COVID-19 Updates: AstraZeneca Vaccine Is 79% Effective Against Disease

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The United States currently has the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and related deaths in the world.More than 542,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the United States.The CDC says people who are …

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  • The United States currently has the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and related deaths in the world.
  • More than 542,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the United States.
  • The CDC says people who are vaccinated can meet indoors without taking physical distancing measures.

Update on COVID-19 numbers

  • Globally, there have been more than 123.5 million confirmed cases and more than 2.7 million associated deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.
  • The United States has reported more than 29.8 million confirmed cases.
  • More than 542,000 people in the United States have died from the disease.
  • More than 82.7 million people in the United States have received their first COVID-19 vaccine dose, according to the CDC.

Healthline updates this page on weekdays. For up-to-date information about the virus, go here.

3/22/21 2:16 p.m. PDT — AstraZeneca vaccine safe for all ages, data shows

AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine provided strong protection against sickness and eliminated COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths across all age groups, according to a late-stage study in the United States, the company announced today, reported the Associated Press (AP).

The vaccine appeared to be 79 percent effective against symptomatic COVID-19. No cases of hospitalization or death were reported among people who were given the vaccine.

According to the AP, AstraZeneca said its experts did not identify any safety concerns related to the vaccine. They found no increased risk of rare blood clots like those identified in Europe.

The study included more than 30,000 volunteers. Two-thirds received the AstraZeneca vaccine while the rest received a placebo.

“These results are great news as they show the remarkable efficacy of the vaccine in a new population and are consistent with the results from Oxford-led trials,” Andrew Pollard, PhD, professor of pediatric infection and immunity, and lead investigator of the Oxford University trial of the vaccine, said in a statement.

“We can expect strong impact against COVID-19 across all ages and for people of all different backgrounds from widespread us of the vaccine,” he said.

According to the Oxford University press release, AstraZeneca will submit this data for scientific peer review and to regulators at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency use approval.

Another COVID-19 surge is unlikely, but pandemic isn’t going away, expert says

Mass vaccinations and naturally acquired immunity from people who have already had a coronavirus infection will likely prevent a fourth wave of COVID-19 cases in the United States, said Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former FDA commissioner, reported CNN.

“We're talking about some form of protective immunity in about 55 percent of the population,” Gottlieb said on CBS's “Face the Nation,” reported CNN. “There's enough of a backstop here that I don't think you're going to see a fourth surge.”

In the United States, more than 82 million people have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, with that number rising every day.

And nearly 30 million people have had COVID-19 and recovered, with tens of millions more having contracted the coronavirus without a confirmed test, giving them some level of natural immunity.

Still, Gottlieb cautioned the United States will continue to see COVID-19 cases and deaths, particularly as a virus variant first identified in the United Kingdom spreads.

3/19/21 2:34 p.m. PDT — Biden administration has reached goal of 100 million vaccine doses

President Joe Biden announced that 100 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in the United States in his first 58 days in office.

During the transition period Biden had pledged that 100 million COVID-19 vaccine doses would be given in his first 100 days.

He later amended the goal to 150 million doses within the first 100 days.

Children should be vaccinated against COVID-19, says Fauci

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), said people are too focused on the thought of herd immunity against the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, reported CNN.

Herd immunity is the point when enough people are protected against a virus to suppress transmission.

“I think we should be careful about wedding ourselves to this concept of herd immunity because we really do not know precisely, for this particular virus, what that is,” Fauci told a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, reported CNN.

Fauci also said he's been estimating that anywhere between 70 and 85 percent of the population would need to be vaccinated or otherwise immune to the virus to get to the point of herd immunity.

“We don't really know what that magical point of herd immunity is, but we do know that if we get the overwhelming population vaccinated, we're going to be in good shape. We ultimately would like to get and have to get children into that mix,” Fauci said during the Senate hearing.

He added that when high school students are vaccinated, the United States might reach herd immunity.

First U.S. baby born with coronavirus antibodies

When 36 weeks pregnant, a South Florida healthcare worker was given her first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

She gave birth 3 weeks later to a healthy baby girl who already had SARS-CoV-2 antibodies, reported CBS News.

Dr. Paul Gilbert and Dr. Chad Rudnick of Florida Atlantic University Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine presented their findings in a preprint study ahead of peer review.

The doctors found that these antibodies were present at the time of delivery, after analyzing blood from the baby's umbilical cord taken right after birth, and before placenta delivery. 

They believe this newborn is the first known case of a child born with coronavirus antibodies in the United States, and that this may offer the infant some protection against the virus.

3/18/21 3:15 p.m. PDT — Older adults especially vulnerable to reinfection without vaccine, study says

Most people who have had an infection with the new coronavirus are protected against reinfection for at least 6 months, but that immunity can diminish significantly with age, finds a new study published in The Lancet medical journal.

The study by Danish researchers highlights how important it is to vaccinate older populations, and people who have had a prior infection, during the pandemic, according to the study authors.

Researchers also discovered that natural infection could reduce the chances of reinfection by roughly 80 percent, but that's lowered to only 47 percent for people over 65.

“The quality, quantity, and durability of protective immunity elicited by natural infection with SARS-CoV-2 are poor relative to the much higher levels of virus-neutralizing antibodies and T cells induced by the vaccines currently being administered globally,” wrote immunologists commenting on the findings.

New COVID-19 surge could be on its way, expert says

We may be on the cusp of another surge of COVID-19 cases, according to one expert.

Health officials have repeatedly warned about this surge as states' leaders have eased restrictions, with several lifting mask mandates, reported CNN.

“I think we are going to see a surge in the number of infections,” emergency physician Dr. Leana Wen told CNN.

“I think what helps this time though is that the most vulnerable, particularly nursing home residents, people who are older, are now vaccinated. And so we may prevent a spike in hospitalizations and deaths,” she said.

According to CNN, the first warning sign came when, after weeks of declines, case numbers appeared to level off, with the United States still averaging tens of thousands of new cases daily.

This kind of plateau has previously predicted surges, say some experts, according to CNN.

3/17/21 3:30 p.m. PDT — Flu cases ‘disappeared’ during pandemic, COVID-19 measures responsible

Although February is typically when flu season peaks in the United States, with doctors’ offices and hospitals packed with patients, that hasn’t happened this year, reported the Associated Press (AP).

The flu has “virtually disappeared,” with reports coming in at significantly lower levels than seen in decades, according to the AP.

Nationally, “this is the lowest flu season we’ve had on record,” according to a surveillance system that is about 25 years old, said Lynnette Brammer of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reported the AP.

However, experts told the AP that measures to fend off the coronavirus, such as mask-wearing, social distancing, and virtual schooling, were big factors in preventing a potential ‘twindemic’ of flu and COVID-19.

According to CDC estimates, influenza has resulted in between 9 million to 45 million illnesses, between 140,000 to 810,000 hospitalizations, and between 12,000 to 61,000 deaths each year since 2010.

The story has been different with COVID-19, reported the AP. The disease has killed more than a half-million people in the United States so far. Cases and deaths reached new heights in December and January before beginning a recent decline.

Moderna vaccine may be approved for children ages 12-18 by fall

There is no evidence that it's unsafe for children to receive Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine, the company’s president said Wednesday, reported NBC News.

In an exclusive interview with Savannah Guthrie on NBC’s “Today” show, Dr. Stephen Hoge said his company has begun testing its vaccine on children ages 6 months to 12 years. The new trial will likely take most of this year and involve almost 7,000 U.S. and Canadian children.

“We certainly have not seen anything concerning in any of our prior work that would suggest we can’t use the vaccine in children,” he said.

According to NBC, Moderna is also testing its vaccine in adolescents 12 to 18 years old in a separate study that began in December. Hoge hopes data from that trial will arrive by summer so children in that age group can be vaccinated going into the new school year.

3/16/21 2:42 p.m. PDT

Moderna is beginning vaccine trials that include children

Moderna pharmaceutical company has begun vaccine trials on children between the ages of 6 months to 12 years. The trial is based in the United States and Canada and will evaluate how well the COVID-19 vaccines work in children.

Currently, the COVID-19 vaccines are approved only for people over age 16.

No evidence AstraZeneca vaccine caused blood clots, WHO says

Worldwide distribution of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine remains unaffected by the jab’s suspension in much of Europe following reports of blood clots in some people shortly after vaccination, the World Health Organization (WHO) said, reported The Washington Post.

The number of blood clots reported was not higher than what would be expected in a given population.

Australia announced March 16 that it would continue to use the vaccine.

“We are aware of some further European countries pausing the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine due to reports of blood clots in people who have been vaccinated,” Australian Chief Medical Officer Dr. Paul Kelly said in a statement.

“While the European Medicines Agency is investigating these events, it has reinforced its view that the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is successful in protecting against COVID-19 and should continue to be used in the rollout,” he added.

According to the Post, WHO continues to caution against suspending access to vaccines and has also noted that no evidence links these events to the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

Pregnancy during the pandemic brings fear, anxiety

Pregnancy, birth, and life with a newborn baby in the middle of the pandemic have brought on high anxiety, ever-shifting hospital protocols, and intense isolation for millions of women who have done it worldwide, reported the Associated Press (AP).

According to the AP, the fear, anxiety, and chaos were especially severe in New York City in the beginning months of the pandemic, in what was one of the nation’s most devastating infection hot spots.

AP spoke with Nneoma Maduike, who was masked when she gave birth on August 1 to her second child, after a pregnancy filled with unknowns.

“The anxiety was absolutely awful. Information was evolving as quickly as anything you can imagine,” Maduike told the AP. “I didn’t know what guidance to follow. My husband’s a doctor, and he was still going in every single day, and that brought on even more anxiety.”

3/15/21 12 p.m. Netherlands, Ireland join countries pausing use of AstraZeneca vaccine

The Netherlands and Ireland have joined several other countries in temporarily suspending use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine after reports of abnormal blood clotting in several people, reported NPR.

The Dutch government said on March 14 that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine would not be used in the country until at least March 28, and officials in Ireland said earlier that day that they had temporarily suspended the shot as a precautionary measure, reported NPR.

However, the WHO has said there is no evidence the vaccine caused blood clots to form.

The AstraZeneca vaccine candidate is not authorized in the United States but is widely used in Europe. About 117,000 doses have been administered in Ireland, most doses given to frontline healthcare workers, reported NPR.

Some with ‘long COVID’ say vaccines help their symptoms

Some former patients still experiencing long-term health issues due to COVID-19 have reported that their symptoms were temporarily eased after receiving the coronavirus vaccine, according to a UK report, reported the New York Post.

Anecdotal reports suggest that a significant number of patients with long-haul COVID-19 may find symptoms, which include fatigue, headaches, and brain fog, eased after vaccination. However, the effects may be temporary, reported the Telegraph.

“We are getting people reporting improvements, and it’s quite widespread, about half of the people we are asking,” said Dr. David Strain, a clinical senior lecturer at the University of Exeter, reported the Post.

However, many patients said the improvements were temporary – lasting only for about three weeks, while others reported feeling worse for a short time, too.

Professor Eleanor Riley, PhD, an immunologist at the University of Edinburgh, said the anecdotal reports were “interesting” but cautioned against taking them as fact before research is conducted on the subject, reported the Telegraph.

“I think it’s something to be followed up by scientific research,” said Riley. “I think we shouldn’t jump to conclusions. It’s possible it may turn out to be random.”

3/12/21 1:50 p.m. PST — Takeaways from Biden’s presidential address

President Biden marked 1 year since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic with his first prime-time address.

He mixed hard numbers on vaccine distribution with appeals of unity and his belief in the power of the United States to overcome any challenge.

The most important takeaways from the president’s speech include the following:

  • Biden said he will use federal powers to ensure all U.S. adults are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine by May 1. This does not mean they will be able to get the vaccine by then, just that they will be eligible for an appointment.
  • Biden tried to make people understand that we are at war with COVID-19. He said the country was on “war footing.”
  • Biden said that by the Fourth of July, “there's a good chance… you'll be able to get together and have a cookout or a BBQ in your backyard.”

The president also cautioned that the situation is fluid. New virus variants present a significant risk.

“But a goal, a lot can happen. Conditions can change. The scientists have made clear that things may get worse again as new variants of the virus spread,” he said.

U.S. to partner with India, Australia, and Japan to increase vaccine supply

To help stop the pandemic, the Biden administration has announced that it will partner with other countries to increase vaccine supply globally, according to The New York Times.

The United States will partner with India, Australia, and Japan in an effort to provide vaccine doses to other developing countries. The Biden administration has been under pressure to help other countries get COVID-19 vaccines.

Russia and China have already started to ship out or donate their COVID-19 vaccines to other developing countries.

Don’t be fooled by low numbers, warns health expert

COVID-19 numbers may be on the decline in the United States, but with tens of thousands of deaths expected over the coming months, experts are warning people not to drop their guard yet, reported CNN.

“I think we are going to get fooled,” said Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, CNN reported.

“I think what's going to happen is you're going to see that as we enter the summer months, numbers are going to go down, people will think great, we're good,” he said.

“And then,” Offit added, “if we don't get to what I think is going to be at least 80 percent population immunity from natural infection or immunization, when the winter comes, you're going to see a surge again.”

3/11/21 2:53 p.m. PST — ‘We cannot let our guard down,’ says President Biden

For the third time this year, President Joe Biden will mark a landmark moment in the COVID-19 pandemic.

He will deliver his first prime-time address Thursday night to recognize 1 year since pandemic-related shutdowns swept across the United States, and to ask Americans for help with “what comes next,” according to ABC News.

“I'm gonna launch the next phase of the COVID response and explain what we will do as a government and what we will ask of the American people,” Biden said on Wednesday, March 10, previewing his remarks.

“There is light at the end of this dark tunnel of the past year,” he continued. “But we cannot let our guard down now or assume the victory is inevitable. Together, we're gonna get through this pandemic and usher in a healthier and more hopeful future.”

The United States is recording at least 56,200 new COVID-19 cases and at least 1,430 virus-related deaths each day, based on a 7-day average calculated by CNBC using Johns Hopkins University data, reported CNBC.

E.U. clears one-shot vaccine for authorization as global deaths top 2.5 million

The European Union’s drug regulator has recommended approval of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose COVID-19 vaccine, potentially adding another weapon in the fight against this disease, reported CNBC.

The vaccine will be sent to the EU Commission for approval later today.

According to CNBC, if approved by the EU and once supplies are delivered, the vaccine could significantly help Europe’s struggling immunization program. The EU has already approved two-dose vaccines developed by Moderna, Pfizer, and AstraZeneca.

According to current data from Johns Hopkins University, these are the numbers for the United States and worldwide:

  • over 29 million U.S. cases
  • roughly 530,000 U.S. deaths
  • more than 118 million cases globally
  • about 2.6 million total deaths

3/10/21 2:58 p.m. PST — Texas mask mandate expires amid dropping COVID-19 cases

The COVID-19 mask mandate in Texas officially expired today, with Gov. Greg Abbott presiding over the near total reopening of his state’s economy, reported The Washington Post.

However, the nation’s top public health experts warn against loosening restrictions like mask mandates as new virus variants spread across the country, and with spring break on the horizon.

“With the medical advancements of vaccines and antibody therapeutic drugs, Texas now has the tools to protect Texans from the virus,” Abbott said in a statement.

“We must now do more to restore livelihoods and normalcy for Texans by opening Texas 100 percent. Make no mistake, COVID-19 has not disappeared, but it is clear from the recoveries, vaccinations, reduced hospitalizations, and safe practices that Texans are using that state mandates are no longer needed,” he said.

Abbott emphasized that this does not mean abandoning practices used to reduce disease transmission during the past year.

Rather, it’s a reminder that we all play a role in our own personal safety and the safety of others, he said.

“With this executive order, we are ensuring that all businesses and families in Texas have the freedom to determine their own destiny,” Abbott said.

COVID-19 drug combo cuts risk of hospitalization, death by 87%, study finds

A combination of two Eli Lilly antibody drugs cuts the risk of COVID-19-related hospitalization and death by 87 percent, the drugmaker announced today in a press release.

This finding reinforces dosing recommendations already authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“These positive results reinforce our previous findings and support the authorized dose of bamlanivimab 700 mg with etesevimab 1400 mg,” Dr. Daniel Skovronsky, Eli Lilly chief scientific officer and president of Lilly Research Laboratories, said in the company's statement.

According to Eli Lilly, the findings draw from a BLAZE-1 phase 3 cohort study involving 769 participants with mild to moderate COVID-19. Participants were 12 years and older, and at high risk of developing severe COVID-19.

There were 15 incidents, or “events,” including hospitalization or death, in the placebo group. Four incidents occurred in the group taking 700 milligrams (mg) of bamlanivimab and 1,400 mg of etesevimab.

This represents an 87 percent reduction in risk, Eli Lilly explained in its statement.

“The consistent results observed in multiple cohorts of this trial over several months, even as new strains of COVID-19 have emerged, indicate bamlanivimab with etesevimab maintains its effects against a range of variants, particularly those circulating in the U.S.,” according to the company.

Biden administration announces plan to buy another 100 million J&J vaccine doses

President Joe Biden has announced that his administration will buy another 100 million Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines doses, according to NBC News.

These additional doses will ensure that there are more than enough vaccine doses for every adult in the United States.

3/9/21 12:00 p.m. PST — Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine effective against virus variant from Brazil, study finds

Findings from a new study published in The New England Journal of Medicine suggests the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is highly effective against a virus variant first detected in Brazil, raising hopes that continuing vaccination efforts will help curb COVID-19.

The variant, known as P.1, has rapidly spread across Brazil since it was first detected there in early January, and it may be capable of reinfecting people who have already recovered from COVID-19, reported The Washington Post.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), P.1 has been detected in 15 people across nine U.S. states.

Public health experts warn that these more transmissible variants could drive another surge in COVID-19 cases, especially as state officials lift restrictions across the United States.

Vaccinations are increasing quickly in the United States. Paul Chinn/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

U.S. may achieve vaccine surplus within 2 months

Two months from now, the United States may have enough COVID-19 vaccine doses to fill a 55,000-gallon swimming pool.

Approximately 500 million 0.5- or 0.3-milliliter doses are expected to be shipped, reported USA Today. This means the nation could soon shift from vaccine dose scarcity to abundance.

This surplus means greater urgency to convince people to be vaccinated, according to experts. Otherwise, the abundance might become a stagnating surplus that could undermine the nation's ability to get past the pandemic.

“It's not a switch that flips, but it's a sliding scale that happens differently community by community,” Andy Slavitt, senior adviser for the White House COVID-19 Response Team, told USA Today.

“This is not something that will start at some magical day in the future. It has begun today, and it's something that we have to make sure we're addressing,” he said.

Crucial that people maintain COVID-19 precautions, expert says

With a safer future just a few months away, it's crucial that people in the United States keep practicing COVID-19 safety precautions and following health officials' advice, Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the CDC, told CNN.

“We're not done yet, COVID isn't done with us. The variants are still a risk,” he said. “You don't declare victory in the third quarter.”

Dr. Chris Murray, the director of University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), told CNN that his team's projections show “things will slowly but steadily get better. But in our worst scenario, where people stop wearing masks faster, start having gatherings faster, then you can see a surge in April.”

Oregon researchers find new SARS-CoV-2 variant with mutations from other variants

Oregon researchers have reported finding a new SARS-CoV-2 variant that has mutations that appear to be from different strains of the virus.

A person with COVID-19 was found to have a variant of SARS-CoV-2 with mutations that have appeared both in the variants that were first detected in the United Kingdom and South Africa, according to U.S. News and World Reports.

This new variant is concerning officials. They worry it could end up being more infectious than other strains.

Officials say more research needs to be done to understand the risk of new SARS-CoV-2 variants.

3/8/21 3:10 p.m. PST — CDC says fully vaccinated people can meet indoors

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released new guidelines for people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The CDC says after full vaccination, people can meet with other fully vaccinated people indoors and without physical distancing measures or face masks.

The CDC also says that fully vaccinated people can meet with members of one other household even if that household isn't vaccinated, as long as they're not at high risk of severe COVID-19.

Other key takeaways from the CDC can be found here.

Experts in race against virus variants

Throughout most of last year, a majority of experts weren’t particularly worried about SARS-CoV-2's ability to evolve, reported The Washington Post.

While the new coronavirus was changing, the process hadn’t amounted to anything especially concerning.

But in late fall, distinctive mutations of the new coronavirus started a surge of infections in Brazil, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.

Now every time public health experts talk about the trajectory of the pandemic, they focus on these virus variants, a factor that could reverse progress made against COVID-19.

According to The Washington Post, mass vaccination campaigns that might have brought relief have become an urgent race against the changing virus.

Achieving herd immunity — or when the virus isn’t capable of sparking new outbreaks — is becoming more difficult. Vaccines may simply chase a continually changing virus.

“We do have to come to terms with the fact that I’m pretty confident that SARS-CoV-2 is going to be more like influenza, which is with us all the time because the virus is changing, and we have to worry about keeping our vaccines updated,” evolutionary biologist Jesse Bloom, PhD, told The Washington Post.

“On the other hand, I think that a year from now, it’s going to be much less of a problem,” he said.

Andrew Aitchison/In Pictures via Getty Images

U.K. variant will cause case surge, expert says

After months of devastation, the pandemic seemed to be improving, with officials reporting several weeks of significant declines in confirmed COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, reported CNN.

Now those declines have stalled, with infection numbers still at high levels and the United States averaging about 60,000 new cases a day this past week.

According to CNN, experts predict the nation may soon see another COVID-19 surge fueled by the B.1.1.7 variant, projected to arrive in the next 6 to 14 weeks.

“Four weeks ago, the B.1.1.7 variant made up about 1 to 4 percent of the virus that we were seeing in communities across the country. Today it's up to 30 to 40 percent,” Michael Osterholm, PhD, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told NBC's “Meet the Press” on March 7.

3/5/21 10:52 a.m. — Moves to reopen may lead to new COVID-19 surge, says Fauci

Newly reported COVID-19 cases are stalling at high levels after weeks of decline with fewer people in the United States getting tested.

Now health experts warn that pandemic fatigue in the United States might jeopardize hard-won progress against COVID-19.

Earlier this week, the governors of Texas and Mississippi announced they were lifting mask mandates and allowing businesses to operate at full capacity immediately or within days.

These announcements come as health experts warn the spread of more-transmissible SARS-CoV-2 variants could produce a new surge in cases.

CNN reports that a person with the B.1.1.7 variant (first identified in the United Kingdom) can transmit the virus to 43 to 90 percent more people than other versions of the virus.

That's according to evidence published March 3 by researchers at the Centre for Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

“I understand the need to want to get back to normality, but you're only going to set yourself back if you just completely push aside the public health guidelines, particularly when we're dealing with anywhere from 55 (thousand) to 70,000 infections per day in the United States,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country's leading infectious disease expert, told CNN's Erin Burnet.

B.1.526 variant spreading through New York City

A new SARS-CoV-2 variant known as B.1.526 is spreading across New York City after being discovered in February in the Washington Heights area in upper Manhattan, reported Yahoo News.

“I am concerned about its immune escape,” Dr. Eric Topol, a professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research in San Diego, told Yahoo News.

He noted the new variant’s increased ability to evade the body’s immune protections, including a vaccine.

According to Yahoo News, vaccines remain broadly effective against SARS-CoV-2, including B.1.526, but the emergence of new virus variants will require constant vigilance from virologists. 

3/4/21 2:08 p.m. PST — COVID-19 death rates higher in countries with more overweight population

The risk of death from COVID-19 is roughly 10 times higher in countries where most of the population is overweight, according to a report released by the World Obesity Forum.

Researchers analyzed mortality data from Johns Hopkins University and the World Health Organization (WHO).

They reported that of the 2.5 million COVID-19 deaths reported by the end of February, 2.2 million were in countries where more than half the population is overweight.

“We now know that an overweight population is the next pandemic waiting to happen,” Tim Lobstein, PhD, study author and senior policy adviser to the World Obesity Federation, told the Independent.

“Look at countries like Japan and South Korea where they have very low levels of COVID-19 deaths as well as very low levels of adult obesity,” he said.

5 states roll back mask mandates, more may follow

So far, five states have announced that they’re rolling back mask mandates.

The move has caused some experts to wonder whether other states will join them, which would alter how the United States will deal with the pandemic at a crucial moment in the fight against the disease, reported USA Today.

Dr. Eric Rubin, an infectious disease specialist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Massachusetts, told the newspaper that “what they do in Texas matters to everybody else in the country.”

He noted the state's status as the second most populated in the country and as second highest with COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began.

According to USA Today, mixed messaging is confusing populations in different regions.

Some local mayors and businesses continue to insist on mask use and other disease prevention measures while governors are saying those measures are no longer required.

3/3/21 4:00 p.m. PST — Sweden may lock down for COVID-19 surge

Swedish officials warn that the country may need to implement its first lockdown of the pandemic as the number of COVID-19 cases surged 100 percent in Stockholm over the last 3 weeks, reported the New York Post.

The Swedish capital recorded 6,336 new cases of COVID-19 last week, compared with only 3,225 reported the first week of February, according to data compiled by the region.

According to Bloomberg, the surge in COVID-19 cases follows a warning from the government by Prime Minister Stefan Lofven that the Scandinavian nation might need to implement its first lockdown since the pandemic was declared last year.

“We have a third wave of transmissions — it’s here now,” Johan Bratt, the acting health and medical care director for the Stockholm region, said at a press briefing on March 3, Bloomberg reported.

Over 200,000 people sign up for health insurance after ACA marketplaces reopen

In just 2 weeks, more than 200,000 people have signed up for healthcare coverage on the reopened healthcare marketplaces, according to the Associated Press.

President Joe Biden directed that the marketplaces be reopened last month in order to help people get healthcare coverage during the pandemic.

Many people have been at risk of losing their health insurance due to job loss stemming from the pandemic.

Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Texas, other states ease COVID-19 measures amid warnings

On March 2, Texas became the biggest state to remove masking mandates and joined a rapidly growing movement by governors and other leaders across the nation to loosen COVID-19 restrictions.

This happened despite the pleas from health officials not to let their guard down — yet, reported the Associated Press.

Texas will also remove limits on the number of diners who can be served indoors, said Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, making the announcement at a restaurant in Lubbock, reported US News.

“Removing statewide mandates does not end personal responsibility,” said Abbott, speaking from a crowded dining room where many of those surrounding him were not wearing masks. “It’s just that now state mandates are no longer needed.”

3/2/21 2:31 p.m. PST — Merck and Johnson & Johnson will work together to make one-shot vaccine

President Biden plans to announce today that pharmaceutical company Merck will help produce Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose COVID-19 vaccine, as his administration pushes to get the shot distributed to the public, reported The Wall Street Journal.

President Biden is expected to make this announcement today while he gives an update on the pandemic.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the assistance from Merck, a competitor of Johnson & Johnson, will help speed production following the one-shot vaccine’s authorization by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Feb. 27.

Facing questions about the company’s slipping delivery schedule, Johnson & Johnson Vice President Richard Nettles told lawmakers on Capitol Hill last week that the drugmaker had faced “significant challenges” because of the vaccine candidate’s “highly complex” manufacturing process, reported the Associated Press (AP).

The AP also reported that the Biden administration now expects to have enough supply of the three approved vaccines to inoculate all eligible U.S. adults by June, although actually delivering the injections could take longer.

Experts worry as states reopen, Texas stops mask mandate

CNN reported that in California, Los Angeles County health officials announced the daily test positivity rate is the lowest it's ever been.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said last week that COVID-19 hospitalizations had dropped to the lowest levels since Dec. 12.

In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott said the state's mask mandate would end on Tuesday and that businesses could fully reopen.

But experty s told CNN this doesn't mean we're in the clear.

“We should not ease up, allow indoor dining, big groups… getting rid of mask mandates. We have to hold on for another two or three months in this condition,” Dr. Zeke Emanuel, who was a health adviser for the Obama White House and a member of the Biden Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board, told CNN. “We're still having on average 2,000 deaths a day. We cannot become inured to that.”

Emmanuel added that if people relax too early, COVID-19 numbers are “going to reverse and go up” in the United States.

WHO says hydroxychloroquine should not be used as COVID-19 treatment

In a paper published today, the World Health Organization strongly advises medical providers not to use hydroxychloroquine to treat people with COVID-19.

The drug was originally developed to treat malaria. It had been touted by former President Donald Trump as a way to treat COVID-19 last year, but subsequent tests found the drug to be ineffective as a treatment for COVID-19.

3/1/21 2:11 p.m. PST — U.S. begins distribution of third COVID-19 vaccine

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this weekend added a third vaccine to the nation's arsenal against COVID-19 — the Johnson & Johnson single-dose candidate.

The FDA issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) on Feb. 27 for the vaccine, which is being shipped out on March 1 and administered this week.

“The emergency use authorization of a third vaccine against COVID-19 in the United States today, just over a year since the virus was identified, demonstrates extraordinary scientific commitment and progress,” the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) said in an emailed statement.

“The availability of another safe and effective vaccine that requires only one dose and that can be stored with only basic refrigeration opens new opportunities for delivery and expanded access for millions of people,” the IDSA added.

After an independent advisory panel voted to recommend that the FDA issue an EUA for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the FDA director signed off on that recommendation almost immediately, clearing the final hurdle before the drug can be distributed.

“There's a kind of new urgency to it,” Dr. Eric Rubin, a member of the FDA vaccine advisory committee and a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told CNN on Sunday. “Because there are new viral variants coming out right now, with some chance that some of them could eventually become somewhat resistant to the protection provided by vaccines, it's really important to get it out there fast.”

Finland declares a state of emergency

With COVID-19 cases rising, the government of Finland has declared a state of emergency, according to Yahoo News.

Finland has seen a sharp rise in cases due in part to new coronavirus variants that spread so rapidly. Since the beginning of the outbreak, there have been more than 58,000 infections in the country and 742 recorded deaths.

Downtrend in COVID infections stalls

The steady decline in new COVID-19 cases across the nation appears to have stalled, according to public health officials. They warn that this might be because new, more transmissible COVID-19 variants are taking hold, reported The Washington Post.

According to the Post, the number of new infections remains critically high, with more than 125,000 cases reported over the weekend, even as COVID-related hospitalizations continue to go down.

However, this past weekend also saw promising developments regarding the pandemic.

USA Today reported Feb. 27 that the United States administered the most vaccines in a day on Feb. 26, with nearly 2.4 million shots given, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

USA Today also reported that the House approved President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package early Feb. 27. This is a key step that would provide millions of Americans $1,400 stimulus payments, ramp up vaccine distribution, and extend unemployment aid through the summer.

2/26/21 3:31 p.m. PST—Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine is recommended by key FDA panel

An advisory group recommended Friday, Feb. 26, that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issue emergency authorization of Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine for people 18 and older.

The Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory CommitteeTrusted Source voted unanimously 22-0 in favor of the emergency use authorization (EUA).

COVID-19 vaccines might end pandemic, expert says

The U.S. COVID-19 pandemic has caused more than 28.4 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than a half-million deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 94 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the United States, with only about 70 million administered so far.

While the numbers may seem daunting, The Harvard Gazette reported that current vaccines seem effective enough to end the pandemic. This is despite global concerns about new COVID-19 variants.

Galit Alter, PhD, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a group leader at the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT, and Harvard, told The Gazette that while the U.K. variant seems able to evade some vaccine protection, and the South African variant appears able to skirt even more, none have completely escaped the body’s post-vaccination immune responses.

“What we’re seeing is that these variants don’t seem to affect T-cell immunity all that much, and they [the T-cells] seem to be as effective in recognizing these variants as they do the original virus,” Alter told The Gazette. “What that means is that we actually have very important backup mechanisms built into our vaccines that will continue to provide protection against these newly emerging variants.”

Jon Cherry/Getty Images

COVID cases may be falling – but don’t underestimate virus, experts say

Across the United States, and the world, COVID-19 seems to be losing its grip — cases, hospitalizations, and deaths rapidly and steeply plunging, reported the New York Times.

However, researchers told the Times that they are worried Americans, so close to the end of the pandemic, might begin underestimating the virus.

According to a New York Times database, hospitalizations are down 30 percent, and deaths have fallen by 22 percent, but these numbers are still high.

“Very, very high case numbers are not a good thing, even if the trend is downward,” Marc Lipsitch, D.Phil., an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, told The Times. “Taking the first hint of a downward trend as a reason to reopen is how you get to even higher numbers.”

Critically, the new COVID-19 variants might mean, “We’re essentially facing a pandemic within a pandemic,” Adam Kucharski, PhD, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine told The Times.

2/25/21 1:37 p.m. PST — Influenza cases ‘disappear’ during pandemic

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), February is typically the peak of flu season, but this year is different.

Influenza cases have nearly disappeared from the United States, with reports coming in at far lower levels than has been seen in decades.

PBS News Hour reported that experts said measures to prevent virus spread, such as mask-wearing, physical or social distancing, and virtual schooling, were strong factors preventing a “twindemic” of flu and COVID-19. Also, increased efforts to get more people vaccinated against flu and fewer people traveling likely played a role.

Dr. Nathan Mick, head of the emergency department at Maine Medical Center in Portland, the state’s largest hospital, told the Associated Press (AP), “I have seen zero documented flu cases this winter.”

Dr. Arnold Monto, a flu expert at the University of Michigan, told the AP that another possible explanation is that the coronavirus has “muscled aside” flu and other bugs that are more common in the fall and winter. He added that although scientists don’t fully understand this mechanism, it would be consistent with patterns seen when certain flu strains predominate over others.

Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Pfizer studying third booster shot against COVID-19

Even with the Pfizer vaccine’s 95 percent effectiveness at preventing coronavirus infection after two doses, the drugmaker is looking at the effectiveness of a third dose, reported NBC News.

Pfizer is trying to understand the effect of a booster shot on immunity against COVID-19 caused by circulating and any newly emerging COVID-19 variants.

“The study will draw upon participants from the Phase 1 study in the United States who will be offered the opportunity to receive a 30 µg booster of the current vaccine 6 to 12 months after receiving their initial two-dose regimen,” Pfizer said in a statement. “The study is part of the Companies’ clinical development strategy to determine the effectiveness of a third dose against evolving variants.”

FDA says that Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine can be stored at regular freezer temperatures

The Food and Drug Administration said today that the Pfizer vaccine can be stored in conventional freezers instead of specialized freezers capable of ultra-low temperatures.

Previously the vaccine has only been allowed to be transferred and stored at temperatures between -80ºC to -60ºC (-112ºF to -76ºF). This meant using specialized freezers that are not widely available.

Being able to use conventional freezers may make it far easier to transport and store the vaccine.

2/24/21 2:43 p.m. PST—Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine found safe

A recently released Food and Drug Administration (FDA) analysis finds the single-dose vaccine candidate produced by drugmaker Johnson & Johnson is safe for use.

Johnson & Johnson says the company has 4 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine ready to ship as soon as it receives an emergency use authorization (EUA), which could happen this week, reported CNN.

The FDA's Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee will meet Friday to review data on the vaccine candidate and decide whether to issue an EUA for adults age 18 and older.

According to CNN, upon authorization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) makes recommendations to the CDC on how the vaccine should be used, including age groups and what type of schedule.

An emergency meeting of ACIP will be held Feb. 28 and March 1.

“We're hoping that ACIP will provide some guidance on the most effective use of the J&J one dose vaccine,” Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers, wrote in an email to CNN on Feb. 23.

COVID-19 variants will likely cause new surge in cases

COVID-19 infections across the U.S. are continuing to fall, with more Americans being vaccinated, but coronavirus variants may soon cause complications.

Experts think that several experts have predicted the highly contagious B.1.1.7 variant would likely fuel another surge of cases in the coming weeks, according to CNN.

The U.K. variant is roughly 50 percent more infectious than versions of the coronavirus that dominated for most of the pandemic, reported the San Francisco Chronicle.

This anticipated surge is why many experts highlight the need to maintain safety measures, such as mask use, social distancing, and avoiding crowded areas.

Biden administration plans to send 25 million masks to health centers and food banks

The Biden administration plans to send out 25 million masks this week to promote wearing a mask to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The masks will be sent to community health centers and food pantries to provide low-income areas with supplies. The reusable masks will be made of cloth and fitted for both adults and children, according to USA Today.

2/23/21 2:50 p.m. PST — You still need a mask after vaccination

Even after you get vaccinated against COVID-19, you'll still need to wear a mask and maintain physical distancing, USA Today reported.

However, “people are interested in taking the vaccine,” White House senior adviser on the COVID-19 response, Andy Slavitt, said at a news conference Monday, Feb. 22, “[because] they don't want to be sick and they don't want to die.”

Two shots of either the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine can reduce someone’s risk of developing symptomatic COVID-19 by about 95 percent, according to the findings of large research trials.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), and Dr. Rochelle Walensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told USA Today that life wouldn’t get back to normal until national infection rates are reduced further.

“There are things, even if you're vaccinated, that you're not going to be able to do in society, for example, indoor dining, theaters, places where people congregate,” Fauci said.

Walensky added that vaccination will eliminate the need to quarantine after exposure.

She said the CDC has concluded that, “if you've been exposed and you've been fully vaccinated — two doses — there is no longer the need to quarantine after you've been exposed.”

Biden on track for 100 million doses in first 100 days

President Joe Biden's administration is on track to deliver over 100 million doses within his first 100 days in office.

Biden made the promise during his transition, and later said they would aim for 150 million COVID-19 vaccine doses.

Currently 49.5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been released in Biden's first 34 days in office.

Nearly 100 New Yorkers need to be revaccinated due to error

Dozens of people in New York were asked to get revaccinated for COVID-19 after their past dose was stored at an improper temperature, the New York Post reported.

This error affected 81 of 1,379 doses distributed at the Jones Beach, New York, vaccination site on Long Island last Monday, Feb. 15, a state department of health spokesperson told NBC New York.

New York state officials told the network that some vials warmed up too much in transit to the vaccination site, and that the affected people have been assured that “there will be no extra vaccine-related risks from revaccination.”

2/22/21 2:14 p.m. PST — U.S. to hit 500,000 deaths from COVID-19

The nation has reached a milestone of 500,000 deaths from COVID-19, according to data from Johns Hopkins.

At 499,000, the present death toll is more than six average NFL stadiums worth of victims, according to CNN.

“It’s really horrible. It's something that is historic. It's nothing like we have ever been through in the last 102 years, since the 1918 influenza pandemic,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), told CNN. “People decades from now are going to be talking about this as a terribly historic milestone in the history of this country, to have these many people to have died from a respiratory-borne infection.”

Fauci emphasized that this is why health officials keep insisting the public continue with public health measures.

“Because we don't want this to get much worse than it already is,” concluded Fauci.

COVID-19 variant first detected in South Africa found in New York

The variant, known as B.1.351, was detected in a Nassau County, New York resident, and announced one week after the tri-state area’s first case was discovered in a Connecticut resident hospitalized in New York City, reported NBC News. State and county officials didn’t provide additional details regarding ongoing contact tracing or exposure risk in the Nassau County case.

According to the CDC, this strain of the virus was first detected in South Africa in October 2020 and was first found in the United States at the end of January.

The CDC also cautioned that the Moderna mRNA-1273 vaccine used in the United States “may be less effective” against this COVID-19 variant.

Physicians report first case of COVID-19 from organ transplant

For the first time, a person developed COVID-19 after receiving an organ transplant from a donor who had SARS-CoV-2.

A woman in Michigan developed COVID-19 and later died after undergoing a double lung transplant. Officials said the case appeared to be isolated with no other transplant-related coronavirus transmissions being documented, according to U.S. News and World Reports.

2/19/21 12:53 p.m. PST — Pfizer vaccine can be stored at standard freezer temperatures

In a new press release, drugmaker Pfizer reported that their COVID-19 vaccine can now be stored at standard freezer temperatures.

The company is submitting data to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to show that their vaccine can remain stable when stored at t -25°C to -15°C (-13°F to 5°F).

Previously the vaccine had to be stored at -80ºC and -60ºC (-112ºF to ‑76ºF), which necessitated the use of special freezers. If the FDA approves the new storage it could make it easier to ship and store the vaccine.

“We have been continuously performing stability studies to support the production of the vaccine at commercial scale, with the goal of making the vaccine as accessible as possible for healthcare providers and people across the U.S. and around the world,” said Albert Bourla, chairman and chief executive officer of Pfizer, in the statement. “If approved, this new storage option would offer pharmacies and vaccination centers greater flexibility in how they manage their vaccine supply.”

Additionally, a new study published in The Lancet, found that a single dose of the Pfizer vaccine may be as much as 85 percent effective after 15 to 28 days.

Florida women disguised themselves to get vaccinated

According to Florida health officials, two women disguised themselves as senior citizens in an effort to receive their second dose of COVID-19 vaccine, reported ABC News.

The story says that the women showed up at the Orange County Convention Center wearing bonnets, gloves, and glasses in an effort to appear older, but are in their 30s and 40s, according to the Orange County Sheriff's Office. This made them ineligible to receive vaccination outside of a healthcare or long-term care facility setting.

“So yesterday, we realized a couple of young ladies came dressed up as grannies to get vaccinated for the second time,” said Dr. Raul Pino, director of the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, during a Thursday press briefing. “So I don't know how they escaped the first time.”

The couple had valid vaccination cards from their first shot, but on their second attempt, there were issues with their identification, explained Pino.

ABC News also reported that deputies gave both women trespass warnings after their dates of birth didn’t match those previously used to register for the vaccines.

“This is the hottest commodity that is out there right now,” said Pino. “We have to be very careful with the funds and the resources that we are provided.”

Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/VIEWpress/Corbis via Getty Images

Oregon infant is youngest to die with COVID-19

On Thursday the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) reported 466 new coronavirus cases and six deaths, including the state’s youngest victim, an infant from Umatilla County who died last month, reported The Oregonian.

“Today’s update on the number of COVID-19 related deaths includes an infant who had tested positive for COVID-19 and died the same day,” the OHA posted to social media. “Every death from COVID-19 is a tragedy, even more so the death of a child.”

According to KOMO News, the child also had significant underlying medical conditions.

Dr. Bukhosi Dube, a senior health adviser for OHA, told KOMO News they cannot release more details about the baby's death because of HIPAA laws, but he did confirm the infant had underlying conditions.

Dr. Anne Vestergaard, a Portland pediatrician, told KOMO News that underlying conditions put babies at risk for many illnesses, including influenza and RSV (a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms).

She emphasized that she doesn’t want this news to panic parents.

“If you have a healthy baby, who doesn’t have underlying conditions, the likelihood of this occurring to your baby is very low,” said Vestergaard.

2/18/21 2:53 p.m. PST — U.S. life expectancy falls during pandemic, Blacks and Hispanics most affected

Health officials say life expectancy in the United States dropped by one year during the first half of 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic caused its first wave of deaths, reported the Associated Press (AP).

The CDC’s preliminary data shows life expectancy at birth for the total U.S. population declining from 78.8 years in 2019 to 77.8 years for January through June 2020. These figures were released on Feb. 18 by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.

According to the AP, marginalized groups experienced the biggest impact, with Black people's life expectancy falling by nearly three years and Hispanics by about two years.

“What is really quite striking in these numbers is that they only reflect the first half of the year … I would expect that these numbers would only get worse,” Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, a health equity researcher and dean at the University of California, San Francisco told AP.

Pfizer and Moderna vaccines effective against British COVID-19 variant

The two COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna appear to be highly effective against the more transmissible variant of the virus first detected in Britain, according to newly published studies in the New England Journal of Medicine. The finding is a potential boost to vaccination efforts around the globe, reported The Washington Post.

However, the vaccines also show a decreased ability to protect against the South African strain of the virus — pushing both drugmakers to develop an updated vaccine or booster shot.

According to the Post, the new findings add to concerns about this variant, which has shown significant resistance to the AstraZeneca vaccine in a small-scale trial. Those results caused South Africa’s government to scrap that vaccine in favor of the single-dose candidate produced by Johnson & Johnson.

2/17/21 2:03 p.m. PST — U.K. to conduct COVID-19 ‘human challenge’

The United Kingdom will be the first country in the world to conduct a COVID-19 “human challenge” study, following approval by the country’s clinical trials ethics body.

According to a statement from the British government, this first-of-its-kind COVID-19 study will try to discover the smallest amount of virus needed to cause infection.

Once the initial study has taken place, a small number of volunteers exposed to the virus might be given vaccine candidates already proven safe to help identify the most effective vaccines and accelerate their development.

The findings will give doctors greater understanding of COVID-19 and help the pandemic response by providing important information for vaccine and treatment development.

According to CNBC, the human challenge trial will take place in the next few weeks within the Royal Free Hospital’s specialist and secure clinical research facilities in London.

Biden cautiously optimistic about pandemic

During President Joe Biden’s first televised town hall on Feb. 16, he answered questions focusing primarily on different aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic, including vaccinations, school reopenings, and how he planned to turn around the economy.

“As my mother would say, ‘with the grace of God and the goodwill of the neighbors,' that by next Christmas, I think we'll be in a very different circumstance, God willing, than we are today,” Biden said during the CNN town hall. “A year from now, I think that there will be significantly fewer people having to be socially distanced, having to wear a mask, but we don't know. So I don't want to overpromise anything here.”

Biden also said his administration expects to have over 600 million vaccine doses available by the end of July, which will be enough to vaccinate every single person in the United States.

2/16/21 2:18 p.m. PST — Unique COVID-19 variants found in U.S., study finds

A study published Sunday identifies seven new COVID-19 variants unique to the United States, and all have a mutation that can make them more contagious.

Yahoo News also reported that researchers at the Cedars-Sinai Center for Bioinformatics and Functional Genomics in Los Angeles have identified another new variant, named CAL.20C, which became detectable over the summer and currently accounts for almost half of all COVID-19 cases in Southern California.

“CAL.20C shows that we are the carriers,” Jasmine Plummer, PhD, one of the Cedars-Sinai molecular geneticists who discovered CAL.20C, told Yahoo. “We are the way by which SARS-CoV-2 is moving. It’s a reflection of our behavior. If we don’t give it the opportunity to move, then we can curb it right now.”

Plummer emphasized that, so far, the California variant hasn’t resulted in more severe illness.

“With the very small numbers we have right now, the outcomes don’t seem to be more severe,” she said.

Vaccinations are picking up in the United States. Boston Globe/Getty Images

WHO gives OK to AstraZeneca vaccine

The World Health Organization has given emergency use authorization for the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

The vaccine will be rolled out via the COVAX initiative to give poorer countries access.

A trial using the AstraZeneca vaccine in South Africa was stopped after it failed to be effective against a form of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The vaccine was not effective against mild and moderate COVID-19 cases.

Israel reports a 94 percent drop in COVID-19 cases among vaccinated people

In a major study, authorities in Israel have reported a 94 percent drop in symptomatic COVID-19 cases among 600,000 people who were fully vaccinated, according to Reuters.

Clalit, Israel's largest Health Maintenance Organization, found that people who received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine had a major drop in the risk of developing COVID-19.

They were also 92 percent less likely to develop severe disease.

U.S. will surpass goal of 100 million vaccinations in 100 days, Biden says

President Joe Biden was optimistic Tuesday about the U.S. vaccine rollout, saying it would surpass forecasts, although a massive winter storm was slowing efforts to deliver shots this week, reported USA Today.

“Before I took office, I set a big goal of administering 100 million shots in the first 100 days,” Biden posted on social media. “With the progress we’re making, I believe we’ll not only reach that, we’ll break it.”

The White House announced Tuesday that it expects to send out 13.5 million vaccine doses every week to states, a 57 percent increase since Biden's inauguration.

According to USA Today, the winter storm that has caused icy roads, power outages, and dangerously low temperatures across much of the nation has snarled traffic. It is delaying vaccine shipments to Florida and Texas.

2/12/21 2:14 p.m. PST — COVID-19 booster shots could become routine

Future checkups at the doctor's office might include a COVID-19 booster shot, reported NBC News.

Infectious disease experts have warned COVID-19 is likely to be an endemic disease, which means the disease will stick around like the flu, though not at present levels.

“I think a big question on this coronavirus is, is it something that we’re gonna have forever,” Dr. Richard Besser, a former acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told NBC News. “This virus is showing an incredible ability to mutate, to change, to adapt, in a sense, to everything we’re putting against it.”

COVID-19 has undergone thousands of mutations since it was first detected in humans. Although most ended up being inconsequential, experts are concerned about alterations that could make this coronavirus more contagious or available vaccines less effective.

Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

Moderna to add more vaccine doses to vials

The lack of available COVID-19 vaccine has been the main stumbling block to getting Americans vaccinated.

Now, experts are hoping a simple change will greatly increase the amount of vaccine available: add more doses to each vial of vaccine.

Moderna will now be allowed by the FDA to put more vaccine in each vial so that it will contain up to 14 doses instead of 10, according to the New York Times.

North Carolina announces first case of South African COVID-19 variant

North Carolina health officials on Thursday announced the state's first case of a concerning coronavirus variant first detected in South Africa.

“Viruses change all the time, and NCDHHS expects to see new COVID-19 variants in the state as the pandemic continues,” health officials said in a statement. “Data suggest this variant may be more contagious than other variants but does not suggest that it causes more severe disease. Current COVID-19 vaccines are expected to be effective against this and other new variants.”

According to Fox News, North Carolina joins other states with confirmed cases of the new strain, including Virginia, South Carolina, Maryland, California, and Texas.

2/11/21 2:53 p.m. PST — New CDC guidelines say two masks are better than one

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced new guidelines Wednesday that include wearing well-fitting face masks or two masks at a time to prevent disease spread.

The new guidelines follow a recent CDC study that found two ways to “substantially” reduce wearer exposure to COVID-19 are:

  • Fitting a cloth mask over a medical procedure mask
  • Knotting the ear loops of a medical procedure mask and then tucking in and flattening the extra material close to the face

“In the breathing experiment, having both the source and the receiver wear masks modified to fit better reduced the receiver’s exposure by more than 95 percent, compared to no mask at all,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a White House briefing.

The new CDC recommendations also advise Americans to select masks with a nose wire that can be adjusted for a snug fit, and to use a mask fitter or brace to better seal their masks. 

Vaccinated people won’t need to quarantine, says CDC

The CDC has announced that fully vaccinated people who meet specific criteria will no longer be required to quarantine following exposure to someone with COVID-19, reported USA Today.

The eased rules begin 14 days after the final vaccination dose and last three months after that for people showing no symptoms.

The CDC emphasized that vaccinated people should still use a mask, practice social distancing, avoid crowds/poorly ventilated spaces, and follow guidelines for travel and other activities.

2/10/21 2:05 p.m. PST — WHO on how COVID-19 may have started

Peter Ben Embarek, PhD, the leading animal disease expert at the World Health Organization (WHO), said the investigative team looked into four main scenarios about how SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, initially spread to humans, according to Reuters.

The first scenario theorizes a single person was exposed to SARS-CoV-2 through direct contact with a horseshoe bat. The virus might have been circulating in humans for some time before infecting people in Wuhan.

The second, and most likely scenario, involves transmission to humans through an unknown intermediary species. Liang Wannian, PhD, an expert with China’s National Health Commission, told CNBC that pangolins were potential candidates but other animals may have also served as reservoirs.

A third possibility is that COVID-19 originated under the first or second scenarios and that the virus was transmitted via frozen foods. Chinese experts associate later COVID-19 clusters to imported frozen food.

However, investigators found that the fourth and least likely scenario is that SARS-CoV-2 was leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is known to have studied captive coronaviruses.

Alcohol use during the pandemic creates wave of hospitalizations

Liver disease related to alcohol use was a growing problem even before the pandemic, with 15 million people diagnosed with the condition around the country, and hospitalizations doubling over the past decade, according to Kaiser Health News (KHN).

However, according to KHN, the COVID-19 pandemic significantly added to the toll.

While national figures aren’t available, Dr. Brian Lee, a transplant hepatologist who treats the disease at Keck Hospital at the University of Southern California, told KHN that admissions were up 30 percent in 2020 compared with 2019.

Specialists at hospitals affiliated with the University of Michigan, Northwestern University, Harvard University, and Mount Sinai Health System in New York City have told KHN that rates of admissions for alcoholic liver disease have leapt by up to 50 percent since March.

2/9/21 2:15 p.m. PST — Biden administration considers COVID-19 ‘mobile vaccination centers’

For many, getting a COVID-19 vaccine appointment has been challenging. And, according to Biden’s adviser for COVID-19 response Andy Slavitt, this is because we’re still “in a situation of undersupply” of vaccine, CNN reported.

“I think people are going to have to probably continue to be more patient than they want to be,” Slavitt told NPR. “But in the meantime, they should know that 40 million-plus shots have gone out. And a lot of people, particularly those at highest risk, have been able to get their first vaccines, and many their second.”

He added that in the effort to get more people vaccinated against COVID-19, the Biden administration is considering mobile vaccination centers that travel within communities.

“They can go to workplaces, they can go to churches, they can go to communities,” Slavitt said.

WHO ends Wuhan investigation

World Health Organization (WHO) investigators said Tuesday, Feb. 9, they would cease pursuing research into whether COVID-19 leaked from a lab in Wuhan, China, USA Today reported.

The WHO team has spent several weeks on the Wuhan fact-finding mission with experts visiting hospitals, research institutes, and a wildlife market tied to the outbreak.

According to USA Today, the WHO's fieldwork and other activities in Wuhan were conducted under close monitoring by Chinese officials and security officers. Beijing has also resisted calls for a completely independent investigation into the origins of the virus.

2/8/21 2:14 p.m. PST — Pandemic increasing number who choose to die at home

Since the pandemic hit, mortuary owner Brian Simmons has been making more trips to homes to pick up bodies for cremation or embalming, according to the Associated Press (AP).

Simmons’ crews regularly visit homes in the Springfield, Kansas, area and remove bodies of people who chose to die at home instead of spending their last days in a nursing home or hospital, where family visitations can be prohibited because of the pandemic.

The AP story emphasized that Simmons understands this sentiment all too well – his 49-year-old daughter died of COVID-19 just before Christmas, and he could be updated on her condition only by phone as her health worsened.

“The separation part is really rough, rough, rough,” Simmons told the AP. “My daughter went to the hospital, and we saw her once through the glass when they put her on the ventilator, and then we never saw her again until after she died.”

Health officials brace for Super Bowl COVID-19 surge

On the same day the state hosted Super Bowl LV, Florida became the first state to report 200 variant COVID-19 cases, USA Today reported.

According to USA Today, this news comes as public health officials across the United States brace for a possible surge in COVID-19 cases due to Americans disregarding warnings to not gather for Super Bowl parties.

Health experts warned in The New York Times that the Super Bowl itself could create a spike in cases.

“Any time you get 25,000 people together yelling and screaming during a pandemic, you’re going to have transmission,” Carl Bergstrom, PhD, a professor of biology at the University of Washington, told the Times.

Coronavirus variant from the U.K. is spreading rapidly in the U.S.

A new study published Sunday found that cases of the U.K. variant of the novel coronavirus are doubling every 10 days in the United States.

While overall U.S. COVID-19 cases are declining, experts worry that the rapidly spreading variant could again lead to another surge of disease.

South Africa halts AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine trial

A trial of the COVID-19 vaccine made by AstraZeneca was halted after it appeared ineffective against a variant of the novel coronavirus found in South Africa.

The country halted the trial this past weekend after finding it failed to protect against mild and moderate forms of COVID-19. New variants of the disease concern health officials because they may render some COVID-19 vaccines less effective.

2/5/21 2:22 p.m. PST — Vaccine passports under consideration

Government and business are considering digital proof of vaccination, The New York Times reported.

One of President Joe Biden’s executive orders aimed at curbing the pandemic asks government agencies to “assess the feasibility” of linking coronavirus vaccine certificates with other vaccination documents and producing digital versions of them, according to the Times.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is moving forward in that direction with the launch of its IATA Travel Pass. It is a global, standardized solution to authenticate all country regulations regarding COVID-19 travel requirements.

“It’s about trying to digitize a process that happens now and make it into something that allows for more harmony and ease,” Nick Careen, senior vice president for airport, passenger, cargo and security at IATA, told the Times. “Making it easier for people to travel between countries without having to pull out different papers for different countries and different documents at different checkpoints.”

Careen, who leads IATA’s travel pass initiative, added that sporting organizations, concert venues, and tourism agencies have all reached out for identification tech support.

The Times noted that proving vaccination status to participate in activities or to enter certain countries is not a new concept. For decades, travelers to some countries have had to prove they’re vaccinated against certain diseases.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), travelers still need to show proof of yellow fever vaccination to enter certain countries in South America and Africa.

Biden acts to reach goal of 100 million shots in 100 days

COVID-19 vaccine shipments are heading to pharmacies next week under a federal program to get more people vaccinated quickly, CNN reported.

According to a fact sheet from the White House, Biden is taking the following actions:

  • Expanding vaccine supply
  • Launching first phase of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination
  • Increasing reimbursements to states

According to the White House, the new steps will help meet Biden’s goal of administering 100 million shots in 100 days and expand access to vaccines in the coming weeks to more Americans.

Daily deaths from COVID-19 top 5,000

While COVID-19 cases are on the decline in the United States, deaths are still reaching new records.

This week, more than 5,000 people died of COVID-19 in a single 24 hour period, according to The Guardian.

Fatalities tend to lag case counts by a few weeks.

Johnson & Johnson applies for FDA authorization

Johnson & Johnson is applying for FDA emergency use authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine.

The company's single-dose vaccine was found to be about 85 percent effective against severe COVID-19 symptoms. The decision about authorization could be made as soon as Feb. 26.

2/4/21 2:34 p.m. PST — Mixing COVID-19 vaccine doses to fight new variants

The growing threat from the new coronavirus variants shows the need to make sure available vaccines can continue to protect us. A new trial is looking into something that could speed the process — mixing vaccine shots, NBC News reported. 

According to NBC, patients participating in a clinical trial launched Thursday, Feb. 4, in the United Kingdom will be given different vaccines for their first and second doses. The two vaccines being used are those developed by AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech, and this is the first study of its kind.

This 13-month study “will monitor the impact of the different dosing regimens on patients’ immune responses, which have the potential to be higher or lower than from the same dose regimen,” said the U.K. Department of Health and Social Care in a statement.

The study's initial findings are expected to be released this summer.

“If we do show that these vaccines can be used interchangeably in the same schedule, this will greatly increase the flexibility of vaccine delivery, and could provide clues as to how to increase the breadth of protection against new virus strains,” said the trial’s chief investigator, Dr. Matthew Snape, in a statement.

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Pfizer vaccine may be 90% effective after a single dose

Researchers are investigating if a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine can provide high levels of protection against the novel coronavirus.

In a preprint of a study, researchers from the University of East Anglia found evidence that a single dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine may be 90 percent effective about 3 weeks after it's administered.

The team looked at data from over 500,000 people in Israel who were given the Pfizer vaccine.

The results should be looked at with caution as the paper was not peer-reviewed or published in a medical journal.

2/3/21 2:58 p.m. PST — New vaccines to fight COVID-19 variants being developed

Drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) announced on Feb. 3 that it would work with German biopharmaceutical company CureVac to develop new vaccines targeting COVID-19 variants amid concerns some mutations make the virus harder to combat, reported the Associated Press (AP).

According to the AP, this announcement comes as public health officials worldwide raise concerns about new and potentially more contagious or vaccine-resistant COVID variants. Scientists are closely tracking these mutations to make sure they quickly identify variants of concern.

“The increase in emerging variants with the potential to reduce the efficacy of first generation COVID-19 vaccines requires acceleration of efforts to develop vaccines against new variants to keep one step ahead of the pandemic,” the companies said in a statement.

Younger Americans are biggest COVID-19 spreaders, study finds

A new study from Imperial College London finds Americans between ages 20 to 49 are the biggest spreader of new coronavirus infection. Researchers recommend prioritizing this age group for vaccination to speed school reopenings.

According to the study’s findings, people in that age range accounted for roughly 72 percent of cases detected after schools reopened in October. However, less than 10 percent came from teens, and children caused less than 5 percent.

“We believe this study is important because we demonstrate that adults aged 20-49 are the only age groups that have consistently sustained COVID-19 spread across the U.S.,” said Oliver Ratmann PhD, from Imperial College London in a statement. “Additional interventions targeting the 20-49 age group could bring resurgent epidemics under control and avert deaths.”

2/2/21 1:28 p.m. PST — Russian COVID-19 vaccine safe and effective, phase 3 trial finds

The Russian Sputnik V vaccine is 91.6 percent effective against symptomatic COVID-19 and 100 percent effective against severe and moderate disease, according to an interim analysis of the vaccine's phase 3 trial results, CNN reported.

A commentary on these findings recently published in The Lancet confirmed recipients “generated robust antibody responses to the spike protein,” and “evidence of T-cell responses, consistent with an immune response that should not quickly wane.”

The interim report of phase 3 data included results for over 20,000 participants, 75 percent of whom were assigned to receive the vaccine.

According to CNN, the Sputnik V is a two-dose adenoviral vector vaccine that uses two different adenoviruses for each dose. The doses are administered 21 days apart.

“The outcome reported here is clear and the scientific principle of vaccination is demonstrated,” the authors of the Lancet article wrote. “Which means another vaccine can now join the fight to reduce the incidence of COVID-19.”

If you had COVID-19, one vaccine shot might be enough

A report still in preprint and not yet peer-reviewed finds people who've already experienced COVID-19 may need only one vaccine shot to be protected against the disease.

“Changing the policy to give these individuals only one dose of vaccine would not negatively impact on their antibody titers, spare them from unnecessary pain, and free up many urgently needed vaccine doses,” the study authors wrote.

However, some experts disagree with the findings.

E. John Wherry, PhD, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute for Immunology, told The New York Times that before pushing for a change in policy, he’d like to see data showing those antibodies could stop the virus from replicating.

“Just because an antibody binds to a part of the virus does not mean it’s going to protect you from being infected,” Wherry said.

2/1/21 4:21 p.m. PST — As vaccines roll out, antiviral drugs languish

As the COVID-19 pandemic nears its first anniversary — with widespread vaccination still months away and thousands of patients still dying every day in the United States — doctors have very few ways to fight the virus, reported the New York Times.

According to the Times, while the government poured $18.5 billion into vaccines, resulting in at least five effective products at record-shattering speed, its investment in treatments was far smaller, at about $8.2 billion.

Most of this funding went to few candidates, like monoclonal antibodies, and studies of other drugs were poorly organized.

This resulted in a promising class of drugs called antivirals — which can stop the disease early — being neglected. This was because researchers couldn’t find enough funding or enough patients to participate.

Dr. Janet Woodcock, the acting commissioner of the FDA, told the New York Times the lack of centralized coordination meant many trials for COVID-19 antiviral drugs were doomed from the start, since they were too small and poorly designed to provide useful data.

“I blame myself to some extent,” Woodcock, who has overseen the federal government’s efforts to develop COVID-19 drugs, told the Times.

In the next couple of months, she added, the government plans to start large trials for existing drugs that could be repurposed to fight the pandemic.

‘COVID hurricane’ is coming, expert warns

On Sunday, Jan. 31, on NBC's “Meet the Press,” an epidemiologist warned of a looming wave of cases and said the United States should adjust its vaccination strategy to save lives, reported CNBC.

“The fact is that the surge that is likely to occur with this new variant from England is going to happen in the next 6 to 14 weeks,” said director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, Michael Osterholm, PhD.

According to CNBC, the COVID-19 variant first identified in the United Kingdom has been associated with more rapid transmission, is possibly more deadly, and may be the dominant strain in the United States by March.

“Well, I think it's going to be tough,” Osterholm, who advised President Joe Biden's transition on the COVID-19 crisis, told NBC.

“I mean, imagine where we're at… right now. You and I are sitting on this beach where it's 70 degrees, perfectly blue skies, gentle breeze. But I see that hurricane five, category five or higher, 450 miles offshore,” he said. “And, you know, telling people to evacuate on that nice blue sky day is going to be hard. But I can also tell you that hurricane's coming.”

1/29/21 1:45 p.m. PST — CDC: New COVID-19 variant has reached point of community spread

According to the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the COVID-19 variant first found in South Africa, and already detected in two people in South Carolina, has reached the point of community spread in the United States, NBC News reported Friday, Jan. 29.

“I think one of the concerning things is that we know these two people did not know one another and that they did not travel to South Africa so the presumption is, at this point, that there has been community spread of this strain,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the CDC, told Savannah Guthrie on the “Today” show.

According to NBC, the fact that the B.1.351 variant was first detected on Thursday, Jan. 28, in the United States, doesn't mean it just arrived, because the country has “lagged greatly” behind other nations in tracking changes in COVID-19 by sequencing its genetic code.

In a press release, the CDC said it’s early in its efforts to understand the variant and will continue to provide updates as they learn more.

“At this time, we have no evidence that infections by this variant cause more severe disease. Like the U.K. and Brazilian variants, preliminary data suggests this variant may spread more easily and quickly than other variants,” the CDC said.

Johnson & Johnson releases key COVID-19 vaccine data

The pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson released key data from its COVID-19 vaccine.

In phase 3 data, Johnson & Johnson found that the vaccine provided high protection against moderate and severe COVID-19.

The company found in preliminary studies that the vaccine was 66 percent effective against moderate to severe COVID-19.

The effectiveness of the vaccine varied greatly from region to region.

While the vaccine was 72 percent effective in the United States, it was 66 percent effective in Latin America and 57 percent in South Africa, where a new variant has made health experts nervous.

Does COVID-19 affect male fertility?

Severe cases of COVID-19 might influence the quality of sperm, possibly reducing fertility, according to a new study published Thursday, Jan. 28, in the journal Reproduction.

“This report provides the first direct evidence to date that COVID-19 infection impairs semen quality and male reproductive potential,” the study said, according to CNN.

However, experts not involved in the study told the network that they were skeptical about the study’s findings.

“Being ill from any virus such as flu can temporarily drop your sperm count (sometimes to zero) for a few weeks or months,” Channa Jayasena, PhD, a consultant in reproductive endocrinology and andrology at Imperial College London, told CNN in an email.

“This makes it difficult to work out how much of the reductions observed in this study were specific to COVID-19 rather than just from being ill,” he said.

1/28/21 3:43 p.m. PST — Race against time with COVID-19 variants, scientists warn

Experts say the United States is in a “race against time” to vaccinate the largest number of people before other variants of the coronavirus emerge, NBC News reported Jan. 28.

According to NBC, delivery issues, insufficient supply, and vaccine hesitancy have crippled the nation’s vaccination efforts.

To avert another surge of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths, scientists told NBC it may be necessary to rethink how the vaccines are distributed to increase the number of shots administered and protect against new strains of SARS-CoV-2.

“We really are in a race against new variants,” Wan Yang, PhD, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health told NBC. “We need to prepare as much as possible before things increase to a level that puts more strain on our healthcare systems.”

Biden expands healthcare coverage amid pandemic

President Joe Biden signed two executive actions Thursday, Jan. 28, designed to expand healthcare coverage amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Among his first actions addressing access to healthcare, the president will direct Department of Health and Human Services to open a special enrollment period for HealthCare.gov, the federally run insurance marketplaces, from Feb. 15 to May 15.

This will provide people in the United states who lost their employer-based insurance during the pandemic an opportunity to sign up for coverage.