The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines

By Joshua Berlinger, Adam Renton, Melissa Macaya and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 10:08 a.m. ET, January 9, 2021
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7:42 a.m. ET, January 8, 2021

Moderna Covid-19 vaccine authorized by UK medicines regulator

From CNN’s Lauren Kent and Sarah Dean in London

A close-up shows a vial of the Moderna vaccine.
A close-up shows a vial of the Moderna vaccine. Gerard Bottino/SOPA Images/Shutterstock

Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine has been authorized by the UK medicines regulator “following months of rigorous clinical trials involving tens of thousands of people and an extensive analysis of the vaccine’s safety, quality and effectiveness,” the country's Department of Health said in a press release on Friday.  

The UK government has agreed to purchase an additional 10 million doses of the Moderna vaccine on top of its previous order of 7 million, taking the total to 17 million, the release said. Supplies will begin to be delivered to the UK from this spring once Moderna expands its production capability, it added.

“This is further great news and another weapon in our arsenal to tame this awful disease,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.

We have already vaccinated nearly 1.5 million people across the UK and Moderna’s vaccine will allow us to accelerate our vaccination programme even further once doses become available from the spring."

On Wednesday, the European Commission also authorized the use of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine across the European Union’s 27 member nations, hours after the European Medicines Agency recommended it do so.

7:31 a.m. ET, January 8, 2021

Swedish parliament votes to allow tougher coronavirus control measures

From Niamh Kennedy in Dublin and Henrik Pettersson in London

The Swedish Parliament is pictured in April 2020, in Stockholm.
The Swedish Parliament is pictured in April 2020, in Stockholm. Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images

Sweden’s parliament has voted in favor of a temporary act that will allow further disease control measures to counteract the spread of Covid-19, according to a statement on the parliament (Riksdag) website on Friday.

Sweden has long been an outlier when it comes to coronavirus measures, declining to impose the full-scale lockdowns favored by its European counterparts. The country has seen a higher death rate per capita than its Scandinavian neighbors, with a total of 9,262 deaths recorded in Sweden according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The Covid-19 Act will apply from January 10 until the end of September and provides the government with the framework to "introduce special restrictions for both certain activities and places." 

The statement said the restrictions may apply to places where the public congregate including shopping centers and malls, public transport and domestic air travel and places where private gatherings are held.

"If necessary, it will be possible to prohibit public gatherings of a certain size at places to which the public have access and close premises that serve food and drink," the statement added. 

The parliament called on the government to provide "much more substantial" clarity as to which businesses may apply for compensation, saying that businesses affected by the new Covid-19 Act "should as a ruler receive compensation." They also asked the government to keep the relevant parliamentary committees informed when drawing up new regulations based on the Act.

7:24 a.m. ET, January 8, 2021

Spain will face some 'tough weeks' warns the health minister

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio in Lisbon

Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa addresses a press conference in Madrid, Spain, on Friday, January 8, after a meeting of the COVID-19 Follow-up Committee.
Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa addresses a press conference in Madrid, Spain, on Friday, January 8, after a meeting of the COVID-19 Follow-up Committee. J J Guillen/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa has warned that the country will face some tough weeks as the number of Covid-19 cases continues to rise. 

“We are going to have some tough weeks ahead again, with an increase in the number of cases and hospitalizations,” Illa said during a press conference on Friday. “It is very important that we reduce mobility and reduce contacts to the maximum and strictly follow the measures that regional health authorities dictate.”

“If we do this, we’ll be able to stabilize the increase in cases,” Illa also said. 

Turning to the vaccination campaign, the health minister revealed that 140,000 people had already been vaccinated in Spain, but said he wanted to improve and speed up vaccinations across the country. 

"Our objective is to have more people vaccinated than infected in Spain, as soon as possible, and to reach a high threshold of 70% of Spaniards vaccinated by the summer,” Illa said. 

Spain has seen 2,024,904 Covid-19 infections and 51,675 related deaths since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

7:10 a.m. ET, January 8, 2021

Detainees file lawsuit against South Korean government after Covid-19 outbreak at Seoul prison

From CNN's Yoonjung Seo in Seoul

A person wearing protective gear is pictured at Seoul's Dongbu Detention Center in Seoul, South Korea, on December 31, 2020.
A person wearing protective gear is pictured at Seoul's Dongbu Detention Center in Seoul, South Korea, on December 31, 2020. Ko Bum-jun/Newsis/AP

Four inmates from Seoul's Dongbu Detention Center filed a compensation lawsuit after a Covid-19 outbreak infected more than 1,100 people at the prison.

A lawyer at South Korean law firm Chung told CNN in a statement that they filed a formal complaint at the Seoul Central District Court on Wednesday demanding 10 million Korean won (about US $9,155) per person.

The firm’s lawyer, Kwak Joon-ho, said in a statement that the purpose of the lawsuit is “to heal the wounds” of the inmates and their family members. Kwak said the government was responsible [for the Covid-19 cluster] for various reasons, including insufficient supply of face masks, lack of separation between confirmed cases and others, and density of the facility.

At least 1,177 cases have been linked to the Dongbu Detention facility as of Friday, according to a press release by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.

Earlier in the week, South Korea announced that it will test every inmate at all of the country's 52 detention facilities for Covid-19. A total of 1,207 have been tested positive as of Friday. 

There has been international concern about Covid-19 outbreaks within prisons and jails. A study published in September found that Covid-19 infection and mortality rates in US state and federal prisons was twice as high as in the general population, though the severity differed widely among states.

6:58 a.m. ET, January 8, 2021

EU purchasing 300 million more vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech

From CNN’s Arnaud Siad in Reykjavík, Iceland

European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen gives a presser on vaccine strategy, on January 8 in Brussels.
European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen gives a presser on vaccine strategy, on January 8 in Brussels. François Walschaerts/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

The European Union has extended its contract with Pfizer/BioNTech for “up to an additional 300 million vaccines” in 2021 -- doubling the amount of doses from that vaccine, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced at a press conference on Friday.

Speaking from Brussels, she said it was imperative to vaccinate the maximum number of Europeans "as quickly as possible," adding that she was "particularly pleased that 75 million of this order will already be available as of quarter two [of this year] onwards. The rest will then be delivered in the third and in the fourth quarter.”

Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine became the second coronavirus vaccine to be approved for use in the EU on Wednesday.

With these two authorized vaccines, we have already secured an amount of doses that we need to vaccinate 380 million Europeans," von der Leyen added. "This is more than 80% of the European population. And other vaccines will follow in the coming weeks and months."

When asked to address the lag in the vaccination campaign in some European countries, Von der Leyen said it was down to production capacity not being able to keep pace with demand. “We’ve seen new production sites are being opened up or licensed, and that makes it possible to work on a basis of confidence with Pfizer/BioNTech to double the contract,” she added.

She added that the contract means the EU's vaccine portfolio "covers 2.3 billion doses... more than enough to vaccinate the whole European population.” That includes vaccines yet to be approved for use in the bloc.

According to the European Commission website on Friday, the Commission had concluded contracts with AstraZeneca (400 million doses), Sanofi-GSK (300 million doses), Johnson and Johnson (400 million doses ), Pfizer/BioNTech (300 million doses), CureVac (405 million doses) and Moderna (160 million doses).

These numbers do not take into account the extended contract with Pfizer/BioNTech announced Friday.

6:28 a.m. ET, January 8, 2021

Two rheumatoid arthritis drugs can help the sickest Covid-19 patients

From CNN Health's Jacqueline Howard

Tocilizumab injections for arthritis are pictured in Leeds, England, in January 2019.
Tocilizumab injections for arthritis are pictured in Leeds, England, in January 2019. Shutterstock

Two drugs typically used to treat rheumatoid arthritis were found to separately improve survival and speed up recovery among critically ill Covid-19 patients, according to early research by an international team.

Data from the REMAP-CAP trial showed that giving either tocilizumab or sarilumab infusions to critically ill Covid-19 patients was associated with an 8.5% improvement in surviving the disease and with being able to be discharged from a hospital's intensive care unit about a week to 10 days faster.

"That's a big change in survival," Anthony Gordon, a senior investigator in the REMAP-CAP trial and a professor at Imperial College London in the United Kingdom, said in a briefing. "We also saw the patients recovered more quickly. They were getting better and able to be discharged from the ICU quicker -- and that was on average and every patient is slightly different."

The findings -- which were posted in a pre-print paper on medrxiv.org but have not been published in a peer-reviewed journal -- included data on more than 800 critically ill Covid-19 patients hospitalized across six countries. The researchers emphasized that the findings were only among critically ill patients.

The new findings are a pivot from some separate studies that previously have found tocilizumab to fall short as a treatment for hospitalized Covid-19 patients.

6:43 a.m. ET, January 8, 2021

Brazil says second Chinese vaccine has 78% efficacy 

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio in Lisbon

A shipment of the CoronaVac vaccine is unloaded from a cargo plane that arrived from China, at Guarulhos International Airport in Guarulhos, Brazil, on December 18.
A shipment of the CoronaVac vaccine is unloaded from a cargo plane that arrived from China, at Guarulhos International Airport in Guarulhos, Brazil, on December 18. Nelson Almeida/AFP/Getty Images

CoronaVac, the Covid-19 vaccine developed by the Chinese company Sinovac, has been shown to have an efficacy of 78% during phase 3 trials in Brazil, its local partner, the Butantan Institute, announced on Thursday. 

"Today is a very important day for Brazil, for Brazilians, for life and health,” Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria said during a press conference, alongside state health officials and executives from the Butantan Institute.  

“This result means that the vaccine developed by the Butantan Institute has a high level of efficiency and efficacy protecting the lives of Brazilians against Covid-19,” Doria also said. 

The phase 3 trials involved 13,000 health workers across eight Brazilian states. According to Reuters, Butantan Director Dimas Covas said that the full CoronaVac data would be released in an unspecified scientific publication but did not provide a timeline.

Doria also said his government, along with the Butantan Institute, had begun the process of applying for an emergency use authorization from ANVISA, Brazil’s national medicine agency, “with the objective of starting the vaccination in São Paulo" from January 25.

Even though the efficacy falls shorts of the success rates of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine candidates, CoronaVac is easier to transport and can be stored at normal refrigerator temperatures, Reuters reports.

5:46 a.m. ET, January 8, 2021

Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei calls for ban on Western Covid-19 vaccines

From Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addresses the nation in a televised speech in Tehran, Iran, on Friday, January 8.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addresses the nation in a televised speech in Tehran, Iran, on Friday, January 8. Handout/Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader/AP

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Friday that he does not trust coronavirus vaccines produced by the Western countries and called on officials to prohibit those vaccines from entering the country.   

“We must not import (Covid-19) vaccines from the US, the UK or even France. I do not trust them,” Khamenei said in a speech to the nation televised on state media. 

This comes as Iranian officials complain about US President Donald Trump's "maximum pressure" sanctions hampering their Covid-19 fight.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has previously accused the US of preventing Iran from making a payment to COVAX, an initiative led by the World Health Organization (WHO), which aims to provide worldwide access to effective Covid-19 vaccines.

“The United States even prevents us from using our own money in different countries to pay COVAX for the vaccine,” Zarif said, adding, “we’ve been trying, our Ministry of Health has been trying, our Central Bank has been trying to transfer money we have in billions in other countries to WHO for COVAX and we haven’t had much success.”  

Last month, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his government plans to produce its own Covid-19 vaccine “with the help of Iranian scientists”, and to buy vaccines from abroad, according to state news agency IRNA.

6:05 a.m. ET, January 8, 2021

Delhi announces mandatory quarantine for all UK arrivals

From CNN's Swati Gupta in New Delhi

The Delhi government announced a mandatory seven-day quarantine at an isolation facility for passengers arriving from the United Kingdom, even if they test negative for Covid-19 at the airport.

Passengers will then be required to spend a further seven days at a "home quarantine," a press release issued by the city’s Disaster Management Authority said Friday.

Those who test positive will be isolated in a separate facility.  

The Indian Ministry of Civil Aviation announced earlier this month that it was ending its temporary suspension of all flights to and from the UK on January 8.

“To protect Delhiites from exposure to virus from the UK... All those arriving from UK, who test positive will be isolated in an isolation facility. Negative ones will be taken to a quarantine facility for 7 days followed by 7 days home quarantine,” tweeted Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi chief minister.

This comes as India is about to embark on one of the most ambitious mass vaccination programs ever undertaken.