The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines

By Jessie Yeung, Zamira Rahim, Kareem Khadder and Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 0115 GMT (0915 HKT) March 5, 2021
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5:06 p.m. ET, March 4, 2021

Massachusetts governor says people over 65 will be vaccine eligible next week

From CNN’s Alec Snyder

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker speaks during a press briefing in Lawrence, Massachusetts, on March 4.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker speaks during a press briefing in Lawrence, Massachusetts, on March 4. Pool/WHDH

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced that the state anticipates administering 250,000 doses of the Covid-19 vaccine next week, which would be consistent with the current week’s projections.

He said 300,000 to 400,000 new state residents will be eligible for vaccinations next week: those over 65 — down from the age 75 restriction in Massachusetts — and those with two or more high-risk medical conditions.

However, Baker said 150,000 of its available doses next week are first doses, meaning a large swath of those eligible will not immediately receive a vaccine.

Baker also said the state is not expecting a change for the remainder of March to its rate of roughly 150,000 first doses available per week.

Fenway Park, the home of the Boston Red Sox, will also transition away from its status as a mass vaccination site due to the forthcoming Major League Baseball season, Baker said. The last day Fenway Park will accept appointments is March 27, and first doses received at Fenway before its closure will be accepted at the Hynes Convention Center, where the Fenway operations will relocate. Hynes’ own vaccinations will accept appointments beginning March 18, Baker said.

Massachusetts’ Covid-19 case and vaccination data Thursday showed 1,553 new cases of the virus identified and 755 people currently hospitalized for the virus, Baker said. The state has administered 1.8 million vaccines, 1.2 million of which are first doses. Of those vaccinated, 70% of recipients are age 75 and over, and Baker said Massachusetts is second in the nation in its percentage of Black residents receiving at least one dose.

Note: These numbers were released by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and may not line up exactly in real time with CNN’s database drawn from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Johns Hopkins University and The COVID Tracking Project.

3:05 p.m. ET, March 4, 2021

About 82.6 million Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered in the US

From CNN's Amanda Sealy

Nurse Liliana Ocampo prepares to administer the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine on March 3 in Los Angeles at the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet independent living center.
Nurse Liliana Ocampo prepares to administer the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine on March 3 in Los Angeles at the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet independent living center. Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

About 82.6 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine have been administered in the United States, according to data published Thursday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The CDC reported that 82,572,848 total doses have been administered, about 75% of the 109,905,530 doses delivered.  

That’s about 2 million more administered doses reported since yesterday, for a seven-day average of more than 2 million doses per day.  

More than 54 million people have now received at least one dose of vaccine and about vaccine and more than 8% of the population — about 27.8 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. 

12:27 p.m. ET, March 4, 2021

Austria and Denmark announce plans for vaccine co-operation with Israel

From CNN's Andrew Carey

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, left, and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, give a joint press conference at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem on March 4.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, left, and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, give a joint press conference at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem on March 4. Olivier Fitoussi/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

Leaders of Israel, Austria and Denmark have announced plans to launch a joint research and development fund towards the possible future production of coronavirus vaccines. The move by the two European countries to partner with Israel follows dissatisfaction at the pace of vaccine distribution in the European Union.

At a joint news conference in Jerusalem, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said she was inspired by Israel’s ability to rollout Covid-19 vaccines. She added that along with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, she “shared the same vision of timely access to vaccines,” adding, “we cannot allow [ourselves] to be caught off-guard once again.”

Kurz also expressed his desire to make public health policy with a reach beyond the European Union. “We need to co-operate [on vaccines] within the European Union … but we also need to co-operate worldwide,” he said.

Details of the Research and Development fund were still being worked out, Netanyahu said, adding that it was necessary in order to protect people from a future resurgence of the virus or the emergence of further variants.

12:20 p.m. ET, March 4, 2021

Sweden moves towards eliminating upper age limit on AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine 

From CNN’s James Frater and Henrik Pettersson 

Syringes are loaded with the AstraZeneca Covid-19 Vaccine at the Skane University Hospital vaccination centre in Malmo, Sweden, on February 17.
Syringes are loaded with the AstraZeneca Covid-19 Vaccine at the Skane University Hospital vaccination centre in Malmo, Sweden, on February 17. Johan Nilsson/TT News Agency/AFP/Getty Images

The Swedish Health Authority, Folkhälsomyndigheten, recommended eliminating the upper age limit for use of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine. This would allow it to be used on people over age 65.

“New data from the UK confirms that AstraZeneca's vaccine has a good protective effect even for people over 65 years of age,” the Health Authority said in a statement Thursday.

The decision follows reversals made by Belgium and Germany, who have also changed their advice on administering the AstraZeneca vaccine in the elderly. 

Many European countries have set an upper limit on the age of recipients of the vaccine, citing a lack of clinical study information about its effects on older people.

In February the Swedish Health Authority approved the vaccine only for use in people under age 65, saying at the time of authorization there was “too little data on the vaccine's protective effect for people over 65 years of age.

“Waiting for more data was considered necessary, as the need for protection of the elderly is particularly high due to their increased risk of serious illness and death by Covid-19,” the statement said.

Swedish State Epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said that “all vaccines offered are very effective and according to the studies have a good protective effect for anyone over 18 years.”

Three vaccines are approved for use in Sweden: Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and Oxford/AstraZeneca.

According to the latest data from the Swedish Health Authority, 568,031 people have received at least one vaccine dose (6.9% of the adult population) and 285,178 (3.5%) have been given both doses. 

11:31 a.m. ET, March 4, 2021

Italy blocks export of Covid-19 vaccine doses, using EU powers for the first time

From CNN’s Nicola Ruotolo and James Frater

Doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine are seen at the vaccination unit of the Italian Defense, on February 23 in Rome, Italy.
Doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine are seen at the vaccination unit of the Italian Defense, on February 23 in Rome, Italy. Antonio Masiello/Getty Images

Italy has blocked the export of Covid-19 vaccine doses, in the first case of European Union powers being used in a long-simmering dispute between the European Union and vaccine makers.

Italy invoked EU powers to prevent AstraZeneca from exporting 250,000 doses to Australia, a spokesperson for Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi told CNN Thursday.

The spokesperson said Italy and the European Commission had agreed on the action.

The move was first reported by the Financial Times. CNN is seeking comment from AstraZeneca.

11:27 a.m. ET, March 4, 2021

Ivermectin drug is not effective at treating mild Covid-19, study finds

From CNN’s Jen Christensen

A health worker shows a bottle of Ivermectin in Cali, Colombia, on July 21, 2020.
A health worker shows a bottle of Ivermectin in Cali, Colombia, on July 21, 2020. Luis Robayo/AFP/Getty Images

Ivermectin, a drug normally used to treat parasites including lice and rabies, did not seem to have a significant impact and improve the symptoms of patients with Covid-19, according to new research published Thursday, in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In January, the National Institutes of Health’s Treatment Guidelines Panel said that there is not enough data to recommend for or against the drug to treat Covid-19 patients. 

Even without studies to demonstrate that it works, a few doctors have heavily promoted the drug. It’s a cheap medication with anti-inflammatory properties and it seemed to stop the virus from replicating in lab studies. But just because it works in the lab, doesn’t mean it will work in real life. Most mainstream physicians have reserved their judgment about it

In this study based in Cali, Colombia, nearly 500 adults with mild disease who had symptoms for 7 days, volunteered to help test the drug. The trial is what’s known as a double-blind randomized control trial, the gold-standard of trials. 

Half the volunteers got the drug for five days, the other half got a placebo, and standard care. Patients were enrolled in the trial between July 2020 and November 2020 and doctors followed up with that through December. 

At the end of the trial, there were a nearly equal number of adverse events (mostly headache) in both groups of volunteers. The patients who got the drug said their symptoms subsided by 10 days. For the group that got the placebo, it was 12 days. Two days was not considered a “significant” improvement. 

“The findings do not support the use of ivermectin for treatment of mild COVID-19,” the study concludes. It adds that larger trials may be needed to better understand if ivermectin provides any other kind of benefit to patients with Covid-19. In this case, the study focused on symptoms and mild disease. 

 

11:03 a.m. ET, March 4, 2021

Slovakia will receive 15,000 AstraZeneca vaccines from France, prime minister says

From CNN's Zahid Mahmood and Pierre Bairin

Slovakia will receive 15,000 doses of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine from France, the Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matovic said.

In a statement posted to Facebook on Thursday, Matovic said France has made a gesture of friendship and European solidarity during this “difficult epidemiological situation.”

“At a time when it is understandably very sensitive for all EU countries to offer their own vaccines elsewhere, even if they may need more somewhere else because of a bad situation, the greater is this gesture and the greater is our thanks to the French government,” Matovic said.

On Feb. 25, Macron was questioned on France’s distribution of vaccines to other European states and said some countries did not order their allocated amount from the EU, resulting in France and other countries receiving more doses – now distributing them back.

“In a way, to order more and to have more doses than the pro rata of their population, we have done so. France did it. So strictly speaking, we have a little more doses than our population, same for Germany, Denmark, several, many, many countries,” Macron said.

10:57 a.m. ET, March 4, 2021

Cuba announces its vaccine candidate is authorized to begin Phase 3 trials

From CNN’s Patrick Oppmann

A technician works with the Soberana 02 Covid-19 vaccine at the Finlay Vaccine Institute in Havana, Cuba, on January 20.
A technician works with the Soberana 02 Covid-19 vaccine at the Finlay Vaccine Institute in Havana, Cuba, on January 20. Yamil Lage/Pool/AP

Cuban scientists announced that the island’s Soberana vaccine candidate had received authorization to begin phase three trials immediately.

A second vaccine Abdala would also begin phase three trials soon, scientists said.

While many developing countries have struggled to import vaccines, Cuba has focused on making their own as a way to raise money and instill national pride in the island’s bio-medical industry. 

Two of the four Cuban vaccines candidates are named Soberana – Spanish for sovereignty. The remaining two are called Abdala, the name of a poem written by Cuban revolutionary icon Jose Marti, and Mambisa, referring to Cuban guerillas who fought a bloody war for freedom against the Spanish.

More than 85,000 Cubans would take part in the two final phases of the trials as the island’s state-run biomedical industry begins larger production of the vaccines. If approved for widescale use, Soberana and Abdala would be the first two vaccines developed in Latin America.

You can read more on Cuba’s vaccine trials here.

9:12 a.m. ET, March 4, 2021

Relaxing Covid-19 guidelines is an "invitation" for virus to spread faster, epidemiologist says

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

Epidemiologist Michael Osterholm on March 4.
Epidemiologist Michael Osterholm on March 4. CNN

Epidemiologist Michael Osterholm said he is concerned about the spread of Covid-19 variants, especially as states ease restrictions. 

“Expect in the next two to three weeks we're going to see a number of areas in this country, I think, that will follow exactly what we've seen in Europe and the Middle East. We're going to see a surge in cases. And everything that the governors are doing right now to relax all the public health recommendations that we've made are only going to be a major invitation of this virus to spread faster and farther,” said Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

Texas and Mississippi governors announced they are lifting mask mandates and fully opening businesses, a move that National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci called "inexplicable."

While it is very positive that vaccinations continue at a steady pace, “we are denying the gravity of the situation before us,” particularly concerning the more-transmissible variant first identified in the United Kingdom, Osterholm said on CNN’s “New Day.” 

Osterholm said that the number of people currently vaccinated and those previously infected who have immunity add up to about 35 to 40% of the population protected. 

“For the whole last year — for all the pain, suffering and death and illness — we still are only at about 40%. … So add that together with the following: more infectious, more severe illness, and we're loosening up everything. You put those two together and I think the question is, what is going to happen? None of us can say with certainty other than to say it's not going to be good,” he said.