After months of intense research and widespread testing, vaccines aimed at ending the global coronavirus pandemic are gaining the green light around the world.
Health Canada approved the same Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Wednesday that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration could authorize for emergency-use here within days or even hours. The vaccine is already being rolled out across Britain, where it encountered its first rough spot – health officials there have decreed that people with a “significant history” of allergic reactions shouldn’t get the vaccine pending further investigation. British health officials say the duo is “recovering well” and that the directive was precautionary.
Flying under the global radar is a Chinese vaccine that quietly won approval in the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday, important because that vaccine, likely to be cheaper than Western models, could prove a lifeline for some developing nations.
U.S. pharmaceutical giant Moderna has a successfully tested vaccine candidate awaiting FDA approval. And data on a candidate vaccine made by AstraZeneca and Oxford University is being presented to regulators in the U.K., Europe and elsewhere around the world, the collaborators said this week.
Vaccines are urgently needed globally, but nowhere more so than in the U.S. More than 2,500 deaths and over 215,000 new coronavirus cases were reported Tuesday alone. The nation soared beyond 15 million total infections this week with no indication the latest surge is ebbing.
News you should know today:
- Talks on a stimulus package are coming down to the wire. A bipartisan proposal had included about $300 per week in bonus federal unemployment payments but left out another round of $1,200 stimulus checks. The White House now proposes $600 stimulus checks but no unemployment bonus. Stay tuned.
- At least one judge is feeling small business’ pain. Los Angeles County public health officials must conduct a risk-benefit analysis before trying to extend a ban on outdoor dining beyond Dec. 16, a judge ruled.
- Canada approved Pfizer’s vaccine “after a thorough, independent review.” The initial approval is for people 16 years of age or older but could be revised in the future to include children if the data from these studies support it.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has reported more than 15.1 million cases and 286,300 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: 68.3 million cases and 1.55 million deaths.
📰 What we’re reading: About a quarter of the U.S. deaths from the coronavirus – nearly 74,000 – have been nursing home residents and caregivers. They have masks and gloves, and there’s more testing capacity. But what nursing homes really need is more help, advocates say.
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Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday tested positive for COVID-19 and is at home in isolation, according to a news release from his office.
“During a routine test yesterday, I tested positive for COVID-19. I have no symptoms and am feeling well,” Wolf said in a statement Wednesday. “As this virus rages, my positive test is a reminder that no one is immune from COVID, that following all precautions as I have done is not a guarantee, but it is what we know to be vital to stopping the spread of the disease.”
Wolf is one of several governors who have tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, including the governors of Oklahoma, Missouri, Virginia, Nevada and Colorado. President Donald Trump also contracted the virus.
— Sam Ruland, York Daily Record
A committee crucial for clearing a COVID-19 vaccine will hold an all-day meeting Thursday, and a “yay” vote means the nation’s first doses could ship as early as Friday. The independent Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee will review data from Pfizer and German startup BioNTech on their vaccine and then vote whether the U.S. Food and Drug Administration should authorize the country’s first COVID-19 vaccine. The FDA is then expected to sign off on the vaccine, possibly as soon as late Thursday.
“They’re really making sure that no stone left goes left unturned in terms of evaluating the safety and the efficacy of these vaccines,” said Dr. William Moss, an epidemiologist with the International Vaccine Access Center.
– Elizabeth Weise
Two British people with severe allergies apparently had allergic reactions to Pfizer/BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine, although such reactions were not a significant problem in the U.S. trial, experts said Wednesday.
Still, the reactions raise questions about whether it is safe for people with preexisting allergies. It was not immediately clear what triggered the allergic reactions. There are no preservatives or animal products in the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which have been known to trigger reactions with other types of vaccines.
Britain has authorized the vaccine for emergency use and the U.S. could do so by week’s end. A vaccine that triggers dangerous reactions in people with severe allergies couldn’t be approved in the U.S., Hotez said.
“If you start issuing recommendations that anyone with an EpiPen doesn’t get vaccinated, that could be a showstopper for Americans,” he said. Read more here.
– Karen Weintraub
The United Arab Emirates’ Ministry of Health and Prevention on Wednesday became the first country to approve a Chinese vaccine candidate, a decision that could have a major impact on the developing world.
The ministry said the vaccine from China’s state-owned Sinopharm has shown an effectiveness rate of 86%. The vaccine was granted emergency use authorization by the Emirates in September to protect frontline workers most at risk of COVID-19. The vaccine could become a major player in efforts to curb the pandemic in nations where more costly Western vaccines may prove unworkable on a broad scale.
The U.A.E. analysis also claimed the vaccine showed “100% effectiveness in preventing moderate and severe cases of the disease” and no serious safety concerns.
An elderly passenger on board a Royal Caribbean “safe cruising” voyage out of Singapore has been diagnosed with the coronavirus, forcing the voyage to be cut short one day early.
Singapore recently began the pilot program allowing cruise ships to make round trips to Singapore with no port of call in between. Strict safety measures were imposed, including reducing capacity by half and pre-boarding testing for passengers. Royal Caribbean is one of two operators licensed to run such trips.
The 83-year-old passenger on board the Quantum of the Seas tested positive for COVID-19 after reporting to the ship’s medical center with diarrhea, said Annie Chang, director of cruise at Singapore’s Tourism Board.
“In the last 24 hours, one guest aboard Quantum of the Seas tested positive for coronavirus after checking in with our medical team,” Lyan Sierra-Caro, spokesperson for Royal Caribbean, told USA TODAY. “The ship returned to port today in accordance with government protocols.”
– Morgan Hines
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging Americans who go against its advice to avoid travel during the winter holidays to get tested for COVID-19 twice in a bid to make travel safer, though far from risk-free. And some destinations require a negative COVID-19 test to visit or to bypass mandatory quarantines.
But testing backlogs, traveler procrastination and general confusion or ignorance about testing requirements have delayed or ruined many a vacation. Airline social media feeds are sprinkled with posts from travelers confused about the testing requirements or worried about not receiving results in time. Here are some do’s and don’ts for holiday travel.
Nikki Haley, the former ambassador to the United Nations and governor of South Carolina, says her sister-in-law has died of the virus in Ohio. Rhonda Nelson, 53, lived in West Milton and died Nov. 25. Ohio has reported more than 500,000 coronavirus cases and 7,103 deaths.
“Today we said goodbye to Michael’s sister, Rhonda, who passed the day before Thanksgiving of Covid,” Haley said on Twitter. “She ministered to many inside and outside of the church. She loved God, her family & all who knew her. She will be missed.”
A 91-year-old British grandfather has won the internet’s heart after giving CNN a frank interview after being among the first people in the world to receive a COVID-19 vaccine outside of a clinical trial.
The interview with Martin Kenyon came after the United Kingdom began its first round of COVID-19 vaccinations, administering injections to people over 80 who are either hospitalized or have outpatient appointments scheduled as well as some nursing home workers. The video of Kenyon spread quickly around social media, with one version racking up more than 5 million views on Twitter.
“Well, there’s no point in dying now when I’ve lived this long, is there?” Kenyon told CNN outside London’s Guy’s Hospital on Tuesday. “I hope I’m not going to have the bloody bug now.”
– Ryan Miller
A Michigan family says their daughter was infected by the coronavirus after Bloomfield Hills High officials incorrectly told her she had to take the in-person SAT exams as a requirement for graduation.
The 17-year-old was diagnosed soon after taking the test and spent nearly two months recovering in her bedroom while isolating from her high-risk mother. The tests are offered only with in-person supervision and usually in large groups.
According to state education officials, Michigan has no requirement that students take the SAT or any other test to earn high-school diplomas, although districts may require the test. Many universities waived standardized testing due to the pandemic.
– Bill Laitner, Detroit Free Press
Idaho public health officials meeting to vote on a proposed four-county mask mandate abruptly shut down the proceedings Tuesday amid concerns that raucous protests outside the health department building and the homes of some health officials were threatening public safety. The meeting ended minutes after one health board member tearfully said she had to rush home because her 12-year-old son was home alone and protesters were banging outside the door.
The protest at the health building was organized, at least in part, by a loose multi-state group called People’s Rights created by Ammon Bundy. Bundy gained national attention and stoked the so-called “patriot movement” after leading armed standoffs at his father’s Nevada ranch in 2014 and at a wildlife refuge in eastern Oregon in 2016.
Congress is working to pass a proposed COVID-19 relief bill as millions of Americans face losing their jobless benefits at the end of the month. The bipartisan proposal is expected to include about $300 per week in bonus federal unemployment payments for roughly four months, providing relief just as emergency aid payments at regular benefit levels are set to expire at year’s end. That would be a lower amount than the $600 per week that jobless Americans had received under the CARES Act until late July. The plan is also expected to extend base benefits through March.
The bipartisan package is also expected to leave out another round of $1,200 stimulus checks. The White House, however, has offered a plan providing no additional unemployment money in favor of $600 stimulus checks – an offer panned by Democrats. A potential deal is coming down to the wire as 12 million Americans are set to lose their unemployment benefits the day after Christmas. Eviction moratoriums for renters and protections for student borrowers are also set to expire, as well as a federal program for paid family leave.
– Jessica Menton
COVID-19 resources from USA TODAY
Contributing: The Associated Press