The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines

By Sarah Faidell, Brad Lendon, Joshua Berlinger, Mary Ilyushina and Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 8:38 a.m. ET, February 19, 2021
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9:16 p.m. ET, February 18, 2021

UK Prime Minister will call on G7 leaders to support 100-day target to create new vaccines

From CNN’s Sarah Dean in London

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits the South Wales Police Headquarters in Bridgend, Wales, on Wednesday.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits the South Wales Police Headquarters in Bridgend, Wales, on Wednesday. Alastair Grant/AP

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will call on world leaders to back a bid to cut the time it takes to develop new vaccines to 100 days, as he chairs the first G7 leaders’ meeting of the UK’s presidency on Friday, Downing Street said in a statement.

Johnson has asked the government’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, to work with international partners, including the World Health Organization and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), to advise the G7 on speeding up the process for developing vaccines, treatments and tests for common pathogens, Downing Street said in a statement.

“The development of a coronavirus vaccine in approximately 300 days was a huge and unprecedented global achievement. By reducing the time to develop new vaccines for emerging diseases even further, we may be able to prevent the catastrophic health, economic and social repercussions seen in this crisis. The 100 day ambition was proposed by CEPI earlier this year,” the statement said.

“Perhaps more than ever, the hopes of the world rest on the shoulders of scientists and over the last year, like countless times before, they have risen to the challenge,” Johnson said in a statement ahead of the meeting.

“The development of viable coronavirus vaccines offers the tantalising prospect of a return to normality, but we must not rest on our laurels. As leaders of the G7 we must say today: never again. 

“By harnessing our collective ingenuity, we can ensure we have the vaccines, treatments and tests to be battle-ready for future health threats, as we beat Covid-19 and build back better together,” he added. 

During the virtual meeting, the UK will also reiterate that it will send the majority of any future surplus vaccines to the COVAX scheme to support developing countries, Downing Street said.

The leaders of the UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the USA and the presidents of the European Council and the EU Commission will meet virtually at 9 a.m. ET on Friday.

6:07 p.m. ET, February 18, 2021

Brazil tops 10 million coronavirus cases

From CNN’s Shasta Darlington and Tatiana Arias

Cemetery workers sit on graves in January during a funeral at the Nossa Senhora Aparecida Cemetery in Manaus, Brazil.
Cemetery workers sit on graves in January during a funeral at the Nossa Senhora Aparecida Cemetery in Manaus, Brazil. Lucas Silva/picture alliance/Getty Images

Brazil surpassed 10 million cases of coronavirus Thursday, according to data from the country’s health ministry.

Brazil reported 51,879 new cases of Covid-19, bringing the country’s total number of cases to 10,030,626.

Additionally, Brazil reported 1,367 new Covid-19 related deaths, bringing the death toll to 243,457.

Brazil has the third-highest number of coronavirus cases after the US and India; it also has the second highest coronavirus-related deaths in the world after the US, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

On Wednesday, Brazil's Butantan Institute kicked off a campaign to vaccinate the entire adult population of Serrana, a city in the southeastern state of Sao Paulo, to test the efficacy of mass vaccination on Covid-19 infection rates. However, vaccine shortages and a recent variant discovered in the Amazon is putting a strain on Brazil's fight against the virus.

Brazil began vaccinating frontline health workers on Jan. 17 with CoronaVac, a vaccine developed by the Chinese pharmaceutical Sinovac in conjunction with Brazilian Butantan Institute. 

5:56 p.m. ET, February 18, 2021

Johnson & Johnson should have results from its two-dose vaccine trial by second half of 2021 

From CNN's Jen Christensen

Pharmacy technician Sara Berech prepares a dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for a clinical trial in Aurora, Colorado, in December.
Pharmacy technician Sara Berech prepares a dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for a clinical trial in Aurora, Colorado, in December. Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

Johnson & Johnson said Thursday that it has more than 21,000 people enrolled in its study to evaluate a two-dose series of its Covid-19 vaccine.

This late-stage trial is complementary to the one it submitted to the US Food and Drug Administration for an emergency authorization of its single-dose regimen. 

This parallel two-dose trial should produce interim data by the second half of 2021, the company said. It is dependent on how much infection is in the community. If there is a lot of disease circulating, the trial could see results sooner. 

The company launched the two-dose trial in November. It plans to enroll 30,000 people worldwide.

The FDA could decide on the authorization of the single dose J&J vaccine in the next couple of weeks. The single-dose vaccine met all primary and key secondary endpoints, the company said. Clinical trial data showed the single vaccine was 66% effective in preventing moderate and severe disease, but 85% effective against severe disease and 100% effective at preventing hospitalizations.

More on the vaccines: Johnson & Johnson’s single dose vaccine has its advantages. Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccine requires two doses. Logistically, a single shot is easier to manage. The J&J vaccine also can be kept at regular refrigerated temperatures, as opposed to the Pfizer vaccine that needs a special deep freezer.  

“A one-dose vaccine is considered by the World Health Organization to be the best option in pandemic settings, enhancing access, distribution and compliance,” a statement emailed by the company Thursday said.

All the vaccine makers are looking into whether booster doses would provide better protection against coronavirus variants, according to Andy Slavitt. The White House’s senior adviser for Covid response told the Washington Post Thursday that Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech “have plans to continue to update their vaccines and if need be, create boosters down the road if there continue to be additional mutants, as there likely will be.” 

4:46 p.m. ET, February 18, 2021

Pfizer-BioNTech will start additional vaccine studies in children as young as 5 soon

From CNN’s Amanda Sealy

Pfizer-BioNTech said they are expecting to start Covid-19 vaccine studies in children aged five to 11 in the next couple of months, according to a company news release.

The companies said they also have plans to study the vaccine in children younger than five later this year.

Pfizer-BioNTech’s current trial – for children aged 12 to 15 – began enrolling participants in October of last year. That trial is now fully enrolled and the companies say “the relevant data are planned to be submitted to the regulatory authorities in the second quarter of 2021.”

Currently, Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine has been granted emergency use authorization by the US Food and Drug Administration for those who are aged 16 and above. There is currently no FDA authorized Covid-19 vaccine for children. 

3:10 p.m. ET, February 18, 2021

Nevada detects state’s first case of Covid-19 variant first identified in South Africa

From CNN’s Artemis Moshtaghian

Health officials in Nevada detected the state’s first known case of the B.1.351 coronavirus variant, first identified in South Africa, in a sample collected in Reno, according to a statement from the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine (UNR Med). 

The Nevada State Public Health Laboratory (NSPHL) located at UNR Med said it first sequenced the specimen on Saturday, and through further analysis of data detected the B.1.351 strain and confirmed it on Wednesday.

The sample came from a person who had traveled from South Africa and became symptomatic after arriving in Reno.

Some more context: The NSPHL has been analyzing positive Covid-19 virus samples for variants since mid-December 2020 through whole genome sequencing, the statement reads.

"Daily sequencing of positive cases is not necessarily the norm,” NSPHL Director Mark Pandori said, adding that, “daily genetic testing will allow us to find cases closer to the time that they arrive, possibly limiting community spread. In this case, the carrier was a traveler from South Africa. So hopefully this is an example of that benefit."  

On Tuesday, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 19 cases of the B.1.351 variant have been identified in 10 states. This doesn’t represent the total number of such cases circulating in the US, but just those that have been found by analyzing positive samples.

 

3:26 p.m. ET, February 18, 2021

About 57.7 million Covid-19 vaccine doses administered in the US

From CNN’s Deidre McPhillips

Carolyn Fowler of the Los Angeles Unified School District receives a Covid-19 vaccine on Wednesday.
Carolyn Fowler of the Los Angeles Unified School District receives a Covid-19 vaccine on Wednesday. Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

About 57.7 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine have been administered in the United States, according to data published Thursday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC reported that 57,737,767 total doses have been administered, about 79% of the 73,377,450 doses distributed.

That’s nearly 1.5 million more administered doses reported since yesterday. The seven-day average of doses administered has been ticking down slightly since Tuesday, from about 1.7 million doses per day to about 1.6 million.

More than 41 million people have now received at least one dose of the vaccine and more than 16 million people have been fully vaccinated, CDC data shows. 

Data published by the CDC may be delayed, and doses may not have been given on the day reported.

3:41 p.m. ET, February 18, 2021

Participants in global Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine trial for pregnant women receive their first doses

From CNN’s Amanda Sealy

A pharmacy technician prepares doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on January 30.
A pharmacy technician prepares doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on January 30. Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

Pfizer-BioNTech announced Thursday that the first participants of its global Covid-19 vaccine trial for pregnant women have received their first doses.

The Phase 2/3 trial will enroll about 4,000 healthy pregnant women age 18 or older, according to a news release from the company. They will be vaccinated during 24 to 34 weeks of gestation and receive two doses of the vaccine or placebo 21 days apart.

The first doses were administered to US participants. The trial will be conducted in nine countries: the United States, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mozambique, South Africa, UK and Spain.

“We are proud to start this study in pregnant women and continue to gather the evidence on safety and efficacy to potentially support the use of the vaccine by important subpopulations,” Dr. William Gruber, Pfizer’s senior vice president of vaccine clinical research and development, said in the release.

The company said the trial is designed to evaluate the vaccine in pregnant women, but also their infants, who will be monitored until they’re about six months old, for safety and for the transfer of potentially protective antibodies. Once an infant is born, Pfizer-BioNTech said trial participants will be unblinded and adults in the placebo group will receive the vaccine.

Currently, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says pregnant people are at increased risk for severe illness from Covid-19, and there’s limited data about the safety of the vaccines for pregnant people. It suggests pregnant patients talk with their doctor to make the decision about whether to be vaccinated against Covid-19.

2:47 p.m. ET, February 18, 2021

Food and packaging highly unlikely to spread Covid-19, US agencies say in reminder

From CNN's Lauren Mascarenhas

Food and food packaging are highly unlikely to spread Covid-19, the US Food and Drug Administration, US Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a reminder Thursday.

“Consumers should be reassured that we continue to believe, based on our understanding of currently available reliable scientific information, and supported by overwhelming international scientific consensus, that the foods they eat and food packaging they touch are highly unlikely to spread SARS-CoV-2,” the FDA wrote in a statement.

The three agencies said they wanted to stress the lack of credible evidence to suggest that food or its packaging are associated with transmission of the virus.

Covid-19 is a respiratory illness spread from person to person, unlike foodborne viruses that can make people sick through contaminated food, the FDA said.

“Given that the number of virus particles that could be theoretically picked up by touching a surface would be very small and the amount needed for infection via oral inhalation would be very high, the chances of infection by touching the surface of food packaging or eating food is considered to be extremely low,” it added.

“Considering the more than 100 million cases of COVID-19, we have not seen epidemiological evidence of food or food packaging as the source of SARS-CoV-2 transmission to humans.”

Chinese officials have repeatedly raised the possibility the virus is spread by packaged frozen foods, but the CDC and World Health Organization have both said this is highly unlikely.

 

2:38 p.m. ET, February 18, 2021

Fauci says minor things can set back vaccine production by months

From CNN's Lauren Mascarenhas

Dr. Anthony Fauci joins President Joe Biden while touring the National Institutes of Health on February 11.
Dr. Anthony Fauci joins President Joe Biden while touring the National Institutes of Health on February 11. Oliver Contreras/Sipa/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Even seemingly minor things can set back vaccine production by months, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said talking about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine supply mix up.                                                       

The US had been expecting between 20 to 30 million Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses by April, but now expects fewer than 20 million by that time. An administration official told CNN on Tuesday that the change was due to a miscommunication. The administration now expects single digit millions of doses to initially be available, if the vaccine is authorized for emergency use.

“The issue is, we would have hoped that we would have gotten more vaccines at the time that they get their emergency use authorization,” Fauci said in an MSNBC interview Thursday.

“It's a really complicated situation, when you're dealing with the production of biologics. Things – minor things – seemingly minor can set you back by weeks or a month or so,” he added. 

Johnson & Johnson is on track to meet its promise of producing 100 million vaccine doses for the US by July, Fauci said.

“We would have hoped that we would have had a lot of vaccines available, but we don't,” he said. “We're going to probably have single digits vaccine available right away, a bit more the next month, and then after that, it'll really scale up so that they will almost certainly meet their contractual arrangement.”

Johnson & Johnson has asked the Federal Drug Administration to authorize its vaccine for emergency use and an independent review of the vaccine is scheduled for Feb. 26.