UK vaccines; Florida dashboard raid; Warp Speed summit
Britain became the first western nation to start vaccinating its population against the coronavirus on Tuesday, and the U.S. could begin its own mass vaccinations within days.
It can’t come soon enough. The U.S. death toll over the last week was 15,658, according to data from Johns Hopkins University’s dashboard. That’s the second largest seven-day total since the pandemic began and the most deaths in a week since April. The COVID Tracking Project reports that at least 41 states are seeing a rise in the percentage of tests coming back positive.
Russia is beginning mass vaccinations as well. But there is a hitch: Recipients aren’t supposed to drink alcohol for almost two months. That’s a tough ask in a country where some polls indicate only about 25% of the population was willing to get vaccinated.
Putin has heralded the Russian vaccine as the world’s first, but distrust of the medical establishment has tamped down the public appetite for it. Tens of thousands of Russians have been vaccinated, including many health care workers and members of the military.
What you should know today:
- An FDA panel on Thursday will consider an emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine now being used in England. Around 50 hospitals in the U.K.’s state-run National Health Service started administering the COVID-19 inoculation to people over 80 who are either hospitalized or have outpatient appointments scheduled, along with nursing home workers.
- State police raided the Tallahassee home of Rebekah Jones, the former Department of Health data scientist who built the state’s much-praised COVID-19 dashboard before being fired over what she said was refusing to “manipulate data.” Video shows FDLE agents with guns drawn.
- A USA TODAY survey finds most states are ready to distribute a coronavirus vaccineto health care workers but maybe not all who are next in line. Here’s how all 50 states are scrambling to dole them out.
- The White House is dismissing reports that the administration passed on buying additional doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine before other countries cut their deals.
📰 What we’re reading: The second person in the world to receive Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine shares the same name as the U.K.’s most famous poet and playwright. William Shakespeare, 81, is known to friends and family as “Bill,” and he said he was “pleased” to get the shot. Read more about the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine here.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has reported more than 14.9 million cases and over 283,700 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: 67.5 million cases and 1.5 million deaths.
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The push to reopen classrooms for New York City’s 1 million public school students is drawing only modest interest from parents of students – with a higher percentage of the white students returning to schools than their minority peers, data shows. The New York Times reports that parents of 70% of the kids – about 700,000 students – have chosen to learn from home. Another 110,000 middle and high school students signed up for in-person classes cannot return to school buildings quite yet.
Of the 190,000 younger students back in classrooms this week, Latino students make up the largest share at about 43%, about equal to their overall representation in the school system. But white children, who are less likely to be low-income than many of their peers, make up a quarter of students back in classrooms, even though they represent just 16% of overall enrollment. And though Black families make up nearly a quarter of the school system, their children represent just 18% of the students back in schools.
People of color have been hardest hit by the pandemic.
“Clearly, there are Black families who are hesitant, which only makes sense after the disparities they experienced during the heights of the pandemic,” Bill Neidhardt, the mayor’s press secretary, said in a statement.
Data on a candidate COVID-19 vaccine made by AstraZeneca and Oxford University is strong enough to present to regulators in the U.K., Europe and elsewhere around the world, the collaborators said Tuesday. But they don’t expect approval from the U.S. without more data from American volunteers.
The team presented data in the medical journal, The Lancet, the first late-stage trial information to be published under peer review. The vaccine was shown to be 70% effective among the more than 11,000 participants, but 90% effective for a subset of about 2,700 participants who received a half-dose of the vaccine the first time and a full-dose of the vaccine the second. It’s not yet clear whether that improved effectiveness was due to a statistical fluke.
– Karen Weintraub and Adrianna Rodriguez
Morocco is gearing up for an ambitious COVID-19 vaccination program, aiming to vaccinate 80% of its adults in an operation relying initially on a Chinese vaccine. The first injections could come within days, a Health Ministry official said. Some Moroccans have taken to social media to question the safety of the vaccine. Medical experts and health officials have appeared on TV in recent weeks to promote the vaccines and encourage skeptical Moroccans to get immunized.
Morocco, like much of the world, is battling a resurgence in virus infections, with the number of recorded deaths from the virus surpassing 6,000.
Russia has begun mass immunizations but is warning recipients they must abstain from drinking alcohol for eight weeks for the inoculations to be effective. The head of Russia’s consumer safety agency, Anna Popova, said recipients should not drink for two weeks prior to getting the first of two doses required for the vaccine. Alcohol also should be avoided for the three weeks between the first and second dose, then for three weeks after the second dose, Popova said.
“It’s a strain on the body. If we want to stay healthy and have a strong immune response, don’t drink alcohol,” she told the Moscow Times.
Alexander Gintsburg, the head of the state-run Gamaleya research center that developed Sputnik V, was a bit less rigid. Gintsburg said that while alcohol should not alcohol abused before or after vaccination, “a single glass of champagne never hurt anyone.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration released a 53-page report Tuesday supporting earlier findings that the vaccine candidate from Pfizer and BioNTech is safe and effective. The earlier findings found the vaccine is safe and will prevent 95% of people from becoming sick with COVID-19.
The companies are asking the FDA for authorization to use the vaccine in people ages 16 and up. They have also begun testing the vaccine in ages 12-15, but have not yet accumulated enough data to request authorization in that age group.
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, said he received a briefing on the material in recent days.
“The group I was with who heard the data arrived interested and left the presentation enthusiastic,” Schaffner said. “The extraordinary thing is that there were no major areas of concern.”
– Karen Weintraub
The White House is dismissing reports that the administration passed on buying additional doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine before other countries cut their deals. The New York Times was first to report that before Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine was proved highly successful in clinical trials last month, the company offered the Trump administration the chance to lock in supplies beyond the 100 million doses already committed.
The Times, citing people familiar with the talks, said the White House never made the deal – “a choice that now raises questions about whether the United States allowed other countries to take its place in line.” Senior administration officials, however, told reporters the story was “false” and that negotiations were ongoing.
“We feel absolutely confident that we will get the vaccine doses, for which we’ve contracted, and we’ll have sufficient number of doses to vaccinate all Americans who desire one before the end of the second quarter 2021,” a senior administration official said.
– David Jackson and Courtney Subramanian
State police brandishing firearms raided the Tallahassee home of Rebekah Jones, the former Department of Health data scientist who built the state’s much-praised COVID-19 dashboard before being fired over what she said was refusing to “manipulate data.”
“They pointed a gun in my face. They pointed guns at my kids,” Jones tweeted after Monday’s raid. Later that night she was able to tweet a bit of humor: “So… how was everyone else’s day?”
Jones said the warrant based on a complaint filed by the Florida Department of Health. State police spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger confirmed the seizure, citing possible unauthorized access to a department messaging system. Video from the scene appears to show an agent entering the house with his gun drawn, calling for Jones’s husband to come down the stairs.
“Ms. Jones refused to come to the door for 20 minutes and hung up on agents,” Plessinger said in a statement. “After several attempts and verbal notifications that law enforcement officers were there to serve a legal search warrant, Ms. Jones eventually came to the door and allowed agents to enter.”
– Jeffrey Schweers
Public health experts warned for some time that a winter surge would come. But four who spoke with USA TODAY said they have been stunned by the dismal trajectory of the virus over nine grueling months, and they never expected the nation to be in as bad of a position as it is right now. November broke records that December is already pursuing.
“I don’t think there’s a single person anywhere who thought that we would still be facing this in December, let alone that this would be at such a peak at this particular time,” said Dr. Robert Amler, dean of New York Medical College’s School of Health Sciences and Practice and a former chief medical officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
– Ryan W. Miller
England on Tuesday became the first western country to start vaccinating its population against a virus that has killed more than 1.5 million people worldwide and sickened tens of millions more. Margaret Keenan, a grandmother who turns 91 next week, received the first shot at University Hospital Coventry.
“It’s the best early birthday present I could wish for,” Keenan said. Second in line: a man named William Shakespeare. Billy to his friends.
Fifty hospitals in the U.K.’s state-run National Health Service started administering the COVID-19 inoculation to people over 80 who are either hospitalized or have outpatient appointments scheduled. Some nursing home workers also received the vaccine.
– Kim Hjelmgaard
Days before the first COVID-19 vaccine could be cleared for use in the U.S., an exclusive USA TODAY Network survey of health officials in all 50 states revealed a patchwork of preparations and different distribution plans that may mean wide variations in what the rollout looks like as it expands across the nation. Many states are struggling to prepare because information about what, when and how much vaccine is coming constantly changes, and extra funding to make the undertaking possible depends on Congress. Preparedness varies widely depending on how well a state’s health department is funded, how hard the pandemic has hit and how robust its immunization system was pre-pandemic. Read more here.
– Elizabeth Weise
COVID-19 resources from USA TODAY
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Contributing: Mike Stucka, USA TODAY; The Associated Press