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
32 Posts
Sort byDropdown arrow
8:25 a.m. ET, January 8, 2021

Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine makers 'encouraged' by study that shows vaccine appears to work against variants

From CNN Health's Jacqueline Howard

A healthcare worker administers a Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine at the John Knox Village Continuing Care Retirement Community in Pompano Beach, Florida, on January 6.
A healthcare worker administers a Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine at the John Knox Village Continuing Care Retirement Community in Pompano Beach, Florida, on January 6. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Vaccine makers Pfizer and BioNTech said on Friday they were "encouraged" by a new study offering early evidence that their Covid-19 vaccine might be effective against the two new coronavirus variants first identified in South Africa and the United Kingdom.

The study was conducted by researchers at Pfizer and the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB).

"Pfizer, BioNTech, and UTMB are encouraged by these early, in vitro study findings," according to a news release from BioNTech on Friday. 

Further data are needed to monitor the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine’s effectiveness in preventing COVID-19 caused by new virus variants. If the virus mutates such that an update to the vaccine is required to continue to confer protection against COVID-19, we believe that the flexibility of BioNTech’s proprietary mRNA vaccine platform is well suited to enable an adjustment to the vaccine."

Read more about the study here.

12:57 p.m. ET, January 8, 2021

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson details vaccination program

From CNN’s Arnaud Siad in Reykjavik, Iceland

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a virtual press conference at No.10 Downing Street in London, on January 7.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a virtual press conference at No.10 Downing Street in London, on January 7. Tolga Akmen/WPA Pool/Getty Images

There is “enough supply” to vaccinate priority groups in the UK by the deadline of February 15, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a press conference on Thursday.

Detailing the vaccination campaign program, Johnson said: “The limits will not be on our distributional power but on the supply of vaccines.” However, he added he had “no doubt” that the UK has enough supply to vaccinate the four priority groups by the February deadline.

Priority groups: He said these four groups include older care home residents and staff, everyone 70 or older, all frontline NHS workers and all “clinically extremely vulnerable.”

Johnson said in England there will be over 1,000 sites led by family doctors (known as general practitioners in the UK) providing vaccines, 223 hospital sites, seven giant vaccination centers and a first wave of 200 community pharmacies “by the end of next week.”

He said that these sites should be together be able to deliver hundreds of thousands of vaccines per day by January 15, adding that the plan was for everyone to have a vaccination available within a radius of ten miles.

The country was “throwing everything at it, around the clock,” Johnson insisted. 

“Let this be clear: this is a national challenge on a scale like nothing we’ve seen before and it will require an unprecedented national effort,” he warned.

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.