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Pfizer, Moderna vaccines have reduced effectiveness against South African variant, studies show

Operations supervisor Deshonta Harper fills a syringe with the Moderna vaccine outside Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church in Washington. (Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)
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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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