December 18 coronavirus news

By Emma Reynolds, Hannah Strange, Helen Regan, Adam Renton and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 0421 GMT (1221 HKT) December 22, 2020
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5:15 p.m. ET, December 18, 2020

Third case of Covid-19 vaccine-related anaphylaxis reported in Alaska

From CNN’s Jessica Firger

Biotechnology company Pfizer protocol files for Covid-19 vaccinations are kept at the Research Centers of America in Hollywood, Florida on December 18, 2020. (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP) (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images)
Biotechnology company Pfizer protocol files for Covid-19 vaccinations are kept at the Research Centers of America in Hollywood, Florida on December 18, 2020. (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP) (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images) Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images

A clinician in Fairbanks, Alaska, who received a coronavirus vaccine on Thursday experienced what appeared to be an anaphylactic reaction, according to leadership at Foundation Health Partners (FHP), a health care system linked to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital. 

The employee reported she had no known allergies, though she had once experienced a reaction to a bee sting. Ten minutes after receiving the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, the woman began having what is described as “traditional anaphylactic symptoms,” which included tongue swelling, a hoarse voice and difficulty breathing.

While the vaccine clinic is stocked with first aid for anaphylaxis, it was not needed. Instead, the woman was taken to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, and clinicians administered two doses of epinephrine. She remained at the hospital for observation and was released six hours later. She was one of nearly 300 employees to receive the vaccine on Thursday; their first shipment of vaccines arrived on Wednesday.

The employee, who wished to remain anonymous, issued a statement:

“Anaphylaxis is a rare but expected potential side effect that is treatable and does not have long term health implications like Covid. I would get the vaccine and recommend it to anyone, despite my reaction, to help our country get immunized which is needed for the health of all Americans, for the economy, get families hugging again, for getting children back to schools, and to get the country on the other side of this pandemic. I’ve seen firsthand the suffering and death of COVID patients and my adverse reaction to the vaccine pales to what COVID infection can do to people.”

It is not surprising that there have been reports of anaphylaxis associated with the coronavirus vaccine. With more and more vaccines being administered every day, reports of adverse reactions will become more common, though they are still few and far between. 

Officials at FHP say they are “working with the State of Alaska Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to share details of the reaction. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the CDC have created several programs for tracking any adverse reactions to the vaccine. FHP reported details of yesterday’s event to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). This national system collects and analyzes data that helps federal health authorities monitor the safety of vaccines.”

4:46 p.m. ET, December 18, 2020

Extra doses in Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine vials are safe and should be used, FDA says

From CNN's Lauren Mascarenhas

A medic holds a Pfizer-BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine at the Research Centers of America in Hollywood, Florida on December 18.
A medic holds a Pfizer-BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine at the Research Centers of America in Hollywood, Florida on December 18. Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images

The extra doses in Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vials are safe and should be used, US Food and Drug Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn said Friday.

It’s possible to squeeze out extra doses of Pfizer’s vaccine from the vials, if there is solution remaining in them after the standard five doses are given, the FDA said earlier this week.

“It's safe to use,” Hahn said in an interview with Michael Toscano on the “First Light” podcast. “If the appropriate dosage is in there, the volume for the vaccine, it should be used, and we have no concerns about that.”

Hahn said that it’s not uncommon for extra solution to be in vaccine vials.

“It's a very common thing,” he said. “There’s always some overage that occurs, just to make sure that there's enough for the doses that are said to be within the vial.”

It’s important to plan for anyone who receives one vaccine dose to get a second, Hahn said.

“If you want the 95% protection, the clinical trial shows that the two-dose regimen, 21 days apart, is what you need,” he said. “But given that this overage is in the vials, we believe that that can be factored into subsequent calculations.”

4:34 p.m. ET, December 18, 2020

Colorado governor calls on federal government to get Covid-19 vaccines distributed 

From CNN's Nakia McNabb

Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center investigational pharmacy technician Sara Berech holds a dose of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine before it is administered in a clinical trial on December 15, in Aurora, Colorado.
Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center investigational pharmacy technician Sara Berech holds a dose of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine before it is administered in a clinical trial on December 15, in Aurora, Colorado. Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said Covid-19 numbers remain high overall and has called for continued action to prevent the spread of the virus.

Polis announced 3,693 new cases of Covid-19, saying the positivity rate continues to show improvement at 7.19% but the goal is to get it below 5%.

During a news conference today, Polis said Colorado received its first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine on Monday and is expecting its first shipment of the Moderna vaccine next week.

Polis said with the good news of additional shipments of vaccine, there is also bad news. According to Polis, the number of doses Colorado will receive from Pfizer will be lower next week because of Pfizer's announcement that the federal government needs to tell them where to ship the vaccine.

"I do call upon the federal government as I saw Pfizer's announcement that they had doses waiting in the warehouse and they just needed to be told where to send them. We say send them to Colorado, but we encourage the federal government to get those distributed out. They're not doing any good in a Pfizer warehouse," Polis said.

The governor said that health officials have notified him that starting today, the Pfizer vaccine will have six doses instead of five, increasing the number of vaccines by 20%.

"We are comfortable moving forward with the assumption that six doses is the norm per vial and so the numbers that the state reports on Pfizer vaccine will show a different number than what the CDC says they are sending us," Polis said.

4:10 p.m. ET, December 18, 2020

US Supreme Court justices eligible to receive coronavirus vaccine soon

From CNN's Ariane de Vogue

The justices of the US Supreme Court are eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine in the coming days, a court spokesperson said.

The court has been informed by the Office of the Attending Physician that the justices are eligible to receive the vaccine in the coming days, the spokesperson told CNN.

No further details were available at this time.

3:54 p.m. ET, December 18, 2020

Covid-19 vaccine messaging is "life and death" for Black Americans, Morehouse School of Medicine dean says

From CNN's Jen Christensen

Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, president and dean of the Morehouse School of Medicine, on Friday said that getting the messaging right about Covid-19 vaccines is crucial, especially for the Black community that – along with other communities of color – has been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Really, this is a life and death message for Black people about the coronavirus,” Montgomery Rice said at a National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine meeting on Covid-19 vaccine campaign strategies.

Morehouse School of Medicine has partnered with other historically Black medical schools, the National Association of Black Nurses, and the Urban League to hold town halls with members of the US Food and Drug Administration and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices to “make this message plain,” and to answer questions about vaccinations and Covid-19.

Montgomery Rice said there is great interest from the community. She said the virtual town hall that Morehouse School of Medicine held Thursday had 18,000 people in attendance, and that past town halls have had 30,000.

Montgomery Rice said it will take deliberate action to convince the community to get the Covid-19 vaccine. Morehouse School of Medicine has worked with focus groups and is continuing to build additional partnerships with the community.

She even got a Covid-19 vaccine live on CNN alongside CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta on Friday to “hopefully build confidence.”

“Those are the things that I think help us communicate to the community in a way that demonstrates that they should have trust and confidence in what we are asking them to participate in,” Montgomery Rice said. 
3:16 p.m. ET, December 18, 2020

South Carolina's first lady tests positive for Covid-19 

From CNN’s Devon M. Sayers

Peggy McMaster, the first lady of South Carolina, has tested positive for Covid-19, the governor’s office announced Friday.  

McMaster underwent routine tests on Thursday afternoon. The results came back Friday morning that she was positive. 

“She is not experiencing any symptoms at this time,” the release said.  

Her husband, Gov. Henry McMaster, was also tested Thursday. His results were negative.  

"I’m happy to say that Peggy is feeling well, isn’t experiencing any symptoms at this time and is in good spirits,” Henry McMaster said in a news release. “This shows us, once again, how contagious this virus truly is and how important it is that we follow the advice and recommendations of our public health officials.”  

The governor will "quarantine for the recommended seven days while being tested regularly," the release added.

Peggy McMaster is working with state health officials on contact tracing.

3:16 p.m. ET, December 18, 2020

Mexico City plans to take "extraordinary measures" to stop coronavirus surge

From CNN's Natalie Gallón


Mexico City and the neighboring state of Mexico will take “extraordinary measures” to stop the surge in Covid-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations, the country’s Deputy Health Minister Dr. Hugo Lopez-Gatell said in a new conference Friday afternoon.

All nonessential activities will be suspended from tomorrow to Jan. 10 in an effort to reduce mobility in the metropolitan areas which authorities believe are a factor for the alarming rise in the spread of Covid. 

The city and state’s step back to red level — the strictest measure in the country’s stoplight system — is the latest restriction as hospital capacities reach nearly 75%. “We are now at the levels we were in during the highest moment [of the pandemic] in June,” state of Mexico’s governor, Alfredo Del Mazo, said at the news conference.

Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum called on all citizens to abide by the restrictions and continue staying home calling for an “extraordinary effort so that anyone who is seriously ill can always have a bed in a hospital.”

The tightening of Covid-19 measures entails the closure of indoor dining, with only essential sectors such as transport, energy, health and construction among a few others, to remain active. 

“It’s important to be clear that 2020 and 2021 will be very special years for humanity,” Lopez-Gatell said as he urged people during the holiday season to avoid parties and reunions, saving them for a later date.

Mexico has reported 1,289,298 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 116,487 confirmed deaths on Thursday.

3:23 p.m. ET, December 18, 2020

Los Angeles County "moving toward becoming the epicenter of the pandemic," chief medical officer says

From CNN's Cheri Mossburg

Emergency Medical Services transfers a patient at the Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center hospital in Los Angeles on Wednesday, December 16.
Emergency Medical Services transfers a patient at the Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center hospital in Los Angeles on Wednesday, December 16. Damian Dovarganes/AP

The chief medical officer of one of the largest hospital systems in Los Angeles County said Friday his facilities are running out of intensive care beds to treat critically ill patients as the region sees an overwhelming spike in new Covid-19 infections.

“L.A. County is moving toward becoming the epicenter of the pandemic,” Dr. Brad Spellberg, chief medical officer at L.A. USC Medical Center warned in a briefing Friday.

"We’re getting crushed,” Spellberg said about the county’s hospitals. “I'm not going to sugarcoat this. We are getting crushed."

Hospitals throughout the county are quickly becoming overwhelmed by the influx of Covid-19 patients. Today, in the county of 10 million residents, there are just 699 hospital beds available. Of those, just 69 are ICU beds, according to Health Services Director Dr. Christina Ghaly.

"As of right now, we are very tight. Hospitals around the county are running out of ICU beds," Spellberg said.

Ghaly reiterated that the problem is not space, but staffing. Los Angeles County has yet to receive confirmation that the state has more available staff to help with the surge of patients and is awaiting guidance on the state’s request for help from the Department of Defense.

On Tuesday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that he was requesting 200 health care workers from the federal government, in addition to staff being added through contract agencies, the National Guard, and California Health Corps. An additional 80 paramedics and EMTs are being brought in from the Federal Emergency Management Agency .

Health care workers in L.A. are doing everything they can to accommodate the crush of patients, including diverting patients from a full hospital to another with remaining capacity, but “when every hospital is overwhelmed and every hospital is full, and it doesn't matter if you move the ambulance from hospital to hospital it all leads to the same result,” Ghaly said.

Pointing out that hospitalizations tend to lag behind case counts, Ghaly ominously noted that two weeks ago, Los Angeles County was reporting fewer than 10,000 cases of Covid-19 each day. In the time since, the county has seen an explosion of new daily cases reaching as high as 22,000. Projections indicate the already strained medical facilities could be overcome, leading to dire results.

The comments come a day after Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti warned the county may soon be forced to declare a “systemwide crisis” in the coming days of hospitals continue to see a flood of new patients seeking treatment for Covid-19.

“This will affect everybody, and it’s a crisis for us all,” Ghaly lamented.
1:58 p.m. ET, December 18, 2020

Senate Majority Leader McConnell gets Covid-19 vaccine

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tweeted today that he received a "safe, effective" Covid-19 vaccine.

He went on to say that "vaccines are how we beat this virus."

In the same tweet, McConnell mentioned the Covid stimulus package, "including a lot more money for distribution so more Americans can receive it as fast as possible."