December 8 coronavirus news

By Julia Hollingsworth, Adam Renton, Nada Bashir, Luke McGee, Ed Upright, Meg Wagner and Melissa Macaya, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, December 9, 2020
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2:55 a.m. ET, December 8, 2020

Azar defends White House's handling of the pandemic: "We've saved hundreds of thousands of lives"

From CNN Health's Shelby Erdman

Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar speaks during a White House Coronavirus Task Force press briefing in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on Nov. 19.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar speaks during a White House Coronavirus Task Force press briefing in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on Nov. 19. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar defended the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic in an interview with Axios that aired on HBO Max Monday.

The United States has broken records for hospital admissions over the past week with more than 100,000 admissions, the Covid Tracking Project reported. The death toll stands at more than 283,000, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Azar defended the administration’s handling of the pandemic, claiming “millions of lives” have been saved.

“This response, thanks to the aggressive efforts of this government, of the President, his leadership team across the whole of government, we've saved lives,” Azar said. “We've saved hundreds of thousands, if not millions of lives.” 

Azar defends Trump on mask wearing: In the same Axios interview, Azar insisted President Donald Trump encouraged mask use.

Trump refused to wear masks at numerous large campaign rallies over the summer and rallygoers also shunned face coverings. Now the White House is planning large holiday gatherings where required mask use is in question. 

But Azar said that President has said wearing a mask is patriotic. Pushed on why he couldn’t convince guests at the White House for holiday parties to wear masks, Azar said he “wish(ed) they would wear face coverings.”

“I’m going to defer. I’m not leading the White House,” Azar said.

Azar on vaccines: Tens of millions of Americans will be vaccinated by Jan. 20 when President-elect Joe Biden takes over, Azar said in the same interview.

When asked if he had spoken to Biden’s transition team and whether the vaccine distribution plan would be set, Azar seemed to imply that Biden may not be taking over, before backtracking.

“If they come in on January 21, they're going to have the same team,” he said, adding: "The President's still litigating."
“We're planning for transition," he continued. "We're working closely with the Biden team to ensure a smooth, productive, cooperative transition.”
3:13 a.m. ET, December 8, 2020

UK health secretary "emotional" after first Briton receives Covid-19 vaccine shot

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite and Sarah Dean

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock appears on Sky News on Tuesday, December 8.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock appears on Sky News on Tuesday, December 8. Twitter/@Sky News

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that he was "feeling quite emotional" after watching 90-year-old Margaret Keenan become the first Briton outside of clinical trials to receive a Covid-19 vaccine.

"It has been such a tough year for so many people and finally we have our way through it, our light at the end of the tunnel," Hancock told Sky News on Tuesday. "And just watching Margaret there, it seems so simple having a jab in your arm, but that will protect Margaret and it will protect the people around her."

Keenan, who turns 91 next week, said she felt "privileged" to be first to get the shot. "It's the best early birthday present I could wish for because it means I can finally look forward to spending time with my family and friends in the New Year after being on my own for most of the year," she said, according to a statement released by the UK's National Health Service (NHS).

May Parsons, the nurse who administered the historic jab, said she was honored to be involved in the program. "The last few months have been tough for all of us working in the NHS, but now it feels like there is light at the end of the tunnel," she said.

2:29 a.m. ET, December 8, 2020

First Britons receive Covid-19 vaccine, a landmark moment in the pandemic

From CNN's Ivana Kottasová

Margaret Keenan, the first patient in the UK to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine, receives a shot at University Hospital in Coventry, England on Dec. 8.
Margaret Keenan, the first patient in the UK to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine, receives a shot at University Hospital in Coventry, England on Dec. 8. Jacob King/Pool/AP

The United Kingdom has become the first Western nation to begin vaccinating its citizens with a Covid-19 shot outside of clinical trials -- a landmark moment in the coronavirus pandemic.

The first Briton to get the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine -- 90-year-old Margaret Keenan -- received the first of two doses at University Hospital in Coventry, less than a week after the UK became the first country to approve it.

Staggered rollout: The UK has ordered 40 million doses of the vaccine, but only 800,000 shots will be available as part of the first wave that began on Tuesday.

The roll out will be gradual, due to the vast logistical challenges of manufacturing and distributing tens of millions of vaccines. For now, it is available by invitation only for those age 80 and over, care homes staff and frontline health and social care workers. Care home residents were also expected to be prioritized, but the government said last week this won't happen immediately.

Double dose: The vaccine requires two doses administered at least three weeks apart, so Keenan will have to go back for the second dose in three or four weeks' time. Seven to 10 days after the second dose, she should be protected against the virus.

That means the UK will have enough shots to vaccinate roughly a third of the country's population.

The country has also ordered 7 million doses of the Moderna vaccine, which could be approved for emergency use in the UK within the next few weeks.

Read the full story here.

2:18 a.m. ET, December 8, 2020

Japan pledges more than $700 billion to reboot post-Covid-19 economy

From CNN’s Yoko Wakatsuki in Tokyo

Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has pledged over $700 billion for a stimulus package aimed at rebooting the country's coronavirus-hit economy. 

Suga announced during a meeting with his Liberal Democrat party Tuesday that the government would earmark 40 trillion yen ($384 billion) in fiscal spending and a total of 73.6 trillion yen ($707 billion) in overall investments. 

"We have compiled these measures to maintain employment, sustain business and restore the economy, and open a way to achieve new growth in green and digital areas, so as to protect people's lives and livelihoods," Suga said.
1:56 a.m. ET, December 8, 2020

CDC official hopes to be able to speak out more next year and regain public's trust

From CNN's Maggie Fox

National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases Director Nancy Messonnier speaks during a news conference at the Department of Health and Human Services on Jan. 28 in Washington, D.C.
National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases Director Nancy Messonnier speaks during a news conference at the Department of Health and Human Services on Jan. 28 in Washington, D.C. Samuel Corum/Getty Images

A top Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official who has been largely silenced through the pandemic spoke out Monday and said she hopes her agency will be able to communicate more openly next year and regain the public’s trust.

“When I walk into the office at CDC, which I am maybe once a week, there's a pledge on the wall in big letters," the CDC’s Dr. Nancy Messonnier said in a “Fireside Chat” with the Aspen Institute.
"It's the CDC pledge to the American public and one of the things it says is that we base all public health decisions on the highest quality scientific data that is derived openly and objectively, to place the benefit to society above the benefit of our institution."

Messonnier, the director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, has in past disease outbreaks and epidemics been front and center briefing reporters and the public about diseases and the efforts to fight them. She has barely been seen since she last briefed reporters in March.

Asked about this, Messonnier said she hoped that would change.

“What I hope for next year is that CDC and our staff will be able to communicate regularly and consistently across all levels of the government,” she said.
“And that by doing that, by being transparent about the vaccine process, we will be able to regain the trust of the American public, health transparency through the vaccine process will encourage people to get vaccinated.”

Many public health experts have complained that the Trump administration has sidelined the CDC and its usual role in educating the public about disease outbreaks. President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to take the coronavirus pandemic response in a dramatically different direction.

1:31 a.m. ET, December 8, 2020

Coronavirus vaccines will eventually be like getting a flu shot, Azar says

From CNN Health’s Shelby Lin Erdman

Alex Azar, secretary of Health and Human Services, listens during a news conference at the CDC Roybal Campus in Atlanta, on Wednesday, Oct. 21.
Alex Azar, secretary of Health and Human Services, listens during a news conference at the CDC Roybal Campus in Atlanta, on Wednesday, Oct. 21. Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The US federal government’s goal is to make coronavirus vaccines like getting a flu shot, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Monday.

“We distribute over 90 million vaccines a year that are (included in) CDC’s Vaccines for Children program,” Azar said in an interview with Axios.

Azar said the government’s Covid-19 vaccine distribution plan includes “leveraging what works using the familiar names, the Walgreens, CVS, the hospitals, the community health centers that we have.”  

“We want to make this eventually so it's as much like getting your flu vaccine as possible,” he said.
“In terms of vaccine hesitancy, we've seen increasing levels of vaccine confidence even just in the last month,” he added.

Azar predicted vaccine hesitancy will decrease and confidence will increase over time.

“First, the data is so exceptional on these vaccines -- 94% plus efficacy,” he said. “Second, we now have an independent country with an independent regulator on the Pfizer vaccine saying it's safe and effective for use by their people.”

The United Kingdom gave emergency authorization to Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine last week and will begin rolling out the shots Tuesday.

“The American people, that should bring reassurance to them. A highly separate process has also validated this and I've made clear there are five independent checks in the system that we have built to ensure there is no politicization of the vaccine program here,” Azar said.

Azar said he expects a Covid-19 vaccine to be widely available across the US by the second quarter of 2021.

“My expectation is that next year we return to normalcy in our lives, thanks to the incredible work of Operation Warp Speed and these vaccines, as well as the therapeutics,” he said.

1:16 a.m. ET, December 8, 2020

The US is nearing 15 million coronavirus cases

From CNN's Joe Sutton

The United States has reported at least 14,949,299 cases of coronavirus, including at least 283,703 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University's tally of cases. 

On Monday, Johns Hopkins reported 192,299 new cases and 1,404 additional deaths.

The totals include cases from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and other US territories, as well as repatriated cases. 

CNN is tracking US cases:

12:59 a.m. ET, December 8, 2020

Ohio State Rep. John Patterson tests positive for Covid-19

From CNN’s Rebekah Reiss and Joe Sutton 

Ohio State Rep. John Patterson has tested positive for coronavirus, according to a statement from his office obtained by CNN.

Patterson, a Democrat, announced his diagnosis on Monday afternoon:

“Out of deep concern for my colleagues and others, I chose to get tested this morning to confirm my suspicions.
"Yesterday afternoon, I felt chilled, tired and developed a cough. I took a long nap that was ineffective in making me feel much better. I share this news of my positive test this afternoon in the hopes that others will now get a test and quarantine out of an abundance of caution.  
"I have consistently practiced social distancing whenever possible and worn a mask. I was wearing a mask on Thursday during my floor speech at the statehouse for the school funding bill. This virus is serious and we should all treat it as such." 

According to the Ohio House website, Patterson is currently serving in his fourth term in the Ohio House of Representatives. He represents the 99th House District, which includes portions of Ashtabula and Geauga Counties.

12:33 a.m. ET, December 8, 2020

Here's what happens after the first long-awaited vaccine delivery

From CNN Health’s Samira Said

We have heard it said multiple times: Operation Warp Speed will start moving vaccine doses within 24 hours of the Food and Drug Administration granting emergency use authorization, or EUA.

But what happens after that? 

OWS Chief of Plans, Operations and Analysis Deacon Maddox gave a clearer picture Monday of what they expect the process to look like beyond that first delivery of vaccine. 

According to Maddox, if the vaccine is approved Friday, they'll ship Saturday. The following week they will be in constant contact with Pfizer.

“I will put the number into Tiberius, and then we will allocate that, and then we'll adjust the states.” Tiberius is OWS’ IT system for tracking and allocating vaccines. 

“And then we'll do that every week: The manufacturers have up until Thursday night to let us know how much they're going to deliver. Friday morning we'll meet, we'll consider all the information. We'll make a decision, we'll publish the information, we'll allocate, we'll adjust ordering caps, and then states can order the next day, with delivery starting 24 to 48 hours later."

The hope is for a constant flow of vaccine as the manufacturers push it out. To start with, Pfizer has just over 6 million doses. “That's the way that we envisioned this -- a constant flow. Every week, bank on it,” Maddox said.