July 29, 2021 US coronavirus news

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

Updated 10:52 PM ET, Thu July 29, 2021
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1:32 p.m. ET, July 29, 2021

Israel will offer 3rd Covid-19 vaccine dose to people over 60

From CNN's Andrew Carey

Israel’s Prime Minister has announced a program rolling out a third dose of the coronavirus vaccine to people over the age of 60, one of the first countries in the world to make such a move.

People will need to show they received their second dose of the vaccine at least five months ago.

The announcement follows a strong recommendation overnight from the government-appointed team of experts on the pandemic to offer older adults a third dose. The experts’ advice was based on data suggesting significant waning immunity from infection over time. 

The number of new cases in Israel has topped 2,000 for each of the last three days, reaching levels not seen in the country for four and half months. Some days in May and June, the number of new daily cases was down to single figures.

The number of severe cases currently stands at 151. The infection co-efficient, or the average number of people infected by someone with the virus, has been fairly steady for weeks between 1.3 and 1.4.

Some background: Israel began vaccinating its population in December. Then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was the first to receive a dose which he did on live television. 

The vaccination program progressed apace and won plaudits for the fast rate at which Israel made the vaccine available to the entire adult population, and more recently children ages 12 and over.

12:45 p.m. ET, July 29, 2021

New York attorney general urges Facebook to fight Spanish-language vaccine misinformation

From CNN’s Brian Fung

New York Attorney General Letitia James speaks at a news conference on Friday, May 21, in New York.
New York Attorney General Letitia James speaks at a news conference on Friday, May 21, in New York.

New York Attorney General Letitia James called for Facebook to crack down on Covid-19 misinformation on Thursday, particularly for Spanish-speaking users of the social media platform. 

In a letter to Facebook's VP of state policy, Will Castleberry, James said Latino vaccination rates are among the lowest in the country, making it imperative that Spanish-speaking Americans receive accurate information about the coronavirus vaccine. 

It is not enough for social media platforms to supply reliable information, James continued, adding that platforms such as WhatsApp could be doing more such as notifying users when a claim on the app has been previously fact-checked and identified as misinformation, or preventing the sharing of the claim altogether.

"With Facebook as the primary platform of choice for most Latino social media users, it is critical that Facebook improve its Spanish-language moderation and efforts to combat misleading information," she wrote. 

"We request that Facebook share with our office its policies and procedures regarding misinformation targeted towards the Latino community as well as any initiatives that Facebook has underway to amplify evidence-based and scientifically accurate material to Latino users," James added.

James' comments come as the Biden administration continues to battle misinformation surrounding vaccinations. Earlier this month, US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy warned health misinformation is "a serious threat to public health," and the administration has put pressure on social media giants like Facebook to do more to stop the spread of false information.

12:26 p.m. ET, July 29, 2021

Israel releases data supporting recommendation to give 3rd Covid-19 vaccine dose to older adults

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard and Amir Tal

A man receives his third dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on July 14, in Ramat Gan, Israel.
A man receives his third dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on July 14, in Ramat Gan, Israel. Amir Levy/Getty Images

Israel's Ministry of Health on Thursday published the data that was presented to its Vaccine Advisory Committee last night in support of its recommendation to administer a third dose of coronavirus vaccine to older adults.

The Ministry of Health "recommended the provision of a third vaccine in the older adult population," noted an announcement from the Ministry on Thursday.

Some of the data considered by the Ministry come from research on the "justification, safety and efficacy" of a third dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for hemodialysis patients that was posted as a pre-print paper earlier this month to the server medrxiv.org. The research found that about two-thirds of hemodialysis patients who had a suboptimal immune response after a second dose of vaccine developed "optimal" antibody titers and T cells after a third dose.

Israel’s health care system has been instructed to make arrangements to begin vaccinating people over the age 60 with a third dose of the Covid-19 vaccine beginning on Sunday, according to a source with knowledge of Israeli health care planning, pending a final government decision to proceed. 

Recipients of a third dose will need to show that more than five months have passed since they received their second dose, the source said.

12:09 p.m. ET, July 29, 2021

Covid-19 vaccines estimated to have prevented 60,000 deaths in England

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy

People wait on socially distanced chairs to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at a temporary vaccination center at the Tate Modern in central London on Friday, July 16.
People wait on socially distanced chairs to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at a temporary vaccination center at the Tate Modern in central London on Friday, July 16. Tolga Akmen/AGP/Getty Images

Covid-19 vaccines are estimated to have prevented 60,000 Covid-19 related deaths in England up to July 23, according to the latest report from Public Health England (PHE).

The report also estimated that Covid-19 vaccines have now prevented more than 22 million cases of infection – more than double the estimated number published previously, a PHE press release said Thursday.  The data is based on modeling analysis from PHE and Cambridge University’s MRC Biostatistics Unit.

“These figures show the vaccine programme’s remarkable impact on saving lives and reducing the spread of the virus. As cases have increased, the true scale of protection from the vaccine programme has become clear,” Dr Jamie Lopez Bernal, Consultant Epidemiologist at PHE, said.

Meanwhile, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England Jonathan Van Tam told BBC Newsbeat on Thursday that scientists "do not know whether there will be a fourth wave" of infections in the UK. 

Van Tam added that although he hoped "the worst is behind us" it is "quite possible that we're going to have one or two bumpy periods through autumn and winter, not through COVID, but also through flu and other respiratory viruses as well."

Once the UK has a "highly vaccinated adult population" including young people ages 18 to 25, "the chances of us needing another lockdown are much lower," he added.

11:38 a.m. ET, July 29, 2021

More than 71% of the US population lives in a county where people should be wearing masks indoors

From CNN's Michael Nedelman and Deidre McPhillips

A sign on a storefront advises shoppers to wear masks inside on Monday, July 19, 2021, in the Fairfax district of Los Angeles. Los Angeles County has reinstated an indoor mask mandate due to rising COVID-19 cases. 
A sign on a storefront advises shoppers to wear masks inside on Monday, July 19, 2021, in the Fairfax district of Los Angeles. Los Angeles County has reinstated an indoor mask mandate due to rising COVID-19 cases.  Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

More than 71% of the US population — or nearly 237 million people — live in counties considered to have “high” or “substantial” Covid-19 transmission, according to a CNN analysis of data published Wednesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Only 1% of the population — just 3.2 million people — live in areas with “low” transmission.

That means the latest mask CDC guidance, which advises even fully vaccinated people to mask up indoors in areas with "substantial" or "high transmission," would apply to more than seven in 10 Americans.

About 48% are in “high” transmission counties, and 23% are in counties with “substantial” transmission.

This is up from a week ago, when just over half — 50.5% — of Americans lived in counties that fell into either category. Two weeks ago, that number was even lower: 38.5%. 

In early June, 2.4% of the population lived in a county with “high” Covid-19 transmission, and another 13% in areas with “substantial” transmission.

Meanwhile, Covid-19 cases in the US continue to rise. The country is now averaging 63,698 new each day, according to Johns Hopkins University — that’s a 59% increase over last week’s seven-day average. 

According to the CDC, the US is experiencing an uptick in vaccinations. An average of 382,106 people are initiating vaccination each day, the agency's data published Wednesday shows. This is the highest it’s been in three weeks and a 35% increase over last week. At least 49.2% of the total US population is fully vaccinated.

Some more context on the data: The CDC considers a county to have “high” transmission if there have been 100 or more cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 residents in the past week, or a test positivity rate of 10% or higher during the same time frame. For “low” transmission, those numbers must be fewer than 10 new cases per 100,000 or a test positivity rate under 5%.

Here's a look at the latest community spread trends:

10:53 a.m. ET, July 29, 2021

Texas teachers association calls on governor to reverse ban on mask mandates

From CNN's Elizabeth Stuart

Texas Governor Greg Abbott is pictured speaking at a news conference in Austin, Texas on June 8.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott is pictured speaking at a news conference in Austin, Texas on June 8. Eric Gay/AP

A Texas teachers group is calling on Gov. Greg Abbott to reverse his stance on banning mask mandates in schools, as the new school year approaches and Covid-19 cases are on the rise.

The Texas State Teachers Association, the Texas affiliate of the National Education Association, said that individual school districts should be allowed to require masks in school based on the local health conditions in their communities, according to a statement released Tuesday.

"If Gov. Abbott really cares about the health and safety of Texas students, educators and their communities, he will give local school officials and health experts the option of requiring masks in their schools," said TSTA president Ovidia Molina.

The statement came on the same day the CDC adjusted its school guidelines, recommending all K-12 students wear masks in school. Abbott is standing by the executive order he signed in May, before the Delta variant was spreading at high rates.

"The time for government mask mandates is over—now is the time for personal responsibility," he tweeted Tuesday. "Every Texan has the right to choose whether they will wear a mask or have their children wear masks."

The TSTA noted that the American Academy of Pediatrics has also recommended everyone older than 2 wear a mask in school, and that children under 12 are not yet eligible for Covid-19 vaccines.

"Educators are eager to return to the classroom, but the pandemic is still dangerous," Molina said.

10:41 a.m. ET, July 29, 2021

AstraZeneca says it will apply for full approval of its Covid-19 vaccine in the US by end of the year

From CNN’s Jen Christensen

A nurse displays a vial of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine during a press event in Warsaw, Poland on March 25.
A nurse displays a vial of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine during a press event in Warsaw, Poland on March 25. Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto/Shutterstock

AstraZeneca said in investor documents published Thursday that it will ask the US Food and Drug Administration for full approval of its Covid-19 vaccine in the second half of 2021.

Rather than apply for an Emergency Use Authorization like the other Covid-19 vaccines currently authorized in the United States, the company said it will file a Biologics License Application.

The vaccine is being used to protect patients from Covid-19 in more than 100 countries around the world. By the end of this year, the company said it will deliver up to three billion doses of the vaccine globally.

Some more background: AstraZeneca’s vaccine was one of the first Covid-19 vaccines developed. The US government pledged to invest $1.2 billion in the vaccine, but it was plagued with problems from the beginning. There were questions about its trial data after the company initially said that a half dose worked better than a full dose in the trial.

Days later, the company admitted the half dose was administered by mistake and dropped that approach. There were additional questions about its effectiveness in the elderly, and reports of rare blood clots.

In April, Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN that even if the FDA granted an emergency use authorization, there was no need for a fourth vaccine in the US. The company did not respond to Fauci’s comments at the time.

9:57 a.m. ET, July 29, 2021

Israel’s health care system prepares for third Covid-19 vaccine dose pending final government decision

From CNN's Amir Tal

A medical worker prepares a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a healthcare center in Modiin, Israel, on July 5.
A medical worker prepares a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a healthcare center in Modiin, Israel, on July 5. Gil Cohen Magen/Xinhua/Getty Images

Israel’s healthcare system has been told to make arrangements to begin vaccinating people over 60 with a third dose of the Covid-19 vaccine from Sunday, according to a source with knowledge of Israeli health care planning, pending a final government decision to go ahead with the move.

Recipients of a third dose will need to show that more than five months have passed since they received their second dose, the source said.

9:54 a.m. ET, July 29, 2021

FDA says Emergent BioSolutions plant can resume manufacturing J&J’s Covid-19 vaccine

From CNN’s Jen Christensen and Nadia Kounang

The biopharmaceutical company Emergent BioSolutions is pictured in Baltimore, Maryland, on April 1.
The biopharmaceutical company Emergent BioSolutions is pictured in Baltimore, Maryland, on April 1. Jim Lo Scalzo//EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Emergent BioSolutions announced Thursday that the US Food and Drug Administration will allow it to resume the manufacturing of the drug substance that goes into Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine.

According to an administration official, the Baltimore plant has not been fully authorized yet, and while production can resume, the FDA will still need to inspect the individual lots of vaccine before they go out for shipment and can be administered. 

The plant had been contracted by Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, but production was stopped after a mix-up earlier this year that involved ingredients for Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine and AstraZeneca’s vaccine resulted in 15 million vaccine doses being spoiled by contamination.The government then asked J&J to take over production at the plant. The plant also stopped making the AstraZeneca vaccine substance.

After the plant’s production was stopped, the FDA returned to conduct several additional inspections at the facility, Emergent said. The company said it also has worked closely with the FDA and J&J to address quality concerns, and has developed an action plan going forward.

“The American people should have high expectations of the partners its government chooses to help prepare them for disaster, and we have even higher expectations of ourselves,” Emergent CEO Robert Kramer said in a statement. “We have fallen short of those lofty ambitions over the past few months but resumption of manufacturing is a key milestone and we are grateful for the opportunity to help bring this global pandemic to an end. We’d like to thank our government partners as well as Johnson & Johnson for their support.”

In an email to CNN, J&J confirmed the restart of production.

“We will continue to work toward securing Emergency Use Authorization in the United States for drug substance manufactured at Emergent Bayview as quickly as possible,” a spokesperson from Johnson & Johnson said in the email.

The FDA has been giving extra scrutiny to batches produced at the facility, which are shipped to other facilities to be put into vials and finished.

On July 13, the FDA authorized the fifth batch of J&J vaccine to be shipped but did not note how many doses that equaled.