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The two coronavirus vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech 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, in a potential boost for vaccination efforts around the globe.

The vaccines, however, showed a decreased ability to neutralize the strain now dominant in South Africa, worrying some researchers and prompting Pfizer and BioNTech to announce they were taking necessary steps to develop a booster shot or updated vaccine. A day after Pfizer’s announcement, a top White House coronavirus adviser said each vaccine developer is planning to update shots to address variants.

“Each of the vaccine companies — and I’ve talked to all of them, both the ones approved and the candidates — have plans to continue to update their vaccines and, if need be, create boosters down the road if there continue to be additional mutants, as there likely will be,” Andy Slavitt said during a Washington Post live interview on Thursday.

Here are some significant developments:
  • President Biden will pledge $4 billion to a global coronavirus vaccination effort, senior administration officials said, reversing a Trump administration decision and signaling a return to public health diplomacy.
  • Life expectancy in the United States fell by a full year during the first half of 2020, a staggering decline that reflects the toll of the pandemic as well as a rise in deaths from drug overdoses, heart attacks and diseases that accompanied the outbreak, according to government data released Thursday.
  • Lack of access to vaccines from their own country means U.S. diplomats abroad are accepting host government offers of their supply of U.S.-made vaccines to get inoculated.
  • The Department of Homeland Security has seized more than 11 million counterfeit N95 masks meant for front-line workers in recent weeks, including more than 1 million on Wednesday, officials said.
  • About 33 percent of service members have declined voluntary coronavirus vaccinations, defense officials said Wednesday, acknowledging that more inoculations would better prepare the military for worldwide missions.
  • Nearly 28 million cases have been reported in the United States, with 489,000 deaths, but the numbers of new cases continue to fall, reaching rates now comparable to those in late October.

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4:45 a.m.
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D.C. revises rules, will open vaccines to young people with health problems March 1

The District announced Thursday that it will offer coronavirus vaccines to people 16 or older with serious health problems, beginning March 1.

Residents who have conditions such as cancer, diabetes or kidney or liver disease can seek a vaccine through their doctor or through the city’s public registration system. Doses remain in short supply, and this new group of patients — representing more than a quarter of adults in the city — will compete for appointments with seniors and an increasingly large pool of eligible essential workers.

The announcement from Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt represents a change in the city’s plans for vaccinating people whose health puts them at additional risk from the virus, following criticism from the public.

4:15 a.m.
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Hawaiian tourists bribed an airport screener with $3,000 to bypass covid-19 protocols, police say

Two travelers visiting Hawaii from Louisiana were arrested on Friday for offering a Honolulu airport screener $3,000 to let them pass without quarantining or providing the negative coronavirus tests required for entry, officials say.

Johntrell White, 29, and Nadia Bailey, 28, were charged with bribery and flown back to the mainland. The two allegedly flew to Daniel K. Inouye International Airport without any coronavirus test results and told an airport screener not to alert officials in exchange for money.

White is accused of offering the screener $2,000 to avoid quarantine, and Bailey offered the same screener an additional $1,000, the Hawaii Attorney General’s Office and Department of Public Safety reported in a covid-19 update from the governor’s office.

3:22 a.m.
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Two young women in Florida ‘dressed up as grannies’ to get vaccinated, health official says

The coronavirus vaccine is so coveted that two women in Florida went to extremes Wednesday to get inoculated: They dressed as if they were elderly, health officials said.

The women, both younger than 45, wore bonnets, gloves and glasses to disguise themselves as older than 65, the age cut-off to be prioritized to get the coronavirus vaccine in Florida, according to Raul Pino, the director of the health department in Orange County, where Orlando is located. He said there has been a “few” cases of people trying to trick health workers into getting vaccinated, including a man who had the same name as his elderly father.

“This is the hottest commodity that is out there right now so we have to be very careful,” Pino said at a press briefing Thursday.

3:11 a.m.
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Covid-19 passports could help bring back travel but there are equity and privacy concerns

International travel declined by around 90 percent after the pandemic hit — but those still crossing borders may have begun to encounter a novel concept: “covid-19 passports,” or a mobile platform that proves a traveler meets a country’s requirements, like a negative coronavirus test or, in a few cases, having received the coronavirus vaccine.

Also called health passports, these are not official documents granted by governments; rather, they are digital passes issued by apps, and accepted by some companies and countries, that have arisen to meet demands by airlines and governments that travelers have a negative coronavirus status.

These platforms, however, also give rise to privacy and equity concerns — such as how to ensure personal data is protected and how to address the needs of billions of people without access to a digital device or digitized health care, yet alone the vaccine, if they seek to travel.

2:02 a.m.
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U-Va. officials blame widespread noncompliance of guidelines for recent surge in coronavirus cases

University of Virginia officials said Thursday that widespread noncompliance of campus health guidelines is driving an explosion of coronavirus cases at the school.

There are 779 active cases of the virus — including 18 among employees — on and around the Charlottesville campus, more than half of which were reported this week, according to university data.

On Tuesday, 229 new cases were reported, the highest single-day count for the school. That number fell slightly Wednesday, to 174 cases.

The campus is also dealing with a variant of the virus first identified in the United Kingdom, but officials have not yet said how many cases are tied to the new strain.

The increase in cases at the university comes as coronavirus cases have been falling across the greater Washington region in recent weeks. In Virginia, the seven-day average number of new infections statewide Thursday stood at 2,411 — less than half the highs that were recorded in January.

12:38 a.m.
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Harris calls exodus of women from workforce a ‘national emergency’ as she pitches coronavirus relief bill

Vice President Harris on Thursday called the exodus of women from the workforce during the coronavirus pandemic a “national emergency” as she made the Biden administration’s latest pitch for passage of a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill.

Harris spoke at the start of a virtual event that included female members of Congress and leaders advocacy organizations.

About 2.5 million women have dropped out of the labor force during the pandemic, compared with 1.8 million men, according to data from the Labor Department released this month.

“This is a national emergency. Women leaving the workforce in these numbers is a national emergency which needs a national solution,” Harris said.

She spoke of a “perfect storm” for women who have stopped working to take care of children at home during the school day.

“The longer we wait to act, the harder it will be to bring these millions of women back into the workforce,” Harris said.

11:01 p.m.
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France considers only one vaccine dose for people who had covid

PARIS — France is weighing whether to give people previously infected with the coronavirus only one vaccine dose instead of two, a practice that if enacted here and followed by other countries could free up tens of millions of doses.

“It’s likely that we’ll see similar moves elsewhere, given that we’re facing a shortage of vaccine doses,” said Tobias Kurth, the director of the Institute of Public Health at Berlin’s Charité hospital.

France’s health advisory body has recommended that one shot provides sufficient protection, acting like a booster shot, for previously infected people.

10:00 p.m.
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Biden pledges $4 billion to global coronavirus vaccine effort that Trump spurned

The White House is throwing its support behind a push to equitably distribute coronavirus vaccines, pledging $4 billion to a multilateral initiative the Trump administration chose not to back.

President Biden will on Friday announce an initial $2 billion in funding for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to be used by the Covax Facility, an initiative of the World Health Organization, senior administration officials said.

The U.S. will release an additional $2 billion over two years once other donors have made good on their pledges, and will use this week’s Group of 7 summit to rally countries to do more.

The money, which was appropriated by a bipartisan Congressional vote last year, will give a much-needed boost to a program jointly led by Gavi, the WHO and the Center for Preparedness Innovations.

Covax aims to get coronavirus vaccines to countries that have been cut out of a vaccine race that’s seen rich countries snap up the majority of doses, leaving everyone else to wait.

Although more than 190 countries have joined Covax, the Trump administration opted out, in part because of the former president’s feud with the WHO.

In remarks published Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron said the United States and Europe should provide coronavirus vaccines to developing countries by donating up to 5 percent of the doses they have ordered.

Asked by journalists about whether the U.S. will share doses, administration officials stressed that the country remains focused on vaccinating all Americans, but may consider sharing down the line.

8:57 p.m.
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Vaccine-hoarding, shipping mishaps spark confusion about second doses

Securing an appointment for a first dose of the coronavirus vaccine might feel like a victory.

But then there is round two.

Scarce supply of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines has stirred anxiety about whether the required second dose will be available. Different protocols in different jurisdictions — as well as several mishaps in recent weeks — have added to the frustration and concern in the greater Washington region.

Officials in Prince George’s County are so worried about a shortage of second doses that they have held some first doses in reserve, slowing the pace of vaccinations — even though the federal government now automatically schedules its second-dose shipments. In Anne Arundel County, a data error temporarily disrupted shipments, forcing the abrupt cancellation of two second-dose clinics this month. In Harford County, a second-shot clinic was partially derailed by hundreds of residents trying to get their first shot.

8:01 p.m.
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Inside the dark winter of covid-19 in America

It’s the first day back at work for Scott E. Lynn, the coroner of Montour County, Pa. He has been sick with covid-19. He was out for a month and lost 25 pounds. As he arrives at his office in a remote corner of the Geisinger Medical Center, he still feels weak.

Lynn doesn’t know how he contracted covid. Deceased people do not spread the virus under normal circumstances. And Lynn mostly handles corpses enclosed in two layers of body bags.

“I can only assume it was somewhere in the process of my death investigations,” he says. He wears a mask at work, but he still has to go into homes, motel rooms and hospital rooms, getting close not only to the dead person but also to witnesses and survivors.

The coroner is often the person who informs families that a loved one has died. There is an art to that, and Lynn says the coroner cannot wear a mask when telling someone news that will crush them.

7:13 p.m.
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For an economy in the midst of a pandemic, the Fed goes far beyond interest rates

A sprawling stimulus package may be the next shot in the arm for the economy, but the Federal Reserve is making clear that the recovery also hinges on literal shots in Americans’ arms.

Central bankers tend to talk about interest rates and asset purchases when it comes to policy. But in a downturn as unusual as this one, driven by the coronavirus pandemic, the Fed is increasingly leaning on a new vocabulary set — one that may seem drawn from a medical textbook instead of an economics one.

Whether talking about mask-wearing or social distancing, the Fed’s message increasingly is that healing the economy will require ending the public health crisis. And at their January policy meeting, Fed leaders discussed speedy vaccine delivery as a must-do to carry the economy through to the other side, according to meeting notes released Wednesday.

6:37 p.m.
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Macron says Europe and U.S. should send vaccines to developing nations

Europe and the United States should step up to provide coronavirus vaccines to developing countries by donating up to 5 percent of the doses they have ordered, as part of a “war of influence” with Russia and China over immunizations around the globe, French President Emmanuel Macron said in remarks published Thursday.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Macron said that global vaccine inequality is “politically unsustainable” and “paving the way for a war of influence over vaccines.” He referred to a situation in which Western nations have secured hundreds of millions of doses, while some countries have yet to administer a single shot.

“We are allowing the idea to take hold that hundreds of millions of vaccines are being given in rich countries and that we are not starting in poor countries,” he told the newspaper ahead of a virtual Group of Seven meeting Friday of leaders of the world’s largest economies.

6:30 p.m.
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Pfizer-BioNTech launch first test of a coronavirus vaccine in pregnant women

The first study of a coronavirus vaccine in pregnant women launched today, part of an ongoing effort to assess the safety and effectiveness of the shots in groups of people that were excluded from the original trials.

Pfizer-BioNTech announced Thursday that the first of 4,000 pregnant women received shots in a trial designed to assess the safety and tolerability of their vaccine, and how well it provoked an immune response. The women, between 24 to 34 weeks pregnant, will receive either the real vaccine or a placebo. Their babies will be followed for six months after birth, and a key question to be tested is whether protective immunity is transferred to infants after birth.

A recent study of pregnant women who had antibodies in their blood showing they had been previously infected found that those disease-fighting antibodies were also present in their newborns.

Until now, pregnant women eligible for a shot have been left to decide, with their doctors, whether to get the vaccine. The data has been sparse, based on animal studies and data collected from a few dozen women who became pregnant over the course of various vaccine trials.

The hesitance to include pregnant women in therapeutic trials has been a long-standing problem in medicine.

“Pregnant and lactating persons should not be protected from participating in research, but rather should be protected through research,” Diana Bianchi, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, wrote in a recent JAMA viewpoint.

Pfizer and BioNTech plan to submit results to regulators from a study of children ages 12 to 15 in the second quarter of 2021 and to launch a study in children ages 5 to 11 in “the next couple of months,” according to a company statement. Tests in children younger than 5 are expected later in 2021. There are also plans to test the vaccine in immunocompromised people.

5:45 p.m.
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Grocery workers helping distribute vaccines say they can’t schedule their own shots

Workers at a Kroger-owned supermarket near Seattle breathed a sigh of relief last fall when they learned that a coronavirus vaccine was around the corner.

Months later, they’re still waiting. Although more than 100 vaccinations a week are given at Quality Food Centers’ in-house pharmacy, most store employees have yet to schedule theirs. Some workers, including baggers and produce clerks, say they have been pulled into the distribution effort and told to monitor newly inoculated customers for side effects without proper training, protection or extra pay.

“Once again, grocery workers have been put on the back burner and forgotten about,” said one QFC clerk, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he fears losing his job. “People are frustrated, to say the least. We have a vaccine program, but nobody knows what’s going on.”