africa, which is different than the strain causing so much concern in the United Kingdom, the World Health Organization’s technical lead for Covid-19, Maria van Kerkhove, said Monday.
- NEW STRAIN (COVID-20): The new coronavirus strain that was first detected in the United Kingdom could already be circulating in the United States without notice, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday. While the variant hasn’t been found in the U.S. yet, the CDC noted that scientists haven’t sequenced the genetic coding for many Covid-19 infections here. The agency said “viruses have only been sequenced from about 51,000 of the 17 million US cases,” so the new strain could have slipped notice. The new variant is currently being referred to as “SARS-CoV-2 VUI 202012/01,” the CDC said. It became prevalent across southeast England in November and reportedly accounts for 60% of recent infections in London, the agency said. The CDC said it doesn’t know why the new strain of the virus emerged, but it could have been “by chance alone. Click here for more.
- INITIAL VACCINATION CHALLENGES IN U.S.: The first few days of the vaccination effort in the U.S. has been marked by unexpected delays, poor communication and logistical errors — with many states struggling to figure out what to do and how to pay. As NBC notes, “With Washington punting most vaccination decisions, each state and county is left to weigh where to send vaccines first and which of two vaccines authorized by the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use makes the most sense for each nursing home, hospital, local health department and even school. And after state officials warned for months they lacked the resources to distribute vaccines, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is only now set to receive a major bump in funding — $8.75 billion in Congress’ latest relief bill, which lawmakers are likely to pass this week.” Click here for more.
- FAUCI & CONGRESS RECEIVE VACCINATIONS: Members of Congress and Dr. Fauci have now received their vaccinations. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, gave two thumbs-up after being vaccinated Tuesday. “I want to encourage everyone who has the opportunity to get vaccinated so that we can have a veil of protection over this country that will end this pandemic,” Fauci said. Human Services Secretary Alex Azar also received a vaccination.
EUROPE: Europe is preparing for a Christmas season like no other, as governments desperately try to thread the needle between preserving public health and allowing families to gather for traditional celebrations at the end of a tough year. Countries across the continent are taking varied approaches, even as Covid-19 cases continue to rise in some nations. Austria is opening ski resorts with limited capacity from Christmas Eve — for locals only. Italy has banned movement between regions during the Christmas holidays, to contain the spread of the virus. And the UK is planning to allow people from three households to meet in a “Christmas bubble” between December 23 to 27 — at least for now.
- A new survey suggests that 71% of Americans say they will “definitely or probably” get a Covid-19 vaccine.
FDA APPROVES PFIZER VACCINE & U.S. INITIATES VACCINE DELIVERY: Following the FDA’s (emergency use) approval of the Pfizer vaccine this past Friday, the U.S. has started the first round of vaccine shipments.
- Per CNN: “Freight trucks carrying about 184,275 vials of coronavirus vaccine departed a Pfizer plant in Portage, Michigan, on Sunday, a landmark moment in the fight against the deadly virus.The combined 189 boxes of vaccine vials are expected to arrive in all 50 states on Monday, and another 3,900 vials are expected to ship later Sunday to United States territories. In addition, 400 boxes packed with about 390,000 vials will ship Monday to arrive on Tuesday. The landmark moment in the pandemic comes…”
- Per the NYT: “The authorization is a historic turning point in a pandemic that has taken more than 290,000 lives in the United States. With the decision, the United States becomes the sixth country — in addition to Britain, Bahrain, Canada, Saudi Arabia and Mexico — to clear the vaccine. Other authorizations, including by the European Union, are expected within weeks…Pfizer has a deal with the U.S. government to supply 100 million doses of the vaccine by next March. Under that agreement, the shots will be free to the public.Every state, along with six major cities, has submitted to the federal government a list of locations — mostly hospitals — where the Pfizer vaccine is to ship initially…”
- UK STARTS MASS VACCINATION: The U.K. became the first western country to initiate the mass vaccination process with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. May Parsons, an immigrant from The Philippines, was the first nurse to provide the vaccine to the first recipient — 90-year-old Margaret Keenan — at University Hospital, Coventry. The first man to receive the vaccine was an 81-year old named William Shakespeare. Some in the British media have taken to calling it “Taming the Flu”. According to CNN: “The UK has ordered 40 million doses of the vaccine, but only 800,000 shots will be available as part of the first wave that began on Tuesday. Because the vaccine requires two doses, administered at least three weeks apart, the UK will eventually have enough shots to vaccinate roughly a third of the country’s population. The country has also ordered 7 million doses of the Moderna vaccine, which could be approved for emergency use in the UK within the next few weeks. The logistical challenges of manufacturing and distributing tens of millions of vaccines mean the roll-out will be gradual, with the most vulnerable people and health care workers first in line.”
- First vaccines given in the UK: The United Kingdom began administering the first doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine outside clinical trials today, launching a sprawling public health campaign to vaccinate tens of millions of people in just a matter of months. Margaret “Maggie” Keenan, who turns 91 next week, became the first person in the world to receive an authorized, fully-vetted coronavirus vaccine.
- US FDA advisers meet this week: The US Food and Drug Administration’s Vaccine and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee will meet on Thursday to discuss Pfizer’s application for emergency use authorization for its coronavirus vaccine candidate. A similar meeting is scheduled next week for Moderna’s vaccine candidate. FDA officials say their decisions on the vaccines could come days to weeks after the meetings — it depends on what questions come up.
- Data on the vaccine candidate: Ahead of the meeting later this week, the FDA released data confirming Pfizer’s vaccine efficacy against Covid-19. The document goes on to detail the safety profile of the vaccine as “favorable” and notes that the most common adverse reactions to the vaccine have been reactions at the injection site, fatigue, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain and fever.
An advisory committee to the US Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday released a briefing document detailing data on Pfizer and BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine candidate, which will be considered this week for emergency use authorization in the United States. The document confirms that the vaccine’s efficacy against Covid-19 was 95%, occurring at least seven days after the second dose – an efficacy that had been previously reported by Pfizer. The proposed dosing regimen for the vaccine is to administer two 30-microgram doses 21 days apart. However, the document also notes that the vaccine, called BNT162b2, appears to provide “some protection” against Covid-19 following just one dose.
The UN’s migration agency, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), has called on governments not to forget migrants as they start to plan coronavirus vaccination programs. Dr. Jaime Calderon, a senior regional health adviser for the IOM, told a meeting of the South-Eastern Europe Health Network that migrants should be factored into public health and vaccination plans. “Vaccines are among our most critical and cost-effective tools to prevent outbreaks and keep communities safe and healthy,” he said, according to an IOM news release Friday.
The US is adding cases at the fastest rate during the pandemic as the country nears 15 million total infections. The country has averaged about 2,237 daily coronavirus deaths across a week — just below its highest-ever average of 2,241, set on April 24, Johns Hopkins University data show. Cases and hospitalizations also are soaring, as more physicians and nurses warn they’re perilously low on space, staff and energy to take care of burgeoning numbers of patients. The number of new daily cases across a week Monday was 201,154 — a US record high for the pandemic, according to JHU data.More than 102,140 Covid-19 patients were in US hospitals on Monday — the highest figure of the pandemic, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
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