February 19 coronavirus news

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

Updated 0649 GMT (1449 HKT) February 23, 2021
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11:31 a.m. ET, February 19, 2021

This island could be the first fully vaccinated territory in the world

From CNN’s James Frater

The tiny remote Ascension Island in the South Atlantic Ocean could “become the first island to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19,” the British Military said Friday.

The island – a UK overseas territory – has a population of just over 800 inhabitants.

At least 1,950 doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine arrived at Ascension earlier this week on a special support flight by the Royal Air Force. 

Staff at the island’s Georgetown Hospital have begun administering the vaccine and the first people to vaccinated were hospital employee Sylvia Isaac and her husband Mervyn. 

In a statement Ms. Isaac said: “I feel very privileged to be able to receive this vaccine,” and that the, “vaccination itself was quick and painless.”

“This vaccine will hopefully protect us against the worst effects of COVID-19, and also help to protect family, friends and the rest of the community,” she said. 

Given the number of inhabitants the Ascension Island Government anticipates, “that first doses will be administered to all those offered it by the end of next week.”

Gov. Philip Rushbrook of Ascension said: “I am pleased to be on Ascension at this time to see first-hand the arrival and distribution of the vaccines.”

“I would like to thank personally everyone involved in making this happen.” And said the delivery of the vaccines, “represents the culmination of a lot of hard work across several UK government departments, the RAF and within Ascension Island Government.”

Royal Air Force Flying Officer George Cox, Officer Commanding Cargo said: “Places like Ascension Island are notoriously difficult to get to.”

The vaccines arrived on an A400M Atlas cargo plane as the “RAF can get out to remote locations that commercial aircraft can not necessarily access,” said Flying Officer Cox.

Where is the Ascension? A volcanic island of 33 square miles, Ascension, is approximately 1,000 miles from the coast of Africa and 1,400 miles from Brazil. Their nearest neighbors are on the island of St. Helena 700 miles to the north. 

Ascension Island is part of the United Kingdom Overseas Territory of Saint Helena, Ascension, and Tristan da Cunha and has its own Constitution is self-governing and makes its own laws.

11:20 a.m. ET, February 19, 2021

G7 countries pledge $4 billion to Covid-19 vaccine initiatives

From CNN’s Cristiana Moisescu and Zahid Mahmood

The leaders of the G7 countries have pledged an additional $4 billion to the ACT accelerator and COVAX vaccine initiatives, reiterating their resolve to work together to beat Covid-19 and “build back better,” they said in a statement following the virtual meeting on Friday

“We, the leaders of the Group of Seven, met today and resolved to work together to beat COVID-19 and build back better. Drawing on our strengths and values as democratic, open economies and societies, we will work together and with others to make 2021 a turning point for multilateralism and to shape a recovery that promotes the health and prosperity of our people and planet," the statement said.

COVAX is a vaccine alliance trying to distribute vaccines to overcome inequality in access to vaccines and distribute shots to low- and middle-income countries. ACT-A is an accelerator that joins forces of various investors and organizations to develop tools to bring the pandemic closer to an end.

At the first G7 event attended by US President Joe Biden, the leaders of some of the world’s strongest economies repeated their support for sustainable development across the globe. They promised to agree concrete action on these priorities at the G7 Summit in the United Kingdom in June. 

In addition to these commitments, the G7 leaders also supported the commitment by Japan to “hold the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 in a safe and secure manner this summer as a symbol of global unity in overcoming Covid-19,” they said.

11:10 a.m. ET, February 19, 2021

30% of people with Covid-19 continue to have symptoms up to 9 months after infection, study finds

From CNN's Nadia Kounang

New research published Friday in the journal JAMA Network Open finds that 30% of people with Covid-19 continue to have symptoms up to nine months after initial infection. 

In the longest follow-up of Covid-19 patients to date, researchers followed 177 individuals with laboratory-confirmed Covid-19 diagnoses for up to nine months, and found that about 30% continue to have persistent symptoms.

Of the 177 patients followed, 150 (84.7%) were never hospitalized and considered to have mild illness and 11(6.2%) were asymptomatic. 23 out of the 177 also had hypertension. 

Meanwhile, 49 (32.7%) of non-hospitalized patients and 5(31.3%) of patients with severe disease reported having at least 1 in the follow up.

A previous study of the same group found that 36% of non-hospitalized patients had lingering symptoms 2-3 weeks after initial diagnosis.

The most common symptoms were fatigue reported by 24 patients (13.6%) and loss of taste or smell reported by another 24 patients (13.6%).

Overall, 23 patients (13%) reported other symptoms including cough, trouble breathing, and muscle aches. 4 patients (2.3%) said they continued having brain fog. Among the 16 hospitalized patients, more than 80% reported to still have trouble breathing. More than 80% of the hospitalized group also reported still having a cough and more than 80% of the group also reported feeling feverish up to 9 months after diagnosis.

More than 30% of respondents reported worse quality of life compared to before getting sick. And 14 participants (8%) — including 9 people who had not been hospitalized — reported having trouble performing at least one usual activity, such as daily chores.

While the researchers noted the small sample size was a limitation, they wrote that with 57.8 million cases worldwide, “even a small incidence of long-term debility could have enormous health and economic consequences.” wrote the researchers.


11:35 a.m. ET, February 19, 2021

Serious adverse reactions to Covid-19 vaccines are rare, CDC study says

From CNN’s Amanda Sealy

A vial of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine in Washington, DC, in December 2020.
A vial of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine in Washington, DC, in December 2020. Jacquelyn Martin/Pool/Getty Images

When analyzing adverse effects after receiving either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna Covid-19 vaccines, serious reactions accounted for less than 10% of those events according to a study conducted by the US Centers for Disease Control.

Researchers evaluated safety data that was reported through the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) between Dec. 14, 2020 and Jan. 13 2021. During that time, 13,794,904 vaccine doses had been administered in the US and 1,602,065 had enrolled in the reporting system.

Out of that 1.6 million, 50.8% received the Pfizer-BioNTech and 49.2% received the Moderna vaccines.

The study found that during this time there were 6,994 reports of adverse reactions after receiving a vaccine. 6,354 (90.8%) of those events were considered non-serious and 640 (9.2%) were considered serious.

The most commonly reported symptoms were headache (22.4%), fatigue (16.5%) and dizziness (16.5%).

A total of 113 deaths were reported to VAERS with 78 (65%) of those occurring in long term care facility residents.

However the study noted, “available information from death certificates, autopsy reports, medical records, and clinical descriptions from VAERS reports and health care providers did not suggest any causal relationship between COVID-19 vaccination and death.”

Reports of anaphylaxis was also rare with just 62 reported incidents.

The study notes the there are limitations due to reporting biases and the fact that the reporting system is a voluntary self-enrollment program. 

It is also important to note that during the study’s time period, first and second doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine had been made available, but only first doses of Moderna’s vaccine.

“These data provide reassurance and helpful information regarding what health care providers and vaccine recipients might expect after vaccination,” wrote the researchers.

11:59 a.m. ET, February 19, 2021

US senator calls on social media to stop the spread of antivax disinformation targeting pregnant women

From CNN's Richard Davis and Brian Fung

US Sen. Richard Blumenthal arrives at the Capitol in Washington, DC, on February 12.
US Sen. Richard Blumenthal arrives at the Capitol in Washington, DC, on February 12. Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg/Getty Images

US Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, called on Facebook and Twitter to stop the spread of antivax disinformation targeting pregnant women, according to a news release Friday. 

Blumenthal said accounts have singled out women who have had miscarriages, wrongly linking it to Covid vaccinations. 

“Time and again, Facebook and its peers have moved far too slow in responding to the targeted harassment and promotion of destructive conspiracy theories against women and people of color,” Blumenthal said in letters addressed to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. 

“Health officials across the country are vigilantly working to reassure the public that vaccines are safe and to achieve widespread immunity to save lives. Each piece of misinformation, each person bullied for doing the right thing, is a setback in our effort to end this costly pandemic,” he added.

Major medical groups in the United States say that pregnant women should get the vaccine.


10:57 a.m. ET, February 19, 2021

G20 should establish a vaccine task force, UN secretary general says

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio 

UN Secretary General António Guterres speaks via video during the Munich Security Conference on February 19.
UN Secretary General António Guterres speaks via video during the Munich Security Conference on February 19. Munich Security Conference

UN Secretary General António Guterres has told leaders at the Munich Security Conference in Berlin that the G20 should create an emergency task force to put in place a global vaccination plan.

“Vaccines must be available and affordable for everyone, everywhere, vaccine equity is crucial for saving lives and for saving economies,” Guterres said Friday, calling for a doubling of the current vaccine production capacity. “Countries need to share excess doses and to provide the billions needed for the Covax initiative to be in full swing.”

COVAX is a program co-led by Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and WHO. Its aim is to accelerate the development and manufacture of Covid-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world.

“I believe the G20 is well placed to establish an emergency a task force to prepare such a global vaccination plan,” Guterres added.


10:45 a.m. ET, February 19, 2021

Leading Democratic senator says he still hopes US Covid-19 relief can be bipartisan

From CNN's Ali Main

Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick Leahy on February 19.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick Leahy on February 19. CNN

Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, said he's already begun meeting privately with Democratic and Republican members of his committee and urged them to work together on Covid relief legislation.

"I hope it can be bipartisan by the time we get done," he told CNN's Poppy Harlow Friday.

This comes as House Democrats plan to take a major step forward to push President Biden's proposal through their chamber by the end of next week. After this, the legislation will be sent to the Senate, where Democrats have already laid the ground work to pass the $1.9 trillion bill without Republican support, through the budget reconciliation process.

"I know a lot of Republicans who say privately that they know we have to go forward but what about this or that?" Leahy said, adding, "almost all the reconciliation bills have been bipartisan. Republicans and Democrats coming together. We should do that."

Leahy acknowledged that if a relief bill can't get GOP support, it will likely move forward through reconciliation, but he thinks "we're a lot better off if we can work out bipartisan bills."

He noted his and Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Richard Shelby's commitment to bipartisanship, saying he thinks they can bring together members of both parties on their committee, but "we can't sit here and just keep talking back and forth and doing nothing. The fact is the American people need help right now."


10:32 a.m. ET, February 19, 2021

Johnson & Johnson applies for WHO authorization that could make its vaccine available in 190+ countries

From CNN’s Jen Christensen

Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine vials in Klerksdorp, South Africa, on February 18.
Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine vials in Klerksdorp, South Africa, on February 18. Phill Magakoe/AFP/Getty Images

Johnson & Johnson announced it has asked the World Health Organization for emergency use listing for its single-dose Covid-19 vaccine.

The company said it had delivered the data from its late-stage trial to the WHO.

An emergency use listing would make the vaccine available in more than 190 countries, including multiple developing countries. If authorized, it would also allow J&J to supply the COVAX program – a global distribution and procurement agency that is helping manage Covid-19 vaccines for 190 participating countries.

In December, J&J came to an agreement with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, that is backing the COVAX program. If authorized, J&J expects to provide up to 500 million doses to COVAX through next year, the company said.

“Our filing with the World Health Organization marks another important step in our effort to combat COVID-19 and also in our unwavering commitment to equitable access,” Dr. Paul Stoffels, Johnson & Johnson’s vice chair of the executive committee and chief scientific officer, said in a news release. "If we are to end the global pandemic, life-saving innovations like vaccines must be within reach for all countries.”

J&J filed for a conditional marketing authorization application in the European Union on Monday.

Next Friday, the US Food and Drug Administration will consider the data the company submitted for an emergency use authorization of the vaccine in the United States. J&J has promised to deliver 100 million doses of its single-dose vaccine to the US by the end of June.

The Covid-19 vaccine’s efficacy against moderate and severe disease ranged from one country to another:

  • 72% in the US
  • 66% in Latin America
  • 57% in South Africa

It was 66% effective globally. This was measured starting one month after the shot. The vaccine is 85% effective overall at preventing hospitalization and 100% at preventing death in all regions where it was tested.

Read more on the J&J vaccine:

10:26 a.m. ET, February 19, 2021

EU doubles contribution to COVAX global vaccine effort

From CNN’s James Frater

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks at a press conference in Brussels, Belgium, on February 17.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks at a press conference in Brussels, Belgium, on February 17. Aris Oikonomou/AFP/Getty Images

The European Union has announced a further 500 million euros – approximately $606 million – in funding for the World Health Organization-led COVAX program, doubling its total contribution so far to 1 billion euros – approx. $1.2 billion – according a statement issued by the EU on Friday.

COVAX is a program co-led by Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the WHO. Its aim is to accelerate the development and manufacture of Covid-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world

“This new pledge brings us closer to achieving COVAX's target to deliver 1.3 billion doses for 92 low and middle income countries by the end of 2021,” the EU said. “Team Europe is one of the lead contributors to COVAX with over €2.2 billion, including another €900 million pledged today by Germany,” the statement added.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU remains “committed to ensuring universal access” to coronavirus vaccines.

“With this new financial boost we want to make sure vaccines are soon delivered to low and middle-income countries. Because we will only be safe if the whole world is safe,” she said Friday. 

European Commissioner for Health a Food Safety Stella Kyriakides added that the EU is “working to share doses” secured under its advanced purchase agreements, preferably through COVAX, with the Western Balkans, Africa and other neighboring states.

“Humanism and solidarity are essential values for Europe. These values have been our compass since the onset of the pandemic,” Kyriakides said.

Read more about the COVAX program here.