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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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.”

7:58 a.m. ET, February 26, 2021

When will the US reach herd immunity and what will it look like?

From CNN's Deidre McPhillips

A year into the Covid-19 pandemic, it appears that trends in the United States have finally shifted in a positive direction.

New cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are dropping rapidly, and the supply of available vaccines is growing.

The country could be well on its way to herd immunity, the point at which enough people are protected against a disease that it cannot spread through the population.

But it may take months to get there, and nobody expects it will feel like an overnight return to our lives before the pandemic.

More than 66 million shots have been administered, according to the latest federal data, with nearly 8% of the US population fully vaccinated. Promises from manufacturers indicate that the US should have enough vaccine supply to cover everyone by June. More than a quarter of the population may already have natural immunity after previous infection -- and that number may be much higher than official counts show.

However, some new variants threaten progress, potentially lessening protection offered by vaccines and skirting some degree of natural immunity. Vaccine hesitancy may also create some limitations.

To understand how these factors may play into the future timeline of the pandemic, CNN spoke with five experts: Dr. Arturo Casadevall, chair of molecular microbiology and immunology at Johns Hopkins University; Justin Lessler, associate professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University; Jessica Malaty Rivera, science communications lead at the COVID Tracking Project; Dr. Aneesh Mehta, of the Emory Vaccine Center; and Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

Read the full story:

7:55 a.m. ET, February 26, 2021

FCC approves $50-a-month internet subsidies for pandemic-stricken households

From CNN's Brian Fung

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday approved final rules for a new broadband subsidy program that could help struggling families pay for internet service during the pandemic. 

The agency’s $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit Program provides eligible low-income households with up to a $50 per month credit on their internet bills through their provider until the end of the pandemic. In tribal areas, eligible households may receive up to $75 per month and the program also provides eligible households up to $100 off of one computer or tablet. 

The congressionally created program is aimed at closing the digital divide, which has become painfully apparent over the past year as millions of Americans have been forced to work and learn remotely. For years, industry critics have pointed to inaccurate broadband maps and insufficient funding for rural areas as key hurdles preventing much of the country from getting online. 

Last year, Congress passed a coronavirus relief package that contained provisions for the FCC’s new program and the FCC has established a fresh task force to improve the data it gathers on broadband availability. 

Signups for the pandemic internet benefits could begin within the next 60 days, said Jessica Rosenworcel, the FCC’s acting chairwoman, after the agency establishes the systems needed to work with internet providers. 

“This is a program that will help those at risk of digital disconnection,” Rosenworcel said in a statement. “It will help those sitting in cars in parking lots just to catch a Wi-Fi signal to go online for work. It will help those lingering outside the library with a laptop just to get a wireless signal for remote learning. It will help those who worry about choosing between paying a broadband bill and paying rent or buying groceries.”

Households eligible for the program include those who use food stamps, are on Medicaid, or have received a Pell Grant. Also eligible are those who’ve lost their jobs during the pandemic.

7:18 a.m. ET, February 26, 2021

Fully vaccinated people can gather individually with minimal risk, Fauci says

From CNN's Christpher Rios

Two fully vaccinated people can gather individually with minimal risk, Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN’s Chris Cuomo Thursday.

"You can start getting together as individual people, even though the risk is not zero, the risk becomes extremely low when you have both parties vaccinated," said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has not released guidelines about gathering with other vaccinated people. 

“My professional judgement is that when my daughter wants to come in here and she is doubly vaccinated, I’m going to have her over to the house, and I’m going to give her a big hug that I haven’t been able to do for a year,” Fauci said. 

The US has administered 68,274,117 vaccine doses, according to data from John Hopkins University.

It has recorded over 28 million cases and 508,307 deaths, the highest country total.

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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