January 15 coronavirus news

By Julia Hollingsworth, Adam Renton, Melissa Mahtani, Melissa Macaya and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 12:57 a.m. ET, January 16, 2021
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12:57 p.m. ET, January 15, 2021

Despite administration pledge, there appear to be no more "reserve" second vaccine doses to release

From CNN's Kristen Holmes and Sara Murray

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar speaks during a news conference on Operation Warp Speed and COVID-19 vaccine distribution on January 12 in Washington, DC.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar speaks during a news conference on Operation Warp Speed and COVID-19 vaccine distribution on January 12 in Washington, DC. Patrick Semansky/Pool/AP

Hopes of a surge in Covid-19 vaccine shipments under a new policy to release second doses held in reserve appear to be evaporating — with the revelation that those doses have already been distributed.

A senior Trump administration official told CNN Friday that when the administration announced that it would be releasing reserved doses last week, many of those reserves had already been released into the system starting last year as production was ramping up. 

The revelation seems to contradict what US Health and Human Services secretary announced on Jan. 12 at an Operation Warp Speed briefing, where he said the administration would be “releasing the entire supply for order by states, rather than holding second doses in reserve.”

The official who spoke with CNN pushed back on a report that the second-dose supply was "exhausted," instead characterizing the reserve as a rolling and replenished supply with new production.

The source emphasized that the supply would still benefit from those extra doses already in circulation — but acknowledged that this means there will not be a sudden surge in distribution numbers, as many had been led to believe. 

Michael J. Pratt, the chief communications officer for Operation Warp Speed, also denied the notion the reserve was “exhausted” in a statement to CNN. 

“This week, nearly 13 million total doses have been provided to states to order, millions more than other weeks, as the reserve of second doses is completely made available to order against, Pratt said. “States have yet to fully order against their ordering caps. As stated this week, we have now moved to the phase where the full amount released to OWS is being made available to order, first to cover second doses, second to provide additional first doses.” 

The news shocked and angered officials in at least one state.

“I am demanding answers from the Trump Administration. I am shocked and appalled that they have set an expectation on which they could not deliver, with such grave consequences,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown tweeted Friday. “This is a deception on a national scale. Oregon’s seniors, teachers, all of us, were depending on the promise of Oregon’s share of the federal reserve of vaccines being released to us.”

Oregon's health director wrote a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar Thursday, demanding he reconcile his statement last week about "releasing the entire supply" with this revelation.

CNN obtained a letter written by Oregon Health Director Patrick Allen, in which he recounted a call with Brown and Operation Warp Speed Chief Operating Officer Gen. Gustave Perna on Thursday. 

"During that call, he informed us there is no reserve of doses, and we are already receiving the full allocation of vaccines," Allen wrote. "If true, this is extremely disturbing, and puts our plans to expand eligibility at grave risk. Those plans were made on the basis of reliance on your statement about ‘releasing the entire supply’ you have in reserve. If this information is accurate, we will be unable to begin vaccinating our vulnerable seniors on January 23rd, as planned."

CNN also contacted vaccine manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna, as well as Moderna’s distribution partner McKesson and did not get a response. 

The revelation that second doses weren't strictly held in reserve was first reported by The Washington Post, which also reported that the Trump administration shifted its strategy to begin tapping into second doses late last year.

“We are hearing there is not a stockpile of vaccine for second dose but that it was more of a ‘paper exercise,’” said Dr. Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer for the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. “The stockpile appears to be all on paper, they were tracking anticipated need but not actually holding back product.”

The bottom line, Plescia said, is vaccine will remain scare for at least a few more weeks. 

“I think the original message got lost in a lot of overpromising,” Plescia said. “Until there is a more robust supply we need to be clear with the public that opportunity to get the vaccine is limited.”

CNN’s Jacqueline Howard, Nadia Kounang and John Bonifield contributed to this report.

12:49 p.m. ET, January 15, 2021

UK announces closure of all travel corridors starting Monday

From CNN's Amy Cassidy and Duarte Mendonca

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a virtual press conference at 10 Downing Street in London on January 15.
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a virtual press conference at 10 Downing Street in London on January 15. Dominic Lipinski/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

The United Kingdom will close all travel corridors from 4 a.m. local time Monday, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Friday.

Speaking at a news conference, Johnson stressed the only way to get into the country is by having a negative coronavirus test result.

"This means that if you come to this country, you must have proof of a negative Covid test that you've taken in the 72 hours before leaving. And you must have filled in your passenger locator form, and your airline will ask for proof of both before you take off," Johnson said.

"You may also be checked when you land and face substantial fines for refusing to comply, and upon arrival, you must then quarantine for 10 days, not leaving your home for any reason at all. Or take another test on day five and wait for proof of another negative result and we will be stepping up our enforcement, both at the border and in the country," Johnson added.

12:57 p.m. ET, January 15, 2021

Pfizer reassures European commission that all guaranteed doses "will be delivered in the first quarter"

From CNN’s James Frater and Duarte Mendonca

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gives a press statement in Brussels on December 21, 2020.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gives a press statement in Brussels on December 21, 2020. Johanna Geron/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has been briefed and reassured by Pfizer's CEO that "all guaranteed doses of the first quarter will be delivered in the first quarter," she said Friday.

In a statement released to CNN, Leyen said she "immediately called the CEO of Pfizer, and he explained that there is a production delay in the next weeks," but reiterated that Pfizer would deliver the vaccines as agreed.

"He's personally on the case in reducing the delay period, and to make sure that they will catch up as soon as possible. That was very important to convey the message to him that we urgently need the guaranteed doses within the first quarter," Leyen concluded.

Earlier Friday Pfizer announced shipments from its vaccine facility in Puurs, Belgium, will be temporarily reduced as it scales up to produce two billion Covid-19 vaccine doses in 2021. 

The company said that in order to increase capacity to reach two billion, changes are needed to the process and facility, and additional regulatory approvals will be required. 

12:16 p.m. ET, January 15, 2021

Canada responds to Pfizer vaccine shipping delays

From CNN's Paula Newton

Canada’s procurement minister called it "unfortunate" that Pfizer vaccine shipments would be delayed noting, "such delays and issues are to be expected when global supply chains are stretched well beyond their limits."

This comes as CNN reports Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine shipments will be temporarily reduced outside the US as manufacturing scales up.

Specifically Pfizer said on Friday that shipments from its vaccine facility in Puurs, Belgium, will be temporarily reduced as it scales up to produce two billion Covid-19 vaccine doses in 2021.  

Canadian procurement minister Anita Anand says that she believes Canada, by the end of March, "will be able to catch up such that we will be on track with the total committed doses for Q1."

Speaking at a news conference Friday, Anand said:

"I understand from my discussions with Pfizer that all countries that are receiving doses from Pfizer’s European facility will be equitably treated in terms of the reductions." 
"Pfizer believes that by the end of March we will be able to catch up, such that we will be on track with the total committed doses for Q1. This is unfortunate, however such delays and issues are to be expected when global supply chains are stretched well beyond their limits."

Anand said Pfizer will have some "temporary" delays at some production lines at its facility in Puurs, Belgium, so that they could further expand manufacturing capacity.

12:10 p.m. ET, January 15, 2021

Pfizer will temporarily reduce Covid-19 vaccine shipments as manufacturing scales up

From CNN’s Amanda Sealy

Workers unload containers carrying a shipment of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Benito Juarez International Airport in Mexico City on December 26, 2020.
Workers unload containers carrying a shipment of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Benito Juarez International Airport in Mexico City on December 26, 2020. Pedro Pardo/AFP/Getty Images

Pfizer said shipments from its vaccine facility in Puurs, Belgium, will be temporarily reduced as it scales up to produce two billion Covid-19 vaccine doses in 2021. 

The company said that in order to increase capacity to reach two billion, changes are needed to the process and facility, and additional regulatory approvals will be required. 

There will be fluctuations in orders and shipping scheduled from Pfizer’s facility in Puurs, Belgium, in late January and early February. The facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan, which supplies the United States, will not be impacted. 

"As part of the normal productivity improvements to increase capacity, we must make modifications to the process and facility that will require additional regulatory approvals. Although this will temporarily impact shipments in late January to early February, it will provide a significant increase in doses available for patients in late February and March," the company said in a statement released Friday. 

On Tuesday Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said he was confident the company would be able to produce two billion doses in 2021, but noted the manufacturing challenges.

"You know, it's almost equally difficult to scale up manufacturing at that level so fast as it was to develop the vaccine and both teams can to rise to the occasion," Bourla said. 

The company also said previously that because each vial can yield six doses rather than the expected five, it provides an additional 20% capacity. 

12:03 p.m. ET, January 15, 2021

Biden administration will retire "Operation Warp Speed" moniker

From CNN’s Dan Merica

US President-elect Joe Biden speaks before announcing his team tasked with dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic at The Queen in Wilmington, Delaware, on December 8, 2020.
US President-elect Joe Biden speaks before announcing his team tasked with dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic at The Queen in Wilmington, Delaware, on December 8, 2020. Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

The incoming Biden administration plans to retire the name for the coronavirus vaccine effort under President Trump – Operation Warp Speed – with a transition official for the incoming president telling CNN they are "moving to a new phase" of the coronavirus response.

"Operation Warp Speed was the Trump administration’s name for their response. We are structuring it differently and ours will have a new name," said an official, who added that many of the "people who are working for Warp Speed who were critical to that operation will be critical to our response, too."

Newly-appointed Dr. David Kessler will be part of that response, working as the chief scientific officer of the Covid-19 response out of the US Department of Health and Human Services under secretary-designee Xavier Becerra, the official said. His role will focus primarily on maximizing the supply of vaccines that are authorized or approved, and getting other vaccines online.

The process of getting shots in arms will be run out of the White House and the team led by Jeff Zients, the official said.

Gen. Gustave Perna, who is currently the chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, will stay on in the Biden administration, the official said, but under its "new structure."

12:17 p.m. ET, January 15, 2021

Germany, Norway and Denmark react to Pfizer announcement temporarily limiting Covid-19 vaccine deliveries

From CNN’s Nadine Schmidt, James Frater and Chris Liakos

Medical staff in Magdeburg, Germany, check a delivery of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine on January 8.
Medical staff in Magdeburg, Germany, check a delivery of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine on January 8. Ronny Hartmann/AFP/Getty Images

Germany's Health Ministry said the country's federal and state governments ''noted with regret'' the ''very short notice and unexpected announcement by the [European] Commission and Pfizer'' to limit coronavirus vaccine deliveries temporarily due to modifications at the Puurs Pfizer plant in Belgium. 

He made the comments in a statement issued Friday, saying,

"This is all the more so because the company had promised binding delivery dates until mid-February.

The German federal and state governments expect the EU Commission to provide clarity and certainty for further deliveries and delivery dates as quickly as possible in the negotiations with Pfizer.

In any case, it has been promised that the quantities announced for the first quarter will be delivered in full in the first quarter,” the statement concluded. 

Nations across the EU are beginning to respond to the changes.

Norway’s Director of Infection Prevention and Control at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Geir Bukholm, said in a statement: "For Norway, this means that in week 3 we will receive 7,800 fewer doses than Pfizer had previously reported." 

"We were notified just before 10 a.m. [local] today. We were predicted to receive 43,875 vaccine doses from Pfizer in week 3. Now it looks like we will receive 36,075 doses. We have not yet sent out what we have kept in readiness for such cases and are now able to compensate for this reduction in deliveries with the emergency stockpile we have in Norway. Our current stockpile will be able to compensate for a reduction in the planned deliveries for a few weeks ahead, should the need arise," Bukholm added.

Denmark's Statens Serum Institute also said that they have been told they will receive fewer vaccines.

"The pharmaceutical company Pfizer has today announced that it will deliver fewer covid-19 vaccines to Europe than planned in the coming weeks. It will also affect Pfizer's deliveries to Denmark. How much, however, is not yet known," the statement said. Denmark should have received 59,475 doses of covid-19 vaccine in week 3, it added.

The Institute said it was notified on Friday morning that the change is due to a restructuring in production with a view to increasing capacity in the long term. Pfizer has indicated that they expect to have delivered the promised number of doses by the end of March 2021, the Danish statement said. 

"We are in ongoing dialogue with Pfizer about what it will actually mean for deliveries to Denmark, but we expect that this will mean that in the coming time we can vaccinate fewer than first assumed," director of Statens Serum Henrik Ullum Institute said.

11:16 a.m. ET, January 15, 2021

New York City reports 8.7% Covid-19 positivity rate

From CNN's Kristina Sgueglia

New York City added 4,650 confirmed and probable cases of Covid-19 and reported an 8.7% positivity rate on a seven-day average, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday.

The city also added 286 new hospitalizations, the mayor tweeted

"Double down on what works this weekend," he added 
"Stay home if you feel sick, avoid large gatherings, practice social distancing, and wear a mask."

Remember: Positivity rate is the percentage of people who test positive for the virus of those overall who have been tested. So, as more and more people are being tested, the focus is shifting to the positivity rate —how many of those tested are actually infected.

11:25 a.m. ET, January 15, 2021

Coronavirus numbers are abysmal in the US. Here's what's fueling the surge.

From CNN's Holly Yan.

Health care workers tend to a patient with Covid-19 who is having difficulty breathing at Providence St. Mary Medical Center in Apple Valley, California, on January 11.
Health care workers tend to a patient with Covid-19 who is having difficulty breathing at Providence St. Mary Medical Center in Apple Valley, California, on January 11. Ariana Drehsler/AFP/Getty Images

Despite hopes of widespread vaccinations this year, experts warned the start of 2021 would be a very rough time in this pandemic.

It turns out the first two weeks have been abysmal: The US has shattered hospitalization, death and daily case records.

Why is this happening? People are letting their guard down due to pandemic fatigue. And many of those who are sick of taking precautions are getting sick.

Now that the weather is colder, more people are socializing indoors. And the coronavirus primarily spreads during close contact with others through respiratory droplets — produced when someone talks, coughs, sings or even breathes.

Socializing indoors with anyone outside your bubble – even just one friend – is risky. Gathering with multiple friends indoors can be dangerous.

"If you go to a party with five or more people, almost certainly there's going to be somebody with Covid-19 at that party," said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

One reason why the coronavirus spreads so easily is because people can be contagious without knowing they're infected – and can pass along the virus without looking or feeling sick.

The CDC estimates more than 50% of all infections are transmitted from people who aren't showing symptoms.

And just like doctors predicted, holiday travel and gatherings have triggered new waves of infections, hospitalizations and deaths across the country.

Fallout from the holidays could still ripple across the United States for weeks to come.