February 8 coronavirus news

By Joshua Berlinger, Adam Renton, Kara Fox and Christopher Johnson, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, February 9, 2021
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10:47 a.m. ET, February 8, 2021

Delta to block middle seats on flights through April

From CNN's Pete Muntean

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Delta Air Lines says it will keep blocking middle seats through April, an extension of a pandemic policy shed by other airlines. 

Delta’s policy will now expire April 30. It was set to expire at the end of next month.

Delta maintains it is the only US airline to keep blocking middle seats on its flights. JetBlue began filling every seat last month, Southwest stopped capping capacity last December, while American and United airlines did so last summer.

“We want our customers to have complete confidence when traveling with Delta, and they continue to tell us that more space provides more peace of mind,” said Bill Lentsch, Chief Customer Experience Officer. 

In a news release, Delta says it made the decision so “customers can confidently plan and book their spring travel.” You may still find empty seats on other airlines, as TSA figures show air travel demand remains depressed.

10:43 a.m. ET, February 8, 2021

New York City is nearing 1 million total vaccine doses administered

From CNN's Kristina Sgueglia

New York City is nearing 1 million total doses of Covid-19 vaccines administered, having administered 997,844 so far – more than the population of Austin Texas, the mayor said.

Citi-Field, the stadium for the MLB Mets, will open as a vaccination site Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said. A special effort there will focus on taxi and limousine commission licenses and food delivery workers, and half will be reserved for Queens residents, he said.

10:36 a.m. ET, February 8, 2021

South Africa to reassess impact of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine on hospitalizations

From CNN’s Nadia Kounang, Jamie Gumbrecht, Sharif Paget and Naomi Thomas

Vials of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine are packaged on the production line at the Serum Institute in Pune, India, on January 22.
Vials of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine are packaged on the production line at the Serum Institute in Pune, India, on January 22. Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Due to uncertainty over the effect the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine has on hospitalizations, Abdool Karim, head of South Africa’s Covid-19 Advisory Board, said the country is pausing the wide spread rollout of the vaccine in favor of a “stepped approach” –– giving shots to 100,000 people to study its impact on severe disease and hospitalization. 

“If we find that the hospitalization rates are below the threshold that we are looking at, then we can be confident that the vaccine is efficacious and maintains its efficacy against hospitalization,” Karim told CNN’s Becky Anderson. “And if so we can then proceed to continuing the rollout.” 

However, he said the country would consider switching to other vaccines if there appears to be no effect on hospitalization rates. “If we find that the hospitalizations are substantially more than we anticipated, then we would have to stop, take stock of where we are and perhaps switch to other vaccines,” Karim said. 

Late Sunday, South African health officials said they're pausing the country's rollout of AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine after a study showed it offered reduced protection from the Covid-19 variant first identified there.

Early data released Sunday suggest two doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine provided only "minimal protection" against mild and moderate Covid-19 from the variant first identified in South Africa.

The full study, which has not been released, included about 2,000 volunteers who were an average of 31 years old; about half received the vaccine and half received a placebo, which does nothing.

Karim noted that the study, which focused on young people, had a potentially wide range of effect. He noted the study overall found the vaccine to be 22% effective, however there were times it showed to be as high as 60% effective. 

“What the study has created is some uncertainty about the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine. So it's more about what the uncertainty is, rather than what [the study] actually shows,” Karim said. 

10:32 a.m. ET, February 8, 2021

UK Prime Minister "very confident" in all the Covid-19 vaccines the country is using

From CNN’s Eleanor Pickston

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a media briefing on February 3, in London.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a media briefing on February 3, in London. Stefan Rousseau/WPA Pool/Getty Images

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “very confident” in all the vaccines the UK is currently using to combat the coronavirus. 

“We're very confident in all the vaccines that we're using and I think it's important for people to bear in mind that all of them, we think, are effective in delivering a high degree of protection against serious illness and death, which is the most important thing,” Johnson said Monday.

His comments come a day after South Africa paused its rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine after early data from a study showed that it offered "minimal protection" against mild or moderate illness caused by the more contagious virus variant first identified there, known as B.1.351.

The UK is currently administering the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines. According to the government’s dashboard more than 12 million people have received a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine in the UK.

Johnson said the government will continue to “study” the results and effectiveness of the vaccine rollout and will be “looking at the ways in which the population is starting to respond to the vaccines” ahead of setting out a strategy for the country to exit lockdown on Feb. 22.

When asked about the UK’s border controls, Johnson responded that despite having “amongst the toughest border controls of anywhere in the world”, border controls are “most effective” when you’ve got the infection rate down in your country.” 

“We've greatly reduced the rate of infection from the peak where it was a few weeks ago but it's still extremely high. And for border controls, to make that final difference so that you can isolate new variants as they come in, you need to have infections really much lower so you can track them as they spread,” he continued. “But that doesn't mean that we're not going to be relying very much on border controls, as we get the rates of infection down overall, stopping it coming in, tracking the people who have a new variants,” Johnson added.

The UK had an R rate of 0.7 to 1, as of government data released on Friday. 

The R is the number of people that one infected person will pass the virus on to.

9:02 a.m. ET, February 8, 2021

South Africa contends with Oxford/AstraZeneca doses expiring as it shifts rollout strategy

From CNN’s Sarah Dean and Amy Cassidy

South Africa’s decision to pause a mass rollout of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine after a study showed it offered reduced protection from the South African variant is “just a temporary delay” and includes a new rollout strategy, the head of South Africa’s Covid-19 advisory committee said Monday.

“This is just a temporarily delay, but the way in which we're going to roll it out is going to be different in that we're taking a two-step approach,” epidemiologist Salim Abdool Karim told told the Times Radio.

During a briefing on Sunday, Karim said that “if the vaccine shows not to be effective in reducing hospitalizations then we would need to offer those individuals another effective vaccine - either a booster of that vaccine ... or to give them another vaccine. So we can still proceed with our rollout but we need to do it… wisely by taking a stepped approach."

He stressed the reason for this approach is because "we don't really know the answer on severe disease."

Early data released Sunday suggests two doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine provided only “minimal protection” against mild and moderate Covid-19 from the variant first identified in South Africa.

Viral neutralization against variant, called B.1.351, was “substantially reduced” when compared to the earlier coronavirus strain, the University of Oxford said in a news release. The vaccine’s efficacy against severe Covid-19, hospitalization and death were not assessed.

Karim further explained on Monday that South Africa will only carry out a mass rollout of the vaccine once they are “confident” that it reduces hospitalization in 100,000 individuals infected with the variant first identified in the country.

The first step is to vaccinate probably around 100,000 individuals, and then to assess what the hospitalization rates are. And once we're confident that the hospitalization rates are low with the AstraZeneca vaccine, then we proceed to rolling out the remaining million doses that we have,” Karim said.
“If it turns out that the hospitalization rates are not as low as we would like, then of course we would stop and not roll out any further AstraZeneca -- so that's the plan."

South Africa’s vaccination program has been delayed by about two to three weeks, Karim added, saying that's how long they expect it will take for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to arrive in the country.

“With every vaccine that we are going to roll out, we can think of it as a two-step process -- it's a stepped introduction of each vaccine,” Karim explained.

However, the country is also contending with its current million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine expiring in April.

The vaccine should have a six month expiry date, a Department of Health official said at a briefing Sunday -- when the pause was announced -- but the Oxford/AstraZeneca doses that South Africa received earlier this month from the Serum Institute of India "came through with an expiry date of April which we only identified on arrival."

Dr. Anban Pillay from the Department of Health said that the department is awaiting a response after asking the Serum Institute “for an extension on the date, if that's possible, or an exchange of the stocks."

During the Sunday briefing, South Africa’s Health Minister Dr. Zweli Mkhize said that for the next four weeks, the Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccines will be available to health workers and that they would look into the Oxford/AstraZeneca expiry date issue, saying that there should be "no wastage."

11:00 a.m. ET, February 8, 2021

France's health minister gets vaccinated and says 'I will be protected'

From CNN's Pierre Bairin, Stephanie Halasz and Eva Tapiero

French Health Minister Olivier Veran receives a dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at the South Ile-de-France Hospital Group in Melun, on February 8.
French Health Minister Olivier Veran receives a dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at the South Ile-de-France Hospital Group in Melun, on February 8. Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images

The French Minister of Health received the first dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine on Monday.

Minister Olivier Véran, who is 40, posted a picture of himself getting vaccinated with the words “vaccinated” to his Twitter account on Monday. He was vaccinated while visiting a hospital in Melun, a suburb southeast of Paris.

In a nod to Véran's inoculation, the Ministry of Health said in a press release on Monday that "the vaccination campaign continues in France and since this Saturday, February 6, 2021, people under the age of 65, including health and social professionals, can be vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine.”

Speaking to reporters outside the hospital where he was vaccinated, Véran recommended that health workers in France who are eligible for the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine get the shot, saying that it "protects against at least 99% of the strains that circulate today in our country."

"Given the level of scientific and medical information that I have -- and that Europe has -- at least 99% of the viruses circulating today on our territory do not correspond to a South African variant and which the AstraZeneca vaccine allows to protect against almost all viruses that are in circulation. "

The Health Minister was making reference to a study released by a South African university on Sunday that showed that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine offered reduced protection from the South African variant.

The French Health Ministry told CNN that Véran, who is a neurologist, was authorized to get vaccinated as he is a medical doctor.

Véran said on Monday that he accepted the invitation from the hospital's director to receive the first injection of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine there, as he had "always said that as soon as I am part of the target for vaccine indications, I will be protected."

France has hit some road bumps in the vaccination process so far, with a total of 2,130,000 doses administered so far, according to the French Health Authority.

8:08 a.m. ET, February 8, 2021

Iran reports more than new 7,300 Covid-19 cases as vaccination program set to begin

From CNN’s Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran

On Monday, Iran reported 7,321 new daily coronavirus cases, bringing the country's total number of cases to 1,473,756.

Iran’s Health Minister Saeed Namaki said vaccinations will begin in the country on Tuesday. He said nurses and doctors working in intensive care units will be among the first inoculated, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency.

The new coronavirus case numbers were announced by Iran’s Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadaat Lari in a news conference on state TV.

The country also reported 67 new deaths from Covid-19 bringing the country's death toll to 58,536.

The health ministry said 3,778 patients are hospitalized in ICU.

Iran is the Middle East country hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic in total cases and deaths.

8:14 a.m. ET, February 8, 2021

Spain received its first delivery of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and will begin distributing it on Monday

From CNN's Ingrid Formanek in Granada, Spain

Health workers receive a delivery of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine at University Clinico Hospital in Zaragoza, Spain, on February 8.
Health workers receive a delivery of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine at University Clinico Hospital in Zaragoza, Spain, on February 8. DGA/Luis Correas Handout/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Spain received the first delivery of Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines over the weekend, the Ministry of Health said in a statement.

196,800 doses of the vaccine were received over the weekend and distribution to the autonomous regions is due to begin Monday, it said.

Active health and social health workers -- who were not previously included in the priority vaccination groups -- will be the first to receive the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.

On Friday, Spain announced the AstraZeneca vaccine will only be used to vaccinate people between the ages of 18 and 55.

Spain expects to receive a total of 1,810,575 Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine doses this month, according to the statement.

The country expects to distribute a total of more than 4 million doses of the BioNTech/Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines.

Spain has recorded 2,941,990 total cases and 61,386 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

7:43 a.m. ET, February 8, 2021

Less than 3 percent of Germany's population has been vaccinated so far, RKI data shows

From CNN's Stephanie Halasz and Claudia Otto

A member of a mobile vaccination team prepares doses of the Biontech/Pfizer vaccine in Tübingen, Germany on February 5.
A member of a mobile vaccination team prepares doses of the Biontech/Pfizer vaccine in Tübingen, Germany on February 5. Sebastian Gollnow/picture alliance/Getty Images

More than 3 million doses of coronavirus vaccines have been administered in Germany so far, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the country's main public health authority.

In total, 3,269,110 doses have been given, with the majority of them administered as a first shot.

The RKI said on Monday that:

2,287,196 people have received the first vaccination and 981,914 have been given the second dose.
2.8% of the total German population has received the first shot.

Last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said everyone in the country would be offered a coronavirus vaccine by September 21 and announced the formation of a national vaccination plan. 

"There is a national vaccination strategy, this strategy will now also include a national vaccination plan, and according to this plan we will predict delivery dates to the best of our knowledge,” Merkel said.

Federal and state governments will convene on Wednesday for a Covid-19 strategy meeting to discuss that national vaccination plan further, she said.

Amid a backlash over the pace of the country’s vaccine rollout program, Health Minister Jens Spahn said on January 28 that the federal government expects the country to face shortages in its supply of the coronavirus vaccine for at least another 10 weeks.