The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines

By Jessie Yeung, Zamira Rahim, Kareem Khadder and Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 8:15 PM ET, Thu March 4, 2021
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5:08 a.m. ET, March 4, 2021

Spanish princesses' Abu Dhabi vaccinations spark controversy 

From CNN’s Al Goodman in Madrid and Claudia Rebaza in London 

Spain's Princess Elena, left, and Princess Cristina.
Spain's Princess Elena, left, and Princess Cristina. Ballesteros/Pool/Getty Images

The Covid-19 vaccinations of two Spanish princesses in the United Arab Emirates -- much earlier than they would have received them in Spain -- have sparked controversy since the news was first reported by El Confidencial digital newspaper in Madrid. 

Several Spanish ministers on Wednesday publicly criticized the two princesses, Elena and Cristina, who were vaccinated recently while visiting their father, Spain’s former King Juan Carlos, in Abu Dhabi, where he’s living.

Soon after the criticism, Princess Elena issued a statement that she said was “in response to media reports about the vaccination.” 

“My sister (Cristina) and I, having gone to visit our father (in Abu Dhabi) and with the aim of getting a health passport that would allow us to visit him regularly, we were offered the vaccine and we accepted it.” 

The statement concluded that had it not been for the circumstances, the princesses would have waited for their turn to get the vaccine in Spain. 

A royal household spokesman noted that princesses Elena and Cristina, while sisters of Spain’s King Felipe, have not had any official duties as members of the royal family at least since 2014.

The spokesman also emphasized that the King, Queen and their two daughters are strictly following Spain’s Covid health guidelines, and “will wait their turn” for the vaccinations in Spain, based on their ages and health conditions. 

Spain, like other European Union countries, has had delays in its vaccine program due to limited supplies. It has also seen a number of government officials and a few Roman Catholic clergy who have jumped the queue to get vaccinations. Several of them later apologized publicly and some resigned from their positions. 

Health Ministry data shows that just 1.4 million people in Spain have received both doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, along with some others getting the AstraZeneca vaccine, in a population of about 47 million. 

3:21 a.m. ET, March 4, 2021

Germany will authorize Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for over 65s

From CNN's AJ Davis in Atlanta 

A doctor administers an Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine in Berlin, Germany, on February 10.
A doctor administers an Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine in Berlin, Germany, on February 10. Kay Nietfeld/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

Germany's vaccine commission will soon authorize the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for people aged over 65, following the latest studies, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday.  

The commission had recommended in January that the vaccine should not be given to over 65s due to insufficient data. 

Coronavirus restrictions nationwide will be eased in five stages, Merkel added -- each additional step will be taken every 14 days if infection rates stay low. 

“We will install an emergency brake if we get into an exponential growth of infections surpassing a weekly rate of 100 per 100,000," she said. 

Merkel also said that all Germans will be able to receive a free rapid test every week, starting March 8. 

"We are once again at the threshold of a new phase of the pandemic that we can go into not carelessly but still with justified hope. Today we can speak of hope and the transition to a new phase because all of us have achieved a lot in our country in the past few months," she said. 
3:14 a.m. ET, March 4, 2021

India's Covaxin vaccine is 81% effective, early data shows

From CNN's Akanksha Sharma and Manveena Suri

A medic prepares a dose of the Covaxin vaccine at Hindu Rao Hospital on February 16, in New Delhi, India.
A medic prepares a dose of the Covaxin vaccine at Hindu Rao Hospital on February 16, in New Delhi, India. Sanchit Khanna/Hindustan Times/Getty Images

India's home-grown Covaxin vaccine is 81% effective against Covid-19, according to early data released Wednesday.

The vaccine was jointly developed by the company Bharat Biotech and the government-run Indian Council of Medical Research.

The clinical trial involved 25,800 participants between 18 and 98 years old, according to Bharat Biotech. The efficacy figure is based on an early analysis of 43 Covid-19 cases. Some 36 cases occurred in participants who got a placebo, compared to seven participants who got the vaccine.

Data indicates the vaccine can also effectively combat the variant first spotted in the UK, according to an analysis by India's National Institute of Virology.

“Today is an important milestone in vaccine discovery, for science and our fight against coronavirus," said Bharat Biotech chairman Dr. Krishna Ella. "Covaxin demonstrates high clinical efficacy trend against COVID-19 but also significant immunogenicity against the rapidly emerging variants."

About the vaccine: Covaxin is a two-dose vaccine. It is the first Covid-19 vaccine that has been developed in its entirety in India.

More 40 countries have expressed their interest in Covaxin, including Mongolia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Bahrain, Oman, Maldives and Mauritius.

3:03 a.m. ET, March 4, 2021

It’s "inexplicable" that US states are lifting restrictions right now, Fauci says

From CNN Health’s Lauren Mascarenhas

Dr. Anthony Fauci attends a press conference the White House on January 21, in Washington, DC.
Dr. Anthony Fauci attends a press conference the White House on January 21, in Washington, DC. Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

It’s “inexplicable” that some US states are pulling back on restrictions as Covid-19 continues to infect tens of thousands of Americans every day, said Dr. Anthony Fauci on Wednesday.

Texas and Mississippi moved this week to end state-wide mask mandates. 

“It just is inexplicable why you would want to pull back now,” Fauci told CNN.
“I understand the need to want to get back to normality, but you're only going to set yourself back if you just completely push aside the public health guidelines -- particularly when we're dealing with anywhere from 55,000 to 70,000 infections per day in the United States,” he added. “That's a very, very high baseline.” 

Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the administration’s guidance about pandemic precautions is not arbitrary.

"We know that these interventions work. It's very clear,” Fauci said. “When you implement them, you see the cases go down. When you pull back the cases go up.”