January 26 coronavirus news

By Ben Westcott, Adam Renton, Lauren Said-Moorhouse and Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, January 27, 2021
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9:24 p.m. ET, January 26, 2021

Pharmacist signs plea agreement after vaccines removed from cold storage, left to spoil

From CNN's Raja Razek

Pharmacist Steven Brandenburg appears in court on Wednesday, January 20.
Pharmacist Steven Brandenburg appears in court on Wednesday, January 20. WTMJ

A pharmacist in Wisconsin has signed a plea deal acknowledging he was guilty of trying to render hundreds of Covid-19 doses ineffective, according to the Department of Justice of the Eastern District of Wisconsin. 

Steven Brandenburg removed 57 vials of the Moderna vaccine from cold storage on December 24 and 25, knowing that it would render them unusable, according to police statements. His actions destroyed all 57 vials; each vial contained 10 individual doses of the vaccine for a total of 570 doses.

"Brandenburg is charged by an Information with two counts of attempting to tamper with consumer products, with reckless disregard for the risk that another person will be placed in danger of death or bodily injury. Brandenburg has agreed to plead guilty to the charges, which each carry a maximum sentence of ten years' imprisonment," read the news release from the Department of Justice.

United States Attorney Matthew D. Krueger said the charges show that the Justice Department will pursue anyone who tampers with the vaccine, and especially any medical professional. 

"Tampering with vaccine doses in the midst of a global health crisis calls for a strong response, as reflected by the serious charges the United States has brought today," said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian Boynton of the Department of Justice's Civil Division.

"The claims made in the Information are allegations that, if the case were to proceed to trial, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt to convict the defendant. The plea agreement expresses the defendant's intention to plead guilty, but the defendant has not yet formally entered a plea in this matter," read the release.

8:49 p.m. ET, January 26, 2021

Business exec and his wife charged after flying to remote Canadian town to get Covid-19 vaccine, officials say

From CNN's Madeline Holcombe and Rebekah Riess

The former president and CEO of the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation and his wife are facing charges -- including failure to self-isolate -- after allegedly chartering a plane to a small town in western Canada and posing as local workers to receive the coronavirus vaccine.

Rodney and Ekaterina Baker have been charged under Yukon's Civil Emergency Measures Act (CEMA), according to court documents.

Yukon Community Services Minister John Streicker said the couple showed up at a mobile clinic last Thursday in Beaver Creek, home to an indigenous community.

One of them presented a British Columbia health care card, the other had one from Ontario, Streicker said in a statement.

The Bakers weren't charged for getting the vaccine. Rather, they were accused of not following quarantine requirements after arriving in the Canadian territory.

According to a charging document, the Bakers are from Vancouver, British Columbia, southeast of the Yukon territory.

"I am outraged by this selfish behaviour, and find it disturbing that people would choose to put fellow Canadians at risk in this manner," Streicker said. "Reports allege these individuals were deceptive and violated emergency measures for their own advantage, which is completely unacceptable at any time, but especially during a public health crisis."

CNN was unable Tuesday to reach the Bakers for comment.

Read the full story:

7:23 p.m. ET, January 26, 2021

Washington state governor says promise of more doses is critical to Covid-19 vaccination goal

From CNN’s Andy Rose

Pool
Pool

Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee confirmed Tuesday that states were told to expect an increase in Covid-19 vaccine doses starting next week.

“Having a 16% increase is really great news,” said Inslee. “It’s also great news that they’re giving us certainty of those deliveries, because our providers have been bedeviled with uncertainty and unpredictability of the delivery schedules.”

The state of Washington topped 500,000 total vaccine doses on Monday, and Inslee said they are on their way to meeting the larger goal of vaccinating an average of 45,000 people per day.

“These measures are working,” the governor said. “We certainly have a long way to go, but we have made very significant progress in the past week.”

7:03 p.m. ET, January 26, 2021

Several hundred White House officials have been vaccinated

From CNN's Jeff Zeleny and Kaitlan Collins

Several hundred White House employees have now been vaccinated, two administration officials tell CNN, with more expected in the coming weeks.

Most officials who have received vaccinations work for the Executive Office of the President, meaning they operate inside the White House complex, either in the West Wing or Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door. Dozens of staffers are still working remotely but the White House is prioritizing vaccinations for people who work on site and aims to eventually vaccinate all in-person staff, an official told CNN.

Even with the vaccinations, White House officials are still wearing masks when on the grounds and many are working from home or participating in virtual meetings from their offices. 

The staffers, including those who have been working remotely, came to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building today for their first vaccinations.

6:53 p.m. ET, January 26, 2021

Pfizer says it's "laying the groundwork" for vaccine booster against variants

From CNN's Amanda Sealy

Pfizer said Tuesday it’s “laying the groundwork” to create a vaccine booster that could respond to coronavirus variants. 

“We should not be frightened, but I think we need to be prepared,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said during the Bloomberg The Year Ahead event Tuesday. “Once we discover something that it is not as effective, we will very, very quickly produce a booster dose that will be a small variation to the current one.” 

Bourla said the company had discussed variants in the past and created a process to help it adapt quickly.

“We were working on a process that will allow us to do the development very fast,” Bourla said. “Now already we have started implementing this process.” 

In a statement to CNN on Tuesday, Pfizer emphasized that the process is to respond, “if a variant of SARS-CoV-2 shows evidence of escaping immunity by our vaccine.” 

“However, the studies needed to evaluate a vaccine that encodes an updated viral antigen have yet to be determined, in agreement with regulators. We will need to generate data that gives confidence that any updated vaccine is safe and effective. The updated vaccine to be administered as a booster would be subject to regulatory approval or authorization,” the statement said.

Last week, Ugur Sahin, who helped invent the BioNTech vaccine being made and distributed by Pfizer, tested his vaccine against the B.1.1.7 variant first seen in the UK. The team found “no biologically significant difference in neutralization activity,” they reported in a pre-print report. But they said it would be “prudent” to start tweaking the vaccine, just in case.

Vaccine maker Moderna announced on Monday two doses of its vaccine are expected to be protective against emerging strains of coronavirus detected so far, but out of an abundance of caution, it planned to test booster shots.

6:24 p.m. ET, January 26, 2021

New York governor blames Trump for vaccine shortage

From CNN's Josiah Ryan

CNN
CNN

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo responded with relief today to President Biden's announcement that he would purchase 200 million more doses of Covid-19 vaccines, welcoming a "competent" federal response.

"You have a competent, professional, federal government that tells the truth," said the New York Democrat. "That's the truth and that's competence and that's taking responsibility."

Cuomo went on to argue that a number of missteps by the Trump administration had lead to confusion in the Empire State and the general mishandling of the federal response had cost lives. 

"By the federal guidelines 7 million people [in New York] are eligible for the vaccine, but I only get 250,000 dosages," Cuomo told CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "So they told 7 million New Yorkers, 'you're eligible, but it would take seven months for you to get the vaccine.'" 

"That's just madness," continued Cuomo. "...Look, incompetent government can kill people. This is not a joke. And more people died here than needed to."

6:17 p.m. ET, January 26, 2021

AstraZeneca will speak Wednesday at emergency meeting of CDC advisers 

From CNN's Michael Nedelman

 A staff member holds a dose of the Oxford/Astrazeneca coronavirus vaccine at a coronavirus vaccination clinic at the NHS Nightingale Hospital North East in Sunderland, England, on Tuesday, January 26.
A staff member holds a dose of the Oxford/Astrazeneca coronavirus vaccine at a coronavirus vaccination clinic at the NHS Nightingale Hospital North East in Sunderland, England, on Tuesday, January 26. Owen Humphreys/PA Wire/AP Images

Vaccine maker AstraZeneca has confirmed to CNN that a representative of the company will speak Wednesday at an emergency meeting of advisers to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

CNN previously reported the upcoming meeting agenda lists an unspecified “COVID-19 Vaccine Manufacturer” in attendance.

An AstraZeneca spokesperson did not share further details on what its representative plans to discuss.

The CDC advisory group — known as the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) — will address a number of topics over the daylong meeting, including progress in administering vaccine doses, safety of the vaccines, testing of the vaccines in children and studies on the effectiveness of the vaccine.

ACIP members are not expected to vote during the meeting, said a CDC spokesperson previously.

AstraZeneca’s vaccine has not been authorized for emergency use in the United States, but it has in other countries such as the UK and India. In September, its trial was put on pause in the US after a trial volunteer in the UK developed neurological symptoms. The trial resumed in the US about six weeks later, after a review by the US Food and Drug Administration concluded it was safe to do so.

5:08 p.m. ET, January 26, 2021

Biden announces purchase of 200 million more doses of Moderna and Pfizer coronavirus vaccines

From CNN’s Maggie Fox

Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

President Biden announced Tuesday that the US is buying 200 million more doses of coronavirus vaccines, and hopes to have them by summer as part of a package of measures aimed at speeding up and increasing vaccine supply for the US.

The US plans to buy 100 million more doses from Pfizer/BioNTech and 100 million more from Moderna, he said.

That’s a 50% increase in the order for each vaccine, increasing the planned supply from 400 million to 600 million, Biden said.

Pfizer and Moderna are working to step up production.

Biden added the additional vaccine supply will be enough to vaccinate 300 million Americans by end of the summer and beginning of the fall.

4:58 p.m. ET, January 26, 2021

Biden administration announces increase in coronavirus vaccine supply to states

From CNN's Maggie Fox

Aclinical pharmacist with Seattle Indian Health Board prepares to administer a shot of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on December 21, 2020 in Seattle, Washington.
Aclinical pharmacist with Seattle Indian Health Board prepares to administer a shot of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on December 21, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. Karen Ducey/Getty Images/FILE

The Biden administration announced Tuesday an increase in vaccine supply to states.

"First, after review of the current vaccine supply and manufacturing plants, I can announce that we will increase overall weekly vaccination distributions of states, tribes and territories from 8.6 million doses to a minimum of 10 million doses," President Biden said in remarks Tuesday.

"Starting next week. That's an increase of 1.4 million doses per week... You all know that vaccines were distributed to states based on population, based on population. The smaller the state, the less vaccine. The bigger the state, the more they get. And so this is going to allow millions of more Americans to get vaccinated sooner than previously anticipated. We've got a long way to go, though," he added.

States have been saying they don’t have enough vaccine, and many have also said they have been getting confusing information about how much vaccine they are getting and when from the federal government.

The official said the government plans to try to fix this. “And to give state and local leaders the transparency of supply they’ve been asking for, HHS will provide allocation estimates three weeks in advance and the estimates will be updated on a running basis so every state has at least three weeks’ notice to help them plan for their vaccination distribution and administrations,” a senior administration official said.

This does not include any extra vaccines that might win emergency use authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration. The FDA has granted EUA to two vaccines – one made by Moderna and one by Pfizer with its partner BioNTech. Johnson & Johnson is working on a vaccine and expects to report its results from clinical trials within weeks.

“We are obviously hopeful that there will be an additional source of supply. If that is the case, you can be sure we will be taking advantage of that,” the official said.