The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines

By Helen Regan, Adam Renton, Florence Davey-Attlee, Hannah Strange and Rob Picheta, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, January 14, 2021
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8:19 p.m. ET, January 12, 2021

Scientists fear "escape mutant" in coronavirus variant from South Africa might decrease vaccine efficacy

From CNN's Elizabeth Cohen

Scientists have identified an "escape mutant" that may decrease the efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines.

The mutation -- called E484K -- has been found in a variant of the coronavirus first spotted in South Africa two months ago. That variant has now spread to 12 other countries.

Penny Moore, associate professor at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases in South Africa, called the mutation "alarming."

"We fear this mutation might have an impact, and what we don't know is the extent of the impact," she said.

E484K is called an "escape mutant" because it's been shown it might be able to escape some of the antibodies produced by the vaccine.

"I'm worried," said Alex Sigal, a virologist at the Africa Health Research Institute.

Sigal, Moore, and other scientists who are studying the E484K mutation still have to complete their work in the lab to see if the vaccine is less effective against this new variant.

Based on what they've seen so far, they say they highly doubt E484K will render the coronavirus vaccines useless. Rather, they think there's a possibility the mutation -- on its own or in combination with other mutations -- could decrease the efficacy of the vaccine against the variant.

They also worry E484K might be an indication the novel coronavirus is showing its ability to change before our eyes. If this mutation happened in a matter of months, other problematic mutations could follow.

"This virus may be taking the first steps down a fairly lengthy road towards vaccine resistance," said Andrew Ward, a structural virologist at Scripps Research in La Jolla, California.
"It's the beginning of a long haul," Moore said. "That's what's really shaken me up about this. It's a sobering wake up call."

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7:41 p.m. ET, January 12, 2021

CDC to require all air travelers to US to show negative coronavirus test

From CNN’s Maggie Fox

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday it will require a negative Covid-19 test from all air passengers entering the United States -- a move it says may help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Air passengers will be required to get a viral test within three days before their flight to the US departs, and to provide written documentation of their lab results, or documentation of having recovered from Covid-19, the agency said in a statement to CNN.

CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield is expected to sign the order on Tuesday and it will go into effect on January 26.

"Variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus continue to emerge in countries around the world, and there is evidence of increased transmissibility of some of these variants," the CDC said in a statement. "With the US already in surge status, the testing requirement for air passengers will help slow the spread of the virus as we work to vaccinate the American public."

If a passenger does not provide documentation of a negative test or recovery, or chooses not to take a test, the airline must not allow the passenger to board, the CDC said.

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8:05 p.m. ET, January 12, 2021

More than 9 million people in the US have received the first dose of coronavirus vaccine, CDC says

From CNN’s Maggie Fox and Michael Nedelman

More than 9 million people have received the first shot of their coronavirus vaccine and more than 27 million doses have been distributed, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.

The CDC’s regular report on vaccine distribution and administration shows 27,696,150 vaccine doses have gone to states and territories and 9,327,128 shots have gone into people’s arms. That means one-third of vaccines that have been delivered have been given to people.

The CDC said 951,774 residents of long-term care facilities have been vaccinated, with nearly 4.4 million doses sent out to the facilities -- which were designated to be the first sites covered under vaccine rollout.

Officials of Operation Warp Speed defended the slow rollout of vaccines on Tuesday, saying states were sticking too rigidly to guidance designating health care workers and nursing home residents to be vaccinated first. They said the rollout would speed up soon and asked states to open up vaccination to everyone 65 and older and to younger people with chronic conditions.