February 25 coronavirus news

By Eoin McSweeney, Hannah Strange and Jessie Yeung, CNN

Updated 0642 GMT (1442 HKT) February 26, 2021
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8:43 a.m. ET, February 25, 2021

Moderna completed enrollment for Phase 2/3 trial for Covid-19 vaccine in adolescents

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

Moderna has completed enrollment for a Phase 2/3 trial studying their vaccine in adolescents and will start the Phase 2 study in younger children soon, the company said in a press release Thursday. 

“TeenCOVE,” the study of mRNA-1273 in adolescents ages 12 to 17, completed Phase 2/3 enrollment of 3,000 US participants.

Phase 2 “KidCOVE,” Moderna’s study of the vaccine in younger children, ages 6 months to 11 years, will start in the near term, the release said.

The release also updated on a next-generation vaccine against Covid-19, called mRNA-1283, which is being developed as a “potential refrigerator stable mRNA vaccine that will facilitate easier distribution and administration.”

This next generation vaccine is intended to be evaluated for use as a booster dose for those who have previously been vaccinated or infected as well as a primary series for those who are have not had Covid-19 and have yet to be vaccinated.

Moderna is one of two companies with Covid-19 vaccines authorized for emergency use in the United States.

8:40 a.m. ET, February 25, 2021

US likely to see surge in Covid-19 cases by mid-March due to variant, epidemiologist says

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

Epidemiologist Michael Osterholm on February 25.
Epidemiologist Michael Osterholm on February 25. CNN

Epidemiologist Michael Osterholm says that while the United States is in a downward trend with coronavirus cases, he expects an increase in cases to occur in the next few weeks due to a highly contagious variant first detected in the United Kingdom

“We’re seeing the B.1.1.7, or the UK variant, double about every 10 days in this country,” Osterholm said on CNN’s “New Day.” 

“It often takes four, six, even eight weeks of this virus circulating before it really takes off, going from kind of the small little brush pile fire to a large forest fire,” said Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. 

Osterholm said he is concerned once we get to around the third week of March. 

He also said he is worried that millions of people age 65 and older may not have had their first shot of vaccine by the end of March, and he suggested that health authorities target that population for at least a single dose. 

“We have the compelling data that they have remarkable responses after a single dose … So to me, it's a no brainer, but we've got to act on it soon because this variant isn't waiting for us to get our act together,” Osterholm said. 

8:31 a.m. ET, February 25, 2021

Strict lockdown measures in England cause Covid-19 case numbers to fall nearly 80% in six weeks

By CNN's Eoin McSweeney

Neal Street in London's Covent Garden is empty on February 14.
Neal Street in London's Covent Garden is empty on February 14. Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images

Covid-19 cases in England have fallen 78% since the government imposed a national lockdown on January 4, according to weekly statistics from the National Health Service Test and Trace.

84,310 people tested positive for the virus between February 11 and February 17, the lowest weekly figure recorded since September. 2,580,210 people were tested for the virus in the same time period, a 14% decrease from the previous week.

Thursday’s figure was a large decrease from the 388,037 recorded between New Year’s Eve and January 6, the week UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed strict measures to curb the spread of a more transmissible variant of Covid-19 first discovered in southeast England.

Johnson set out a four-step roadmap Monday to take England out of its Covid-19 lockdown, declaring that the nation was on a "one-way road to freedom."

The UK has the highest Covid-19 death toll in Europe, with more than 120,000 fatalities, and remains under tight pandemic restrictions. It has administered nearly 19 million vaccine doses, with 642,788 fully vaccinated, according to data from John Hopkins University. 

7:42 a.m. ET, February 25, 2021

Pfizer/BioNTech test a booster against new variants

From CNN Health’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

Pfizer and its partner BioNTech said Thursday they have begun to test how well a third dose of their authorized vaccine stacks up against new coronavirus variants.

The study will look at the safety and immune response of a booster dose in up to 144 participants from the earlier Phase 1 trial in the US, including a subset of older adults up to age 85. It will also involve testing how well their antibodies are able to neutralize “strains of interest” in the lab, the companies said.

Volunteers would receive a third dose between 6 and 12 months after their earlier two doses. The dosage would be identical to what’s currently authorized, 30 micrograms. 

“This booster study is critical to understanding the safety of a third dose and efficacy against circulating strains,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in a statement

Separately, Pfizer and BioNTech are also “in ongoing discussions with regulatory authorities” about potentially testing a vaccine has been modified to protect against concerning variants in a Phase 1/2 study.

However, Bourla noted the companies haven’t yet seen compelling evidence that variants are resistant to its vaccine, though they are taking steps to be prepared.

On Monday, the US Food and Drug Administration announced new guidelines that would streamline and quicken the process of updating vaccines to target variants. An agency official estimated this could involve a several hundred individuals and take a few months. 

5:53 a.m. ET, February 25, 2021

Austria's chancellor calls for ‘Green Passports’ for those vaccinated against coronavirus  

From CNN's Nadine Schmidt and Claudia Otto In Berlin

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz speaks at a press conference in Vienna, Austria, on February 1.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz speaks at a press conference in Vienna, Austria, on February 1. Helmut Fohringer/APA/AFP/Getty Images

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz will push the European Union Thursday to introduce a “green passport” for people who have protection against coronavirus, he said. 

“We need a 'green passport' for everyone who has either been vaccinated or has immunity, because they have just gone through coronavirus, or has taken a new (negative) test,” Kurz told journalists on Wednesday, ahead of a two-day summit with European leaders on the pandemic.

“We need freedom to travel back within the European Union, no matter if it is for business or private reasons. And we want to have the possibility to go back to cultural events, to the gastronomy, to the hotel business and enjoy it,” Kurz said. 

Central Europe has become the continent's latest coronavirus hotspot, with Austria struggling to contain an outbreak of the new variant first identified in South Africa and neighboring Czech Republic facing hospital bed shortages on top of a political crisis over lockdowns.

Kurz said he would introduce his proposal at the EU summit on Thursday, and said that he hoped for a European solution. 

If the green passport should fail to attract the support of the entire bloc, he said it could be introduced on a smaller scale: “We will, of course, approach this project nationally and try to find a common path with as many states in the neighborhood and beyond as possible.”

Tourism in Austria forms an important part of the country's economy, Kurz said, and therefore he believes that the introduction of such a green passport is “extremely important.”

Separately, in an interview with the German newspaper Bild, Kurz admitted that restrictions were becoming less effective: "The objective situation in Austria was simply that after six weeks the lockdown had lost its effect. People have adhered to it less and less, there have been more and more shifts to the private sector, and a lockdown where no one participates, of course, makes little sense."

Some destinations -- including the Seychelles, Cyprus and Romania -- have already lifted quarantine requirements to visitors able to prove they're vaccinated. Others, such as Iceland and Hungary, have opened up to people who've recovered from Covid-19.

5:40 a.m. ET, February 25, 2021

Despite US Covid-19 cases dropping, infections are still staggeringly high. Here's what has experts worried

From CNN's Christina Maxouris

Health care workers assist a patient in the overflow area of the Covid-19 intensive care unit at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center - Mission Hills in Los Angeles on February 5.
Health care workers assist a patient in the overflow area of the Covid-19 intensive care unit at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center - Mission Hills in Los Angeles on February 5. Ariana Drehsler/Bloomberg/Getty Images

A new ensemble forecast published Wednesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests the country's daily Covid-19 death rate will slow in the coming weeks -- good news following more than a month of declining case and hospitalization numbers.

But now is no time to let up on safety measures -- for several reasons -- according to experts.

First, Covid-19 numbers across the US remain staggeringly high. For the past week, the US has averaged more than 72,000 new cases daily, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Getting infection numbers down now not only will help prevent the virus from further mutating but will also give vaccines a better shot at remaining effective.

More than 54,000 people remain hospitalized with the virus nationwide, according to the COVID Tracking Project. And more than 57,000 Covid-19 deaths have been recorded this month alone. On Wednesday, California became the first state to surpass 50,000 virus-related deaths, Johns Hopkins data showed -- a grim reminder of its brutal battle against the virus.

Another big reason to remain cautious? Experts have warned another case surge is likely on its way, one that will this time be fueled by coronavirus variants -- and the country is still nowhere near herd immunity levels.

In fact, health officials are preparing for a possible third wave that will be driven by a rapidly spreading variant that was first identified in the UK: B.1.1.7. Data from the CDC shows more than 1,880 cases of the variant have been detected across the US -- but scientists have warned that number likely doesn't represent the total of cases in the country.

Read the full story:

5:23 a.m. ET, February 25, 2021

Post-vaccination observation period may not be necessary for Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine 

From CNN Health's Virginia Langmaid

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

The post-vaccination observation period required after the administration of Pfizer and Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccines may not be necessary for Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, Dr. Nirav Shah, deputy director of the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a media briefing by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Wednesday.

The J&J vaccine -- which the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said on Wednesday meets requirements for emergency use authorization -- works differently from vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna. This difference “may remove some of the constraints that have been in place for safety reasons with the Moderna and the Pfizer vaccine,” said Shah. “For example, the observation period.”

The J&J vaccine is made using an adenoviral vector. A small piece of genetic material from the coronavirus is inserted into a weakened version of a common cold virus called an adenovirus. Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines use a newer platform, called mRNA (or messenger RNA) that delivers instructions to the cells to make a small piece of the coronavirus spike protein, which primes the immune system to recognize the virus in the future. 

Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines have been associated with some rare cases of severe allergic reaction, or anaphylaxis, that may be related to a vaccine ingredient called polyethylene glycol (PEG), which is part of the fatty coating used to encapsulate the mRNA particles. 

4:50 a.m. ET, February 25, 2021

Merkel warns of third wave if Germany does not open cautiously

From CNN's Claudia Otto in Berlin

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks during a press conference in Berlin, on February 19.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks during a press conference in Berlin, on February 19. Annegret Hilse/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned of a third wave of Covid-19 cases if Germany gets its reopening wrong.

“We have to proceed wisely and carefully now so that a third wave does not necessitate a new complete shutdown throughout Germany," Merkel said in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.

The Chancellor warned against opening the country too fast as the British mutation, which is believed to be more transmissable than the original virus strain, is spreading in Germany.

The German agency for disease control and prevention, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), recorded an additional 11,869 cases in the last twenty-four hours in the country, bringing the total for the pandemic to 2,414,687.

Germany’s Covid-19 death toll now stands at 69,125. 

The incidence rate remains the same with 61.7 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the RKI. The goal is to get the incidence rate to 35 per 100,000 in order to reopen the country, Merkel has said. 

2:13 a.m. ET, February 25, 2021

Despite drop in new cases, infection rate in Latin America remains high amid vaccine shortage

From CNN’s Tatiana Arias in Atlanta

A healthcare worker administers a dose of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Monday, February 22.
A healthcare worker administers a dose of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Monday, February 22. Sarah Pabst/Bloomberg/Getty Images

The Americas region, including the US, is seeing a drop in Covid-19 cases -- but the infection rate is almost the same as the middle of last year, according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

Most Latin American countries are reporting a drop in new cases, “but the virus continues to spread at levels roughly equivalent to those that we saw mid last year when many countries were sounding the alarm,” said PAHO Director Carissa Etienne on Wednesday.

Although the Americas are seeing a reduction in cases, and vaccination campaigns have begun in at least 28 countries and territories, “it will be months before we see vaccinations impact the rate of Covid-19 infections, even in places like the United States, where immunization campaigns have been active for weeks," she said.

Approximately 78 million people have been vaccinated in the Americas and the Caribbean -- but it's not enough, Etienne said.

“The lifesaving power of vaccines should not be a privilege for the few, but a right for all, especially for the countries at greatest risk, like those in the Americas, who remain the epicenter of the pandemic," she said, adding that vaccines are "safe and effective."

"Our region needs vaccines, as soon as possible and as many as possible to save lives,” she said.

Follow CNN's global vaccine tracker: