February 15 coronavirus news

By Joshua Berlinger, Brad Lendon, Kara Fox and Mary Ilyushina, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, February 16, 2021
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4:06 p.m. ET, February 15, 2021

Covid-19 deaths top 47,000 in California

From CNN's Cheri Mossburg

Transporters Miguel Lopez, right, and Noe Meza prepare to move a body of a COVID-19 victim to a morgue at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles on January 9.
Transporters Miguel Lopez, right, and Noe Meza prepare to move a body of a COVID-19 victim to a morgue at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles on January 9. Jae C. Hong/File/AP

California added 6,487 new Covid-19 cases Monday, the lowest daily increase since early November, according to state data, another sign the disastrous holiday surge continues to recede even as the state become the first in the nation to surpass 47,000 deaths. 

While Mondays often reflect lower case numbers due to weekend reporting lags, California has seen a steady decline in new cases after peaking at the beginning of the year with several days over 50,000 additional cases.

Health officials also reported 200 additional deaths Monday, bringing California to 47,043 total fatalities. The daily average over the past two weeks is well over 400 deaths, another number declining significantly. At the beginning of February, California was averaging 542 deaths each day.

California’s positivity rate stands at 4.3% today, nearly 10 points lower than the 14% marked in early January, which was the highest since widespread testing began in the state.

Hospitalizations and intensive care unit admissions have also fallen steadily over the past month. Currently about 9,300 of those infected with Covid-19 are receiving in-patient treatment with 2,650 of those in intensive care units.

Note: These numbers were released by the California Department of Public Health and may not line up exactly in real time with CNN’s database, which is drawn from Johns Hopkins University and the Covid Tracking Project. 

4:02 p.m. ET, February 15, 2021

West Virginia has fully vaccinated more than 140,000 people, governor says

From CNN’s Anna Sturla

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice speaks during a briefing on February 15.
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice speaks during a briefing on February 15. Governor Jim Justice/Youtube

West Virginia has fully vaccinated 140,540 residents, with a total of 391,186 doses administered in the state, Gov. Jim Justice announced Monday. 

Justice said 250,646 residents have received their first dose.

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources reported two deaths and 301 new cases of Covid-19 over the last 24 hours, Justice added. The state had a daily percent positivity rate of 5.19%, he said.

The governor celebrated that none of the state's counties were marked "red," the highest-alert tier. He also marked a decrease in long-term care facility outbreaks.

Justice reported that there were 43 inmate and 14 staff Covid-19 cases in the state's correctional system, which included 24 in the Southern Regional Jail.

Note: These numbers were released by the state’s health agency, and may not line up exactly in real time with CNN’s database drawn from Johns Hopkins University and the Covid Tracking Project. 

3:51 p.m. ET, February 15, 2021

Colombia receives first batch of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines

From CNN's Stefano Pozzebon and Mitchell McCluskey

Presidencia de Colombia
Presidencia de Colombia

Colombia received 50,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on Monday, President Iván Duque announced.

It is the first batch of vaccine doses Colombia is scheduled to get from Pfizer/BioNTech.

“Today is a day to mourn those who passed away because of this painful illness […] but today shows this is the answer of a resilient country," Duque said from Bogotá’s International Airport where he personally observed and welcomed arrival of the vaccines.  

Duque said the country may receive up to 1.6 million doses over the next 30 days, thanks to bilateral deals with Pfizer/BioNTech and Sinopharm, as well as vaccines provided by the Covax mechanism.

“This is a titanic effort from our nation,” Duque said.

The distribution of the vaccine was set to begin on Saturday, but officials say they may begin rolling it out a few days earlier.

Colombia has reported at least 2,195,039 Coronavirus cases and 57,605 deaths so far, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

3:43 p.m. ET, February 15, 2021

Vaccine advisers are keeping a close watch on new variants circulating the US

From CNN's Lauren Mascarenhas

Dr. Wilbur Chen speaks during an interview on February 15.
Dr. Wilbur Chen speaks during an interview on February 15. CNN

Vaccine advisers say they’re keeping a close eye on the emergence of new variations of the coronavirus.

Researchers reported Sunday that they identified seven troubling new coronavirus variants circulating in the US – all affecting the same portion of the virus’ spike protein, near a region that may affect virulence. 

These new variants bear watching, Dr. Wilbur Chen, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Maryland Medical School, told CNN Monday.

Chen is also a member of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices

“As we see more and more of these variants and more mutations accumulating on that spike protein at the ever-important region called the receptor binding domain – that's a very specific part of the spike protein – that's where we fear there will be increased severity, but also the ability for the virus to potentially evade our diagnostic measures, perhaps monoclonal antibodies and vaccines as well,” Chen told CNN’s Brianna Keilar.

He said this doesn’t necessarily mean that vaccines won’t work against new variants.

“It's not like an on and off switch, where if we see variations, all of a sudden the vaccine just does not work at all,” he said. “It's more like a gradation. We're seeing that the mRNA-based vaccines have that 95% efficacy, but the more variants that we see, mutations on the face of the spike protein, we can see the efficacies decrease.”

He said the US will want to closely monitor these variants.

“We certainly want to preserve the full efficacy of these vaccines by preventing more variant viruses, but again, these vaccines are effective and they continue to be useful,” he said.

2:36 p.m. ET, February 15, 2021

WHO gives emergency use listing to AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

A health worker prepares a dose of Covishield, AstraZeneca/Oxford's Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine made by India's Serum Institute, at an army hospital in Colombo on January 29.
A health worker prepares a dose of Covishield, AstraZeneca/Oxford's Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine made by India's Serum Institute, at an army hospital in Colombo on January 29. Ishara S. Kodikara/AFP/Getty Images

The AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine was listed by the World Health Organization for emergency use on Monday, meaning that it can be rolled out globally through COVAX.

“Today we have even more reason to be hopeful of bringing the pandemic under control,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a news briefing in Geneva on Monday. “Today, WHO gave emergency use listing to two versions of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, giving the green light for these vaccines to be rolled out globally through COVAX.”

Tedros explained that the “two versions” are the same vaccine being manufactured by two different producers – AstraZeneca-SKBio and the Serum Institute of India. They require separate reviews and approvals, as they are being made in different production plants.

Emergency use listing assesses the quality, safety and efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines and is a prerequisite for the vaccines to be part of the COVAX supply, as well as allowing countries to expedite their own regulatory approval, according to a WHO news release, also on Monday.

For the two AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccines, WHO assessed the quality, safety and efficacy data, risk management plans and programmatic suitability in less than four weeks. On Feb. 8, the vaccine was reviewed by WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE), who recommended the vaccine for all groups age 18 and above.

SAGE recommended use of the vaccine for all people ages 18 and older, and that the two doses are administered eight to 12 weeks apart. Their interim recommendations say that it has an efficacy of 63.09% against symptomatic infection.

Along with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, these are the second and third vaccines to receive emergency use listing by WHO, Tedros said. Experts say they could have a major global impact because they cost less and are more easily distributed, since they do not have ultra-cold chain requirements.

1:37 p.m. ET, February 15, 2021

Illinois surpasses 20,000 coronavirus-related deaths 

From CNN's Gregory Lemos and Brad Parks 

The Illinois Department of Public Health Monday reported 41 new Covid-19 related deaths, bringing the total number of lives lost in the state since the pandemic began to 20,002, according to a statement from the department.  

The department reported 1,420 new cases of Covid-19 and a 3.5% positivity rate. There are 1,789 people hospitalized with Covid-19, 389 patients in the ICU and 184 on ventilators.

Nearly 1.2 million people have been diagnosed with Covid-19 in the state of Illinois since health department began tracking data, according to the statement.  

12:41 p.m. ET, February 15, 2021

Novavax testing new version of its Covid-19 vaccine to specifically target variant

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

The biotechnology company Novavax told CNN on Monday that its scientists are testing a new version of its Covid-19 vaccine in the lab that specifically targets the coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa.

As part of this research, the scientists are hoping to determine whether the new vaccine would serve as a booster shot to the original vaccine that has already been developed, or as a bivalent vaccine administered on its own, meaning it would target two strains of the coronavirus, both the original and the variant first identified in South Africa. 

Once lab testing is complete, the new vaccine could move to clinical trials – but a timeline is still in the works and the research is still very early.

In a previous announcement in January, the company said, "Novavax initiated development of new constructs against the emerging strains in early January and expects to select ideal candidates for a booster and/or combination bivalent vaccine for the new strains in the coming days. The company plans to initiate clinical testing of these new vaccines in the second quarter of this year."

12:41 p.m. ET, February 15, 2021

Novavax expects full enrollment of Covid-19 vaccine trial this week

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

Researchers at the UW Medicine Retrovirology Lab at Harborview Medical Center work on samples from the Novavax phase 3 Covid-19 clinical vaccine trials on February 12 in Seattle.
Researchers at the UW Medicine Retrovirology Lab at Harborview Medical Center work on samples from the Novavax phase 3 Covid-19 clinical vaccine trials on February 12 in Seattle. Karen Ducey/Getty Images

The biotechnology company Novavax told CNN on Monday that it expects to announce this week that its PREVENT-19 trial has reached full enrollment.

The trial will include about 30,000 adults across 115 locations in the US and Mexico to test whether the company's investigational vaccine prevents Covid-19 disease. 

Novavax announced in January that early results from a Phase 3 trial in the UK show its coronavirus vaccine has an efficacy of 89.3%. 

As the US trial for Novavax's coronavirus vaccine reaches full enrollment, the company told CNN on Monday that its vaccine is still on track to possibly receive authorization for emergency use in the US by summer. 

 

12:37 p.m. ET, February 15, 2021

UK prime minister urges patience, says "threat from this virus remains very real"

From CNN’s Sarah Dean in London

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson talks during a Covid-19 media briefing in Downing Street on February 15 in London.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson talks during a Covid-19 media briefing in Downing Street on February 15 in London. Stefan Rousseau/WPA Pool/Getty Images

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called for patience and warned the “threat from this virus remains very real” despite the UK reaching its target of giving 15 million people a first dose of the vaccine by Feb. 15. 

Speaking during a Downing Street news conference on Monday, Johnson said he would be setting out a roadmap out of lockdown next week but “we want this lockdown to be the last." He said he wants the progress to be “cautious and irreversible."

“We still don’t have enough exact data on the effectiveness of vaccines on reducing spread of infection,” Johnson warned, adding “we don’t have all the hard facts that we need." 

He said the level of infection remains very high and there are still more people in hospitals with Covid-19 than at the peak last April. “So this moment is a huge step forward but it’s only a first step,” Johnson cautioned.

The government’s next target is to offer vaccines to its top nine priority groups — including everyone over the age of 50 — by the end of April.