The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines

By Nectar Gan, Adam Renton, Tamara Qiblawi and Melissa Macaya, CNN

Updated 4:19 PM ET, Thu December 24, 2020
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11:56 p.m. ET, December 23, 2020

South Korea signs deals with Pfizer and Janssen to import Covid-19 vaccines

From CNN’s Jake Kwon in Seoul

Vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine are prepared to be administered to front-line health care workers at a vaccination site in Reno, Nevada on December 17.
Vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine are prepared to be administered to front-line health care workers at a vaccination site in Reno, Nevada on December 17. Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images

South Korea has signed contracts with Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceutical company Janssen to import Covid-19 vaccines, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said in a briefing on Thursday.

According to the contract, South Korea will import doses for 6 million people from Janssen, 2 million more than announced in early December. Vaccination using Janssen's doses will begin in the second quarter of 2021, Chung added.

South Korea will also import vaccine doses for 10 million people from Pfizer in the third quarter of 2021, Chung said. Chung added that the government is making all possible efforts to bring in the Pfizer vaccine in the second quarter of next year.

Previously, South Korea announced that it had signed a contract with vaccine developer AstraZeneca to import vaccines for 10 million people starting in the first quarter of 2021. The government said it would also import vaccine doses for 10 million people from Moderna and additional doses for 10 million people through Covax Facility. 

South Korea is home to around 52 million people.

The situation in South Korea: The East Asian country recorded 955 local and 30 imported Covid-19 cases Wednesday, of which 644 were from the Seoul metropolitan area, Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said in a news release on Thursday. An additional 17 deaths were reported Wednesday.

The latest numbers brings the total tally of cases since the start of the pandemic to 53,533, including 756 deaths.

11:49 p.m. ET, December 23, 2020

Frequency of allergic reactions to Pfizer vaccine is greater than expected, says Operation Warp Speed adviser

From CNN Health’s Lauren Mascarenhas

An empty vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine before administering residents at the Triboro Center nursing home in the Bronx borough of New York on December 21.
An empty vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine before administering residents at the Triboro Center nursing home in the Bronx borough of New York on December 21. Eric Lee/Bloomberg/Getty Images

The frequency of allergic reactions to Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine is greater than what would be expected for other vaccines, Dr. Moncef Slaoui, chief scientific adviser for Operation Warp Speed said Wednesday.

Slaoui said the last time he was updated on allergic reactions was Tuesday, when there were six cases.

He noted that the data on coronavirus immunizations is lagging behind the actual numbers. 

“That frequency, as it stood yesterday, is superior to what one would expect with other vaccines,” he said. 

Slaoui said there are discussions between the vaccine makers and the National Institutes of Health to consider running clinical trials of Covid-19 vaccines in very allergic populations, such as those who have to carry an EpiPen with them at all times.    

He said a trial could help understand the rate of allergic reactions and what is provoking them.

11:18 p.m. ET, December 23, 2020

US hits record number of Covid-19 hospitalizations

From CNN’s Virginia Langmaid

Medical staff members Fernando Olvera, Cecilia Arreola and Dr. Joseph Varon perform a tracheotomy procedure on a patient in the Covid-19 intensive care unit at the United Memorial Medical Center in Houston on December 22.
Medical staff members Fernando Olvera, Cecilia Arreola and Dr. Joseph Varon perform a tracheotomy procedure on a patient in the Covid-19 intensive care unit at the United Memorial Medical Center in Houston on December 22. Go Nakamura/Getty Images

The United States reported 119,463 current Covid-19 hospitalizations on Wednesday, setting a new record high since the pandemic began, according to the Covid Tracking Project (CTP).

This is the 22nd consecutive day that the US has remained above 100,000 current hospitalizations. 

The highest hospitalization numbers, according to CTP data, are:

  1. Dec. 23: 119,463
  2. Dec. 22: 117,777
  3. Dec. 21: 115,351
  4. Dec. 17: 114,459
  5. Dec. 18: 113,955
8:30 p.m. ET, December 23, 2020

CDC now projects up to 419,000 Covid-19 deaths in the US by Jan. 16

From CNN's Jamie Gumbrecht

An ensemble forecast published Wednesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now projects there will be 378,000 to 419,000 coronavirus deaths in the United States by Jan. 16.

Unlike some individual models, the CDC’s ensemble forecast only offers projections a few weeks into the future. The previous ensemble forecast, published on Dec. 17, projected up to 391,000 coronavirus deaths by January 9.

More than 325,500 people have already died from Covid-19 in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

11:00 p.m. ET, December 23, 2020

US officials promised 20 million vaccinated against by the end of the year. It's going slower than that

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman, Annie Grayer, Sara Murray and Andrea Kane

A member of FDNY EMS prepares to receive the coronavirus vaccine at the FDNY Fire Training Academy on Randall’s Island on December 23 in New York City.
A member of FDNY EMS prepares to receive the coronavirus vaccine at the FDNY Fire Training Academy on Randall’s Island on December 23 in New York City. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

While the coronavirus pandemic continued to surge throughout the summer and fall, federal government officials repeatedly offered a ray of hope: enough vaccine doses to vaccinate 20 million Americans by the end of December.

But after the first week of vaccine distribution and with only nine days left to meet their self-imposed deadline, Operation Warp Speed is on track to fall well short of 20 million shots in arms.

One count, from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shows about 9.5 million doses have been distributed as of Wednesday morning and just over a million people have been vaccinated -- not even close to the 20 million goal Warp Speed originally set.

Officials at US Health and Human Services and the CDC say the agency's tallies are undercounting many vaccinations due to data lags, but even accounting for reporting delays, the US vaccination program appears to be taking longer than Warp Speed officials projected.

One early hurdle: A two-day US Food and Drug Administration requirement to assess each shipment of vaccine for quality control slowed down distribution. States were told by OWS to expect fewer doses for week two than originally planned. With the 20 million number seeming further from reach, OWS officials acknowledged Monday they may not get there until January.

"We do still feel strongly that we will have allocated to the states by the end of the year 20 million doses of vaccine that'll be available," Gen. Gustave Perna, Operation Warp Speed's chief operating officer said during the call Monday. "We feel confident that we will be distributing the end part of that vaccine no later than the first week in January for everybody to have access to."

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