The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines

By Ben Westcott, Melissa Macaya, Meg Wagner, Veronica Rocha and Fernando Alfonso, CNN

Updated 10:19 p.m. ET, February 26, 2021
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7:00 a.m. ET, February 26, 2021

At least one US foreign service officer subjected to Covid-19 anal swab test in China, sources say

From CNN's Beijing bureau

At least one US foreign service officer traveling from the US -- returning to their post in Beijing in mid-January -- was subjected to a Covid-19 anal swab test, two diplomatic sources based in China with direct knowledge of the matter told CNN.

They later reported the incident to their superiors at the US Embassy in Beijing, the sources said.

US officials in China asked local authorities to refrain from subjecting US staff in the country to Covid-19 anal swabs, according to a US diplomat based in China.

"The State Department never agreed to this kind of testing and protested directly to [China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs] when we learned that some staff were subject to it," a State Department spokesperson told CNN in a statement on Thursday.

On Thursday, China responded to a VICE News report which claimed that US diplomats in the country were complaining after having been administered the swab tests.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, told reporters at a daily briefing, “As far as I know, and I have also checked with my colleagues, China has never asked US diplomats in China to take anal swab tests,” 

The ministry did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment on Friday.

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6:07 a.m. ET, February 26, 2021

"We still have too much vaccine in the fridge," says German health minister

From CNN's Nadine Schmidt and Claudia Otto in Berlin

German Health Minister, Jens Spahn speaks to the media in Berlin, on February 26.
German Health Minister, Jens Spahn speaks to the media in Berlin, on February 26. Andreas Gora/Pool/Getty Images

German health minister Jens Spahn acknowledged Friday that Germany needs to ramp up its vaccination campaign.

“We still have too much vaccine in the fridge,” he told reporters at a regular health press conference in Berlin. To speed up the rollout of coronavirus vaccines, Germany will aim to swiftly distribute the shots through its network of family doctors’ practices, Spahn added.

Germany has inoculated 5.7 million people with the first shot of the coronavirus vaccine -- 4.5% of the country’s population -- and more than 2% have received the second shot, Spahn said.

Earlier this month, German Chancellor Angela Merkel admitted that the sluggish start of the vaccine program has been a “disappointment” and added that the vaccination centers will soon operate “at full capacity.”

By the end of next week 11 million coronavirus vaccines will have been distributed across Germany's 16 federal states, Spahn said Friday.

Lothar Wieler, head of Germany’s public health authority at the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), told journalists at the same press conference Friday that the country’s infection numbers appear to be stabilizing in recent days, warning that vigilance needs to be exercised or else “we will risk a third wave.”

On Friday, Germany recorded 9,997 new coronavirus infections -- a rise of 884 cases compared to the same day last week, according to the RKI -- bringing the total for the pandemic to 2,424,684.  

Germany coronavirus deaths stood at 394 within the last 24 hours -- a drop of 114 compared to Friday last week. The country’s death toll now stands at 69,519.

The latest data from RKI indicates that the number of new infections per 100,000 residents stood at 63. The goal is to get the incidence rate to 35 per 100,000 in order to reopen the country, Merkel has said.

6:25 a.m. ET, February 26, 2021

India has supplied over 36 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines abroad so far

From CNN's Manveena Suri in New Delhi

A medical worker inoculates a municipal worker with a Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in New Delhi, India, on February 22.
A medical worker inoculates a municipal worker with a Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in New Delhi, India, on February 22. Sajjad Hussain/AFP/Getty Images

India has supplied more than 36 million doses of coronavirus vaccines to various countries, of which 6.75 million doses have been provided as grant assistance, a spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said at a press briefing Thursday.

"As of now, we have provided a total of 36,194,000 doses to various countries. This includes 6,750,000 doses supplied under grant assistance and 29,444,000 doses under various commercial contracts," said Anurag Srivastava, spokesperson for the MEA.

India is the world's biggest vaccine manufacturer and has pledged to donate millions of doses to neighboring countries. The country's Serum Institute is producing the vaccine developed in the UK by AstraZeneca for domestic use and export.

The supply of vaccines to countries will continue in a phased manner over the coming weeks and months while ensuring that domestic requirements for the national vaccination program are kept in mind, he added.

India has sent consignments of Covid-19 vaccine doses as gifts to countries such as Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan, the Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Bahrain, Oman, Afghanistan, Barbados, and Dominica.

India has also offered locally-made vaccines to all members of the diplomatic corps (foreign missions) and their families based in the country, said Srivastava.

"It has been offered not only to the diplomats of countries but also to those of UN agencies and intergovernmental organizations working in India. This drive will cover all the locations where they are based," he said. 

Countries that have received the vaccines under commercial contracts include Brazil, Morocco, Myanmar, Egypt, Algeria, South Africa, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates.

Daily new cases in India have plummeted, dropping from a peak of over 90,000 infections in September down to just over 10,000 a day in February. On February 9, the capital Delhi reported zero virus deaths for the first time in nearly nine months, according to COVID19INDIA, a website that aggregates Covid-19 data from official sources.

6:03 a.m. ET, February 26, 2021

Queen Elizabeth II urges public to "think about other people" and get vaccinated

From CNN's Max Foster in London

In this undated handout photo provided by Buckingham Palace on February 25, Britain's Queen Elizabeth smiles on a video call with the four health officials leading the deployment of the COVID-19 vaccination in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
In this undated handout photo provided by Buckingham Palace on February 25, Britain's Queen Elizabeth smiles on a video call with the four health officials leading the deployment of the COVID-19 vaccination in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Buckingham Palace via AP

Queen Elizabeth II has urged people to get Covid-19 vaccinations while adding that her own jab "didn't hurt at all."

"It is obviously difficult for people if they've never had a vaccine; they ought to think about other people rather than themselves," she said in a video call with health officials leading the Covid-19 vaccine rollout in the United Kingdom.

Britain's monarch and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, received their vaccinations at Windsor Castle on January 9.

"It was very quick, and I’ve had lots of letters from people who have been very surprised by how easy it was to get the vaccine," the Queen said. "And the jab -- it didn’t hurt at all."

The 94-year-old monarch was meeting with the four senior officers overseeing the vaccine rollout in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Nearly 19 million people in the UK have received at least one dose of the vaccine, in one of the world's fastest rollouts.

The heir to the throne, Prince Charles, tested positive for coronavirus and went into isolation in March last year. The 72-year-old later said he was lucky to only experience mild symptoms, adding he'd "got away with it quite lightly."

The UK has recorded more than 4 million cases of Covid-19 and 122,303 deaths, the highest in Europe.

5:11 a.m. ET, February 26, 2021

Majority of US adults have been or want to get vaccinated as soon as possible, poll finds   

From CNN Health's Ashley Ahn

Cars are lined up at the mass Covid-19 vaccination site at Dodger Stadium on February 23 in Los Angeles, California.
Cars are lined up at the mass Covid-19 vaccination site at Dodger Stadium on February 23 in Los Angeles, California. Mario Tama/Getty Images

More than half of Americans said they have already gotten at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine or want to get vaccinated as soon as possible, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported Friday.

A survey by the foundation found that 55% of polled US adults have either received a shot or say they want to get vaccinated as soon as possible. That’s up from 47% in mid-January and 34% in early December. Friday’s KFF Vaccine Monitor report also showed that compared to December, all surveyed demographic groups now have more desire to be vaccinated.

The KFF Vaccine Monitor survey, conducted from February 15 to 23, included 1,874 adults with oversamples of about 500 Black adults and 500 Hispanic adults. 

Black and Hispanic adults and people 18 to 29 are most likely to say they want to “wait and see” how the vaccine works among the general public before they get it. More than a third of Black adults and 26% of surveyed Hispanic adults say they want to wait and see, compared to 18% of surveyed White adults. 

The survey found 22% of those polled will either “definitely not” get vaccinated or only get the vaccine if required for work, school, or other activities. This remains consistent with the figures recorded in January and December, suggesting this group holds firm views.

Republicans, essential workers not in health care, and individuals living in rural areas were most likely to say they will “definitely not” get vaccinated. 

“While there has been an overall shift towards greater enthusiasm for getting a COVID-19 vaccination, the demographic groups that are the most enthusiastic, most cautious, and most resistant remain similar to those reported in January,” the researchers wrote in the report.  

In light of the anticipated US Food and Drug Administration emergency use authorization for the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 single shot vaccine, the poll found that about a quarter of individuals who wish to “wait and see” before being inoculated said they would be more likely to get a vaccine that requires only one dose. 

The poll found serious side effects to be people’s biggest concern about receiving the vaccine, with over half of unvaccinated individuals sharing this concern. 

About one-third of unvaccinated people also say they feared they could get Covid-19 from the vaccine -- something that is biologically impossible -- missing work due to side effects or paying out of pocket. These fears were more prevalent among Black and Hispanic adults. 

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

South Korea extends social distancing measures as vaccinations begin  

From CNN’s Gawon Bae and Jake Kwon in Seoul

A health care worker at a nursing hospital in Ansan City is receiving an AstraZeneca vaccine on the first day of South Korea’s inoculation campaign on February 26.
A health care worker at a nursing hospital in Ansan City is receiving an AstraZeneca vaccine on the first day of South Korea’s inoculation campaign on February 26. Gyeonggi Province

South Korea began its vaccine rollout on Friday as health authorities extended current social distancing measures and bans on gatherings of five or more people until March 14, according to Health Ministry Spokesperson Son Young-rae.

Son emphasized that people should still abide by the measures while the government strives to safely and effectively form herd immunity. He urged people to trust the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine as explained by health authorities and actively receive it.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in visited a vaccination clinic on Friday to encourage medical workers on the frontline of vaccination and anti-virus work as he inspected the preparedness and operations, according to the presidential Blue House.

South Korea reported 406 new Covid-19 cases from Thursday, increasing the total to 88,922, according to KDCA. Four fatalities were added, bringing the death toll to 1,585.

2:37 a.m. ET, February 26, 2021

FDA advisers to consider third possible Covid-19 vaccine Friday

From CNN's Maggie Fox

Vials of Johnson & Johnson's Covid-19 vaccine are seen at the Klerksdorp Hospital as South Africa proceeds with its inoculation campaign on February 18.
Vials of Johnson & Johnson's Covid-19 vaccine are seen at the Klerksdorp Hospital as South Africa proceeds with its inoculation campaign on February 18. Phill Magakoe/AFP/Getty Images

US Food and Drug Administration vaccine advisers are scheduled to meet Friday to discuss the potential emergency authorization of a third coronavirus vaccine for the US, this one made by Johnson & Johnson's vaccine arm Janssen Biotech.

It's the next step in a process that could end with the new vaccine's rollout early next week. As with the two currently authorized vaccines, advisers and federal agencies are meeting over a weekend to try to get the vaccines to the US public as soon as possible.

The FDA has already considered the advanced, Phase 3 clinical trial testing data presented by Janssen and says it shows the vaccine is safe and effective. The Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee or VRBPAC is made up of vaccine experts and other medical professionals, industry and consumer representatives who will consider presentations from FDA about its findings, as well as from Janssen.

They'll also hear the latest from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the spread of the virus, including worrying new variants, and on the CDC's surveillance for any safety worries from the currently authorized vaccines made by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna.

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1:33 a.m. ET, February 26, 2021

After weeks of sharp declines, new Covid-19 cases are beginning to flatten

From CNN's Eric Levenson, Christina Maxouris and Theresa Waldrop

After six straight weeks of declines in new Covid-19 cases in the US, that number has started to plateau, even as hospitalizations and deaths continue to drop.

The 7-day average of daily new cases was just over 72,000 on Wednesday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, a total that is relatively unchanged from last Thursday. Compare those numbers to the previous Thursday, February 11, when the US averaged about 102,000 new cases per day.

Experts say it is too soon to tell whether this one-week flattening represents a small blip or the beginning of a broader issue.

"I've been watching this and have been wondering the same thing," Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, told CNN.
"We have not seen widespread increases, but there is that flattening. We'll have to monitor this closely. The other thing we have to track is how the new variant is doing and whether that's part of the reason."

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