December 17 coronavirus news

By Helen Regan, Adam Renton, Eoin McSweeney, Ed Upright and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 12:04 a.m. ET, December 18, 2020
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9:14 a.m. ET, December 17, 2020

An FDA committee is meeting today to consider Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine

A nurse in Binghamton, New York, gives a volunteer an injection as a study for a possible Covid-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna, gets underway on July 27.
A nurse in Binghamton, New York, gives a volunteer an injection as a study for a possible Covid-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna, gets underway on July 27. Hans Pennink/AP

The US Food and Drug Administration's Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee will hold a virtual meeting today to consider emergency use authorization of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine.

That meeting was set to begin at 9 a.m. ET.

The FDA has already telegraphed that a quick emergency use authorization can be expected and this one could go through even faster than the EUA for Pfizer last week – itself a speedy process.

Here's why: The Moderna vaccine is very similar to Pfizer's and BioNTech's vaccine. Both use a new approach involving genetic material known as messenger RNA or mRNA.

"It's based on the same technology," Dr. Elissa Malkin, co-investigator for the Moderna Clinical Trial at the George Washington University in Washington, DC, told CNN.

"Really, they do seem quite similar," added Malkin, who has studied both the Pfizer and the Moderna data.

"I think they are very likely to authorize it quickly."

8:53 a.m. ET, December 17, 2020

885,000 people filed for unemployment benefits in the US last week

From CNN’s Paul R. La Monica

The US job market continues to suffer, and Thursday brought bad news. Another 885,000 people filed for first-time unemployment benefits last week – an increase from the week prior and higher than the 800,000 claims that economists were expecting. 

The latest figures, which are adjusted for seasonal factors and reported by the Labor Department, are particularly grim since last week's numbers were revised up to 862,000. And even before the revision, that week had been the highest level since mid-September. 

The report comes at a tenuous time for America's economy. 

The last round of Covid-related financial aid from Washington has run out, and Congress is trying to deliver another stimulus package to struggling consumers and businesses in the lame duck session before Joe Biden is inaugurated.

Economists and investors are excited about the prospects for a rebound in 2021 now that there is an approved coronavirus vaccine that a few have already received. But many Americans still need help now, a fact not lost on Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell.

"Although there has been much progress in the labor market since the spring, we will not lose sight of the millions of Americans who remain out of work," Powell said in a press conference Wednesday after the Fed once again left interest rates near zero.
8:50 a.m. ET, December 17, 2020

EU will begin vaccinating citizens on Dec. 27, official says

From CNN's Schams Elwazer

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen arrives for a press statement in Brussels, Belgium, on December 13.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen arrives for a press statement in Brussels, Belgium, on December 13. Olivier Hoslet/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Thursday that vaccinations will start across the European Union on Dec. 27, 28 and 29.

Von der Leyen made the statement on Twitter, describing it as "Europe’s moment." 

"We protect our citizens together. We are #StrongerTogether," she added.
8:57 a.m. ET, December 17, 2020

CDC forecast now projects up to 391,000 Covid-19 deaths in the US by Jan. 9

From CNN's Ben Tinker

A deceased patient in a body bag is seen on November 29 in the Covid-19 intensive care unit at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston.
A deceased patient in a body bag is seen on November 29 in the Covid-19 intensive care unit at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston. Go Nakamura/Getty Images

An ensemble forecast published Thursday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now projects there will be 357,000 to 391,000 coronavirus deaths in the United States by Jan. 9.

Unlike some individual models, the CDC’s ensemble forecast only offers projections a few weeks into the future. The previous ensemble forecast, published Dec. 10, projected up to 362,000 coronavirus deaths by Jan. 2.

At least 307,512 people have already died from Covid-19 in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

8:20 a.m. ET, December 17, 2020

Second health care worker in Alaska hospital system had a reaction after getting Covid-19 shot

From CNN Health's Nadia Kounang

A second Alaska health care worker has suffered an allergic reaction after receiving the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine. 

Although there have been no widespread reports of adverse reactions nationwide, this marks the second in the same hospital system. It is unclear if there is any other connection between the two incidents.

According to a statement from Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau: “A second staff member experienced eye puffiness, light headedness, and scratchy throat 10 minutes after being injected with the vaccine.” The hospital added that the reaction “was not considered anaphylaxis.” 

The statement added that the worker was taken to the emergency room and given epinephrine, Pepcid and Benadryl. “He felt completely back to normal within an hour and was released," it said.

The hospital system previously reported a reaction in a female health care worker who “showed signs of an anaphylactic reaction, with increased heartbeat, shortness of breath and skin rash and redness,” about 10 minutes after receiving the vaccine. She had no known history of having any allergic reactions to vaccines, according to the hospital.

She was given epinephrine and Benadryl, and remained in the hospital overnight for observation, said Dr. Lindy Jones, Bartlett’s Emergency Department Medical Director.

Both incidents were reported to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health authorities.

 

8:15 a.m. ET, December 17, 2020

Covid infections hit daily record in Gaza, as Strip enters “difficult wave”

From Elliott Gotkine and Abeer Salman

The number of coronavirus cases recorded in Gaza hit a new high on Wednesday, as an additional 1,015 Palestinians came down with Covid-19 over 24 hours. There were 12 more deaths, bringing the total to 232 since the pandemic hit the enclave in March. 

According to the Ministry of Health in Gaza, 31,161 people have now been infected with the virus. This includes 9,109 active cases, out of a total population of 2 million.

“We have entered a very difficult wave of Covid in Gaza,” says Yousif AlAqqad, Head of the European Hospital for Coronavirus in the Strip. He expressed concern about the lack of oxygen available for patients, saying they only had enough for 200 serious cases. Staff, he said, were being stretched to the limit.  

In the West Bank, the Palestinian Ministry of Health said there were 1,262 new cases on Wednesday, out of almost 7,000 tests -- meaning that almost one in five tests came back positive. In Gaza, positivity rates remain even higher, standing currently at just over 30%. 

8:13 a.m. ET, December 17, 2020

Coronavirus victims might stay infectious after  death, German study finds

From CNN's Maggie Fox

The bodies of coronavirus victims can stay infectious for days after their death, German researchers reported Wednesday.

It’s a small study involving very sick patients, the team at University Medical Center Hamburg reported, and further research is needed.

The team tested the bodies of 11 people who died of Covid-19 at their hospital, and swabbed the noses looking for coronavirus at regular intervals from 12 hours after death up to seven days later.

We consistently detected SARS-CoV-2 RNA at constant levels at all time points analyzed,” the researchers wrote in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

“We demonstrated maintained infectivity of SARS-CoV-2 in tissues of deceased patients. SARS-CoV-2 RNA persisted over time at constantly high titers," they added. "Taken together, our data indicate potentially high infectivity of human corpses, requiring hazard assessments in professional fields concerned and careful and conscious handling.”

8:07 a.m. ET, December 17, 2020

Tokyo reports highest single-day rise in cases since the start of the pandemic

From CNN's Yoko Wakatsuki in Tokyo and Akanksha Sharma in Hong Kong

Japan’s capital, Tokyo, reported 822 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, marking the highest single-day rise in cases since the start of the pandemic, according to the Tokyo metropolitan government (TMG).

The increase also marks the second consecutive day that the city topped its daily case record. Of the total 822 cases, 122 case are elderly, aged 65 or older, TMG added.

Separately, Tokyo's expert panel for monitoring the pandemic said it has raised the alert level on the medical system to Level 4, the highest category, signaling that the medical system is under strain.

"It is now difficult to run the medical service for both coronavirus infection and ordinary medical needs as the coronavirus infection keep increasing" said Masataka Inoguchi, Deputy Chairman of the Tokyo Medical Association.

Earlier in the week, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga expressed "remorse" for attending a group dinner with celebrity friends in apparent breach of his own government's coronavirus guidelines.

Suga appeared to disregard those guidelines on Monday by attending a gathering with seven guests, who were all over the age of 70, at a high-end steak restaurant in Tokyo's Ginza district.

7:48 a.m. ET, December 17, 2020

Pope renews call for universal access to Covid-19 vaccines

From CNN's Delia Gallagher in Rome

Pope Francis celebrates Holy Mass for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in St. Peter's Basilica on December 12.
Pope Francis celebrates Holy Mass for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in St. Peter's Basilica on December 12. Grzegorz Galazka/Mondadori Portfolio/Getty Images

Pope Francis has renewed his appeal for universal access to Covid-19 vaccines and called for a “culture of care” in 2021.

The Pope made the comments in a message published Thursday for the World Day of Peace, celebrated January 1.

“I renew my appeal to political leaders and the private sector to spare no effort to ensure access to Covid-19 vaccines and to the essential technologies needed to care for the sick, the poor and those who are most vulnerable,” the Pope wrote.

The document, entitled “A Culture of Care as a Path to Peace,” says that the events of the past year “have taught us how important it is to care for one another and for creation.”

Francis says that alongside the solidarity we have seen this year, “we have also seen a surge in various forms of nationalism, racism and xenophobia and wars and conflicts that bring only death and destruction in their wake.”

The Pope also renewed his appeal for a “Global Fund” in which the “money spent on weapons and other military expenditures” would instead go to helping to eliminate hunger and assist developing countries.