December 15 coronavirus news

By Jessie Yeung, Adam Renton, Kara Fox, Ed Upright, Meg Wagner and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, December 16, 2020
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12:34 a.m. ET, December 15, 2020

Coronavirus vaccine contents disappear "like Snapchat message," former CDC chief says

From CNN's Shelby Lin Erdman and Maggie Fox

Former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Dr. Tom Frieden testifies during a hearing on Covid-19 Response on May 6 on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Dr. Tom Frieden testifies during a hearing on Covid-19 Response on May 6 on Capitol Hill in Washington. Alex Wong/Getty Images

For those confused or concerned about how the coronavirus vaccine actually works, here's one medical expert's explanation: it's like Snapchat.

“An mRNA vaccine doesn't actually contain the virus itself. Think of it as an email sent to your immune system that shows what the virus looks like, instructions to kill it, and then --like a Snapchat message -- it disappears. Amazing technology,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), on Monday.

Both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna use mRNA (messenger RNA) for their vaccines. The Pfizer vaccine began distribution in the United States on Monday.

Unlike most vaccines, the mRNA vaccines do not contain a live virus, meaning they do not carry a risk of causing disease in the vaccinated person. The mRNA technology has been studied for about a decade.

Scientist Katali Karikó, senior vice president of BioNTech and a pioneer in mRNA vaccine technology, said she knew the technology would work for the new vaccines. She is receiving her vaccination later this week.

“I expected that it would work because we already had the experiments,” Karikó told CNN. “I was confident that it would work.”

“Now we are very excited it became a vaccine, part of this vaccine for both companies, and really we will celebrate when this human suffering is over.”

12:01 a.m. ET, December 15, 2020

Japan has highest number of ICU patients since pandemic began

From CNN’s Yoko Wakatsuki in Tokyo

Japan now has the highest number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care since the pandemic began.

A record 588 people are in critical condition from Covid-19 and have been admitted to the ICU, the country's Ministry of Health announced on Monday.

Japan recorded 1,677 new cases and 58 additional virus-related deaths on Monday.  

That brings the national total to 182,582 infections and 2,656 fatalities.

New measures: In response to the surge in cases and hospitalizations, local governments have strengthened their anti-Covid-19 procedures. 

Tokyo announced late Monday it has requested the 10 p.m. closure of restaurants and bars to be extended through to Jan. 11. 

Osaka prefecture also requested early closures for all restaurants and bars serving alcohol in Osaka city through Dec. 29. 

11:21 p.m. ET, December 14, 2020

South Korea reports nearly 900 new Covid-19 cases as government considers tightening restrictions

From CNN's Gawon Bae in Seoul and Akanksha Sharma in Hong Kong

A medical worker takes samples from a man during a Covid-19 testing at a makeshift clinic in Seoul, South Korea, on Monday, December 14.
A medical worker takes samples from a man during a Covid-19 testing at a makeshift clinic in Seoul, South Korea, on Monday, December 14. Ahn Young-joon/AP

South Korea recorded 880 new coronavirus cases on Monday, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

Of the new cases, 32 were imported. The country also recorded 13 additional virus-related deaths.

The new figures raise the country's total to 44,364 confirmed cases and 600 fatalities.

South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said the government was now weighing up whether to introduce the highest level of coronavirus restrictions.

“The government is listening to different opinions and carefully considering whether to raise the social distancing measures to level 3. We shouldn’t miss the timing, but we also cannot make a hasty decision," he said.

Alert levels in South Korea range from 1 -- the least concerning situation -- to 3, signifying the toughest measures necessary. Levels rise in increments of 0.5.

Currently, the country is at Level 2 national alert, but the greater Seoul area and the southeastern port city of Busan are at Level 2.5 -- the second-highest level.

If the government raises the alert to the highest level, that means a ban on gatherings of more than 10 people, work from home for all non-essential employees, and a shift to online for all schools and church services. 

“Considering the gravity and impact of Level 3 measures, there is a need to calmly check on ourselves first -- if we’re abiding by the current measures properly," Chung said, adding that raising the alert to Level 3 would "come with irreversible pain."

11:53 p.m. ET, December 14, 2020

US Surgeon General says he is worried about vaccine skepticism among minority groups

From CNN's Shelby Lin Erdman

US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said Monday he is worried about vaccine skepticism among minority communities, but is working to help overcome it.

“Nothing has been in my heart more than this issue over the past several weeks to months,” Adams told CNN. “I’ve been working with Pfizer, with Moderna, with AstraZeneca, with Johnson & Johnson to make sure we have appropriate numbers of minorities enrolled in these vaccine trials so that people can understand that they are safe.”

Adams said he’s working with leaders in the minority community, including faith leaders and fraternities and sororities.

“There are tens of thousands of Black and brown people dying every year because they are distrustful of the system, in many cases rightly so, but also because they’re not getting the facts to help restore their trust in the system,” he said.

Adams said he’s heartened to see the numbers increasing among Americans who say they’ll get the vaccine when it becomes available. That figure is close to 80% today, a sharp rise from just 30% four weeks ago.

History behind mistrust: Adams emphasized that there are now independent review boards and regulations to protect against incidents like the Tuskegee experiment.

Between 1932 and 1972, Black men in the Tuskegee syphilis study were deliberately left untreated so doctors could study the “natural course” of the disease, which can damage the organs as it progresses, including the brain, other nerves, eyes and heart.

10:03 p.m. ET, December 14, 2020

California will receive nearly 400,000 more doses of Pfizer vaccine next week, governor says

From CNN's Sarah Moon

California is expected to receive an additional 393,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine early next week, Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a short video posted on his Twitter account Monday.

California received its first vaccine shipment of 33,150 doses on Monday, and expects a total of 327,000 doses this week.

The first vaccines were distributed to four locations in the state, including San Diego, Los Angeles, Eureka, and San Francisco, Newsom said.

He added that 24 additional locations will have received vaccines by Tuesday, and five more locations on Wednesday. 

Surging infections: This comes as California recorded more than 30,000 new Covid-19 cases for the fourth straight day on Monday, continuing an unprecedented surge of infections and hospitalizations that is stretching health care facilities to the brink.

4:08 p.m. ET, December 15, 2020

More than 193,000 new Covid-19 cases reported in the US on Monday

From CNN’s Virginia Langmaid

Lane County's Deputy Public Health Officer Dr. Lisandra Guzman uses a swab to collect a sample for a Covid-19 test at a site on Dec. 10, at Centro de Fe Church in Eugene, Oregon.
Lane County's Deputy Public Health Officer Dr. Lisandra Guzman uses a swab to collect a sample for a Covid-19 test at a site on Dec. 10, at Centro de Fe Church in Eugene, Oregon. Andy Nelson/The Register-Guard/USA Today Network

On Monday, Johns Hopkins University reported 193,454 new cases of coronavirus in the US.

Monday also marked the day that the US gave out the the first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine. Health experts are warning it's likely the US won't see any meaningful, widespread impacts from vaccinations until well into 2021. 

CORRECTION: A previous version of this post misreported the number of new Covid-19 cases in the US on Monday. There were 193,454 new cases, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

10:09 p.m. ET, December 14, 2020

HHS secretary calls rising US Covid-19 death toll a "terrible tragedy"

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said that the United States surpassing 300,000 Covid-19 deaths on Monday was a "terrible tragedy."

"Any death from Covid is a terrible tragedy," Azar, speaking from George Washington University Hospital, told CNN's Jake Tapper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

"I lost my father in April. I wasn't able to see him for the month and a half before," Azar said. "I've gotten to experience the pain of individuals who can't be with their relatives, who are in a nursing home, be with their relatives who are dying in intensive care units, what they experience. The pain and the anguish in our health care system in our country is real."

10:08 p.m. ET, December 14, 2020

The first doses of FDA-authorized Covid-19 vaccine were administered in the US. Here's what we know

From CNN's Susannah Cullinane, Holly Yan and Ralph Ellis

The first doses of a FDA-authorized Covid-19 vaccine were injected into those at the frontlines of the pandemic on Monday, less than a year after the disease was first detected in the United States.

All 50 states — as well as Washington, DC and Puerto Rico — received their first shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine, according to statements from the state departments of health, governor’s offices, and local hospitals.   

Operation Warp Speed, a public-private effort, developed the Pfizer vaccine in less than a year, an astonishing feat since most vaccines take years to develop. Now, the challenge is getting the vaccine to the hospitals and clinics for inoculations.

"We're going to have enough for 20 million people to get vaccinated by the end of December and then, as I think I mentioned, enough for up to 50 million total by the end of January," Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told CNN's Jake Tapper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta on Monday.

"As we move into February, we hope to have not only the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, but Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine, AstraZeneca, potentially, that will increase supply even more."

But it will be several months before most Americans can get a Covid-19 vaccine.

Operation Warp Speed said roughly 145 sites would receive the vaccine on Monday with another 425 on Tuesday and the remaining 66 deliveries on Wednesday.

Vaccine shipments began on Sunday morning when trucks departed Pfizer’s massive manufacturing facility near Kalamazoo, Michigan.

CNN's Pete Muntean and Greg Wallace contributed to this report.