Biden delivers national address about Covid-19

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

Updated 9:52 p.m. ET, March 11, 2021
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10:28 a.m. ET, March 11, 2021

Pfizer vaccine prevents asymptomatic Covid-19 and death, data from Israel shows

From CNN’s Jacqueline Howard and Naomi Thomas

A syringe and vials of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine are pictured at the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Israel, on January 14.
A syringe and vials of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine are pictured at the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Israel, on January 14. Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

The pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and BioNTech announced on Thursday morning that real-world evidence from the Israel Ministry of Health show that there have been "dramatically" fewer Covid-19 cases and deaths among people in Israel who have been fully vaccinated with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine compared with those who have been not vaccinated.

The latest analysis from the Israel Ministry of Health is based on data collected between Jan. 17 and March 6, according to the announcement. During that time, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was the only Covid-19 vaccine available in the country and the coronavirus variant B.1.1.7, which was first identified in the United Kingdom, was dominant.

According to Pfizer and BioNTech's announcement, the latest analysis from the Israel Ministry of Health shows that two weeks after the second dose, vaccine effectiveness was at least 97% in preventing symptomatic disease, hospitalizations and death. The analysis also found that the vaccine effectiveness was 94% in preventing asymptomatic Covid-19, where infections show no symptoms

"We are extremely encouraged that the real-world effectiveness data coming from Israel are confirming the high efficacy demonstrated in our Phase 3 clinical trial and showing the significant impact of the vaccine in preventing severe disease and deaths due to COVID-19," Luis Jodar, senior vice president and chief medical officer at Pfizer Vaccines, said in the announcement.

"The findings which suggest that the vaccine may also provide protection against asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infections are particularly meaningful as we look to disrupt the spread of the virus around the globe," Jodar said.

SARS-CoV-2 is the name of the virus that causes Covid-19.

The announcement comes about two weeks after a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine finding that the risk of symptomatic Covid-19 – meaning people who were infected with the coronavirus and felt sick – decreased by 94% among those who received two doses of the vaccine. Even before the second dose, the vaccine's effectiveness approached 60%.

"This clearly demonstrates the power of the COVID-19 vaccine to fight this virus and encourages us to continue even more intensively with our vaccination campaign. We aim to achieve even higher uptake in people of all ages, which gives us hope of regaining normal economic and social function in the not so distant future," Yeheskel Levy, Israel Ministry of Health director, said in the announcement.

"When we started our development last year in January, our aim was to make a difference for people worldwide and to help end this pandemic," Dr. Ugur Sahin, co-founder and CEO of BioNTech, said in the announcement. "One year after the declaration of a pandemic by the WHO, we now see that we are on the right track to accomplish our goals."

Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer, said data from Israel that shows the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine prevents asymptomatic infection and death is a message of hope one year on from the declaration of a pandemic. 

“It is a great opportunity, I think, that in this day of the first anniversary of the declaration of a pandemic, we do have a message of hope,” Bourla told CNBC’s Meg Tirrell on Squawk Box. 

Bourla explained that the data comes from a country where more than 55% of the total population has been vaccinated.

Efficacy so far in Israel is at 97%, saying “all three measures, mild disease, hospitalizations and deaths are north of 97% in real world efficacy with millions of people vaccinated.” 

Perhaps most important of all, he said, it appeared to be 94% effective against asymptomatic transmission. 

Bourla said that this is important for society, “because the asymptomatic carriers, the asymptomatic patients are the ones that they are spreading the disease mainly.” 

“This is the first time that we are coming with a confirmation of a real world evidence study of that magnitude,” he said.
9:45 a.m. ET, March 11, 2021

Pfizer CEO urges people to get whatever vaccine is offered first

From CNN’s Naomi Thomas

Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer, said he felt liberated after getting his second dose of Covid-19 vaccine. 

“I did my second shot a few days ago and I tweeted about it and I felt liberated,” he told CNBC’s Meg Tirrell on Squawk Box Thursday. “My family haven’t received it yet, but I hope pretty soon we’ll find opportunities to get them vaccinated as well.” 

 Bourla also echoed public health experts, telling CNBC’s Becky Quick that he would encourage people to get whichever vaccine was available to them first.

“I will tell you in full honestly what I tell to my relatives or my family if they’re asking me what to do,” Bourla said. “And I tell them, if you get, if you try to get an appointment for a Pfizer vaccine and the center will give it to you in two months, and you can get an appointment for another vaccine, the J&J let’s say, this week, I urge you to go and do the J&J vaccine, it’s very important.”
10:36 a.m. ET, March 11, 2021

Germany changes priority vaccination strategy to target borders

From CNN’s Claudia Otto

German Health Minister Jens Spahn speaks to the media in Berlin on March 5.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn speaks to the media in Berlin on March 5. Andreas Gora/Pool/Getty Images

Germany is changing its priority vaccination strategy in “hotspot areas” to vaccinate the entire population in border areas in an effort to reduce entry of the virus into the interior of the country, the German Health Ministry Press Office told CNN on Thursday.

New vaccination rules in Saxony, Bavaria, Saarland and, if necessary, other states mean they can start to vaccinate the entire population in hotspots at Germany’s borders.

“We are adapting the vaccination ordinance to new findings and developments. To this end, we are adhering to prioritization in order to protect those who are particularly vulnerable. But at the same time, we want to pragmatically make rapid vaccination possible. We need to strike a balance between vaccinating as many people as possible and doing so in the most targeted way possible,” Health Minister Jens Spahn said about the new rules.

For example in Vogtland, Saxony, a border region where infection numbers are very high, everybody over 18 will now be able to be vaccinated according to local health authorities.

9:40 a.m. ET, March 11, 2021

UK regulator tells Brits to get their AstraZeneca vaccines despite European concerns

From CNN's Schams Elwazer

The UK’s medical regulator has issued a statement reassuring the British public that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is still safe, despite Denmark’s decision to suspend use of the vaccine after one person died from a blood clot following inoculation.

“This is a precautionary measure by the Danish authorities. It has not been confirmed that the report of a blood clot was caused by the AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine. People should still go and get their COVID-19 vaccine when asked to do so,” the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said in a statement Thursday.

“Blood clots can occur naturally and are not uncommon. More than 11 million doses of the COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca vaccine have now been administered across the UK,” Dr. Phil Bryan, MHRA Vaccines Safety Lead said. 

Stressing that public safety will always come first, Bryan said that “reports of blood clots received so far are not greater than the number that would have occurred naturally in the vaccinated population.”

9:35 a.m. ET, March 11, 2021

Swiss-Italian company confirms deal to produce Sputnik V vaccine

From CNN’s Arnaud Siad and Zahra Ullah

Swiss-Italian company Adienne confirmed that it has struck a deal with the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) to produce Russia’s coronavirus vaccine Sputnik V

Dr. Antonio Francesco Di Naro, Adienne Pharma & Biotech President, told CNN the deal was signed last month and his company is currently in the technology transfer process. 

Di Naro stressed he could not say when production will actually begin as Adienne requires approval from the Italian Medicines Agency (AIFA) – the regulatory body that oversees pharmaceutical companies in Italy – before they can start manufacturing. 

“I need to inform the AIFA when I am ready to be inspected. We have not applied for it yet, we are in the process of technology transfer from Russia,” Di Naro told CNN on Thursday. 

Di Naro added the goal is to receive the approval to manufacture by the end of the year.

Di Naro explained the European Union’s vaccine regulator – the European Medicines Agency (EMA) – which began a rolling review of Russia’s Covid-19 vaccine last week, is the body to approve the clinical safety of the product and “commercialization.” But AIFA can give go ahead to manufacture the vaccine without EMA approval. 

“If the EMA doesn’t approve for Europe but we have the approval of AIFA to manufacture Sputnik, we can sell in other countries. But for this, I need the AIFA authorization,” Di Naro said. 

The Italian-Russian Chamber of Commerce released a statement earlier this week welcoming the Adienne-RDIF deal and said production could start as early as July 2021, adding the partnership could see production of 10 million doses by the end of the year. 

But Di Naro was much more conservative with his timeframe: “We are working towards being inspected by the end of this year [by AIFA]. Today we cannot confirm any numbers and of course there is a potential for the next year coming, but I cannot produce this amount of vials this year, if I’m not inspected.”

Di Naro added manufacturing a vaccine is not like “manufacturing chewing gum.”

9:31 a.m. ET, March 11, 2021

Epidemiologist says he's concerned Covid-19 variants in US may "beat us at the vaccination game"

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

Even as Covid-19 vaccinations ramp up in the US, epidemiologist Michael Osterholm says the country is at a “perfect-storm moment.”

One year since the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a global pandemic, Osterholm expressed caution as the B.1.1.7 variant — first reported in the United Kingdom — has “transmission unlike I've seen any at all since this pandemic began” in some areas.  

“Over 50% now of all the viruses coming from Florida, Texas, and Georgia, in fact, are this B.1.1.7 variant,” said Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, on CNN's "New Day."

Health officials in New York City say two variants — B.1.1.7 and B.1.526, first reported in New York — account for half of new cases. And Houston health officials announced that the B.1.1.7 variant has been identified in over half of the city’s wastewater treatment plants.

“The bottom line is study after study shows that it is more transmissible. And, remember, this is coming at us at the very same time we're opening up America as if there is nothing else happening,” Osterholm said.

Some governors, like Gov. Greg Abbott in Texas, have lifted mask mandates and fully opened businesses. 

“We’re inviting the virus to go wherever it may want over the course of the next week. So this is the challenge we have, this is all kind of a perfect-storm moment. Will this increase transmissibility? Will this more serious illness with us opening up — at the same time doing more vaccination — how will this all play out? And I think the dynamics of the virus right now, I'm afraid, are going to beat us at the vaccination game,” he said. 

9:27 a.m. ET, March 11, 2021

AstraZeneca says "patient safety is the highest priority"

From CNN's Chris Liakos

Pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca said patient safety was its “highest priority” as multiple European countries suspend use of its Covid-19 vaccine.

In a statement Thursday, AstraZeneca said: “Patient safety is the highest priority for AstraZeneca. Regulators have clear and stringent efficacy and safety standards for the approval of any new medicine, and that includes COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca. The safety of the vaccine has been extensively studied in phase III clinical trials and peer-reviewed data confirms the vaccine is generally well tolerated.”

Iceland, Norway and Denmark on Thursday said they were suspending all use of the AstraZeneca vaccine as they investigate reports of blood clots in some patients who were inoculated.

Several other European countries have suspended use of specific batches of the AstraZeneca vaccine. 

9:12 a.m. ET, March 11, 2021

Iceland and Norway suspend use of AstraZeneca vaccine pending investigation

From CNN’s Arnaud Siad and James Frater

A medical personnel holds an ampoule with the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine in Copenhagen, Denmark, on February 11.
A medical personnel holds an ampoule with the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine in Copenhagen, Denmark, on February 11. Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP/Getty Images

Iceland and Norway are suspending the use of all AstraZeneca vaccines as the European Medicines Agency investigates reports of a patient in Denmark dying of blood clots after being inoculated, the Icelandic Directorate of Health and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health said on Thursday.

Speaking to CNN, Kjartan Njálsson, assistant to the director of health in Iceland, said that although there had been no reports of patients developing blood clots in the country, they are waiting for advice from the European Medicines Agency. “It’s the lack of data right now that concerns us,” he added. 

Meanwhile, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health issued a statement saying the country had also chosen to “pause” inoculations with the AstraZeneca vaccine following report of a death in Denmark as a result of a blood clot.

The Norwegian statement also notes that there have been reported cases of blood clots shortly after receiving a Covid-19 vaccination in Norway but “mainly in the elderly where there is often another underlying disease as well.”

Neither Norway nor Iceland have indicated how long the suspension will last.

Some more background: Earlier on Thursday, Denmark decided to suspend for 14 days the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine as a “precautionary measure” as it investigates “signs of a possible serious side effect in the form of fatal blood clots,” Danish Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said.

Although several European countries have this week suspended use of vaccines from a specific batch of doses – batch ABV5300 – following reports of blood clots in a few patients, Denmark, Iceland and Norway are the first to pause use of all AstraZeneca vaccines.

On Wednesday, the European Medicines Agency said there was “currently no indication that vaccination has caused these conditions, which are not listed as side effects with this vaccine.”

Italy on Thursday “as a precaution” decided to ban use of vaccine doses from AstraZeneca batch ABV2856 due to “adverse reactions” but did not provide any further details on what those reactions might be.

8:37 a.m. ET, March 11, 2021

Yesterday was the busiest Wednesday at US airports since the holidays, TSA data shows

From CNN's Pete Muntean

Air travel levels are already surging even as health experts warn against spring break trips.

The Transportation Security Administration screened 955,177 at America’s airports yesterday— the busiest Wednesday for air travel since the winter holidays. Wednesdays are typically slow days for air travel. 

“Tuesdays and Wednesdays tend to be slower days at checkpoints,” said TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein in a tweet. “Travel volume tends to pick up each Thursday as the weekend approaches.”

This weekend could be another big one for air travel after last weekend when 5.6 million travelers flew in five days, the busiest commercial airlines have been this year.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is still recommending Americans avoid travel, even if they have received a Covid-19 vaccination.