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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8:22 p.m. ET, February 7, 2021

WHO panel will meet Monday to discuss AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine

From CNN’s Naomi Thomas

The World Health Organization’s independent panel on vaccinations will meet on Monday to discuss the AstraZeneca vaccine and studies assessing how effective it is against the virus variant first identified in South Africa, Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead for Covid-19, said on CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday. 

A spokesperson for AstraZeneca told CNN on Saturday that a small trial found the company’s Covid-19 vaccine provides limited protection against mild disease in cases caused by the B.1.351 variant. The study has not yet been peer-reviewed or published.

When asked if she was concerned about AstraZeneca’s vaccine and the variant, Van Kerkhove told CBS’s Margaret Brennan that there were a number of studies underway to look at immune responses. 

There are “some preliminary studies suggesting reduced efficacy. But again, those studies aren’t fully published yet,” Van Kerkhove said.

“Our independent panel group on vaccinations is meeting tomorrow to specifically discuss the AstraZeneca vaccine as well as the results coming out of South Africa to determine what does this mean in terms of the vaccines going forward,” Van Kerkhove said. 

She added that it’s critical to have more than one safe and effective vaccine: “We cannot rely on only one product.”

8:21 p.m. ET, February 7, 2021

AstraZeneca vaccine offers "minimal protection" against mild infection of South Africa variant, study says

From CNN's Jamie Gumbrecht

Early data suggest two doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine provide “minimal protection” against mild and moderate infection from the variant first identified in South Africa, the University of Oxford said Sunday. 

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

Details of the study by researchers from South Africa’s University of Witwatersrand and others and the University of Oxford were shared in a press release. The results have been submitted for peer-review and a preprint will be released soon, Oxford said. 

Adapting the vaccine: After the study was reported Saturday by the Financial Times, AstraZeneca said in a statement it believes the vaccine could provide protection against severe disease, and said it has started to adapt the vaccine against the variant “so that it is ready for Autumn delivery should it be needed.”

“Efforts are underway to develop a new generation of vaccines that will allow protection to be redirected to emerging variants as booster jabs, if it turns out that it is necessary to do so,” Sarah Gilbert, a professor of vaccinology at the University of Oxford, said in Sunday’s statement, noting that this issue faces all vaccine developers. “We are working with AstraZeneca to optimise the pipeline required for a strain change should one become necessary.”

In the Oxford statement, Shabir Madhi, a professor of vaccinology at University of Witwatersrand who led the study, noted recent data in South Africa from Janssen, Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine arm, found some protection against moderate and severe Covid-19 disease with a similar vaccine. 

“These findings recalibrate thinking about how to approach the pandemic virus and shift the focus from the goal of herd immunity against transmission to the protection of all at risk individuals in population against severe disease,” Madhi said. 

8:18 p.m. ET, February 7, 2021

More contagious variant identified in UK is spreading rapidly throughout the US, study says

From CNN's Jamie Gumbrecht

A new study finds that cases of a more contagious coronavirus variant are rapidly increasing in the United States, and significant community transmission may already be occurring.

Although the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the UK is currently at a relatively low frequency in the US, the paper says it's doubling every week and a half, similar to what was observed in other countries. The report estimates this variant is 35-45% more transmissible than strains that appeared earlier in the US, and it's doubling about every 10 days in the country.

Last month, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention modeling predicted the B.1.1.7 variant could become the predominant strain in the United States by March. It estimates the virus is about 50% more transmissible.

"Our study shows that the U.S. is on a similar trajectory as other countries where B.1.1.7 rapidly became the dominant SARS-CoV-2 variant, requiring immediate and decisive action to minimize COVID-19 morbidity and mortality," researchers wrote in the study's preprint, which has not yet been peer-reviewed or published.

In addition to groups of cases in California, Florida and Georgia, many B.1.1.7 cases in the US did not report recent international travel, the report said, suggesting "significant community transmission of the B.1.1.7 variant is already ongoing across the U.S."

Read the full story:

8:17 p.m. ET, February 7, 2021

Democrats to unveil $3,000 child benefit as part of Biden relief package

From CNN's Daniella Diaz and Tami Luhby

House Democratic leaders will unveil legislation Monday that would give millions of families at least $3,000 per child, advancing a key provision in President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package.

Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee Richard Neal, who is leading the crafting of the legislation for the stimulus package, will introduce the enhanced Child Tax Credit bill, according to a committee spokesperson.

"The pandemic is driving families deeper and deeper into poverty, and it's devastating. We are making the Child Tax Credit more generous, more accessible, and by paying it out monthly, this money is going to be the difference in a roof over someone's head or food on their table," Neal said in a statement provided to CNN.

CNN obtained a copy of the 22-page bill. The Washington Post first reported on it.

The legislation would provide $3,600 per child under the age of six and $3,000 per child age six through 17 for a single year. The full benefit is available to single parents earning up to $75,000 annually and for couples earning up to $150,000. Payments would phase out after those thresholds.

Families can receive the Child Tax Credit payments on a monthly basis, which advocates say will make it easier to pay their obligations compared to getting a lump sum at tax time.

If this particular legislation is passed by Congress, the payments would begin in July for one year.

Another big change: The credit would become fully refundable for the year. Some 27 million children currently live in low-income families who receive a partial or no tax credit because they earn too little, according to the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Read the full story: