July 28, 2021 US coronavirus news

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Melissa Mahtani, Mike Hayes, Veronica Rocha and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 11:23 PM ET, Wed July 28, 2021
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11:00 a.m. ET, July 28, 2021

Pfizer plans to apply for authorization of a third vaccine dose as soon as August

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

Pfizer anticipates applying for emergency use authorization of a third dose of its coronavirus vaccine as soon as next month, Dr. Mikael Dolsten, who leads worldwide research, development and medical for Pfizer, said during a company earnings call on Wednesday morning.

"We are in ongoing discussions with regulatory agencies regarding a potential third-dose booster of the current vaccine and, assuming positive results, anticipate an emergency use authorization submission as early as August," Dolsten said.

In order for third doses to be administered to people in the United States, the emergency use authorization that the US Food and Drug Administration issued for the vaccine would either need to be amended or, if the vaccine were FDA approved, a third dose could be given off label.

"We continue to believe it is likely that a third-dose booster may be needed within six to 12 months after full vaccination to maintain the highest level of protection, and studies are underway to evaluate the safety and immunogenicity of a third dose," Dolsten said, adding that data suggest antibody levels appear to decline around eight months after receiving a second dose of vaccine.

"Pending regulatory approval, we also plan to start an immunogenicity and safety study in August to evaluate an updated version of our vaccine specifically designed to target the Delta variant," Dolsten said.

He mentioned how the Delta variant is the "most transmissible" yet seen and now represents about 83% of sequenced Covid-19 cases in the United States.

11:02 a.m. ET, July 28, 2021

New mask guidance may provide "very little bang for our buck" to reduce transmission, former FDA head says

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

A sign about mask requirements is on a storefront in Los Angeles on July 19, 2021.
A sign about mask requirements is on a storefront in Los Angeles on July 19, 2021. Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration, said on NPR’s Morning Edition Wednesday that Covid-19 vaccines don’t make people impervious to infection, but asking vaccinated people to again wear masks may not provide much “bang for our buck” to reduce transmission.

“I think that there’s some transmission occurring among people who are vaccinated,” Gottlieb said. “We’ve been saying that for a while, I’ve been pointing out for a while at this point, the vaccine doesn’t make you impervious to infection.” 

Given how transmissible the Delta variant is, there are probably people who are becoming mildly or asymptomatically infected even when vaccinated, he said. 

“I think at this point, where we are with this Delta wave, which is probably closer to the end than the beginning, and the fact that probably a very small percentage of the transmission is occurring among vaccinated people, I don’t know how prudent this and practical it is,” Gottlieb said of the new CDC guidance. 

The bottom line, he said, is that people who are vaccinated shouldn’t assume that they are completely protected, so if they’re around high-risk people, they should be mindful, and potentially wear a mask, and “certainly” get tested if they think they have Covid-19 symptoms. 

“I think in terms of telling everyone whose been vaccinated that they need to now start wearing a mask again, I think that’s going to be very little bang for our buck in terms of trying to reduce transmission right now in the context of this wave of infection,” he said. 

10:27 a.m. ET, July 28, 2021

Health passes for fully vaccinated may be "a path forward," CDC director says

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

A health care worker prepares Moderna Covid-19 vaccines in Immokalee, Florida, on May 20, 2021.
A health care worker prepares Moderna Covid-19 vaccines in Immokalee, Florida, on May 20, 2021. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN’s John Berman on New Day Wednesday that health passes for the fully vaccinated, such as those used in parts of Europe, “may very well be a path forward.”

“I think some communities are doing that and that may very well be the path forward,” Walensky said.

“I do want to sort of comment that in some fully vaccinated venues, if they’re unmasked and there are a few people who are transmitting there, as a fully vaccinated person, it is possible to pick up disease in those settings. We’ve seen that in some of our outbreak investigations this summer, which is why, overall, it’s so very critical to just get the huge amount of disease in some of these areas down," she continued.
9:44 a.m. ET, July 28, 2021

Duke University issues indoor mask mandate for all people, regardless of vaccination status

From CNN's Paul P. Murphy

In a message to students and staff, Duke University leadership announced that due to the increase in Covid-19 cases in North Carolina, they would be issuing an indoor mask mandate to all people regardless of vaccination status.

The university will be requiring masks to be worn indoors in all its facilities, except for on-campus residence halls.

"Masks will not be required in on-campus residence halls where there is a significantly lower risk of exposure for high-risk individuals," the message said.

Duke said the mask mandate was being instituted because officials "have seen a steady rise in the number of cases on campus among unvaccinated and vaccinated individuals."

9:41 a.m. ET, July 28, 2021

England will allow fully vaccinated travelers from the US and EU to skip quarantine starting next week

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite in London 

England will allow fully vaccinated travelers from the US and the EU to avoid quarantine from Aug. 2, UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced Wednesday.

"We're helping reunite people living in the US and European countries with their family and friends in the UK. From 2nd August at 4am people from these countries will be able to come to the England from an amber country without having to quarantine if they're fully vaxxed," Shapps tweeted Wednesday.

The changes will apply to fully vaccinated people with a US Food and Drug Administration) or European Medicines Agency vaccine, Shapps said, adding that travelers will "still need to do the usual pre-departure test before arrival and take a PCR test on day 2 of returning to the England."

"We're also able to confirm the restart of international cruises and flexible testing programmes to help key workers and drive our economic recovery," Shapps also said.


9:50 a.m. ET, July 28, 2021

CDC can urge Covid-19 vaccinations in schools, but can't mandate them, director says

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on July 28, 2021.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on July 28, 2021. CNN

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the CDC can push for vaccination in schools, but it can’t mandate it – that will have to be a local decision.

“We can provide this advice, but we can’t mandate it at the federal level,” she told CNN’s John Berman on New Day Wednesday. “Those are all jurisdictional discussions and jurisdictional mandates. We are hoping that our advice will lead to more and more jurisdictions leaning in to get more people vaccinated.” 

There are very few places in the country right now where enough people are vaccinated for children to not have to wear masks in school. 

“I can imagine a situation where a school system might have all of their teachers documented and vaccinated, all of their children in a high school documented as vaccinated and very little disease in the community,” she said. “Right now, we don’t have a lot of situations that are like that, but I could imagine a situation like that, and boy, do I hope we get there.”   

Asked what it would take for the CDC to say that they no longer recommended masks in schools, Walensky said, “I think if we see more and more people who are vaccinated, our children are vaccinated, we have full vaccination in schools, we have full vaccination in teachers, all of those are documented, we have disease rates that are low – I think then we can start thinking about how we can loosen up. And, you know, not seeing clusters and outbreaks in these school systems."

“If we have more and more people vaccinated, we will win in this race and the virus will be less transmitting and we will be able to lift some of these things," she added.

9:14 a.m. ET, July 28, 2021

United States donates more than 5 million Pfizer vaccines to South Africa – it’s largest donation yet

From CNN’s David McKenzie

In its largest bilateral vaccine donation to date, the United States government announced on Monday that it would donate 5.7 million doses of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine to South Africa – with the first tranche of vaccines to arrive in Johannesburg over the weekend. 

“On behalf of the American people, I am very proud that we are able to donate these vaccine doses to South Africa and have no doubt that the medicines will help save many lives in South Africa,” said the US Mission’s Chargé d’ Affaires Todd Haskell in a statement. 

The donations are part of the Biden-Harris pledge to donate 500 million vaccine doses globally, the statement read. 

South Africa has been one of the worst hit countries in Africa during the Covid-19 pandemic and is emerging from a dramatic third wave of the virus driven by the more transmissible Delta variant. On Sunday, South African president Cyril Ramaphosa eased some restrictions that had been in place for a several weeks to combat the rise in infections. 

The South African government had been criticized for its slow rollout of vaccines, but in recent days the vaccine drive has accelerated substantially. From Sept. 1 anyone over the age of 18 will be eligible for a jab. 

Earlier this month, two provinces in South Africa were hit by widespread looting and unrest that slowed vaccination efforts temporarily. 

“South Africans know they can count on the United States, as a friend and partner, to support their efforts to fight the pandemic and get their economy back on track,” said Haskell in the statement. 

8:42 a.m. ET, July 28, 2021

Pfizer data show that a third dose of its Covid-19 vaccine "strongly" boosts protection against Delta variant

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

A third dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine can "strongly" boost protection against the Delta variant – beyond the protection afforded by the standard two doses, suggests new data released by Pfizer on Wednesday.

The data posted online, which are expected to be discussed in a company earnings call on Wednesday morning, suggest that antibody levels against the Delta variant in people ages 18 to 55 who receive a third dose of vaccine are greater than five-fold following a second dose.

Among people ages 65 to 85, the Pfizer data suggest that antibody levels against the Delta variant after receiving a third dose of vaccine are greater than 11-fold following a second dose.

There's "estimated potential for up to 100-fold increase in Delta neutralization post-dose three compared to pre-dose three," researchers wrote in the Pfizer data slides.

The data also show that antibody levels are much higher after a third dose than a second dose against the original coronavirus variant and the Beta variant, first identified in South Africa.

9:52 a.m. ET, July 28, 2021

Pfizer now expects Covid-19 vaccine data on children ages 5 to 11 by end of September

From CNN’s Jamie Gumbrecht

A Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine vial is pictured at a mobile clinic in Los Angeles on July 9, 2021.
A Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine vial is pictured at a mobile clinic in Los Angeles on July 9, 2021. Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

Pfizer said in its quarterly earnings news release on Wednesday that it expects Covid-19 vaccine safety and immune data that could support emergency use authorization for children ages 5 to 11 by the end of September, and later for younger children.

“The full dataset from this study, which will be required to support licensure in this age group, is expected by the end of 2021,” the company said. “Similar data packages will be submitted shortly thereafter to support EUA and licensure in children 6 months to 5 years of age.”

The announcement appears to shift the company’s previously stated timeline around vaccines for younger children; the company had previously said it expected to seek emergency use authorization for its vaccine for children ages 2 to 11 in September.

The New York Times reported this week that Pfizer would expand vaccine trials in younger children after the US Food and Drug Administration found the trials were too small to detect rare side effects. Pfizer told CNN at the time it did not have an update on details for its trial in children; vaccine maker Moderna confirmed it would expand the size of its Covid-19 vaccine trial in younger children, and did not expect to seek emergency use authorization for the vaccine for children until later this early or early next year.