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Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine may neutralize Brazil variant, lab study finds, as experts warn of rapid spread

An elderly covid-19 patient is helped by a nurse at her home in Manaus, Brazil, on March 2. (Bruno Kelly/Reuters)
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The Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine appears to be highly effective against a more-contagious variant first discovered in Brazil, according to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, raising hopes that ongoing vaccination efforts will help curb its spread.

The study was conducted by scientists with the vaccine manufacturers — U.S. firm Pfizer and German partner BioNTech — and researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. Researchers used the vaccines on viruses engineered to carry the mutations found in the Brazil strain, known as P.1, not the actual variant.

The findings have not been confirmed by real-world data, but they come as public-health experts warn that the more-transmissible variants could drive yet another surge in coronavirus cases, particularly as restrictions are lifted across the United States.

As health officials rush to get ahead of the variants, Congress is on track to pass pandemic relief legislation after months of debate, with the House set to begin consideration of the $1.9 trillion package at 9 a.m. Wednesday. Once passed, President Biden will sign the measure into law.

Here are some significant developments:

  • Alaska is the first state to remove eligibility requirements for the coronavirus vaccine, making immunization available to anyone 16 and older who lives or works in the state.
  • Some experts disagree with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines that discourage vaccinated people from traveling. One leading physician said the agency “is being far overly cautious in a way that defies common sense.”
  • Cybercriminals are flooding potential victims with scams using the pending coronavirus relief plan as bait, according to a report by researchers at cybersecurity firm Proofpoint.
  • The coronavirus began proliferating rapidly in the United States around this time last year. Now, infectious-disease experts are acknowledging how they underestimated the pathogen, especially in the critical early days of the crisis.
  • The seven-day average for new daily coronavirus cases in the United States has dropped below 58,000 for the first time since mid-October.
  • Nearly 32 million people in the United States have been fully vaccinated, a little less than 10 percent of the population. The nation is averaging about 2.1 million doses administered per day, up from about 1.5 million one month ago.

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