February 17 coronavirus news

By Jessie Yeung and Sarah Faidell, CNN

Updated 12:02 a.m. ET, February 18, 2021
21 Posts
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9:21 a.m. ET, February 17, 2021

Increased US vaccine supply will end state-to-state discrepancies in who can get a shot, Fauci says

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

A nurse takes a Moderna Covid-19 vaccine ready to be administered at a vaccination site in South Central Los Angeles, California on February 16.
A nurse takes a Moderna Covid-19 vaccine ready to be administered at a vaccination site in South Central Los Angeles, California on February 16. Apu Gomes/AFP/Getty Images

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Wednesday that “discrepancies and difficulties” in vaccine distribution from state to state are going to disappear as more vaccine supply becomes available. 

During the interview, CBS's Gayle King pointed out how every state is handling who gets the vaccine differently and asked if there should be a uniform process.

Fauci said there’s a need “to respect the ability and the right of the states who know their own situation well to make their own decisions,” and avoid dictating from above, but “there should be some sort of consistency, not necessarily identical, from state to state.” 

Fauci said that who can get a vaccine differs greatly from state to state.

“Hopefully that will smooth out as we get more vaccine doses,” he said. “The cure of all of this is when the supply-demand gap closes because right now the demand far exceeds the supply. As we get into the later months, April, May, June and July, as you were mentioning just a little bit ago, I think those kind of discrepancies and difficulties are going to disappear.” 
8:12 a.m. ET, February 17, 2021

Second grader says Biden made her feel she “would be safe in this pandemic” during town hall

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

An 8-year-old who President Biden addressed during CNN’s town hall last night said he made her feel better about the pandemic. 

“I was really nervous” to speak with the President, second-grader Layla said on CNN’s “New Day,” but Biden “made me feel better that I would be safe in this pandemic.” 

During the town hall, Layla Salas’ mother, Jessica Salas, told Biden that her two young children often ask her about whether they will get Covid-19 and die.

Salas said her children would like to know when they will be able to get the vaccine. She called Biden’s answer to her question “so-so.” 

Biden told Layla "don't be scared" and reassured her that children do not usually die from Covid-19, but said, "We haven't even done tests yet on children as to whether or not the certain vaccines would work or not work or what is needed."

“It was great that he comforted my child, which was huge," Salas said. "I would have loved to have heard an answer that said, ‘OK, we're going to approach the kids' vaccines right after we finish the priority, which are the adults right now.’ He didn't say that, but he did also acknowledge that they haven't started testing yet, so it’s understandable that he didn’t want to give information he was unsure about.” 

Layla and her younger brother have been virtually learning since last March, and she said she misses being in school in person. 

Watch more:

8:23 a.m. ET, February 17, 2021

EU announces bio-defense plan against Covid-19 variants

From CNN’s James Frater in London

European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen looks on as she arrives at the European Parliament to explain the European Union's vaccine strategy, in Brussels, Belgium, on February 10.
European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen looks on as she arrives at the European Parliament to explain the European Union's vaccine strategy, in Brussels, Belgium, on February 10. Johanna Geron/AFP/Getty Images

The European Union has announced a plan called the “HERA Incubator” to combat the increased threat from coronavirus variants. 

In a statement the European Commission said the HERA Incubator will “bring together researchers, biotech companies, manufacturers, regulators and public authorities to monitor variants, exchange data and cooperate on adapting vaccines.”

The core function of the HERA Incubator will be to “boost preparedness, develop vaccines for the variants and increase industrial production.” It will receive €75 million in funding to develop specialized tests for new variants, and to support genomic sequencing across the EU. 

In addition, a clinical trial network which brings together 16 EU member states and five other countries including Switzerland and Israel will be created to exchange data and findings from trials. 

The rapid spread of Covid-19 variants has raised concerns about the effectiveness of current approved vaccines against these mutations. With the emergence of the UK and South Africa variants that have been linked to a faster spread of infection, several vaccine makers and independent researchers ran additional tests to find out whether their shots are still efficient. For example, early results suggested the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines protect against the new variants, but are slightly less effective.

But a variant of Covid-19 that emerged in South Africa forced the country to pivot from using AstraZeneca vaccine to the Johnson & Johnson shot. The decision was made after preliminary trial data showed AstraZeneca’s shot offered minimal protection against mild to moderate illness caused by that variant.

A potential issue that may arise as the world tries to end the pandemic is having to go through months of approval processes for adapted vaccines, in attempts to catch up with emerging variants that could cause more severe illness.

The European Commission has proposed changing current regulations to allow “the approval of an adapted vaccine with a smaller set of additional data” and is considering a new category of emergency authorization of vaccines at EU level.

“New variants of the virus are emerging fast and we must adapt our response even faster,” President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said, adding that the HERA Incubator would pull “all available resources to enable us to respond to this challenge.”

The HERA Incubator will also serve as a blueprint for the EU's long-term preparedness for health emergencies. 

European leaders will meet on February 25, when the Commission hopes they will endorse and mandate the HERA Incubator.

7:25 a.m. ET, February 17, 2021

South Africa begins Covid-19 vaccinations

From CNN's Vasco Cotovio

A South African health care worker has been given the Johnson & Johnson vaccine against Covid-19 at the Khayelitsha District Hospital in Cape Town, becoming the first person in the country to receive a jab against the coronavirus. 

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a single dose jab that has been proven to have an average efficacy of 66% against the virus and is being rolled out to health care workers as part of a research study.

Aside from frontline staff being vaccinated on Wednesday, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa also received his shot, in an effort to fight hesitancy among the population about taking the vaccine. 

“To demonstrate our confidence in this vaccine and help allay any fears that people may have, the Minister of Health and I will join the first health care workers to receive the vaccine in Khayelitsha,” Ramaphosa tweeted on Wednesday. 

South Africa initially banked on the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine but has since pivoted to using shots developed by Johnson & Johnson instead and offered its stock of AstraZeneca vaccines to the African Union.

The country paused its rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine after preliminary trial data showed it offered minimal protection against mild to moderate illness caused by the variant of the virus that emerged in South Africa last year.

Read more on this story:

7:22 a.m. ET, February 17, 2021

British Covid-19 variant is worrying and doubling every week, German health minister says

From CNN’s Stephanie Halasz and Claudia Otto

German Health Minister Jens Spahn addresses a press conference on coronavirus mutations and rapid tests in Berlin, Germany, on February 17.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn addresses a press conference on coronavirus mutations and rapid tests in Berlin, Germany, on February 17. John Macdougall/AFP/Getty Images

The number of infections with the UK coronavirus variant is doubling approximately every week in Germany, the country's health minister, Jens Spahn, said in a press conference Wednesday.

“We have to expect that this variant could become the dominant one here,” Spahn said.

The Robert Koch Institute analyzed a representative sample of over 23,000 positive PCR tests and established that Covid-19 mutations are spreading fast in Germany.

“The virus variant which was discovered for the first time in the United Kingdom especially worries us,” Spahn said. “Two weeks ago, this variant made up just under 6% of the samples examined; it is now over 20, over 22%.”

For comparison, the incidence of South African variant was much lower, standing at about 1.5%. Overall, the numbers of infections in Germany have been in decline, Spahn said.

Germany is pushing ahead with its vaccine rollout. To date, 3.5% of the population have received a first dose and almost 2% of the population have been administered both shots.

So far, 6.8 million doses have been delivered to health authorities around the country, and by the end of next week 10 million doses will have been delivered, Spahn said, projecting that the speed of the vaccinations would pick up markedly. 

Speaking on Wednesday, Spahn addressed the rollout of AstraZeneca vaccine after a bitter spat between the European Union and the drugmaker over delayed supplies as well as efficacy debates.

The vaccine has been approved in the EU by the European Medical Agency, which said the vaccine demonstrated around a 60% efficacy in clinical trials. That was somewhat lower than the efficacy rate of at least 70% -- rising to over 80% after a second dose at least 12 weeks later -- in a wider analysis of clinical trials published as a pre-print in The Lancet medical journal.

The EMA approved the vaccine’s use in older patients as well, in contrast with the evaluation by the Germany's vaccine commission, which said last month it should not be given to people older than 65 years due to lack of data. 

Spahn defended the AstraZeneca vaccine amid reports that some people were hesitant to take it, going as far as saying he would take the shot himself. 

“One thing is important to me: when a vaccine is approved in the European Union, after a proper approval process, then it is certainly effective," Spahn said, adding that he would be like to be inoculated with the AstraZeneca vaccine when it was his turn.
6:21 a.m. ET, February 17, 2021

World's first Covid-19 human challenge study to begin within a month in the UK

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite

The world's first Covid-19 human challenge study will begin within a month in the UK, the country's Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said Wednesday in a statement.

During this trial, up to 90 volunteers aged 18-30 years will be exposed to Covid-19 in a safe and controlled environment to increase understanding of how the virus affects people, the ministerial department said, adding that the study will play a "key role in developing effective Covid-19 vaccines and treatments".

What is a challenge trial? In regular Phase 3 Covid-19 vaccine trials tens of thousands of volunteers are given an experimental vaccine and then released to live their everyday lives; researchers assume that a certain percentage of them will be exposed to the virus naturally.

In a challenge trial, by contrast, participants are deliberately dosed with virus.

Proponents of challenge trials say that they are more efficient, requiring far fewer volunteers because researchers know for certain that everyone will be exposed to the virus, and that they can deliver scientific data more quickly. 

Critics worry about exposing people to a virus for which there is no fail-safe treatment, and say that the young, healthy volunteers are not representative of the wider population.

BEIS said the version of the virus used would be the one in circulation since March 2020 -- rather than any new strains -- emphasizing that it "has been shown to be of low risk in young healthy adults."

After the initial trial, vaccine candidates which had been proved safe in clinical trials could be given to small numbers of volunteers, the department said.

Earlier this week the UK hit its target of offering a first dose of vaccine to 15 million people by mid-February.

Read more on this story:

6:52 a.m. ET, February 17, 2021

Italy’s Lombardy region imposes 'red zone' on four towns due to spread of coronavirus variants

From CNN’s Sharon Braithwaite and Valentina Di Donato in Italy

The Lombardy region in northern Italy has imposed "red zone" restrictions on four towns due to the spread of Covid-19 variants, its governor, Attilio Fontana, announced Tuesday on Facebook.

Fontana signed a new ordinance that introduces new restrictions starting Wednesday at 6pm CET (12pm ET), until February 24, on the municipalities of Bollate, Castrezzato, Mede and Viggiù. The restrictions could be extended further “based on the evolution of the epidemiological context,” according to a statement on the website of the Lombardy regional government.

In these four towns, all school and educational activities will be carried out remotely.

Red zones are the most stringent classification of coronavirus restrictions in Italy and limit people's movement the most. 

Lombardy was the Italian region hardest hit by the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, reporting over 565,000 cases to date, according to the country’s Department of Civil Protection.

6:48 a.m. ET, February 17, 2021

Germany reports a coronavirus outbreak in an ice cream factory

By CNN’s Stephanie Halasz

The Froneri factory is pictured on February 16 in Osnabrück, Germany.
The Froneri factory is pictured on February 16 in Osnabrück, Germany. Friso Gentsch/picture alliance/Getty Images

An ice cream factory in northern Germany has been hit by an outbreak of the coronavirus, the manufacturer said in a press release Wednesday. 

Froneri said it is investigating how the virus made it into its plant in Osnabrueck.

So far, 670 staffers -- all those who had access to the plant since January 25 -- have been tested, with 210 results returning positive. Some of those cases are the UK coronavirus variant, Froneri said, without specifying a number. 

The plant will stay shut till February 26, and all plant workers are to be tested one more time.

Froneri added that there have not been physical visits to its headquarters in the UK in months, and therefore, the outbreak has not spread to the facility there.

6:48 a.m. ET, February 17, 2021

Churches in Ireland provide 'takeaway' ashes on Ash Wednesday

From CNN’s Kara Fox in Killarney, Ireland

The Republic of Ireland is under some of the most restrictive lockdowns in Europe at the moment, but priests in the country have gotten creative to ensure that the restrictions don’t hinder Ash Wednesday celebrations.

Under the country’s level 5 restrictions, masses are being held online, so some churches are providing “takeaway ashes,” for its parishioners.

In northwest County Donegal, Clonmany Parish Priest Fr Brian Brady said that people would be able to pick up blessed, pre-packaged ashes to take to their own homes to put on their foreheads.

On Monday, the church had already run out of the 200 containers of ashes they had provided for their parishioners, and said that they were looking for more containers, given the high demand.

Speaking on national broadcaster RTE on Monday, Fr Brady said that he had initially “resigned myself to an 'ashless' Ash Wednesday,” before the idea, which was presented to him by a local convenience store owner, “caught on with me.”

"It seems to have caught on with the parishioners because we have left out the little containers and they all seem to be gone," he told RTE.

It’s a scheme that’s taken off at other churches across the country. At the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Clonakilty in southwest County Cork, people will be able to collect ashes from a table set up outside the church doors on Wednesday.

In a Facebook post, the church said that envelopes of Holy Ashes will also be available at the local Centra -- a convenience store – for pickup.

“We are asking people to take one envelope per household as there are a limited number of envelopes available,” the church said. It also included instructions on how to use the ashes properly.

“Please remember to wet the Holy Ashes with Holy Water before making the sign of the cross on an individual's forehead,” it said.

Ireland has been in a full level 5 lockdown since December 30.