Moderna vaccine; stimulus relief bill; UK travel ban


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The FDA has authorized Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use in the U.S. The first shots of the vaccine are expected to be given Monday.

USA TODAY

USA TODAY is keeping track of the news surrounding COVID-19 as a pair of vaccines join the U.S. fight against a virus that has killed more than 317,000 Americans since the first reported fatality in February. Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates on vaccine distribution, including who is getting the shots and where, as well as other COVID-19 news from across the USA TODAY Network. Sign up for our Coronavirus Watch newsletter for updates directly to your inbox, join our Facebook group or scroll through our in-depth answers to reader questions for everything you need to know about the coronavirus.

In the headlines: 

► Around 5.9 million doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine are being rolled out to 3,500 locations around the country this week, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Monday. That’s in addition to the 2 million doses of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine expected to be distributed this week, Azar said, who added that federal officials expect around 50 million people to have received their first dose of a vaccine by the end of January.

► New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is urging federal officials to ban flights from the U.K. or require passengers get COVID-19 tests after a new, infectious variant of the coronavirus surfaced there. A growing list of European Union nations, including France, Germany and Italy, announced travel restrictions hours after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson canceled Christmas shopping and gatherings. Canada also banned travel from the U.K.

► Medical experts say COVID-19 vaccines likely will be just as effective against the new strain of the coronavirus in the U.K. as vaccine makers routinely take mutations into account. Melissa Nolan, an infectious disease expert at the University of South Carolina, told USA TODAY, “These changes in the viral composition are expected.” Vivek Murthy, President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for surgeon general, made similar comments on “Meet the Press” on Sunday.

► The National Institutes of Health is hoping to launch a clinical study to examine what’s behind the rare allergic reactions to the Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine that a handful of health care workers in the U.K. and U.S. had, the Washington Post reported Monday.

► The European Medicines Agency on Monday recommended conditional approval of the COVID-19 vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech, clearing the way for the EU executive to rubber stamp the approval Monday evening.

► More than three out of five states have had their deadliest week of the pandemic just this month, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins data shows. California alone has reported about 10 deaths every hour and set a new record for deaths in the seven-day period ending Sunday.

► California Gov. Gavin Newsom will quarantine for 10 days after one of his staffers tested positive for COVID-19, his office said. Newsom and others have tested negative since the staff member received the positive result Sunday afternoon.

► President-elect Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, will get vaccinated Monday, Biden’s office said. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, will receive their doses the following week.

► While acknowledging Tennessee as “ground zero for a surge in sickness,” Gov. Bill Lee on Sunday night tightened statewide restrictions on social gatherings for the next 30 days but stopped short of a mask mandate. The state ranked No. 1 in the country for COVID-19 infections in the past week, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention adjusted for population.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 17.8 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 317,700 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 76.9 million cases and almost 1.7 million deaths. 

Here’s a closer look at today’s top stories: 

Operation Warp Speed head says more research needed to determine whether UK virus is more transmissible

Moncef Slaoui, the chief scientific adviser to the government’s Operation Warp Speed, says more evidence is needed before saying the strain of the virus in the United Kingdom is more transmissible.

“I think, scientifically to date, there is no hard evidence that this virus is actually more transmissible,” Slaoui said during a news conference Monday. “There is clear evidence that there is more of it in the population.”

Slaoui said it’s possible that the strain spread widely among the population in England before it was genetically sequenced and tracked. Because it was not being monitored until now, more research is needed to determine whether it is simply surging in the population similar to how other strains are or is more transmissible than other strains.

A study of the virus’s transmissibility would take several weeks and rely on animal studies, Slaoui said.

Slaoui said, however, that it is clear that this strain does not cause severe disease more than other strains and that he expects the vaccine to be effective against the new strain.

Here’s what’s included in second COVID-19 relief package

Lawmakers struck a nearly $900 billion COVID-19 stimulus deal Sunday that includes another round of stimulus checks and badly needed jobless benefits for struggling Americans, ending a long standoff in Washington with one of the biggest rescue bills in U.S. history.

After months of impasse, negotiations came down to the wire as 12 million people are set to lose unemployment benefits the day after Christmas. The deal includes restarting a $300 boost to the federal unemployment insurance benefit, extending eviction moratoriums for renters for an unspecified amount of time and a $600 direct payment to most Americans. 

The measure will be tied to a $1.4 trillion must-pass spending bill that will fund federal agencies and programs through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. Congress passed a one-day extension of government funding late Sunday to give lawmakers one more day to review the deal to avert a partial government shutdown deadline.

For the bill to become law, both the House and Senate must pass the legislation, and President Donald Trump will need to sign it. Both chambers are expected to debate and vote on the package Monday. Here’s what is in the stimulus package.

– Jessica Menton

Pregnant women face complicated vaccine decision, experts say

Although there’s very little data on how pregnant and nursing mothers will respond to a COVID-19 vaccine, professional organizations and individual doctors say the benefits are very likely to outweigh the risks.

Pregnant women appear to have the same chance of catching COVID-19 as everyone else. But they may fare worse if they do, according to a November study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine recommends that pregnant women should base their decision in part on how much virus is circulating in their community, as well as the risks from a COVID-19 infection. A conversation with a clinician may be helpful, according to the guidelines, “but it should not be required prior to vaccination, as this may cause unnecessary barriers to access.”

– Karen Weintraub

Essential workers recommended next for COVID-19 vaccine

Key workers regularly exposed to the public, such as police officers, firefighters, teachers and grocery-store employees, will be next in line for a COVID-19 vaccine priority, based on a recommendation Sunday by a CDC panel.

They would follow front-line health care workers and staff and residents in long-term care facilities in receiving vaccines, possibly as early as February. The panel also voted in favor of those age 75 and older to be part of that vaccine phase.

“Essential workers are at high risk because of exposure, by virtue of being in contact with others, in performing their duties. Prevention of disease in essential workers may reduce transmission to others,” said Dr. Kathleen Dooling, a CDC physician who is co-lead on the advisory panel.

– Elizabeth Weise 

Contributing: The Associated Press

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