February 19 coronavirus news

By Sarah Faidell, Brad Lendon, Melissa Macaya and Melissa Mahtani, CNN

Updated 0649 GMT (1449 HKT) February 23, 2021
17 Posts
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8:55 a.m. ET, February 19, 2021

Pfizer/BioNTech submits new data to show its Covid-19 vaccine can be stored at warmer temperatures

From CNN's Amanda Sealy

Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine doses are pictured at a vaccination center at the Triton College in River Grove, Illinois, on February 3.
Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine doses are pictured at a vaccination center at the Triton College in River Grove, Illinois, on February 3. Kamil Krzaczynski/AFP/Getty Images

Pfizer-BioNTech says it has submitted new data to the US Food and Drug Administration to show that its Covid-19 vaccine can be stored at warmer temperatures.

In a news release Friday, Pfizer said this new data demonstrates its vaccine can be stable when stored between -25 degrees Celsius to -15 degrees Celsius for two weeks – the temperature of more common refrigerators and freezers.

Currently, the label for Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine says it must be stored in ultra-cold freezers between -80 degrees Celsius to -60 degrees Celsius, lasting up to six months, or it can be stored at normal refrigeration temperatures (2 degrees Celsius to 8 degrees Celsius) for up to five days, before mixing with a saline diluent.

This submission is in hopes the company’s EUA would be updated to include these warmer two-week storage options.

 “We appreciate our ongoing collaboration with the FDA and CDC as we work to ensure out vaccine can be shipped and stored under increasingly flexible conditions. If approved, this new storage option would offer pharmacies and vaccination centers greater flexibility in how they manage their vaccine supply,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in the company’s release.
8:24 a.m. ET, February 19, 2021

German politician drops out of volunteering in a vaccine center after getting threats

From CNN's Nadine Schmidt in Berlin

Karl Lauterbach is pictured at the Bundestag in Berlin on January 29.
Karl Lauterbach is pictured at the Bundestag in Berlin on January 29. Kay Nietfeld/dpa/picture alliance /Getty Images

A prominent German health expert and politician said he is backtracking on his offer to volunteer at a Covid-19 vaccination center after receiving threats.

“I wanted to start my shift as a vaccine doctor in Leverkusen on Friday. Unfortunately, there were so many announced protests against the Leverkusen Vaccination Center beforehand that I had to cancel the start for the time being. Police and security authorities saw danger,“ the politician, Karl Lauterbach, tweeted on Friday.

Lauterbach went on to say that he decided to take a step back in order not to endanger the employees of the center, but added he feels "it is a pity how much the influence of radical minorities on our actions is now growing."

Lauterbach, who is also a scientist, is a member of the Social Democratic Party, which is part of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government. He said last week he would be working as vaccinator in Leverkusen, a city in North Rhine-Westphalia, and would himself take the AstraZeneca shot to "make a clear commitment" to using the "safe and good" vaccine in Germany.

Germans have been reluctant to take the AstraZeneca vaccine after a European Medical Agency analysis gave it about 60% efficacy -- though AstraZeneca's own findings, based on a larger number of clinical trials, put it at over 76% after the first dose. The country's vaccine commission also said last month the shot should not be given to people aged over 65 years old due to lack of data on its effectiveness in that age group.

7:21 a.m. ET, February 19, 2021

Caught in vaccine limbo, some European states are scrambling for Chinese and Russian shots

From CNN's Ivana Kottasová in London

A man receives a dose of the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine in Belgrade, Serbia, on February 12.
A man receives a dose of the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine in Belgrade, Serbia, on February 12. Andrej Isakovic/AFP/Getty Images

As the United Kingdom celebrates giving at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine to 15 million people and the EU surpasses 23 million doses distributed, several other European countries have not yet managed to put a single shot in arms.

Kosovo, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina are still waiting to receive their first vaccine shipments, while rollouts in Albania and Northern Macedonia have so far been limited to a few hundred people.

The Western Balkan countries are key allies and possible future members of the European Union, but they have been left out of the bloc's immediate vaccine supply plans. 

The EU has secured more than 2.3 billion doses of various coronavirus vaccines and said it expects to share some of those with others. It also set aside €70 million ($85 million) for the Western Balkan region to purchase some of these doses in the future, but since its own rollout has been slow and delayed, those countries are still waiting.

And as relatively wealthy countries -- at least in the global context -- they are also not a top priority for programs designed to help the world's poorest countries access vaccines, which is expected to be a key discussion point at Friday's G7 virtual meeting.

Faced with the possibility of a long wait, some Balkan countries are taking matters into its own hands and looking for vaccines elsewhere. China and Russia are ready to step in.

Read the full report:

6:43 a.m. ET, February 19, 2021

Macron urges European countries to allocate 4-5% of vaccine supply to developing countries

From Niamh Kennedy in Dublin

French President Emmanuel Macron is pictured during a video conference meeting with African Union officials at the Elysee Palace in Paris, on February 17.
French President Emmanuel Macron is pictured during a video conference meeting with African Union officials at the Elysee Palace in Paris, on February 17. Gonzalo Fuentes/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

European countries should allocate 4-5% of their vaccine supply to developing countries, French President Emmanuel Macron has urged ahead of the G7 virtual meeting Friday where the issue is expected to be discussed.

In an interview with Financial Times, Macron said the battle for vaccine supply had caused "a new form of unsustainable inequality" to emerge between developed and developing nations. 

“We are allowing the idea to take hold that hundreds of millions of vaccines are being given in rich countries and that we are not starting in poor countries," Macron said.

Macron stressed that inequality in vaccine distribution would also be "politically unsustainable" as it’s paving the way for "a war of influence" over vaccines, referring to China and Russia, which already began supplying their vaccines to countries in Latin America and Africa.

"We’re not talking about billions of doses immediately, or billions and billions of euros," Macron said, adding that countries just need to "reallocate some tens of millions of doses" to Africa in particular "very quickly.”

Macron said it would be in the bloc’s “interest” to allocate a "tiny sample" of 4-5% of European vaccine supply, and vowed to take on big pharma companies not willing to "play the game of cooperation."

The French president has so far secured the support of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and hopes to convince "our American friends" who have "greater production capacity" to contribute to the effort. 

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to pledge to donate most of the country's surplus vaccine supply to poorer nations in the G7 meeting, the British public broadcaster, the BBC, reported earlier on Friday.

The UK, which has the population of about 66 million, has ordered more than 400 million doses of various vaccines, so a surplus of doses will be available after all adults are vaccinated.

6:15 a.m. ET, February 19, 2021

More than 20 million years of life lost to Covid-19, study suggests

From CNN’s Livvy Doherty in London

Grave diggers carry the coffin of a Covid-19 victim at the Alto de Sao Joao cemetery in Lisbon, Portugal, on February 18.
Grave diggers carry the coffin of a Covid-19 victim at the Alto de Sao Joao cemetery in Lisbon, Portugal, on February 18. Patricia De Melo Moreira/AFP/Getty Images

20.5 million years of life have been lost to Covid-19 globally, according to a new study looking at the mortality impact of the virus.

Researchers analyzed 1.2 million deaths from Covid-19 across 81 countries, looking not only at the number of dead, but how premature those deaths were. 

They found that on average:

  • the virus took 16 years from each fatality
  • in heavily affected countries years of lost life were on average 2-9 times the average of seasonal influenza
  • men lost 45% more years than women
  • three quarters of years of life lost came from those below the age of 75, with almost a third from deaths below 55

The study, published in the scientific journal Nature, says that analyzing years of life lost is “crucial in that it assesses how much life has been cut short for populations affected by the disease.”

The researchers also note that the results “confirm the large mortality impact of COVID-19 among the elderly” and call for heightened awareness in devising policies that protect vulnerable demographics losing the largest number of life-years.

6:13 a.m. ET, February 19, 2021

Hong Kong receives 1 million doses of Covid-19 Sinovac vaccines

From CNN's Eric Cheung in Hong Kong

Workers unload containers of the Sinovac vaccine from an aircraft after it arrived from China at Hong Kong international airport on February 19.
Workers unload containers of the Sinovac vaccine from an aircraft after it arrived from China at Hong Kong international airport on February 19. Tyrone Siu/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

Hong Kong received its first batch of Sinovac Covid-19 vaccine from Beijing on Friday, according to a government live feed showing a Cathay Pacific plane with one million doses on board arriving at Hong Kong International Airport.

"On behalf of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government, I want to thank the Central People's Government for their full support," said Hong Kong's Secretary for Civil Service Patrick Nip.

Hong Kong authorities announced Thursday that priority groups will start to be vaccinated on February 26.

In total, the city of more than seven million people has recorded 10,820 Covid infections and 197 deaths, according to the tally by Johns Hopkins University. 

Hong Kong is relaxing social distancing restrictions after reporting its lowest daily number of new Covid-19 cases since late November earlier in the week.

Another one million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, manufactured in Germany, are also expected to arrive in Hong Kong by the end of February, authorities said.

In January, Sinovac was revealed to have an efficacy rate of just 50.38% in late-stage trials in Brazil -- significantly lower than earlier results showed. That rate only barely crosses the 50% efficacy threshold as set by the World Health Organization, and far lower than the 78% previously announced to much fanfare in China earlier this month.

5:53 a.m. ET, February 19, 2021

Russian MFA says it offered coronavirus vaccine to all foreign embassies 

From CNN’s Mary Ilyushina in Moscow

A nurse fills a syringe with the Russian Sputnik V vaccine at a vaccination site in Moscow on February 17.
A nurse fills a syringe with the Russian Sputnik V vaccine at a vaccination site in Moscow on February 17. Sergei Savostyanov/TASS/Getty Images

Russia's Foreign Ministry has invited all diplomatic missions and representatives of international organizations accredited in the country to get inoculated with a Russian-made vaccine. 

“The practice of inviting the diplomatic corps to get vaccinated against coronavirus is common in many countries... The Russian Foreign Ministry is no exception,” the ministry’s spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, said in a briefing Thursday.

Zakharova added that the ministry is also working on delivering the vaccine to Russian diplomats and their families residing abroad.

“This work is based on the principles of voluntary [inoculation] and staff retaining the right to choose an alternative vaccine,” Zakharova said. “The possibility of delivering a Russian vaccine to a particular country or using a locally-produced shot as well as the availability of the necessary medical infrastructure in Russian foreign institutions are all taken into account.” 

Several foreign diplomats already accepted the offer and were inoculated with Sputnik V vaccine. Among them were diplomats from Belarus, Mongolia, Afghanistan, and Spain, state-run news agency RIA Novosti reported Friday, citing diplomatic missions.

In late December, the Russian Foreign Ministry offered US Ambassador John Sullivan a shot of Sputnik V vaccine in a tongue-in-cheek tweet after he posted his Christmas wish-list that mentioned a Covid-19 vaccine.

The spokesperson for the US Embassy in Moscow, Rebecca Ross, tweeted back saying that the Ambassador thanked the Russian Foreign Ministry “for its offer of a vaccine, however would not want to take a Sputnik V dose meant for a Russian citizen.”

"We're grateful that two US vaccines are now approved, and already helping people fight Covid-19 across the EU, UK, Latin America, and US," Ross said.
5:30 a.m. ET, February 19, 2021

UK Covid-19 variant detected in every 5th new infection in Germany

From CNN's Nadine Schmidt in Berlin

Employees process Covid-19 tests in Sindelfingen, Germany, on Wednesday, February 17.
Employees process Covid-19 tests in Sindelfingen, Germany, on Wednesday, February 17. Sebastian Gollnow/picture alliance/Getty Images

Germany is experiencing “a rise of worrying coronavirus mutations”, despite an overall decrease in new cases and an increase in people getting vaccinated, the German health minister said Friday.  

The coronavirus variant first detected in the UK is now being found in every fifth person testing positive in Germany, the minister, Jens Spahn, said in a press conference.

"There are rising demands to end the lockdown and this is possible -- but we need to be careful in order not to jeopardize our achievements,” Spahn added.

Germany’s public health authority, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), warned that the country’s infection numbers appear to be stagnating at a level that is still too high, threatening a current downward trend in positive cases.

On Friday, Germany recorded 9,113 new cases, a drop of 747 cases compared to a week ago. Coronavirus deaths stood at 508 within the last 24 hours, 48 less than last Friday. The latest data from RKI indicates that the number of new infections per 100,000 residents has fallen to 57.

Chancellor Angela Merkel previously said authorities would only lift the restrictions if the seven-day incidence rate fell to 35 cases per 100,000 infections. 

As of Friday, 5 million people in Germany have received the first shot of the coronavirus vaccine, while 3 million have received both doses, according to Spahn. By the end of next week 10 million coronavirus vaccines will have been distributed across Germany.

5:03 a.m. ET, February 19, 2021

One dose of Pfizer vaccine reduces symptomatic Covid-19 by 85% after a month, study shows

From CNN Health’s Maggie Fox

A healthcare worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine on February 18, in Bogota, Colombia.
A healthcare worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine on February 18, in Bogota, Colombia. Guillermo Legaria/Getty Images

A new study provides more evidence that a single dose of coronavirus vaccine might be enough to significantly reduce disease.

People who got a single dose of Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine were increasingly less likely to develop Covid-19 symptoms as time passed -- and they were 85% less likely to get sick two to four weeks after getting their first shot, Israeli researchers report.

The findings, released as a letter to the Lancet medical journal, are likely to bolster calls for governments to move to a single-dose regimen to stretch out vaccine supply until manufacturers can make more. 

How the study was conducted? The team at Israel’s Sheba Medical Center looked at the medical records of roughly 9,000 health care workers, more than 7,000 of whom were vaccinated starting in December.

“By Jan 24, 2021, of the 9,109 eligible staff, 7,214 (79%) had received a first dose and 6,037 (66%) had received the second dose,” they wrote.

More than 90% got their second dose on time, by 21 or 22 days after the first dose.

The team looked at the rate of infections during those crucial three weeks. They found a 47% reduction in symptomatic coronavirus infections among the health care workers during the first two weeks after the first shot and an 85% reduction over the following two weeks.

“Of the 170 healthcare workers who became infected, 89 (52%) were unvaccinated, 78 (46%) tested positive after the first dose, and three (2%) tested positive after the second dose,” they wrote.

It’s possible that asymptomatic cases were missed. The team only counted people who had symptoms and tested positive for coronavirus.