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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11:19 a.m. ET, December 17, 2020

Moderna's chief medical officer reveals key details on vaccine

From CNN’s Amanda Watts

Dr. Tal Zaks, Moderna’s chief medical officer, on December 17.
Dr. Tal Zaks, Moderna’s chief medical officer, on December 17. Food and Drug Administration

The Moderna vaccine involves "no further mixing or dilution, while remaining stable for up to 12 hours at room temperature," Moderna’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Tal Zaks, said on Thursday.

During the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC), Zaks said the manufacturing process "does not use products of animal or human origin, and it does not contain preservatives or adjuvants."

The Phase 3 study shows "the vaccine efficacy rate for symptomatic Covid-19 infection was 94.1%, with a 95% confidence interval lower bound of 89.3%," Zaks said.

"Importantly, we also observed a dramatic reduction in severe cases. All of the 30 severe cases observed at the time of primary analysis occurred in people given placebo," Zaks added.

Moderna says that a reduction in symptomatic cases "predicts a reduction in cases leading to hospitalization, intensive care and death."

Moderna has done early phase clinical trials on infectious disease for several years, Zaks said. "We have had not seen a significant safety concern in any of our trials to date."

11:12 a.m. ET, December 17, 2020

UNICEF will feed children in the UK for the first time due to coronavirus

From CNN's Josefine Obema

For the first time in its 70 year history, humanitarian organization UNICEF will help feed people in parts of Britain. 

Calling it a "domestic emergency," the UN agency said vulnerable children and families are in need of assistance due to the Covid-19 crisis. 

UNICEF director of programmes, Anna Kettley, said:

"The pandemic has turned the lives of children and family’s upside down and for many the continued impact of the pandemic will be increasing financial worries." 
"We welcome the Government’s recent announcement to provide a support package to families facing hardships in England. Increasing the value of the Healthy Start Vouchers and expanding the Holiday Activities and Food program from April next year should also be recognized as important steps forwards in tackling food insecurity and ensuring that children can eat well." 

Children affected by the pandemic will receive breakfast boxes from schools in parts of south London over the Christmas holidays. Families in other parts of the country will receive fresh fruit, vegetable packs and meal kits. 

11:06 a.m. ET, December 17, 2020

French prime minister tests negative for Covid-19 following contact with Macron

From CNN's Pierre Buet and Gaelle Fournier

French Prime Minister Jean Castex attends a press conference in Paris on December 10.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex attends a press conference in Paris on December 10. Thomas Samson/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

French Prime Minister Jean Castex tested negative for Covid-19 on Thursday morning, according to a statement from the Prime Minister's office. 

Castex will continue to self-quarantine for seven days following contact with French President Emmanuel Macron, who tested positive for the virus.

Another cabinet minister – Marc Fesneau – will self-quarantine as well, French government spokesperson Gabriel Attal told journalists at BFMTV. 

Meanwhile, the President of the French National Assembly, Richard Ferrand, will also isolate for seven days following contact with Macron. 

"In accordance with the sanitary guidelines in force, the President of the National Assembly is isolating immediately for a seven-day period. He will then do a RTPCR test," said a statement from the National Assembly. "He will continue to exercise his functions."

10:52 a.m. ET, December 17, 2020

US surpasses 17 million Covid-19 cases

From CNN's Amanda Watts 

There have been at least 17,000,408 cases of coronavirus in the United States and at least 307,770 people have died from Covid-19 since the pandemic began, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.  

On Dec. 12, the US hit 16 million cases. Five days later, on Dec. 17, the US hit 17 million cases.

11:13 a.m. ET, December 17, 2020

Tennessee governor says Covid-19 vaccine is not a cure for foolish decisions

From CNN's Tina Burnside

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference in Nashville on December 17.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference in Nashville on December 17. George Walker IV/The Tennessean/USA Today Network

As the state prepares to administer its first shipment of Covid-19 vaccines, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee is urging all residents to be vigilant and to continue acting responsibly during this pandemic. 

Lee says although today is a historic moment and turning point in this pandemic, the sobering reality is that Tennesseans are getting sicker. 

On Wednesday, the state reported 11,410 new cases, a new record high since the start of the pandemic. Lee said decisions people made over the Thanksgiving holiday is having a severe reality on the hospital system across the state. 

"One thing this vaccine will not solve, or cure is selfishness or indifference to what is happening to our neighbors around us," Lee said. 

Lee also stated that the vaccine is not a cure for foolish decisions on how we gather, or one's refusal to wear a mask and it won't cure the idea that someone else's decision won't impact another person's life.  

Lee said there is darkness before dawn happening in Tennessee and is urging all Tennesseans to recognize and adhere his message. 

Today, the state is expecting 56,550 doses of the Covid-19 vaccine to start arriving to their hospitals statewide. 

Earlier this week, the state Department of Health announced it is holding the first shipment of 975 doses of the Pfizer vaccine as an emergency backup in the event a hospital's supply is damaged.   

10:55 a.m. ET, December 17, 2020

More than 5,000 NYC healthcare workers have been vaccinated, mayor says

From CNN's Roxanne Garcia

Sandra Lindsay, a nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, is inoculated with the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine by Dr. Michelle Chester in Queens, New York, on December 14.
Sandra Lindsay, a nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, is inoculated with the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine by Dr. Michelle Chester in Queens, New York, on December 14. Mark Lennihan/Pool/AP

About 5,200 healthcare workers have been vaccinated so far in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a Thursday briefing, adding the "numbers are going to grow rapidly each day."

A total of 42,900 doses have been delivered so far, he said.

"The virus keeps causing us a challenge, the rate of infection keeps going up in this city, hospitalizations keep going up, we’ve got a serious issue here."

"That’s why we need the vaccine to fight the virus," he said.

10:40 a.m. ET, December 17, 2020

Delaware to begin vaccinating staff at 3 long-term care facilities

From CNN's Kristina Sgueglia

Delaware is set to begin vaccinating staff at three long-term care facilities Thursday, according to the governor’s office.

The state received 7,800 doses Wednesday, and delivered them to three Genesis Healthcare Inc facilities which plan to start vaccinating staff Thursday.

Residents will begin receiving the vaccine the week of Dec. 28, the release said, adding Walgreens and CVS pharmacists are partnering with facilities to vaccinate the residents.

"We are all relieved to see that this vaccine has arrived at our long-term care facilities to protect Delaware’s most vulnerable citizens from COVID-19," Gov. John Carney said in the Thursday release

"But we’re not through the woods yet. We still face a difficult winter surge of cases and hospitalizations. Stay vigilant until we can widely distribute the vaccine," he added.

10:59 a.m. ET, December 17, 2020

Ecuador approves Pfizer/BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine

From CNN’s Florencia Trucco

A vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine is on a table at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut on December 14.
A vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine is on a table at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut on December 14. Jessica Hill/AP

Ecuador has authorized the use of the Pfizer/BioNtech’s vaccine against Covid-19, the country’s health ministry said in a statement Wednesday, adding that the first doses will arrive in country around January 2021.

Through a "public-private alliance," the vaccine will be administered to 60% of the population, the statement said.

The plan will be conducted in three phases, beginning with a "pilot" stage consisting of vaccinations for frontline staff and senior living center workers. The following phase, expected end of March or early April, will be to vaccinate health workers, authorities, the vulnerable and "strategic sectors," the statement adds.

As of Wednesday, Ecuador has reported at least 203,461 confirmed cases of coronavirus, 9,373 confirmed deaths and 4,542 probable deaths. 

10:31 a.m. ET, December 17, 2020

FDA encouraging medical providers to watch for allergic reactions to Covid-19 vaccine

From CNN's Jen Christensen

Dr. Doran Fink, deputy director of the Clinical Division of Vaccines and Related Products Applications, said medical providers should monitor patients who get the Covid-19 vaccine for an allergic reaction.

Two Alaska health care workers had an allergic reaction minutes after getting the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine earlier this week. Both have recovered. Scientific experts have said that, while possible, allergic reactions should be rare.

"We learned of these cases through established safety surveillance systems that worked exactly as designed," Fink said at the VRBPAC meeting convened today to consider the authorization of Moderna’s vaccine, which is similar to Pfizer/BioNTech’s.

"The FDA is coordinating with CDC to further investigate the cases in the US, and to communicate our findings in a timely manner with vaccine providers and recipients."

Fink added that the FDA and the US Centers for Disease Control and prevention are also in touch with public health authorities in the UK. Two health care workers with a history of vaccine allergies also had an allergic reaction to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. Both are said to have recovered quickly.

"At this point we and CDC are continuing to investigate these cases and consider data that – at this point – we don't have enough information to make definitive recommendations one way or another. And as we continue to investigate and evaluate the data, we will consider whether additional recommendations need to be made," Fink said.

Fink said the FDA is working with Pfizer to revise the fact sheets and prescribing information that accompany the vaccine to emphasize the CDC guidelines that require medical providers to monitor people for allergic reactions, and to have medical treatment available immediately if someone does have an allergic reaction. Fink said they will do the same for the Moderna vaccine if it is granted an emergency use authorization.

"While the totality of data at this time continue to support vaccinations under the Pfizer EUA without new restrictions," Fink said. "These cases underscore the need to remain vigilant during the early phase of the vaccination campaign."