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The FDA has formally approved the single-shot Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine, the third to be authorized in the US.

The vaccine is set to be a cost-effective alternative to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and can be stored in a refrigerator instead of a freezer.

Trials found the vaccine prevented serious illness but was 66% effective overall when moderate cases were included.

It is made by the Belgian firm Janssen.

Johnson & Johnson has agreed to provide the US with 100 million doses by the end of June. The first doses could be available to the public as early as next week.

The UK, EU and Canada have also ordered doses, and 500 million doses have also been ordered through the Covax scheme to supply poorer nations.

President Joe Biden hailed it as “exciting news for all Americans, and an encouraging development”, but warned that the “fight is far from over”.

He said in a statement: “Though we celebrate today’s news, I urge all Americans – keep washing your hands, stay socially distanced, and keep wearing masks..

“As I have said many times, things are still likely to get worse again as new variants spread, and the current improvement could reverse.”

The FDA authorization came after an external committee of exerts unanimously backed the vaccine on February 27.

Results from trials conducted in the US, South Africa and Brazil showed it was more than 85% effective at preventing serious illness, and 66% effective overall when moderate cases were included.

Notably, there were no deaths among participants who had received the vaccine and no hospital admissions after 28 days post-vaccine.

Overall protection was lower in South Africa and Brazil, where virus variants have become dominant, but defense against severe or critical illness was “similarly high”.

Single-Dose Janssen Vaccine Shows 66% Effectiveness Against Covid-19

South Africa began administering the unapproved Johnson & Johnson vaccine to healthcare workers as part of a study earlier this month. It came after early trials suggested the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine offered “minimal protection” against mild disease from the variant dominant in large parts of the country.

So far the only other country to approve the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for emergency use is Bahrain, which gave it the green light on February 25.

Because the vaccine will require fewer doses than its two-shot Pfizer and Moderna counterparts, it will also require fewer vaccine appointments and medical staff.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses a common cold virus that has been engineered to make it harmless.

It then safely carries part of the coronavirus’s genetic code into the body. This is enough for the body to recognize the threat and then learn to fight coronavirus.

This trains the body’s immune system to fight coronavirus when it encounters the virus for real.

This is similar to the approach used by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief plan to help Americans during the Covid-19 pandemic has been approved in the House of Representatives.

The vote was along partisan lines. Two Democrats joined Republicans – who see it as too expensive – in opposing it.

The relief bill must now go to the evenly-divided Senate, which has already blocked a key element – doubling the US minimum wage to $15/hour.

The Covid-19 relief package seeks to boost vaccinations and testing, and stabilize the economy.

The cash would be extended as emergency financial aid to households, small businesses and state governments. Unemployment is close to 10%, with some 10 million jobs lost in the pandemic.

The vote comes in the same week the United States passed 500,000 coronavirus-related deaths – the largest figure of any nation in the world.

In brief remarks at the White House on February 26, President Biden hailed the House’s approval of the plan, saying he hoped it would receive “quick action” at the Senate.

He said: “We have no time to waste.

“If we act now, decisively, quickly and boldly we can finally get ahead of this virus, we can finally get our economy moving again. And the people in this country have suffered far too much for too long. We need to relieve that suffering.”

Joe Biden had appealed for bipartisan unity when he took office last month.

He has championed what he calls the American Rescue Plan as a way to help struggling Americans through Covid-19.

However, Republicans say the plan is unnecessarily large and stuffed with Democratic priorities unrelated to the pandemic.

The divisions were reflected by the representatives.

The bill is the third major spending package of the pandemic, and actually not quite as big as President Donald Trump’s $2trillion last March.

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The key elements include:

  • A $1,400 cheque per person, although payments phase out for higher incomes
  • Extending jobless benefits until the end of August to help the more than 11 million long-term unemployed
  • Parents of children under the age of 18 to get a year of monthly benefits
  • $70 billion to boost Covid-19 testing and vaccinations
  • Financial support for schools and universities to help them reopen
  • Grants for small businesses and other targeted industries
  • Funds for local government

One of the other major elements is the increase of the minimum wage from $7.25/hour – where it has been since 2009 – to $15.

On February 25, Elizabeth MacDonough, the non-partisan Senate parliamentarian – who interprets its rules – said that raising the minimum wage would violate the budgetary limits allowed in this kind of measure.

The bill that passed in the House does still include the increase and it remains unclear how the issue can be resolved.

The minimum wage rise remains a key Democrat goal, particularly for the party’s progressive wing, and some top Democrats are considering a measure to penalize employers who pay less than $15/hour.

Republicans argue the minimum wage increase would be too heavy a toll on firms struggling to rebuild following the Covid-19 outbreak.

The package goes to the Senate – spilt evenly between Democrats and Republicans 50-50 – probably next week. The rules of the Senate do allow a reconciliation bill like this to be passed on a simple majority, rather than 60-40.

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Image source: AP

President Joe Biden has addressed the nation as the United States passed 500,000 Covid-related deaths, the highest number of any country.

He said: “As a nation, we can’t accept such a cruel fate. We have to resist becoming numb to the sorrow.”

The president and vice-president, and their spouses, then observed a moment of silence outside the White House during a candle-lighting ceremony.

According to recent reports, the number of confirmed US infections now stands at 28.1 million, also a global record.

President Biden ordered all flags on federal property to be lowered to half mast for the next five days.

At the White House, the president opened his speech by noting that the number of American deaths from Covid-19 was higher than the death toll from World War One, World War Two, and the Vietnam War combined.

He said: “Today we mark a truly grim, heartbreaking milestone – 500,071 dead.”

“We often hear people described as ordinary Americans,” President Biden went on to say.

“There’s no such thing, there’s nothing ordinary about them. The people we lost were extraordinary. They span generations. Born in America, emigrated to America.”

“So many of them took their final breath alone in America.”

President Biden drew on his own experience with grief – his wife and daughter were killed in a car crash in 1972 and one of his sons died from brain cancer in 2015.

He said: “I know what it’s like to not be there when it happens. I know what it’s like when you are there holding their hands; there’s a look in their eye and they slip away.

“For me, the way through sorrow and grief is to find purpose.”

Joe Biden’s approach to the pandemic is different to his predecessor, Donald Trump, who cast doubt on the impact of the deadly virus and was viewed as having politicized the wearing of masks and other measures needed to prevent the spread of the virus.

On January 19, one day before Joe Biden took office, he held an event to mark 400,000 Americans dying of the disease.

February 22 event, marking the latest death toll, comes about one month later.

Elsewhere in Washington, the bells at the National Cathedral tolled 500 times, once for every 1,000 Americans lost during the pandemic.

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Image source: Wikimedia Commons

The Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine will be tested on children aged between 6 and 17 in a new trial.

Some 300 volunteers will take part, with the first vaccinations in the trial taking place later in February.

Researchers say they will assess whether the vaccine produces a strong immune response in children aged between six and 17.

The vaccine is one of two being used to protect against serious illness and death from Covid-19 in the UK, along with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

As many as 240 children will receive the vaccine – and the others a control meningitis vaccine – when the trial gets under way.

Volunteers who live near one of the four study sites – the University of Oxford, St George’s University Hospital, London, University Hospital Southampton and Bristol Royal Hospital for Children – are being asked to sign up.

Those interested in taking part must complete a short questionnaire.

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Andrew Pollard, professor of pediatric infection and immunity, and chief investigator on the Oxford vaccine trial, noted that most children were relatively unaffected by Covid and were unlikely to become unwell with the virus.

However, Prof. Pollard said it was important to establish the safety and immune response to the vaccine in children and young people as some children might benefit from vaccination.

There are currently no plans for children to be vaccinated with the Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine in the UK, as it has only been authorized to prevent Covid-19 in people aged 18 or over.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is only authorized in those aged over 16. The vaccine priority list also excludes anyone under the age of 16, even the clinically extremely vulnerable.

The University of Oxford said it was the first trial of a Covid vaccine in the 6 to 17 age group. It said other trials had begun but only measuring efficacy in those aged 16 and 17.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

South Africa has decided to suspend its rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine on hold after a study showed “disappointing” results against its new Covid variant.

According to scientists, the new variant accounts for 90% of new Covid cases in South Africa.

The trial, involving some 2,000 people, found that the vaccine offered “minimal protection” against mild and moderate cases.

However, experts are hopeful that the vaccine will still be effective at preventing severe cases.

South Africa has recorded almost 1.5 million coronavirus cases and more than 46,000 deaths since the pandemic began – a higher toll than any other country on the continent.

South Africa has received one million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and was preparing to start vaccinating people.

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On February 8, the WHO warned against jumping to conclusions about the efficacy of Covid vaccines.

Dr. Katherine O’Brien, the WHO’s director of immunization, said it was very plausible that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine would still have a meaningful impact on the South African variant, especially when it came to preventing hospitalizations and death.

She stressed that the WHO’s expert panel held “a very positive view” of proceeding with the use of the vaccine, including in areas where variants were circulating, but that more data and information would be needed as the pandemic continued.

South Africa’s Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said his government would wait for further advice on how best to proceed with the AstraZeneca vaccine in light of the findings.

In the meantime, he said, the government would offer vaccines produced by Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer in the coming weeks.

Early results from Moderna suggest its vaccine is still effective against the South Africa variant, while AstraZeneca has said its vaccine provides good protection against the UK variant first identified late last year.

Early results also suggest the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine protects against the new variants.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

The use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine for people aged over 18 has been approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

The EU’s drugs regulator said the AstraZeneca vaccine was about 60% effective in the trials on which it based its decision.

The move comes amid a dispute over whether Anglo-Swedish drug-maker is breaking its vaccine delivery commitments to the EU.

The European Commission has published its contract with Astra-Zeneca, hoping to show a breach.

Last week, AstraZeneca said vaccine supplies would be reduced because of problems in one of its EU factories.

The shortfall is expected to be about 60% in the first quarter of 2021. The EU has also received fewer than expected doses of the two other vaccines it has approved – from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

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The EU has said AstraZeneca must honor its commitments and deliver the doses it ordered by diverting doses manufactured in the UK. However, the company said its contract for UK supplies prevents this.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen told German radio on January 29 that the EU contract signed in August contained “binding orders”, and called for an explanation.

The commission later said it had agreed a plan to introduce export controls on coronavirus vaccines. It means individual member states will decide whether to allow the export of vaccines produced in their territory. It will be in place until the end of March.

A European Commissioner said it was being introduced to enhance transparency and to ensure that all EU citizens had access to vaccines.

Germany’s vaccine commission said this week that it could not recommend the use of AstraZeneca vaccine in people aged over 65, citing a lack of data on how it affected this age group.

The UK has been using the AstraZeneca vaccine in its mass immunization program for weeks now, and public health officials say it is safe and provides “high levels of protection”.

Confirming it had approved the vaccine, the EMA said that most participants in the test studies were between 18 and 55 years old. It said that while there were not yet enough results to show how the vaccine will work in older people, “protection is expected, given that an immune response is seen in this age group and based on experience with other vaccines.”

Individual EU countries can still decide who vaccines should be given to, once they have been approved.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Talk show legend Larry King has died at the age of 87.

The giant of US broadcasting, who achieved worldwide fame for interviewing political leaders and celebrities, conducted an estimated 50,000 interviews in his six-decade career, which included 25 years as host of the popular CNN talk show Larry King Live.

Larry King died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in LA, according to Ora Media, a production company he co-founded.

Earlier this month, the veteran talk show host was treated in hospital for Covid-19.

Larry King had faced several health problems in recent years, including heart attacks.

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Ora Media said in a statement: “For 63 years and across the platforms of radio, television and digital media, Larry’s many thousands of interviews, awards, and global acclaim stand as a testament to his unique and lasting talent as a broadcaster.”

Larry King rose to fame in the 1970s with his radio program The Larry King Show, on the commercial network Mutual Broadcasting System.

He was then the host of Larry King Live on CNN, between 1985 and 2010, carrying out interviews with a host of guests.

Larry King also wrote a column for the USA Today for over 20 years.

Most recently, he hosted another program, Larry King Now, broadcast on Hulu and RT, Russia’s state-controlled international broadcaster.

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Image source: Wikimedia Commons

According a study by the University of Texas, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine can still target a key mutation that has emerged in two new variants of coronavirus.

However, this is only one of many mutations that are found in the new forms of the virus.

So while the study has been welcomed, it is not being seen as definitive scientific evidence about how the vaccine will perform.

New variants have been detected in the UK and South Africa.

Both variants are spreading more quickly and this has raised questions over what level of protection vaccines can offer against them.

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The widely held view is that vaccines will still work, but researchers are on the hunt for proof.

The study focuses on a mutation called N501Y, which is emerged in both new variants.

This is thought to be important because it is in the part of the virus that makes first contact with our body’s cells and changes could make it easier to get in and cause an infection.

The researchers created two forms of the virus – one with and one without the mutation – and then bathed those viruses in blood samples taken from 20 patients that had been vaccinated in clinical trials.

The study results showed the immune systems of vaccinated patients were able to take out the new mutation.

However, the variant that emerged contain multiple mutations whose combined effects may help the virus evade the immune system.

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If you were offered a COVID-19 vaccine, would you take it? Research paints a mixed picture. In one poll mentioned by The Drum, 28% of 18- to 34-year-old respondents in the UK said they would reject a vaccine if offered one. However, marketers can play a major part in encouraging vaccine uptake.

Ultimately, the success of vaccines in helping to bring the COVID-19 pandemic to a close will depend on how many people take them. Here is how pharmaceutical companies, medical providers and healthcare agencies could persuade members of the general public to do exactly that.

Vaccine hesitancy: a challenge predating the COVID-19 pandemic

You don’t have to look far beyond the COVID-19 picture to see examples of skepticism about vaccines in general. Such reticence has, in some instances, led an array of vaccine-preventable diseases, like measles, to re-emerge.

In 2019, long before the current pandemic erupted, the World Health Organization ranked vaccine hesitancy among the ten leading threats to global health.

The world's first malaria vaccine could be approved for use in 2015
The world’s first malaria vaccine could be approved for use in 2015

It’s unsurprising, then, that Glen Halliwell, business unit director at Publicis healthcare agency Langland, believes that government and health services must engage in “broad education” about the COVID-19 vaccine – including “what it is for, what it will protect you against, how to get it and how many injections are required to be protected.”

He added: “Critical here is ensuring we reach the members of the community where English is not their first language, or where cultural or religious concerns regarding vaccine ingredients may lead to some hesitation.”

What threshold do we need to reach to achieve herd immunity?

Lee Fraser, who has served as Digitas Health’s chief medical officer since 2014, insists: “In order for vaccines to be successful in ending the pandemic, we will need to get vaccination rates into the mid-70% range at a minimum.”

However, he warned: “In a climate where we have seen a decline in the public’s belief in science and erosion of fact in favor of social and public opinion, studies suggest only 60% of people are currently willing to get a vaccine.”

Which marketing strategies could help – and which probably wouldn’t?

While some individual vaccines have been given their own branding by marketers, WPP Health Practice’s international chief executive officer Claire Gillis says: “I actually think that the important brand is the corporate brand. Go to the doctor and ask for the ‘Pfizer vaccine’.”

Meanwhile, though the UK government’s reported attempt to apply patriotic livery to each AstraZeneca vaccine kit would unlikely have been of much use, the UK’s National Health Service has, more encouragingly, decided to partner with influencers to promote vaccine adoption.

Spain is planning to set up a registry of people who refuse to be vaccinated against coronavirus and share it with other European Union nations, health minister Salvador Illa has said.

Salvador Illa said the list would not be made accessible to the public or to employers.

The health minister said the way to defeat the virus was “to vaccinate all of us – the more the better”.

Spain has been one of the countries in Europe worst affected by the virus.

The country is currently rolling out the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine which was approved for EU member states last week.

In an interview with La Sexta TV on December 28, Salvador Illa emphasized that vaccination would not be mandatory.

He said: “What will be done is a registry, which will be shared with our European partners… of those people who have been offered it and have simply rejected it.

“It is not a document which will be made public and it will be done with the utmost respect for data protection.”

The health minister added: “People who are offered a therapy that they refuse for any reason, it will be noted in the register… that there is no error in the system, not to have given this person the possibility of being vaccinated.”

According to a recent poll, the number of Spanish citizens who have said they will not take the vaccine has fallen to 28% from 47% in November.

In other comments, Salvador Illa said people would be contacted by regional authorities when it was their turn to be inoculated.

He told reporters: “People who decide not to get vaccinated, which we think is a mistake, are within their rights.

 “We are going to try to solve doubts. Getting vaccinated saves lives, it is the way out of this pandemic.”

The number of people who have died from Covid-19 in Spain rose above the 50,000 on December 28. Spain has registered more than 1.8 million infections during the pandemic.

The country is under a nationwide curfew, between 23:00 and 06:00, until early May. In many places, people are only allowed out in that period to go to work, buy medicine, or to care for elderly people or children.

Spain’s regional leaders can modify curfew times and can also close regional borders for travel.

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The EU is launching a co-ordinated mass vaccination to fight Covid-19, in what the bloc’s top official Ursula von der Leyen says is a “touching moment of unity”.

On December 26, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine had been delivered to all 27 member states.

Some countries started administering the jabs on the same day, saying they were not prepared to wait another day.

The EU has so far reported more than 335,000 coronavirus-related deaths.

More than 14 million people have been infected, and strict lockdown measures are currently in place in nearly all the member states.

The EU mass vaccination comes as cases of the more contagious variant of the virus are confirmed in several European countries as well as Japan and Canada.

Mass vaccination for the EU’s 446 million people is due to begin in the coming hours.

This comes after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Commission authorized the German-US Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

The EU has secured contracts for more than two billion vaccine doses from a range of drug companies.

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Ursula von der Leyen tweeted: “Today, we start turning the page on a difficult year. The #COVID19 vaccine has been delivered to all EU countries. Vaccination will begin tomorrow across the EU. The #EUvaccinationdays are a touching moment of unity. Vaccination is the lasting way out of the pandemic.”

German Health Minister Jens Spahn said on December 26: “This really is a happy Christmas message. At this moment, trucks with the first vaccines are on the road all over Europe, all over Germany, in all federal states. Further deliveries will follow the day after tomorrow.

“This vaccine is the crucial key for defeating the pandemic. It’s the key for us getting back our lives.”

Health workers in north-east Germany decided not to wait for December 27 and started immunizing elderly residents of a nursing home in Halberstadt.

The authorities in Slovakia also said they had begun vaccinating.

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio urged his compatriots to get the vaccine: “We’ll get our freedom back, we’ll be able to embrace again.”

In Hungary, the first recipient of the vaccine was a doctor at Del-Pest Central Hospital on December 26, the state news agency says.

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Image source: AP

Joe Biden has received his first dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine live on TV.

The president-elect said he was getting the vaccine to show Americans it is “safe to take”.

Joe Biden joins a growing number of political leaders getting the jab, including VP Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

On December 20, the roll-out began for a second vaccine, by Moderna, which was approved last week.

More than 500,000 Americans are said to have now been vaccinated.

Joe Biden said from Newark, Delaware, where he got the vaccine live on TV: “I’m doing this to demonstrate that people should be prepared when it’s available to take the vaccine.

“There’s nothing to worry about.”

The president-elect said the Trump administration “deserves some credit” for launching the country’s vaccine program.

His wife, Jill Biden, received her first dose earlier in the day, the president-elect said.

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Joe Biden’s running mate, VP-elect Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff are expected to receive their first shots next week.

The Biden team has set a goal of 100 million Covid-19 vaccinations during the administration’s first 100 days in the White House.

During the pandemic, the US has recorded more than 18 million cases and 319,000 deaths.

President Donald Trump, who spent three days in hospital with the coronavirus in October, has not said when he intends to get the vaccine.

He is now one of last of the country’s top elected officials to have not received the first of the course of two jabs.

President Trump wrote in a December 13 tweet: “I am not scheduled to take the vaccine, but look forward to doing so at the appropriate time.”

Some of the president’s advisers have defended the delay, saying he is still protected by the treatments he received to beat the virus.

According to the CDC, roughly three million doses of the Pfizer vaccine have been shipped and more than 500,000 Americans have been vaccinated so far.

On December 20, distribution of the Moderna vaccine began in the country too, with some six million vaccine doses available for immediate shipment.

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Image source Wikimedia

France’s President Emmanuel Macron is just the latest world leader to test positive for coronavirus.

Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini of Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) died on December 14, four weeks after he tested positive for Covid-19.

US President Donald Trump contracted the virus in October. He was given an experimental drug cocktail and returned to the White House after three nights in hospital.

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda contracted the virus in October and went into self-isolation.

Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has spent two months in hospital in Germany after catching the disease in October – last week he appeared in video for the first time since testing positive, saying he hopes to return to Algeria soon.

Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei tested positive in September – despite calling himself “high-risk” he did not appear to suffer a severe case.

President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro,tested positive in July and spent more than two weeks quarantining in his residence.

In June, the outgoing President of Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza, died of an illness suspected by many to be Covid-19.

Russia’s PM Mikhail Mishustin contracted the virus in April and was admitted to hospital with moderate to severe symptoms.

UK PM Boris Johnson tested positive in March – he spent three nights in intensive care in a London hospital, later saying he owed the health workers there his life.

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(Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

Vice-President Mike Pence has received the coronavirus vaccine live on TV.

He told the audience and doctors: “I didn’t feel a thing.”

According to the White House, the aim of the move was to “promote the safety and efficacy of the vaccine and build confidence among the American people”.

Mike Pence’s wife and Surgeon General Jerome Adams also received the jab at the televised White House event.

On December 14, the US began rolling out the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

The Pfizer vaccine is the first to be approved in the US. It offers up to 95% protection against Covid-19.

The first three million vaccine doses are being distributed to locations across the 50 US states.

Meanwhile, a second vaccine, developed by Moderna, has come a step closer to receiving emergency approval after it was endorsed by a panel of experts.

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As Mike Pence was receiving his vaccine, President Donald Trump incorrectly said on Twitter that the Moderna vaccine was “overwhelmingly approved” with “distribution to start immediately”. It is still awaiting final approval from the FDA.

More than 310,000 people have died with coronavirus in the US, which has recorded more infections and fatalities than any other country. More than 17 million cases have been recorded in the country since the start of the pandemic.

VP Pence, 61, received the first of two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab at 08:00 local time, along with his wife Karen and Dr. Adams. He is the most senior US official to be vaccinated so far.

He said: “We gather here today at the end of a historic week to affirm to the American people that hope is on the way.”

“Karen and I were more than happy to step forward before this week was out to take this safe and effective coronavirus vaccine that we have secured and produced for the American people,” he continued, calling it “a truly inspiring day”.

Top infectious diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, and CDC Director Robert Redfield were in the audience to observe the doctors from Walter Reed hospital perform the injections.

Both men elbow-bumped Mike Pence and his wife after their jabs. President Trump did not attend the event.

Dr. Fauci said in brief remarks: “We want virtually everyone eligible to get this vaccine ultimately.

“By the time we get to several months into this [coming] year we will have enough people protected that we can start thinking seriously about the return to normality.”

Earlier this week, President Trump reversed a plan for senior members of his administration to be among the first to receive the vaccine “unless specifically necessary”.

The president, who contracted coronavirus in October and recovered after hospital treatment, said he was not scheduled to take the jab but looked forward to doing so “at the appropriate time”.

Many of his support base have doubts about the efficacy and safety of vaccines.

President-elect Joe Biden, who at 78 is in a high-risk group from Covid-19, is expected to be vaccinated next week.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

French President Emmanuel Macron has been diagnosed with Covid-19 after developing symptoms.

Emmanuel Macron, 42, will now self-isolate for seven days, the Elysée Palace said in a statement.

The president “is still in charge” of running the country and will work remotely, said an official.

EU chief Charles Michel and Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez are both self-isolating after coming into contact with President Macron on December 14.

France this week imposed an overnight curfew to help deal with soaring cases there.

There have been 2 million confirmed cases in France since the coronavirus epidemic began, with more than 59,400 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The Elysée Palace said in a statement on December 17: “The President of the Republic has been diagnosed positive for Covid-19 today.”

The diagnosis was made following a “test performed at the onset of the first symptoms”.

It is not yet known how President Macron caught the virus but his office said it was identifying any close contacts he has made in recent days.

PM Jean Castex, 55, and Parliament Speaker Richard Ferrand, 58, are both self-isolating, their offices confirmed.

Jean Castex, who is not showing any symptoms, was due to introduce the government’s Covid vaccination policy in the Senate on December 17 – now Health Minister Olivier Véran is doing it instead.

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Spain’s PM Pedro Sánchez, 48, and EU chief Charles Michel, 44, are both self-isolating after meeting the French president for lunch on December 14.

The Spanish prime minister’s office said he would be tested.

Emmanuel Macron’s wife Brigitte, who is 67, is also self-isolating, but has no symptoms.

President Macron is one of several world leaders who have contracted the respiratory disease since the pandemic began. Most notably, President Donald Trump tested positive in October, which led to him spending three days in hospital.

UK’s PM Boris Johnson also caught the virus and ended up in intensive care during the country’s first wave in March.

Earlier this week, France eased national lockdown restrictions imposed to tackle its second wave of the pandemic. However, infection rates still remain high and a daily 20:00-06:00 curfew was imposed. The new measures have forced restaurants, cafes, theatres and cinemas to close.

On December 16, France registered more than 17,700 new cases.

Emmanuel Macron has not tested positive for the virus before, sources have told Le Figaro.

The news website said: “His wife, the first lady Brigitte Macron, had already been a contact person [for Covid-19] a few months before but the presidential couple had until now managed to avoid contracting the virus.”

A presidential spokeswoman confirmed that all of Emmanuel Macron’s upcoming trips, including a visit to Lebanon on December 22, have been canceled.

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Image source: Getty Images

The US Covid-19 vaccination has began, as the country gears up for its largest ever immunization campaign.

Sandra Lindsay, an intensive care nurse in Long Island, New York, is believed to have been the first person to be given the vaccine.

Millions of doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine are being distributed, with 150 hospitals expected to receive them on December 14.

The US vaccination program aims to reach 100 million people by April.

Covid-19 fatalities are nearing 300,000 in the US, which has by far the world’s highest death toll.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine received emergency-use authorization from the FDA on December 11.

President Donald Trump tweeted following the news from New York: “First Vaccine Administered. Congratulations USA! Congratulations WORLD!”

The roll-out of the vaccine comes as the epidemic continues to ravage the US. Deaths have been rising sharply since November and the number of people in hospital with the disease has also continued to grow steadily, with more than 109,000 people currently admitted, according to the Covid Tracking Project.

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Sandra Lindsay, a nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, received the vaccine live on camera. Footage was streamed on the Twitter feed of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, whose state was the epicenter of the US epidemic in the first wave earlier this year.

She said: “It didn’t feel any different from taking any other vaccine.

“I hope this marks the beginning of the end of a very painful time in our history. I want to instill public confidence that the vaccine is safe. We’re in a pandemic and so we all need to do our part.”

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine – a collaboration between a US pharmaceutical giant and a German biotechnology company – offers up to 95% protection and is the first Covid-19 vaccine to be approved by US regulators.

The vaccine is already being rolled out in the UK, while Canada is also beginning its inoculation program on December 14, with an initial 30,000 doses going to 14 sites across the country.

Anita Quidangen, a caregiver at the Rekai Centre nursing home in Toronto, was the first to receive the vaccine in Canada.

The first three million doses in the US are being distributed to dozens of locations across all 50 states by cargo plane and truck.

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The US mass vaccination will begin on December 14 after it was authorized for emergency use, officials say.

The first three million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine would be shipped “across all states” this weekend, said General Gustave Perna, who is overseeing distribution.

The vaccine offers up to 95% protection against Covid-19 and was deemed safe by the FDA.

On December 12, the US recorded a daily toll of 3,309 Covid-related deaths.

The figure, reported on the Johns Hopkins University website, is the highest total in a single day anywhere in the world.Coronavirus deaths have been rising sharply since November in the US.

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Authorizing the emergency use of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on December 11, the FDA – which had come under intense pressure from the Trump administration to do so – said the move was a “significant milestone” in the pandemic.

During a news conference on December 12, Gen. Perna – speaking for the government’s vaccination campaign Operation Warp Speed – said doses of the vaccine would be packed into shipping containers for transportation “within the next 24 hours”.

He said: “Expect 145 sites across the states to receive the vaccine on Monday, another 425 sites on Tuesday, and the final 66 sites on Wednesday.”

He also said that next week’s distribution would complete the initial delivery of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and cover about three million people.

Gen. Perna told reporters he was “100% confident” that the doses “needed to defeat the enemy Covid” would be transported safely.

However, he warned that while it had been a week of progress, “we are not done until every American has access to a vaccine”.

The Pfizer vaccine has already received regulatory approval in the UK, Canada, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Like those countries, US health authorities are expected to prioritize health workers and care home residents for the first doses.

More Americans outside the highest-priority groups are likely to be able to get the vaccine in January, with general availability expected by April.

On December 10, medical experts advising the FDA recommended the emergency-use authorization. A 23-member panel concluded the vaccine’s benefits outweighed its risks.

Emergency use, the FDA said, was not the same as full approval, which would require Pfizer to file a separate application to secure.

The Pfizer/BioNTech product was the first coronavirus vaccine to show promising results in the latter stages of its testing process.

It is a new type called an mRNA vaccine that uses a tiny fragment of genetic code from the pandemic virus to teach the body how to fight Covid-19 and build immunity.

The FDA said: “The vaccine contains a small piece of the [Covid-19] virus’s mRNA that instructs cells in the body to make the virus’s distinctive ‘spike’ protein.”

British and Russian scientists are teaming up to trial a combination of the Oxford-AstraZeneca and Sputnik V vaccines to see if protection against Covid-19 can be improved.

According to the researchers, mixing two similar vaccines could lead to a better immune response in people.

The trials, to be held in Russia, will involve over-18s, although it’s not clear how many people will be involved.

Oxford recently published results showing their vaccine was safe and effective in trials on people.

The researchers are still collecting data on the effectiveness of the vaccine in older age groups while waiting for approval from the UK regulator, the MHRA.

AstraZeneca said it was exploring combinations of different adenovirus vaccines to find out whether mixing them leads to a better immune response and, therefore, greater protection.

The Oxford vaccine, developed in partnership with AstraZeneca, and the Russian Sputnik vaccine, developed by the Gamaleya Research Institute in Moscow, are similar because they both contain genetic material from the Sars-CoV-2 spike protein.

They work differently to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which has been approved in the UK, Canada, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and recommended for approval by medical experts in the US.

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Early results from late-stage trials of the Russian vaccine have shown promising results.

Russia was the first country to register a Covid vaccine for emergency use – in August, despite only having been tested on a few dozen people.

Sputnik V is now being offered to Russians as part of a mass vaccination campaign.

AstraZeneca said it was “working with industry partners, governments and research institutions around the world, and will soon begin exploring with Gamaleya Research Institute in Russia to understand whether two adenovirus-based vaccines can be successfully combined”.

Joe Biden has vowed 100 million Covid-19 vaccinations in his first 100 days in office.

The president-elect said his first months in office would not end the outbreak and gave few details on a rollout plan but he said he would change the course of Covid-19.

Introducing his health team for when he takes office on January 20, Joe Biden urged Americans to “mask up for 100 days”.

On December 8, a report paved the way for a Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to be approved and rolled out for Americans.

Emergency authorization for its use could be issued by the FDA on December 10, with the country’s top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci saying mass vaccination could start as soon as next week.

Also on December 8, President Donald Trump attended a summit at the White House of his Covid-19 vaccination program, Operation Warp Speed, and hailed the expected approval of vaccines. His administration hopes to vaccinate as many as 24 million people by mid-January.

According to Johns Hopkins University research, the US has recorded more than 15 million cases so far and 285,000 deaths, both global highs.

Many parts of the US are seeing peak infections, with record numbers of people in hospital, with some experts blaming travel by millions over the recent Thanksgiving holiday.

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At a news conference in Delaware on December 8, Joe Biden laid out how he plans to address the pandemic in his first 100 days in office. That period is traditionally seen as a benchmark for new presidents to make their mark with new policies and ideas.

He vowed to get “at least 100 million Covid vaccine shots into the arms of the American people”.

Last week, Joe Biden complained he had been given no rollout plans by the Trump administration. Operation Warp Speed’s top scientist Moncef Slaoui has still to meet the Biden team and is expected to do so this week.

Getting children back to school would also be a priority, he said.

Joe Biden also introduced California Attorney General Xavier Becerra as his nomination for health secretary and his choice of Rochelle Walensky as head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Among his other aides will be Dr. Anthony Fauci as chief Covid medical adviser. The expert also advised the Trump team and often fell foul of the president for his views.

Getting 100 million vaccines to Americans in just over three months is not expected to be easy. The large geographical size of the US and the logistics of rolling out a new vaccine could present challenges in achieving the goal.

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President-elect Joe Biden has announced he will ask Americans to wear masks for his first 100 days in office to curtail the spread of coronavirus.

Joe Biden told CNN he believed there would be a “significant reduction” in Covid-19 cases if every American wore a face covering.

He also said he would order masks to be worn in all government buildings.

The US has recorded 14.1 million cases and 276,000 deaths from Covid-19 – the highest of any country in the world.

Joe Biden is preparing to take office as pharmaceutical giants are poised to ship millions of doses of coronavirus vaccines to the American public.

In his first joint interview with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris since the election, Joe Biden said: “The first day I’m inaugurated to say I’m going to ask the public for 100 days to mask. Just 100 days to mask, not forever. One hundred days.

“And I think we’ll see a significant reduction if we occur that, if that occurs with vaccinations and masking to drive down the numbers considerably.” 

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The first 100 days of a new presidency is symbolically important in the US and is seen as a gauge of how a president will get things done.

However, constitutional experts say the president has no legal authority to order Americans to wear masks, but Joe Biden said during the interview he and his Vice-President Kamala Harris would set an example by donning face coverings.

The president’s executive authority does cover US government property, and Joe Biden told CNN he intended to exercise such power.

He said: “I’m going to issue a standing order that in federal buildings you have to be masked.”

He added: “Transportation, interstate transportation, you must be masked, airplanes and buses, et cetera.”

US airlines, airports and most public transit systems already require all passengers and workers to wear face coverings.

The Trump administration has rejected calls from American health experts to mandate masks in transportation as “overly restrictive”.

The Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine has been approved in the UK, paving the way for mass vaccination.

The UK becomes the first country in the world to approve a coronavirus vaccine.

Britain’s medicines regulator, the MHRA, says the vaccine, which offers up to 95% protection against Covid-19 illness, is safe to be rolled out.

The first 800,000 doses will be available in the UK from next week, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.

People should wait to be contacted by the NHS, he added.

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Elderly people in care homes and care home staff are top of the priority list, followed by over-80s and health and care staff.

However, because of the limited stocks and need to store at -70C, the very first vaccinations are likely to take place at hospitals so care home residents may not be immunized until later.

The Pfizer/BioNTech product is the fastest vaccine to go from concept to reality, taking only 10 months to follow the same steps that normally span 10 years.

The UK has already ordered 40 million doses of the free jab – enough to vaccinate 20 million people.

The doses will be rolled out as quickly as they can be made by Pfizer in Belgium, Matt Hancock said, with the first load next week and then “several millions” throughout December.

UK’s PM Boris Johnson said: “It’s the protection of vaccines that will ultimately allow us to reclaim our lives and get the economy moving again.”

Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will be non-compulsory and there will be three ways of vaccinating people across the UK:

  • Hospitals
  • Vaccination centers
  • In the community, with GPs and pharmacists.

Around 50 hospitals are on stand-by and vaccination centers – in venues such as conference centers or sports stadiums – are being set up now.

Because the initial doses are being delivered to hospitals, which already have the facilities to store the vaccine at -70C, the very first vaccinations are likely to take place at hospital hubs – for care home staff, NHS staff and patients – so none of the vaccine is wasted.

It is thought the vaccination network could start delivering more than one million doses a week once enough doses are available.

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Dr. Scott Atlas, President Donald Trump’s controversial special adviser on the coronavirus, has resigned.

Thanking President Trump for the honor of serving the American people, Dr. Atlas said he had “always relied on the latest science and evidence without any political consideration or influence”.

During his four months in the role, Dr. Atlas questioned the need for masks and other measures to control the pandemic.

He also repeatedly clashed with other members of the coronavirus task force.

Dr. Scott Atlas, a radiologist and senior fellow at Stanford University’s conservative Hoover Institution, joined the task force in August. As well as questioning the usefulness of masks he was against lockdowns and supported herd immunity as a strategy to deal with the outbreak.

He sparked further controversy last month when he tweeted “people rise up” in response to new restrictions imposed in Michigan.

Dr. Atlas’ tweet came just weeks after it emerged Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer was the subject of an alleged kidnapping attempt by militia members opposed to virus mitigation efforts.

Public health officials – including top infectious diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci – had accused Dr. Atlas of giving President Trump misleading information about the spread of the virus.

As of November 29, the number of Covid-19 cases recorded in November in the US surpassed four million, double the figure recorded in October.

Academics at Stanford University welcomed Dr. Atlas’ resignation, saying it was “long overdue and underscores the triumph of science and truth over falsehoods and misinformation”.

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Fox News said Dr. Atlas had joined the administration on a 130-day contract, which was set to expire this week.

In his resignation letter, carried by Fox, Dr. Atlas said his advice had “always focused on minimizing all the harms from both the pandemic and the structural policies themselves, especially to the working class and poor”.

He also spoke of the “free exchange of ideas that lead to scientific truths”, adding: “Indeed, I cannot think of a time where safeguarding science and the scientific debate is more urgent.”

President-elect Joe Biden has taken a markedly different stance to his predecessor, urging everyone to wear masks and pledging a bedrock of science to his policy on tackling the pandemic.

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Donald Trump Jr. has tested positive for coronavirus, according to his spokesman.

President Donald Trump’s oldest son was diagnosed at the start of this week and has been quarantining at his hunting cabin since the result, the spokesman said.

The statement said: “He’s been completely asymptomatic so far and is following all medically recommended Covid-19 guidelines.”

Donald Trump Jr., 42, is the second of the president’s children to test positive.

Barron Trump, 14, was also diagnosed last month, but made a swift recovery.

A firebrand speaker, Don Jr. played a major role in his father’s presidential campaign.

There has also been speculation that Donald Jr. is interested in running for the White House, conjecture he hasn’t tried to tamp down.

His partner, Kimberly Guilfoyle, a former Fox News host, tested positive for the disease in July, and also recovered. He apparently did not contract the infection at the time.

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Earlier on November 20, Andrew Giuliani, a special assistant to President Donald Trump, announced he had tested positive for coronavirus.

Andrew Giuliani, the son of the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, tweeted that he was experiencing mild symptoms after receiving his positive test on November 20.

According to CBS News, at least four other White House aides have tested positive for Covid-19 in a new outbreak there.

Earlier this month, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows was among several aides who tested positive for the infection. https://emp.bbc.com/emp/SMPj/2.36.3/iframe.html President Trump spent three nights in hospital at the beginning of October after being hit by Covid-19. First Lady Melania Trump also had a bout of the infection.

Last month, Donald Trump Jr. was criticized for downplaying the US coronavirus death toll.

In an interview with Fox News, he argued that the media was focusing on the caseload, while ignoring the mortality rate.

Donald Trump Jr. said: “I was like, ‘Well, why aren’t they talking about deaths?’ Oh, oh, because the number is almost nothing. Because we’ve gotten control of this, and we understand how it works.”

The virus has infected 11.8 million Americans and killed more than 253,000.

On November 20 alone, 192,000 people tested positive for coronavirus, according to the Covid Tracking Project.

Pfizer and BioNTech are filing for emergency authorization in the US of their Covid-19 vaccine on Friday, November 20.

The FDA will decide if the vaccine is safe to roll out.

It is not clear how long the FDA will take to study the data. However, the US government expects to approve the vaccine in the first half of December.

Data from an advanced trial showed the vaccine protects 94% of adults over 65.

Pfizer’s and BioNTech’s trial involved 41,000 people worldwide. Half were given the vaccine, and half a placebo.

If FDA authorization does come in the first half of next month, Pfizer and BioNTech will “be ready to distribute the vaccine candidate within hours”, the two companies said.

This would be remarkably quick for vaccine development – within 10 months of detailing the genetic code. The average wait for approval in the US is nearer eight years.

On November 19, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said that the filing for emergency use was a “milestone in our journey to deliver a Covid-19 vaccine to the world”.

Initial doses would be scarce, though, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) will decide who is first in line.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the EU could move quickly too – by the end of the year.

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Data released this week suggested the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine had 95% effectiveness.

This effectiveness was also consistent across age groups – essential given the vulnerability of the elderly – as well as ethnicities and gender.

The vaccine also had only mild-to-moderate and short-lived side-effects.

It uses an experimental approach, called mRNA, which involves injecting part of the virus’s genetic code into the body to train the immune system.

Antibodies and T-cells are then made by the body to fight the coronavirus.

The US this week passed 250,000 deaths in the coronavirus outbreak, by far the largest number in the world.

Its confirmed cases since the pandemic began stand at 11.7 million, according to Johns Hopkins University research, again a global first.

Cases have also been soaring over the past week, reaching record daily highs.

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Pfizer’s and BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine appears to protect 94% of adults over 65 years old.

More data released from their ongoing phase three trial suggests the vaccine works equally well in people of all ages, races and ethnicities.

The companies say they will now apply for authorization for emergency use of the jab in the US.

The findings are based on two doses given to more than 41,000 people around the world.

Last week, Pfizer and BioNTech published preliminary data showing the vaccine offered 90% protection against Covid-19 and there were no safety concerns.

This was followed by impressive data on another vaccine, made by US company Moderna, suggesting nearly 95% protection.

November 18 data from Pfizer and BioNTech, which builds on last week’s data, suggests the vaccine is 95% effective based on 170 cases Covid-19 developing in volunteers.

Just eight were in the group given the vaccine, suggesting it offers good protection. The rest of the cases were in the placebo group given a dummy jab.

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Scientists said the data was further encouraging news.

Although the full trial data has yet to be published, the companies say there have been no serious safety concerns.

However, they did notice headaches and fatigue in about 2% of volunteers given the vaccine, although older people seemed to experience minimal side effects.

There is also evidence that the vaccine protects against severe Covid – but this is based on only 10 cases.

It’s still unclear how long protection from the vaccine lasts and if it stops people transmitting the virus.

In the trial, 42% of all participants are from diverse ethnic backgrounds and 41% are aged between 56 and 85 years old.

The trial, which is testing people at 150 sites in the US, Germany, Turkey, South Africa, Brazil and Argentina, will collect data on the safety and efficacy of the vaccine for another two years.

Pfizer and BioNTech expect to produce up to 50 million doses of the vaccine this year and up to 1.3 billion doses by the end of 2021.

There are hundreds of vaccines in development around the world, and about a dozen in the final stages of testing, known as phase three.

The first two to show any results – made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna – both use an experimental approach, called mRNA, which involves injecting part of the virus’s genetic code into the body to train the immune system.

Antibodies and T-cells are then made by the body to fight the coronavirus.

Russia’s Sputnik vaccine has also released early data from phase three based on a smaller number of volunteers and Covid cases.

There are some logistical challenges with mRNA vaccines, namely the need to store them at cold temperatures.

The Pfizer vaccine must be stored at around minus 80C, although it can be kept in a fridge for five days.

Moderna’s vaccine needs to be stored at minus 20C for up to six months and kept in a standard fridge for up to a month.