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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11:48 a.m. ET, February 26, 2021

White House launches new federal Covid-19 vaccination sites in North Carolina and Illinois

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard and Nicholas Neville

The White House on Friday announced the launch of two new federal Covid-19 vaccination sites — one in North Carolina and the other in Illinois.

"Starting in two weeks, the United Center in Chicago will be used to vaccinate up to 6,000 people per day. And in North Carolina, a new site in Greensboro will have the capacity to vaccinate 3,000 people per day," Andy Slavitt, the White House senior adviser for the Covid-19 Response Team, announced during a briefing on Friday. 

"The goal is to launch vaccination sites that use processes and are in locations that promote equity, deploying the CDC's social vulnerability index," Slavitt said.

Slavitt added that the locations for the sites were based on data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Federal Emergency Management Agency  in an effort to target those who are most vulnerable to Covid-19.

Since Jan. 20, the administration has supported the establishment or expansion of 441 community vaccination centers across 37 states, territories and Washington, DC, Slavitt said on Friday.

 "Over the past month, we've provided 171 sites with federal personnel. We've deployed nearly 3,500 total personnel nationwide to support vaccination operations," Slavitt said. "One hundred and seventy-seven sites have received federal funding and at the President's direction, FEMA is reimbursing 100% of costs for vaccination operations."

Slavitt added that President Biden is visiting a federally established community vaccination site today in Houston.

11:42 a.m. ET, February 26, 2021

Pfizer and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines seem to be safe and adverse events are rare, new CDC analysis finds

From CNN's Jen Christensen

The current Pfizer and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines seem to be safe and adverse events seem to be rare, according to a presentation at the US Food and Drug Administration’s Vaccine and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee meeting Friday.

The number of reports of people having a reaction to the vaccine seem to be similar to what was reported during the clinical trials, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Dr. Tom Shimabukuro.

The CDC looked at reports of adverse reactions through Feb. 16. At that point, 55 million doses had been administered in the US.

There were just more than 100,000 reports of which 94% were considered “non-serious” and 6% met the regulatory definition of “serious.”

The reports were gathered in a passive surveillance system co-managed by the CDC and the FDA, called V-safe. The system can rapidly detect safety signals if there is a problem with any of the vaccines. 

“The reactogenicity profiles of the mRNA vaccines in V-safe are consistent with what was observed in the clinical trials,” Shimabukuro said. “Anaphylaxis does occur, though rarely, and there's no safety signals for any serious adverse events,” he added

He added anaphylaxis – a severe allergic reaction-- is also treatable. The CDC guidelines say that people who get the vaccine must stay on location to be observed for 15 to 30 minutes after receiving their shot, that way if they have breathing problems, trained medical personnel can quickly help.

The CDC will continue to monitor the safety of people who receive the vaccines.

11:42 a.m. ET, February 26, 2021

Concerning coronavirus variants are likely much more common that testing shows, CDC expert says

From CNN's Maggie Fox

Worrying coronavirus variants are likely far more common across the US than testing indicates and could drive new surges in the spread of the virus, a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expert said Friday.

One first identified in the UK, called B.1.1.7, is more contagious and might cause more severe disease, although it doesn’t seem to be more deadly, CDC epidemiologist Adam MacNeil told a meeting of US Food and Drug Administration vaccine advisers. 

The Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee is meeting now to consider emergency use authorization for Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine. If it wins EUA, it would become the third vaccine to become available in the US and the first one-shot vaccine.

The rise of variants makes vaccination more important than ever, CDC has said. It reports more than 2,100 samples of B.1.1.7 have been seen in 43 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, DC. But there’s not nearly enough testing to know the full picture, MacNeil told the committee.

“We may not ever know the full situation in terms of what is going on with the virus,” MacNeil told the committee. “These variants are probably much more widespread through the country,” he added. “These variants could probably exist throughout the entire United States.” 

Plus, testing is so slow that it’s unlikely contact tracing could be used to track the spread of the variants, he said.

In countries where the variants have arisen, there have been new surges of viral spread, MacNeil noted. “We are moving in the right direction with a strong downward trend in the number of cases,” he told the committee, which will vote later Friday on whether to recommend EUA. The FDA could accept or reject that recommendation as early as Friday night.

“We are certainly not out of the woods yet and we need to continue our focus on mitigation measures and trying to stop the current outbreak,” MacNeil added.

Tests indicate the B.1.1.7 variant does not evade the effects of vaccines, but another one, called B.1.351, which was first identified in South Africa, may weaken the vaccine response somewhat – although testing has suggested current vaccines still protect against that variant, also.

11:42 a.m. ET, February 26, 2021

Key things to know about Johnson and Johnson's single-dose Covid-19 shot as FDA weighs vaccine's future

From CNN's Jen Christensen and Maggie Fox

US Food and Drug Administration vaccine advisers are meeting now 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.

Here are some key things to know about the vaccine:

The vaccine's safety: The FDA analysis said the J&J vaccine has a "favorable safety profile." The side effects were mostly mild. The most common were pain at the injection site, headache, fatigue and muscle pain. Some people had hives. Most of these side effects went away in one or two days.

There appeared to be more incidents related to blood clotting and ringing in the ears among those people who got the vaccine in the trial, compared to those who didn't, but the FDA notes that "data at this time are insufficient to determine a causal relationship between these events and the vaccine." There were no reports of serious allergic reactions with this one.

Protection offered by the single-dose shot: With any vaccine it takes your body a few weeks to build up immunity. Protection doesn't happen right away.

With the J&J vaccine, it looks like protection against moderate/severe disease starts about two weeks after you get vaccinated. By four weeks after the shot, data from the clinical trial showed there were no hospitalizations or deaths. Remember: this is a single dose shot, so there is no waiting around to get a second to develop full protection. US trials of the J&J shot showed it provides 72% of protection against moderate to severe disease after one month.

Timing of its availability: The independent group of experts meeting today will determine if the vaccine works and if it's safe. It will then make a recommendation to the FDA. The FDA usually follows its advice. The FDA could sign off on the vaccine as early as Friday or Saturday. On Sunday afternoon, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, known as ACIP, is scheduled to meet and set guidelines for who should get the vaccine. Their vote is scheduled for 3pm.

From there, the vaccine could start rolling out of the J&J facility to vaccine centers around the country.

Read more about Johnson & Jonson's vaccine here.

10:54 a.m. ET, February 26, 2021

New York City vaccinated more than 61,000 people yesterday, a new record

From CNN's Kristina Sgueglia

New York City set a record of administering more than 61,000 vaccines on Thursday alone, with more than 1.67 million having been administered to date, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday.

De Blasio restated his goal to vaccinate 5 million New Yorkers by June, saying it can happen, with the right supply.

11:43 a.m. ET, February 26, 2021

An FDA committee is meeting now to consider Johnson & Johnson's single-dose Covid-19 vaccine

From CNN's Maggie Fox

The meeting of the US Food and Drug Administration’s Vaccine and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee has begun.

The VRBPAC will evaluate the coronavirus vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine arm Janssen, and will vote later today on whether it recommends FDA Emergency Use Authorization for the vaccine.

9:23 a.m. ET, February 26, 2021

Your questions about Covid-19 vaccines, answered by CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

As a US Food and Drug Administration panel meets this morning to consider emergency use authorization for a third Covid-19 vaccine in the US, Dr. Sanjay Gupta answered some viewer questions about vaccines on CNN’s “New Day.” 

Do you need to wear a mask if you've been vaccinated and are around some other people who are vaccinated? 

“It's low risk,” Gupta said. “You can feel pretty confident you’re not going to get sick if you've been vaccinated. Could you still potentially be holding the virus, carrying the virus, and potentially transmit it? Yes. It seems low likelihood but, yes.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said a fully vaccinated person does not have to do the recommended quarantine if they come into contact with someone who is known to be infected with the coronavirus, and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci thinks more guidance is coming

Gupta also said he thinks there may be a change in official recommendations regarding the scenario of gathering with other vaccinated individuals. 

I currently am enrolled in asymptomatic testing on a weekly basis with my employer. Once I get the second vaccine shot, will/should I continue testing?

Yes, Gupta says. “This is the exact data, probably more than anything else, that we need to know within the next couple of months,” he said. 

“If you continue to get tested, other people continue to get tested, after these vaccines, that's how we'll figure out for sure whether or not the vaccine is preventing infection,” Gupta said.

After you're vaccinated, can you resume your old daily activities? 

“You should feel very confident that you're not going to get sick. And that is not to be underestimated. But you could still be a carrier. I mean, that is the bottom line right now,” Gupta said. 

“We'll probably get to the point offer the spring and summer where transmission rates come down so low that we'll have some sort of functional herd immunity and may see some relaxing of the guidelines. But I don't know that it's going to be linear,” Gupta said, adding that we could see some upticks in the winter.  

“Being vaccinated is great, but you have this obligation to others to not spread the virus to them,” Gupta said. 

Watch:

9:13 a.m. ET, February 26, 2021

Japan to end state of emergency due to Covid-19 for 6 prefectures this month

From CNN’s Junko Ogura in Tokyo

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga meets the press at his office in Tokyo, on February 26.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga meets the press at his office in Tokyo, on February 26. Kyodo News/Sipa USA

Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced on Friday that the country will lift the state of emergency in six prefectures at the end of the month, a week earlier than scheduled.

The state of emergency will be lifted in Aichi, Gifu, Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo and Fukuoka, earlier than the scheduled end date of March 7 as infections have declined and the strain on hospitals has eased.

Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures, Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba, will remain under a state of emergency until March 7.

More on the measures: Japan had placed 11 of its 47 prefectures under a state of emergency in January as a third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic swept the nation. One of those prefectures, Tochigi, has already emerged early from the restrictions.

“With the great cooperation of people, the effect is clearly visible and the number of infected people is decreasing,” Suga told reports at his office. “However, please continue to prevent the spread of infection with a sense of tension.”

8:14 a.m. ET, February 26, 2021

Single dose of Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine may protect against asymptomatic infection, preprint study says

From CNN Health's Jamie Gumbrecht

A health care worker administers a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at Coors Field in Denver, Colorado, on February 20.
A health care worker administers a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at Coors Field in Denver, Colorado, on February 20. Chet Strange/Bloomberg/Getty Images

More new research suggests a single dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine can protect against asymptomatic coronavirus infection, which could help reduce transmission of the virus.

Researchers used PCR tests to screen for coronavirus in vaccinated and non-vaccinated Cambridge University Hospitals health care workers who reported to work feeling well.

Unvaccinated health care workers were positive for coronavirus in 0.80% of tests; vaccinated health care workers less than 12 days from a single dose were positive in 0.37% of tests; and vaccinated health care workers who were at least 12 days out from one dose were positive in 0.20% of tests.

The study, led by Cambridge researchers, has not yet been published or peer-reviewed, but the authors call it “real-world evidence for a high level of protection against asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection” from a single dose of the vaccine. They noted that the more transmissible B.1.1.7 variant, first identified in the United Kingdom, dominated at the time of their research, and prior infection was relatively low among the population tested.

A large study released this week by Public Health England (PHE) found that one dose of the Pfizer vaccine “provides high levels of protection against infection and symptomatic disease,” reducing the risk of infection by 72% after three weeks, while two vaccine doses reduced the risk of infection by 85%. PHE's Siren Study involved health care workers younger than 65.

“These studies are very encouraging because they suggest that the vaccines will prevent the spread of the virus,” Lawrence Young, a professor of molecular oncology at Warwick Medical School, said in a response to the Science Media Centre in the UK. “You can’t spread the virus if you’re not infected and these studies show that the vaccine blocks infection in individuals who don’t have symptoms but could pass on the infection.”