The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines

By Ben Westcott, Melissa Macaya, Meg Wagner, Veronica Rocha and Fernando Alfonso, CNN

Updated 10:19 p.m. ET, February 26, 2021
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2:53 p.m. ET, February 26, 2021

Here's what action is expected today on the latest US Covid-19 stimulus bill 

From CNN's Clare Foran, Lauren Fox and Annie Grayer

The House of Representatives is expected to vote Friday evening to approve President Biden's $1.9 trillion pandemic aid package, a major step toward enacting the first legislative priority of the new administration as the devastating fallout from the spread of Covid-19 has left Americans in dire need of further relief.

The package advanced by House Democrats includes direct aid to small businesses, $1,400 direct checks to Americans making less than $75,000 annually, an increase in the child tax credit, direct funding to state and local governments, funding for schools and more money for vaccine distribution.

It is expected to pass on a party line vote as House Republicans have urged their members to vote against the package and are seeking to limit defections.

Republicans have argued that the legislation overreaches and serves as a liberal wish list of agenda items and complain that they have been locked out of the process for crafting the measure.

Democrats counter that they are willing to work with Republicans, but will not water down the plan and say they have a mandate to take sweeping action to address the pandemic now that they control Congress and the White House.

What happens next: If the bill passes in the House, it will then be up to the Senate, which is using the reconciliation process. The process allows lawmakers to bypass the 60-vote threshold typically required for breaking filibusters and moving legislation forward. Whatever version the Senate approves would also have to pass through the House.

Current expanded unemployment benefits run out March 14. That's the date by which Democrats have said they must have the Covid relief bill passed into law.

"We are on track to get this bill done and get it on the President's desk before the expiration of the enhanced unemployment benefits, which is March 14," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Wednesday.

See full breakdown of what's in the most recent bill proposed in the House is here.

CNN's Zachary B. Wolf contributed reporting to this post.

2:03 p.m. ET, February 26, 2021

About 70.5 million Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered in the US

From CNN's Deidre McPhillips

Mario Tama/Getty Images
Mario Tama/Getty Images

About 70.5 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine have been administered in the United States, according to data published Friday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The CDC reported that 70,454,064 total doses have been administered, about 75% of the 94,300,910 doses delivered. 

That’s about 2.2 million more administered doses reported since yesterday, for a seven-day average of nearly 1.6 million doses per day. 

More than 14% of the US population – more than 47 million people – have now received at least one dose of vaccine and nearly 7% of the population – about 22.6 million people – have been fully vaccinated with both shots, CDC data shows. 

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

1:52 p.m. ET, February 26, 2021

Nigeria expects to receive 4 million vaccine doses next week, WHO official says

From CNN’s Martin Goillandeau

Nigeria expects to receive its first 4 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines next week from the global COVAX vaccine program, said Walter Kazadi Mulombo, the World Health Organization representative in Nigeria.

Mulombo on Friday added that Nigeria was expecting 14 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in total.

“WHO more recently supported the country to develop its vaccine deployment and vaccination plan for Covid-19," Mulombo told journalists in a virtual briefing. "It has been used to secure through the COVAX Facility close to 14 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and four million of which are expected next week."

The situation in Nigeria was so far much better than had been widely predicted early in the outbreak, said Chikwe Ihekweazu, director general of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.

"The whole world expected the continent of Africa, and Nigeria with our social and economic realities, to basically fall apart," Ihekweazu said. "Getting the vaccine into Nigeria will serve the continent well, will serve the world well."

Nigeria, Africa's most populous country with some 200 million people, has reported fewer than 1,900 Covid-19 deaths so far, according to government data.

The COVAX initiative is led jointly by WHO, Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and UNICEF, which is leading vaccine procurement and delivery operations. So far this week, the COVAX initiative has delivered vaccines to Ghana and Ivory Coast. 

1:32 p.m. ET, February 26, 2021

Canada's health department authorizes AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine for use

From CNN's Ashley Ahn

Health Canada announced Friday it has authorized AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccines for use.

The authorization of the AstraZeneca vaccine developed with Oxford University and the Serum Institute of India’s version of the AstraZeneca vaccine introduce the first viral vector-based Covid-19 vaccines, and the third and fourth authorized Covid-19 vaccines in Canada. 

The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines are already authorized for use in Canada.

Health Canada received an application for authorization from AstraZeneca on Oct. 1 and Serum Institute of India on Jan. 23. The authorization of the Serum Institute of India’s vaccine depended on the clinical trial results’ comparability to that of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, Supriya Sharma, Health Canada’s chief medical adviser, said at a news conference Friday. 

Health Canada, which has been reviewing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine since Nov. 30, is expecting additional information from Janssen Pharmaceuticals, specifically on manufacturing, later today, she said.

“[An authorization of the J&J vaccine] can go quite quickly if that information is all in order,” Sharma responded when asked if an authorization from Health Canada will promptly follow the US Food and Drug Administration’s anticipated emergency use authorization. 

The Novavax Covid-19 vaccine, which was submitted for review on Jan. 29, is currently undergoing a Phase 3 clinical trial, Sharma said. Health Canada expects the results from the trial at the beginning of April.  

“We are expecting to reach a regulatory decision on these vaccines on a similar timeline to other international regulators, such as the US Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency,” Sharma said. “This is all very promising news.” 

 

1:28 p.m. ET, February 26, 2021

Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine "checks nearly all the boxes" needed for pandemic, expert says

From CNN's Maggie Fox

A health care worker fills a syringe from a vial with a dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine against the COVID-19 coronavirus as South Africa proceeds with its inoculation campaign at the Klerksdorp Hospital on February 18.
A health care worker fills a syringe from a vial with a dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine against the COVID-19 coronavirus as South Africa proceeds with its inoculation campaign at the Klerksdorp Hospital on February 18. Phill Magakoe/AFP/Getty Images

Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine “checks nearly all the boxes” on a list of what’s needed in a coronavirus vaccine, Dr. Greg Poland, head of the Mayo Clinic's Vaccine Research Group, said Friday.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is safe and effective, and has the advantage of being a single-dose vaccine that has no special storage requirements, Poland told a meeting of vaccine advisers to the US Food and Drug Administration.

“We need a vaccine that can be quickly mass produced,” Poland said. “We’d want to see a reasonable duration of efficacy and protection. 

“The Janssen vaccine candidate checks nearly all the boxes.” 

The FDA’s Vaccine and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) is meeting to discuss the vaccine and will vote later Friday on whether to recommend FDA emergency use authorization. The FDA almost always follows the committee’s recommendations.

“There are only three ways the pandemic can be controlled,” Poland told the committee. “First is a hard lockdown,” with universal masking and social distancing, he said. “Second, the virus mutates to be less transmissible,” he added – but noted that more transmissible variants are already emerging and spreading.

Third is vaccination. “Vaccines are our primary weapons in countering and controlling this threat,” Poland said.

He noted the vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen division was studied in multiple countries when the virus was spreading fast – and when new variants were circulating.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which, if authorized, would be the third to be OK’d for the US, provided 85% protection against severe disease and the need for hospitalized in advanced, Phase 3 clinical trials.

1:21 p.m. ET, February 26, 2021

Go There: CNN answers your questions at a mass Covid-19 vaccination site in Chicago

As the US continues its push to get its entire population vaccinated, mass vaccination sites are opening across the country.

CNN correspondent Adrienne Broaddus was on the ground at a mass vaccination center opened up in Chicago, answering your questions about the vaccine rollout.

Watch more:

12:32 p.m. ET, February 26, 2021

Declines in US Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations are stalling, CDC director warns

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard and Nicholas Neville

There is concern around a recent stall in the decline of Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations in the United States — which appears now to be "leveling off," Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned during a White House briefing on Friday. 

"Over the last few weeks, cases and hospital admissions in the United States have been coming down since early January and deaths had been declining in the past week," Walensky said. "But the latest data suggest that these declines may be stalling, potentially leveling off at still a very high number. We at CDC consider this a very concerning shift in the trajectory."

The most recent seven-day average of cases — about 66,350 — is higher than the average reported on Wednesday, Walensky said, adding "it is important to remember where we are in the pandemic. Things are tenuous."

Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Biden, said during Friday's briefing that the United States "has to be careful" when it comes to the spread of disease. 

"The point that Dr. Walensky made is critical," Fauci said. "If we plateau at 70,000, we are at that very precarious position that we were right before the fall surge, where anything that could perturb that could give us another surge."

12:28 p.m. ET, February 26, 2021

US "may now be seeing the beginning effects of these variants," CDC head warns

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard and Nicholas Neville

Dr. Rochelle Walensky speaks during a news conference in Wilmington, Delaware, on December 08, 2020.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky speaks during a news conference in Wilmington, Delaware, on December 08, 2020. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A recent increase in Covid-19 cases in the United States might be the "beginning effects" of the spread of coronavirus variants, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned during a White House briefing on Friday.

"CDC has been sounding the alarm about the continued spread of variants in the United States, predicting that variants, such as the B.1.1.7 variant, which is thought to be about 50% more transmissible than the wild type strain, would become the predominant variant of Covid-19 by mid-March. We may now be seeing the beginning effects of these variants in the most recent data," Walensky said during the briefing.

"Our estimates now indicate that B.1.1.7 accounts for approximately 10% of cases in the United States, up from 1% to 4% a few weeks ago and prevalence is even higher in certain areas of the country," Walensky added. "Earlier this week, new research came out about additional emerging variants in New York, the B.1.526 variant, and in California, the B.1.427 variant, that also appear to spread more easily and are contributing to a large fraction of current infections in those areas, adding urgency to the situation."

Walensky said that Covid-19 cases have been increasing for the past three days in the United States compared to the prior week. While deaths tend to fluctuate more than cases and hospital admissions, the most recent seven-day average — about 2,000 per day — is slightly higher than the average earlier in the week.

Overall, the number of new US Covid-19 cases is beginning to plateau after several weeks of sharp drops, even as hospitalizations and deaths continue to fall.

 

11:48 a.m. ET, February 26, 2021

White House launches new federal Covid-19 vaccination sites in North Carolina and Illinois

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard and Nicholas Neville

The White House on Friday announced the launch of two new federal Covid-19 vaccination sites — one in North Carolina and the other in Illinois.

"Starting in two weeks, the United Center in Chicago will be used to vaccinate up to 6,000 people per day. And in North Carolina, a new site in Greensboro will have the capacity to vaccinate 3,000 people per day," Andy Slavitt, the White House senior adviser for the Covid-19 Response Team, announced during a briefing on Friday. 

"The goal is to launch vaccination sites that use processes and are in locations that promote equity, deploying the CDC's social vulnerability index," Slavitt said.

Slavitt added that the locations for the sites were based on data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Federal Emergency Management Agency  in an effort to target those who are most vulnerable to Covid-19.

Since Jan. 20, the administration has supported the establishment or expansion of 441 community vaccination centers across 37 states, territories and Washington, DC, Slavitt said on Friday.

 "Over the past month, we've provided 171 sites with federal personnel. We've deployed nearly 3,500 total personnel nationwide to support vaccination operations," Slavitt said. "One hundred and seventy-seven sites have received federal funding and at the President's direction, FEMA is reimbursing 100% of costs for vaccination operations."

Slavitt added that President Biden is visiting a federally established community vaccination site today in Houston.