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Moderna said Wednesday that it has manufactured a new version of its coronavirus vaccine that is tailored to quell infection by the variant first identified in South Africa. A small amount of vaccine has been sent to the National Institutes of Health for a trial to determine whether boosting humans with the modified vaccine will stimulate a strong immune response, the company said.

The news came after the release of a Food and Drug Administration review finding the single-shot coronavirus vaccine made by pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson safe and effective. The review sets the stage for a third coronavirus vaccine to be authorized in the United States as soon as this weekend.

Here are some significant developments:
  • A coronavirus variant detected in California now makes up more than half of the infections in 44 counties, according to new research.
  • The Biden administration plans to deliver 25 million free cloth masks to low-income Americans over the next two months.
  • As the House prepares to pass President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill, divisions are growing among Senate Democrats over state aid and a $15 minimum wage — raising the prospect that the bill might have to change significantly to pass the Senate.
  • Domestic production of coronavirus vaccine increased while the global death rate decreased, the World Health Organization said.
  • The first 600,000 doses distributed by the Covax initiative to ensure equitable vaccine access for lower-income countries arrived in Ghana.
  • China’s Sinopharm company has announced the approval of a second vaccine, this one from its Wuhan unit, with an efficacy of 72.5 percent.
4:45 a.m.
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In a virus-ravaged city, nearly 400 million vaccine doses are being made — and shipped elsewhere

BALTIMORE — In a city battered by the coronavirus, one biomedical plant is churning out enough vaccine to inoculate every resident hundreds of times over. The lifesaving medicine is brewed in stainless steel vats and bottled at subfreezing temperatures — then loaded into trucks that carry the vaccines hundreds of miles away. Most will never return.

At the eastern edge of Baltimore, Emergent BioSolutions is manufacturing almost all of the yet-to-be approved Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccines for the U.S. population — an anticipated hundreds of millions of doses in the coming months. But in a sign of the complexities in a global supply chain that is struggling beneath the weight of demand, most of those doses will not go to residents of this city, or even the state of Maryland.

Instead, the active vaccine ingredients created in the company’s biomedical reactors just north of the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center are shipped to plants in other states and possibly other countries. After the two vaccines are authorized for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration, which in the case of Johnson & Johnson could happen as soon as this weekend, they will be distributed across the United States.

4:15 a.m.
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D.C marks ‘tragic milestone’ as coronavirus deaths in the district surpass 1,000

The nation’s capital on Wednesday surpassed 1,000 deaths tied to the coronavirus, a wrenching reminder of the pandemic’s blow to the Washington region even as cases fall and more residents receive the vaccine.

Citing the declining rate of infection, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) on Wednesday lifted some restrictions on mass gatherings, marking one of the area’s most significant steps toward reopening since a winter surge in cases. Among other changes, Northam expanded the number of people who can gather outdoors from 10 to 25 and allowed outdoor entertainment venues to operate at 30 percent capacity.

In D.C., Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said the city’s coronavirus death toll “is a reminder that this pandemic has forever changed families and communities,” adding that “even when the pandemic ends, for many, the pain and loss will still be there.”

In a proclamation, she declared Wednesday a citywide day of remembrance and urged houses of worship to honor the memories of residents who died. She ordered flags on city property to fly at half-staff through this week to remember the 500,000 people nationwide who have lost their lives.

3:45 a.m.
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What to consider before making summer traveling plans

After a particularly brutal winter in isolation, summer travel dreams feel like a glimmer of hope shimmering on the distant horizon.

At least 44.5 million people in America have received one dose of the vaccine, and new coronavirus cases and deaths have begun to fall, giving the country reasons to feel optimistic. As a result, the travel industry appears to be gearing up for a big summer season.

So set your airfare price alerts, start browsing travel insurance policies and consider consulting a travel adviser because while summer travel may be possible, it won’t be back to the old normal yet. Here are other considerations to keep in mind as you begin your (flexible) trip planning.

3:00 a.m.
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A ‘chef farmer’ pivots to survive the pandemic and heartbreaking loss

LONGMONT, Colo. — When the coronavirus pandemic shuttered his two Boulder restaurants in early spring, trailblazing “chef farmer” Eric Skokan reinvented his farm-to-table business to keep most employees on payroll. He offered takeout, opened a year-round farm stand and refurbished a vintage ice cream truck to deliver made-to-order meals. Neither of his restaurants had enough room for outdoor dining, so he turned to his 425-acre farm and erected umbrellas over wooden tables on a dahlia-and-strawberry-covered hillside.

When a summer thunderstorm sent the umbrellas careening over the fence into the buffalo paddock next door, Skokan hired workers to help construct eight cabanas out of decades-old tempered glass from former carnation greenhouses. His new strategy seemed to be succeeding. Every Monday morning, patrons would snap up a week’s worth of dinner reservations at the unique rural retreat.

Then, on July 24, as Skokan prepared a cabana for guests, a speeding dump truck lost control on the tight curve of Nelson Road that borders the property, swerved into the oncoming lane and hit a car. Two of his sons, Kelsey and Ian, were in the convertible. “Death and grief open up a black hole, and you feel yourself falling into it,” Skokan said in early February, pausing to take a deep breath. “My phone exploded with condolences — lots of hands reached out and pulled Jill and I out of that hole and helped create a space to heal.”

Their recovery is indeed a story of shared anguish. Yet the collective action that followed not only supported a grieving family but sustained a treasured part of the community. And it’s not finished.

2:30 a.m.
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People are struggling to get vaccine appointments. A 14-year-old stepped in to help.

Just before midnight, Benjamin Kagan takes his position.

He logs onto his laptop and navigates to the appointment page of a local health-care clinic. He enters a stranger’s personal information and he waits.

When the clock strikes 12, Benjamin must quickly find the bright green button that says, “Get in line.” If he played his cards right, he’ll have scored a vaccine appointment. Hopefully, the process doesn’t take too long, because Benjamin has to sleep.

He has algebra class the next day.

1:55 a.m.
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Nation’s most populous county mandates extra $5 in pandemic ‘hero pay’ for some grocery workers

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted this week to give grocery workers a $5-an-hour pay increase, the latest local government to adopt a “hero pay” measure during the pandemic even as retailers have warned stores could close as a result.

The temporary increase, approved Tuesday in a 4-to-1 vote, will go into effect on Friday for some grocery and drug retail stores in unincorporated parts of the county, a 120-day pay bump that county officials say will benefit about 2,000 workers.

It’s the latest in a series of similar proposals popping up in cities across the West Coast, including in Seattle and elsewhere in California — an effort from some local policymakers to compensate grocery store workers for risks they’ve face during the ongoing pandemic.

12:55 a.m.
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D.C. mayor confirms death of sister from coronavirus

Just hours after D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser confirmed 1,000 covid-19 deaths in her city, she made another somber announcement, this one far more personal: Her sister had died of the virus.

Mercia Bowser, who died Wednesday morning at age 64, was the eldest of the six Bowser siblings, raised in a family deeply involved in the District and its politics. The mayor, 48, is the youngest.

The mayor, who is a generally private person and rarely mentions her daughter, parents or siblings, called the thousandth death “a reminder that this pandemic has forever changed families and communities.”

12:40 a.m.
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New research shows California coronavirus variant is more transmissible

A coronavirus variant detected in California this winter rapidly became dominant in the state over five months and now makes up more than half of the infections in 44 counties, according to new research from scientists who believe this version of the virus should be declared a “variant of concern warranting urgent follow-up investigation.”

The United States has been ramping up scrutiny of the shape-shifting virus, and scientists have identified many genetically distinct variants, but there is continued uncertainty and debate over which of these mutations are significant and to what extent. The variant identified in California has emerged as potentially the first homegrown “variant of concern” in the United States, though it has not yet been designated that by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The variant contains a mutation that scientists suspect is enhancing the virus’s ability to bind to human receptor cells. If truly more transmissible, as the new study contends, the California variant joins a growing list of virus variants circulating in the United States as the country continues to emerge from the devastating winter wave of infections, hospitalizations and deaths.

12:05 a.m.
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Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is effective in large ‘real world’ study

In the first massive “real world” study of its kind, Israeli researchers found that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine protected recipients from the virus, affirming clinical results that inoculation can prevent serious illness or death.

Comparing people who received the vaccine with others of a similar age and background, researchers found that in a population of more than half a million people, the vaccine was 57 percent effective in preventing symptomatic cases two to three weeks after the first dose and 94 percent a week after the second dose, according to the article published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The study, conducted by Clalit Research Institute, the research arm of Israel’s largest health insurers, Ben-Gurion University and Harvard University, did not have any of the limitations that randomized clinical trials have, including smaller sample size, a highly controlled setting and restrictive inclusion criteria. The efficacy of the vaccine in conditions outside those confines is a positive sign for experts.

“It is quite gratifying that the real-world observation data mirror in consonant with the [randomized clinical trials] data from the phase three trials,” said Stephen Morrissey, the journal’s executive managing editor.

The study also evaluated hospitalization and death data. Fewer people who received both doses, nine participants, died of covid-19 compared with the 32 people who had not yet been vaccinated and died, according to the research.

Israel leads the world vaccinating the largest portion of its population — about half of its residents have had one dose, as of Wednesday. Due to its ability to secure a sizable supply of vaccines, given the number of people who live there, the Middle Eastern country offers an example for other countries that trail behind it.

11:10 p.m.
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First vaccine doses distributed by Covax land in West African nation of Ghana

Ghana became the first country in the world to receive coronavirus vaccines as part of the Covax initiative on Feb. 24. (UNICEF Ghana via Storyful)

ABUJA, Nigeria — Ghana became the first country to receive a shipment of coronavirus vaccine from a global effort to equitably distribute doses after a plane landed Wednesday with 600,000 AstraZeneca shots.

The rollout is a first step toward getting doses to low- and middle-income countries cut out of the global vaccine race. But the timing and the relatively modest supply — enough for just 1 percent of Ghana's population — point to major challenges in the immunization effort.

More than 190 countries signed up to participate in Covax, a multilateral effort to develop and distribute coronavirus vaccine doses, but the initiative has struggled to secure enough as wealthy countries snapped up a disproportionate share of early supply.

10:09 p.m.
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Moderna says new version of vaccine is tailored to quell infection by South Africa variant

Moderna said Wednesday that it has manufactured a new version of its mRNA coronavirus vaccine that is tailored to quell infection by the variant first identified in South Africa. The company had previously announced that it planned on taking this step.

The small amount of vaccine has been sent to the National Institutes of Health for a trial to determine whether boosting humans with the modified vaccine will stimulate a strong immune response, the company said.

The Food and Drug Administration still needs to sign off on a human trial before it can begin. Moderna is also testing its existing two-shot vaccine to determine whether a third shot will deliver a strong boost of immunity to fend off the South Africa variant.

Pfizer, the other vaccine maker with an authorized mRNA shot, has said it is taking similar steps as a precaution to determine whether vaccines targeting the variant need to be produced or whether the original inoculation will be sufficient.

The original Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been shown to neutralize the South Africa variant in lab dishes but with a diminished potency of response.

9:25 p.m.
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She needed a vaccine appointment before her open-heart surgery. A stranger gave her one.

It was early January and Emily Johnson was in a panic. She frantically called public health lines and scoured the Web, seeking a coveted coronavirus vaccine appointment. No luck.

Johnson, 68, who lives in Austin, was scheduled to have open-heart surgery in late February, and her cardiologist strongly advised she get vaccinated before flying to Cleveland for the procedure.

But the slow vaccine rollout in Texas made it seemingly impossible for Johnson to get inoculated — even though she’s over 65 and has a serious health condition.

Desperate, she posted on the neighborhood networking site Nextdoor, hoping someone might know something she didn’t.

8:30 p.m.
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Pandemic has led to a boom in old-school Airstream sales

Last June, Amy Geren bought a $42,000 Airstream trailer, sight unseen, from a dealer in Vermont. The 16-foot, 2020 Bambi floor model was the last one on the lot.

“And I could sell mine tomorrow for more than I paid for it,” says Geren, 49.

That may not be an exaggeration. Despite being forced to close for six weeks early in the pandemic, retail sales at Airstream dealerships jumped 22 percent in 2020, and demand is still on the rise. It’s “beyond anything we anticipated,” says Airstream chief executive Bob Wheeler.

The growing popularity of Airstreams is part of a surge in sales of all recreational vehicles during the coronavirus pandemic. RV shipments set records in November and December of last year, according to the RV Industry Association.

But Airstream, which will celebrate its 90th birthday this year, has found a new audience with its nostalgic cachet.

7:07 p.m.
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Mental health issues soared for young athletes during the pandemic — now they are talking about it

Mercedes Perez struggled to breathe. Her heart raced. Her right eye twitched.

Since that night in her bedroom, Perez estimates she has endured about 20 anxiety attacks. When she experienced anxiety in the past, cheerleading helped soften her nerves. But with high school sports around the country going on hold, Perez no longer had that outlet.

Around the country, high school athletes said they’ve experienced depression and anxiety since sports in their states were canceled — losing the structure, identity and stress relief they’ve relied on much of their lives. In response, high schools have taken extra measures to provide resources and combat the stigma. Many young athletes are now discussing their mental health for the first time.

“It’s not some awkward thing that comes up in conversation now,” Perez said. “If you walked up to somebody and was like, ‘I have really severe anxiety,’ they’d be like, ‘Oh that’s kind of weird.’ But now it’s like, ‘Oh, tell me about it.’ ”