The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines

By Jessie Yeung, Kara Fox, Kareem Khadder, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 8:06 PM ET, Mon March 1, 2021
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4:32 p.m. ET, March 1, 2021

Two doses of vaccine offer better protection from coronavirus variants, CDC says

From CNN's Maggie Fox

Two doses of coronavirus vaccine protect people better against coronavirus variants than just one dose, CDC experts said Monday.

The B.1.351 variant first seen in South Africa has the most worrying effects on the ability of vaccines to produce an immune response, the CDC’s Dr. Heather Scobie told a meeting of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

But there are concerns about the B.1.1.7 variant first seen in the UK, as well as a variant common in Brazil known as P2.

She said the CDC has reviewed many of the studies – some published, others released as unreviewed pre-prints – on how the variants allow the virus to evade immune responses.

“Five studies have shown that postponing the second mRNA dose may leave some people less protected against the SARS-Cov-2 variants,” Scobie told the ACIP meeting. The Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines are mRNA vaccines.

“All of the studies showed improved neutralization of B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 after the second vaccine dose,” she added. “In a few studies, people who had recovered from Covid-19 and received one vaccine dose had moderate protection against B.1.351.”

There are indications that people’s immune responses grow stronger over time after vaccination, Scobie said.

 “Antibody responses to B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 improved slightly by week three,” she said. 

Real-life studies also give some clues about how well the vaccines will protect people from the variants. 

“The Pfizer vaccine was shown to have high real world effectiveness of 86% against symptomatic and asymptomatic disease in the UK and 84% against symptomatic disease in Israel during times when B.1.1.7 was prevalent,” Scobie said.

Protection provided by the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine varied from 74% in the US to 66% in Brazil at a time when most cases were caused by the P2 variant. During clinical trials in South Africa, where the B.1.351 variant was almost the only circulating virus, Johnson & Johnson vaccine efficacy was 52%. But that’s against mild to moderate disease. It provided between 73% and 82% efficacy against severe disease no matter which variant was the most common.

“Importantly, the Janssen vaccine demonstrated similar vaccine efficacy against severe, critical disease across all three countries,” Scobie said.

4:15 p.m. ET, March 1, 2021

First shipment of COVAX vaccines to Latin America lands in Colombia

From CNN’s Stefano Pozzebon, Tim Lister & Mitchell McCluskey

The first shipment of Covid-19 vaccines sent through the COVAX program to Latin America landed in Colombia on Monday afternoon, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) announced.

The shipment of 117,000 Pfizer vaccine doses landed at El Dorado Airport in Bogota in the afternoon local time, the Colombian government said in a statement. The doses will be transferred to Ministry of Health warehouses to be stored.

COVAX is an entity run by a coalition that includes the Vaccine Alliance known as Gavi and the World Health Organization (WHO), and is funded by donations from governments, multilateral institutions and foundations.

It aims to buy coronavirus vaccines in bulk and send them to poorer nations that can't compete with wealthy countries in securing contracts with the major drug companies.

Colombia now has at least 409,620 vaccine doses; the country previously received 100,620 doses through a deal with Pfizer and 192,000 doses from Sinovac.

Colombia expects to receive a total of 61.5 million doses of the vaccine, 20 million doses through the deal with COVAX and 41.5 million from various pharmaceutical companies, a government statement said. 

COVAX shipments are still expected in other Latin American countries including Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Mexico, among many others.

To achieve herd immunity, the Colombian government hopes to vaccinate 70% of the country’s population, around 35,734,649 people. 

"Colombia, with support from COVAX partners, has worked incredibly hard to be in a position to be able to receive its first wave of vaccines from COVAX, and I pay tribute to all of those who have prepared diligently for this arrival," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement, "The arrival means that more health workers and high-risk populations can begin to be vaccinated. The COVID-19 pandemic can only end if vaccination occurs in an equitable way, and I am truly delighted to see vaccine doses in South America and other regions begin to be rolled out this week through COVAX."

Colombia currently has at least 2,251,690 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 59,766 recorded deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

3:53 p.m. ET, March 1, 2021

Senate Majority Leader says chamber will take up Covid-19 relief "this week" 

From CNN's Ali Zaslav and Lauren Fox

Senate TV
Senate TV

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that “this week” the Senate will take up the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.

“I expect a hardy debate and some late nights, but the American people sent us here with a job to do,” Schumer said in a floor speech on Monday. “To help the country through his moment of extraordinary challenge. To end through action the greatest health crisis our country has faced in a century, and that’s just what we’re going to do.”

Some context: The House passed their own version of the Covid relief bill early Saturday morning. If the Senate passes their version of the bill by the end of the week, that gives the House time to re-pass the new version in their own chamber.

It also gives President Biden time to sign it and gives states an opportunity to readjust their unemployment benefits with the increased benefit. Biden and Democrats are rushing to meet their deadline of having enacted the bill by March 14 when a weekly federal enhancement in benefits is scheduled to expire.

3:28 p.m. ET, March 1, 2021

Here's how California lawmakers plan to get most kids back into classrooms

From CNN's Cheri Mossburg

Stools stacked on desks inside an empty classroom at Collins Elementary School in Pinole, California, on December 30, 2020.
Stools stacked on desks inside an empty classroom at Collins Elementary School in Pinole, California, on December 30, 2020. David Paul Morris/Bloomberg/Getty Images/FILE

Lawmakers have reached an agreement to return most California students to classrooms by the end March.

The agreement combines proposals from Gov. Gavin Newsom and from California’s legislature and will provide up to $6.6 billion to return schools to in-person learning.

Of that, $2 billion will be made available to those schools that bring students back by March 30.

Schools will be eligible for their part of the $2 billion incentive once they resume classes for at least those students in transitional kindergarten through second grade. 

The rest of the funding, $4.6 billion, is aimed at helping schools make up for lost learning time, or as Newsom calls it, “reimagining the school year” which could include longer school days and/or summer school. 

Ultimately, the reopening decisions lay with the superintendents of each district, not the state. The funding, which is mainly earmarked for personal protective equipment, improved ventilation, and other safety protocols, may well provide the incentive districts need.

Some teachers unions, including United Teacher Los Angeles (UTLA), which represents educators in Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), have balked at resuming classes until teachers have the chance to be vaccinated.

Starting today, the pool of those eligible to receive a vaccine in Los Angeles has expanded to include educators.

LAUSD, the nation’s second largest district, has secured 25,000 vaccine doses for teachers and staff, which will be initially focused on inoculating those already working at school sites, preschool, and elementary teachers, according to Superintendent Austin Beutner.

In the meantime, UTLA’s membership is voting today on whether they will agree to return before staff is provided with full access to vaccinations and safety conditions are in place.

The agreement specifies that districts can resume class regardless of whether the unions sign off.

2:52 p.m. ET, March 1, 2021

Texas FEMA sites expected to receive 24,000 Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses today

From CNN's Jamie Gumbrecht

The three Federal Emergency Management Agency vaccination sites in Texas are expected to receive 24,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine on Tuesday, according to Lara Anton, a press officer for the Texas Department of State Health Services.

It’s not yet clear if the doses will be administered on Tuesday.

“The providers will decide how to use them but are required to stay within the state’s current vaccine allocation priorities of health care workers, long term care facility residents and staff, people 65 years and older, and those over 16 with a chronic medical condition that puts them at higher risk of hospitalization or death from COVID-19,” Anton said in an email.

More than 200,000 Johnson & Johnson doses are expected be available to Texas for next week’s allocation, Anton said.

Of the 3.9 million doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine being distributed by the federal government, the Association of Immunization Managers said Monday that they will be distributed as follows:

  • About 2.8 million doses are headed to state and local territorial public health departments
  • 800,000 doses are being distributed to the federal retail pharmacy program
  • About 70,000 will be released through community vaccination centers run by FEMA
  • About 90,000 doses will be going to Federal Quality Health Centers, community health centers run by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration, a branch of the US Department of Health and Human Services
2:47 p.m. ET, March 1, 2021

The FDA authorizes another at-home Covid-19 antigen test

From CNN's Nadia Kounang

The US Food and Drug Administration on Monday granted emergency use authorization to the Quidel QuickVue At-Home Covid-19 Test.

Dr. Jeff Shuren, director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said in a statement that “The FDA continues to prioritize the availability of more at-home testing options in response to the pandemic.”

Here are some key things to know about the at-home test:

  • The test is authorized for at-home use once prescribed by a physician.
  • The nasal swab test can be self-administered by people who are 14 years of age and older, or samples can be collected by an adult in children 8 years of age and older.
  • The test is to be used within the first 6 days that someone is experiencing symptoms of Covid-19.

Rapid antigen tests have been shown to be less accurate than RT-PCR tests, which are considered the “gold-standard” of diagnostic testing.

In a press release, Quidel said the test can return results in as little as 10 minutes, and that positive test results match PCR tests 84.8% of the time; negative test results match PCR results 99.1% of the time.

The sample swabs are placed in a test tube along with a test strip. Colored lines on the test strip indicate a positive or negative test result, similar to a home pregnancy test.

In a separate news release Monday, the National Institutes of Health announced it is evaluating the use of Quidel’s QuickVue test with a smartphone app. The agency says it has enrolled more than 200 participants in the study, which requires them to use the test daily for two weeks.

The NIH says that as at-home tests become more widely available, it believes companion apps will play a role in tracking symptoms, administering tests and reporting results to public health authorities and health care providers.

“Understanding how individuals interact with these apps and where they find value in them will inform future efforts to advance at-home COVID-19 testing,” the NIH said in a statement.


2:36 p.m. ET, March 1, 2021

US military has administered over 1 million Covid-19 vaccine doses

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman

The US military has administered 1,144,697 doses out of 1,275,925 doses delivered to the military so far. At least 735,000 of those are initial doses, 409,000 are second doses, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said. 

The US military expects to get doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine delivered to them in “the next week or so,” now that it has been approved by the FDA for Emergency Use Authorization, Kirby said.

Kirby acknowledged that the Secretary is aware of vaccine hesitancy in some pockets of the military, particularly “cultural and community concerns,” he said.

"It’s a personal decision, but it’s also a decision, and this is what he wants service members to remember, that it’s a decision that you’re making also for your teammates, and for your unit readiness, so that is very much on his mind,” Kirby said.

Right now, the Pentagon has not decided whether or not to make the Covid-19 vaccine mandatory when it does receive full authorization from the FDA. The Pentagon cannot make the vaccine mandatory currently because it has been authorized under emergency use by the FDA.

“These are still under emergency authorization, and so right now, they are not mandatory. Obviously, we’re thinking about what happens when they become FDA approved,” Kirby said.

2:27 p.m. ET, March 1, 2021

Nearly 77 million Covid-19 vaccine doses administered in US, according to CDC data

From CNN's Deidre McPhillips

A person receives a dose of a Covid-19 vaccine in Inglewood, California, on February 26.
A person receives a dose of a Covid-19 vaccine in Inglewood, California, on February 26. Eric Thayer/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Nearly 77 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine have been administered in the United States, according to data published Monday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The CDC reported that 76,899,987 total doses have been administered – about 80% of the 96,402,490 doses delivered.

That’s about 1.7 million more administered doses reported since yesterday, for a seven-day average of more than 1.8 million doses per day.

More than 15% of the population – about 50.7 million people – have now received at least one dose of vaccine. Nearly 8% of the population – nearly 25.5 million people – have been fully vaccinated with both shots, CDC data shows.

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

2:05 p.m. ET, March 1, 2021

Senate Democratic leaders want members to hold firm against "lethal" GOP amendments on Covid relief bill

From CNN's Manu Raju and Ted Barrett

 Al Drago/Getty Images
Al Drago/Getty Images

Senate Democratic leaders are urging their caucus to stick together and fend off GOP amendments that could alter key elements of the $1.9 trillion relief plan when it heads to the floor later this week, a plea aimed at keeping together a fragile Democratic coalition in order to send the bill to President Biden's desk by mid-March.

Senators are walking into a legislative minefield later this week since the relief bill is being considered under budget reconciliation rules that allow a free-flowing amendment process, meaning senators can force votes on as many amendments as they like. That means if two Democrats break ranks, they could amend the bill with the backing of 49 Republicans.

But Democratic leaders want their caucus to hold the line against amendments that could alter the core of the bill and ultimately derail the chances of getting the sweeping measure out of both chambers by March 14 — when jobless benefits are set to expire for millions of Americans.

Asked if he wanted his caucus to hold the line against GOP amendments, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin told CNN: "Certainly [against] any amendments that we think will be disruptive of the reconciliation process — maybe more."

Durbin added of the GOP amendments: "There are some that could be lethal. So we have to take it very seriously.”

It's unclear which amendments could peel away Democratic support, but party leaders and the White House have their eyes in particular on a handful of their more centrist members, including Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Angus King of Maine.

Whether there could be some changes around the margins of the bill remain to be seen. And already the Senate is poised to make one major change: Scrapping the $15 federal minimum wage included in the House-passed bill since it was ruled by the Senate's parliamentarian as outside the scope of the chamber's rules of budget reconciliation.

Some House liberals want the presiding officer of the Senate, potentially Vice President Kamala Harris, to simply ignore the parliamentarian's ruling and keep the minimum wage in the bill.

But Durbin threw cold water on that idea, which is also opposed by a number of senators in both parties and by the White House.

"I don't think that's going to work," Durbin said. "I hope we think very seriously about dealing with the minimum wage in a different venue."

Yet pursuing the wage hike outside of budget reconciliation would require 60 votes to overcome a GOP filibuster, something highly unlikely to succeed.

Given the divisions within the Senate Democratic Caucus over the $15 hourly wage mandate, Durbin conceded that the parliamentarian's decision made passage of the overall bill "less complicating," while calling the ruling "disappointing."