February 24 coronavirus news

By Helen Regan, Rob Picheta, Melissa Mahtani and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 0719 GMT (1519 HKT) February 25, 2021
46 Posts
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8:05 p.m. ET, February 24, 2021

Veterans Affairs has administered more than 2.1 million Covid-19 vaccine doses

From CNN's Lauren Mascarenhas

World War II veteran John Mohun, 94, receives the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the Veterans Affairs agency in Phoenix on Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2020. 
World War II veteran John Mohun, 94, receives the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the Veterans Affairs agency in Phoenix on Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2020.  Dexter Marquez/Veterans Affairs via AP

The US Department of Veterans Affairs has administered more than 2.1 million Covid-19 vaccine doses, Dr. Richard Stone, acting under secretary for Health at the VA, said during a Senate hearing Wednesday.

“Yesterday, as of Feb. 23, VA had administered well over 2.1 million doses of the vaccines,” Stone said. “These include over 1.1 million first doses to veterans and 484,000 doses – first and second doses – to VA employees, which have inoculated well over 90% of our clinical staff.”

Stone said that among enrolled veterans over 75, who are currently prioritized for vaccination, “25% of White, 28% of Hispanic and 30% of Black veterans have been vaccinated.”

He added that 73% of the total VA workforce has received the vaccine.

Stone said the agency has the capacity to deliver between 300,000 and 600,000 vaccine doses per week.

“We were just called on the way over here to say that we would be getting about 500,000 doses this coming week,” Stone said. “We have seen a gradual increase, and we are very hopeful with the new vaccine that's coming on the market that we will continue to see increases, and the problems that we're having with the amount of vaccine will resolve itself over these next number of weeks.”

8:04 p.m. ET, February 24, 2021

Study finds good antibody response in people who got Pfizer coronavirus vaccine after infection

From CNN’s Meera Senthilingam

A large study of people across England found strong antibody protection in people who got both doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine – but people who had been infected and got just a single dose had even stronger responses.

The REACT-2 study by scientists at Imperial College London found that three weeks after receiving the first dose of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine, 84% of people under the age of 60 tested positive for antibodies against SARS-CoV2.

Among those who had received one dose but had suspected or confirmed prior infection with Covid-19, this rose to 90%.

“We have found a really good response, measured by antibody prevalence, in those who have had two dose of the vaccine and those who have had one dose,” Helen Ward, professor of Public Health at Imperial College London, told reporters at a news conference. “I hope this will be used to encourage people get their second dose.”

“There’s clearly value in getting that first dose,” added Graham Cooke, professor of Infectious Diseases at Imperial College London. “We don’t have enough data yet on the long-term protection of one dose.”

The study of 155,000 people tested between Jan. 28 and Feb. 8 covered 18,000 vaccinated people, including 13,000 who got the Pfizer vaccine.

The findings paint a picture of which groups had been most affected by coronavirus during England’s second wave. Infections were highest in people living in London (16.9%). More than 22% of people of Black ethnicity appeared to have been infected and 20% of people of Asian background had. Just 8.5% of Whites had evidence of having been infected.

Concerns around vaccine confidence were also raised, being more common among younger people and Black people. Reasons for low confidence included worries about pregnancy, allergies and fertility, the study found. 


7:59 p.m. ET, February 24, 2021

Researchers find worrying new coronavirus variant in New York City

From CNN's Maggie Fox

Two separate teams of researchers say they have found a worrying new coronavirus variant in New York City and elsewhere in the Northeast that carries mutations that help it evade the body’s natural immune response – as well as the effects of monoclonal antibody treatments.

One of the mutations is the same concerning change seen in the variant first seen in South Africa and known as B.1.351. It appears to evade, somewhat, the body’s response to vaccines, as well. And it’s becoming more common.

“We observed a steady increase in the detection rate from late December to mid-February, with an alarming rise to 12.7% in the past two weeks,” one team, at Columbia University Medical Center, write in a report that has yet to be published, although it is scheduled to appear in pre-print version this week.

They’ve named the most common variant B.1.526. It appears in people affected in diverse neighborhoods of New York City, they said, and is “scattered in the Northeast.”

The mutation in this variant that most concerns researchers is called E484K and it gives the virus the ability to slip past some of the body’s immune response, as well as the authorized monoclonal antibody treatments. This mutation is popping up independently in many different cases but appears in one particular variant, as well – the one called B.1.526.

“It is this novel variant that is surging, alarmingly, in our patient population over the past few weeks,” the Columbia team led by infectious disease specialist and AIDS researcher Dr. David Ho, wrote.

But the E484K mutation is seen in at least 59 different lineages of coronavirus, they said – which means it is evolving independently across the nation and across the world in a phenomenon known as convergent evolution. It may give the virus an advantage. 

Separately, a team at the California Institute of Technology said they developed a software tool that also spotted the rise of B.1.526 in New York. “It appears that the frequency of lineage B.1.526 has increased rapidly in New York,” they wrote in a pre-print – a report that has not been peer-reviewed but has been posted online.

7:56 p.m. ET, February 24, 2021

About 66.5 million Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered in the US

From CNN's Deidre McPhillips

Registered nurses administer the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine to eligible people identified by homeless service agencies from the parking lot of the L.A. Mission on February 24, in Los Angeles.
Registered nurses administer the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine to eligible people identified by homeless service agencies from the parking lot of the L.A. Mission on February 24, in Los Angeles. Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

About 66.5 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine have been administered in the United States, according to data published Wednesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The CDC reported that 66,464,947 total doses have been administered, about 75% of the 88,669,035 doses delivered. 

That’s about 1.4 million more administered doses reported since yesterday, for a seven-day average of about 1.5 million doses per day. 

About 14% of the population — more than 45 million people — have now received at least one dose of vaccine and more than 6% of the population – about 20.6 million people have been fully vaccinated with both shots, CDC data shows. 

Note: Data published by the CDC may be delayed, and doses may not have been given on the day reported.

5:50 p.m. ET, February 24, 2021

Alaska governor tests positive for Covid-19

From CNN’s Andy Rose

Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy speaks at the White House on July 16.
Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy speaks at the White House on July 16. Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy tested positive for Covid-19 Wednesday, according to his office.

“He is currently at home with mild Covid-19 symptoms,” the governor’s office said in a statement.

Dunleavy had been in quarantine since Sunday when it was determined he was in close contact with another person who had a confirmed coronavirus case.

His initial test on Sunday came back negative, but he remained in precautionary quarantine. The governor’s office said he was retested after he began to feel ill Tuesday night.

Because he has avoided close contacts since Sunday, Dunleavy's office said it is not believed that the governor could have spread the coronavirus to anyone else.

5:26 p.m. ET, February 24, 2021

Go There: CNN takes you to one of New York state's largest Covid-19 vaccination sites

The Covid-19 vaccination site at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn — one of the largest vaccination sites in New York state — opened today. The college is set up to vaccinate 3,000 New Yorkers a day.

CNN’s Alexandra Field was on the ground answering your questions about the vaccine roll out. Watch more:

4:58 p.m. ET, February 24, 2021

US hospital revenue could be down between $53 billion and $122 billion from pre-pandemic levels

From CNN's Ryan Prior

US hospitals are projecting a significant revenue shortfall in 2021 due to the pandemic, according to a new report commissioned by the American Hospital Association. 

In an optimistic scenario, hospitals and health systems could suffer a $53 billion loss in total revenue in 2021. Under a more pessimistic budget scenario, that revenue loss could total $122 billion this year.

The optimistic projection assumed that vaccine supply, distribution, and administration aren’t delayed and residents continue to practice social distancing until herd immunity is achieved.

The pessimistic scenario, on the other hand, would be more likely to come true if vaccine supply and distribution are delayed and residents don’t practice social distancing, both of which contribute to a cyclical rise in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations.

More insight: Treating Covid-19 patients is more expensive for hospitals, especially when they can’t offset those costs with as much usual expected revenue from non-Covid patients.

“During the pandemic, people have put off needed care, in some cases to the detriment of their health,” Rick Pollack, AHA president and CEO, said in a news release. “In addition, the costs of labor and supplies have increased, adding to financial stress.”

Hospitals aren’t just plagued by decreased non-Covid patient volume. They also saw added expenses in many categories last year.

Those costs included a 17% overall uptick in drug expenses per patient discharged and a 16% increase in purchased services per patient, which can include the cost of sterilization and maintaining safe spaces with Covid-19 patients.

Labor expenses were up 14%, due in part to hospitals needing to hire contract labor and give hazard pay to workers. And supply expenses were up 13%, as hospitals needed to purchase personal protective equipment, as shortages of needed equipment led to increased prices. 

The new projections come after an AHA report last summer estimated that hospital revenues for 2020 would be down at least $323.1 billion.

4:37 p.m. ET, February 24, 2021

J&J Covid-19 vaccine may provide better protection against variant in South Africa than originally thought 

From CNN's Jen Christensen

A health worker holds the Johnson and Johnson Covid-19 vaccine in Soweto. South Africa, on February 17.
A health worker holds the Johnson and Johnson Covid-19 vaccine in Soweto. South Africa, on February 17. Emmanuel Croset/AFP via Getty Images

The Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine seems to work better against the coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa than data initially suggested.

The variant, which is thought to be more contagious, currently makes up the majority of cases in South Africa and has been found in several countries, including in the United States.

According to a US Food and Drug Administration’s briefing document released Wednesday, the vaccine showed a 64% efficacy rate in South Africa. That’s seven points higher than what was reported in interim data released by the company in January. 

Since that time, Johnson & Johnson did additional sequencing and determined there were more cases that could be included in its analysis from South Africa. Nearly 95% of the cases in the study in South Africa came from the variant, according to the addendum to the analysis. 

"The fact that the numbers came up a little bit, once they fully analyzed the data from the time of the initial press release, shows that it's not that different against the South African variant," said Dr. Philip Grant, who was the lead investigator on the Stanford University arm of the J&J vaccine trial. "I think it's going to have to be looked at more carefully, in terms of which vaccines are most effective in different locations."

The vaccine has a 72% efficacy rate in the US and a more than 68% rate in Brazil at protecting people from mild to severe/critical disease. 

The vaccine offered nearly 86% protection against severe forms of the disease in the US, nearly 82% in South Africa and nearly 88% in Brazil.

Experts have said variants may fuel a surge of cases in the US, and that’s one reason why it’s important to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible.

4:13 p.m. ET, February 24, 2021

Moderna designs updated Covid-19 vaccine to combat South Africa coronavirus variant

From CNN's John Bonifield

Moderna has designed an updated version of its Covid-19 vaccine to help it combat the South Africa coronavirus variant, the company announced Wednesday.

Initial doses have been shipped to the US National Institutes of Health for a clinical study.

The new vaccine, called mRNA-1273.351, will be evaluated as a booster shot for people who have already been vaccinated against coronavirus and as a primary vaccine for people who haven't had coronavirus and have yet to be vaccinated.

Moderna said it will also evaluate a "multivalent" booster shot that combines the new vaccine formulation with the current vaccine.

Additionally, the company said it has begun to test whether a third, lower dose of its current Covid-19 vaccine can increase immunity against coronavirus variants of concern, with some study participants already getting third doses.

On Monday, the US Food and Drug Administration issued new guidance to vaccine makers to address the emergence of coronavirus variants. The agency recommended that data from clinical immunogenicity studies be used to support any changes or updates to vaccines. Such studies would be smaller and could take less time than large-scale clinical trials.

"It's going to be on the order of a few hundred individuals in terms of size and we'd expect that that might take a few months," Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said during a call with reporters on Monday.

Moderna said it plans to "evaluate immunogenicity and safety in participants" consistent with the recently updated guidance. 

"We are moving quickly to test updates to the vaccines that address emerging variants of the virus in the clinic. Moderna is committed to making as many updates to our vaccine as necessary until the pandemic is under control. We hope to demonstrate that booster doses, if necessary, can be done at lower dose levels, which will allow us to provide many more doses to the global community in late 2021 and 2022 if necessary," Stephane Bancel, Moderna's CEO, said in a news release Wednesday.

Moderna did not say how long it expects the studies to take, or when the new vaccine would be available, if authorized.