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Coronavirus update: Democrats push for major aid bill, a new vaccine distribution strategy

A study found that one dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine is effective

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Photo (c) Sergii Zysko- Getty Images
Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)

Total U.S. confirmed cases: 26,446,439 (26,330,506)

Total U.S. deaths: 447,737 (443,923)

Total global cases: 104,043,420 (103,572,661)

Total global deaths: 2,258,460 (2,243,638)

Democrats push ahead on $1.9 trillion relief bill

Congressional Democrats have served notice that they plan to go it alone, passing a $1.9 trillion aid package for consumers and businesses without support from Republicans. The Senate voted along party lines, 50-49, to open debate on a 2021 budget resolution.

Passing the package as part of the budget resolution would allow approval with only a simple majority. Otherwise, it would require 10 Republicans to vote in favor of it.

On Monday, 10 senate Republicans met with President Biden to discuss their proposal for a smaller package costing $900 billion. Democrats have dismissed that as too small.

Vaccines to be shipped directly to retail pharmacies

In an effort to speed up the rollout of the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine, the White House has announced that it will begin sending shipments of the vaccine directly to retail pharmacies to administer to the public. The change in policy will take place next week.

"Millions of Americans turn to their local pharmacies every day for their medicines, flu shots, and much more,” said White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zient. “Pharmacies are readily accessible in most communities, with most Americans living within five miles of a pharmacy." 

The program replaces a direct shipment to states to administer the vaccine. It will begin rolling out on February 11 at 6,500 stores nationwide.

Study shows one dose of AstraZeneca vaccine is effective

To make sure it could vaccinate the maximum number of people with limited vaccine supplies, the British government administered just one dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine to the first people receiving it. That turned out to be an effective strategy.

Researchers at Oxford University fay the vaccine was 76 percent effective at preventing COVID-19 symptoms for three months. In fact, the rate of effectiveness got higher with a longer interval between the first and second doses.

“Vaccine efficacy after a single standard dose of vaccine from day 22 to day 90 post-vaccination was 76 percent ... and modeled analysis indicated that protection did not wane during this initial 3 month period,” the study found.

Companies are working on a vaccine against variants

Health officials are still trying to roll out the vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna, but GlaxoSmithKline, partnering with CureVac, is working on a vaccine to counter new variants of COVID-19.

“Through this new exclusive co-development agreement, GSK and CureVac will contribute resources and expertise to research, develop, and manufacture a number of novel mRNA vaccine candidates, including multi-valent and monovalent approaches,” the companies said in a press release

The companies said they hope to offer broader protection against a variety of different SARS-CoV2 variants and to enable a quick response to new variants potentially emerging in the future. They hope to have the vaccine available for distribution in  2022, subject to regulatory approval.

Study: Young people are the biggest COVID-19 spreaders

Vaccination efforts are currently targeting seniors, who are considered most vulnerable to COVID-19. But a new British study suggests that vaccinating much younger people might slow the spread of the virus faster.

The study, conducted by a team at Imperial College of London, found that young adults between the ages of 20 and 49 are responsible for most of the spread of the virus. The researchers found that they accounted for about 72 percent of the new cases that occurred after schools reopened in October.

“We find adults aged 20-49 are a main driver of the COVID-19 epidemic in the United States and are the only age groups contributing disproportionally to onward spread, relative to their population size,” Imperial College’s Dr. Melodie Monod said.

Around the nation

  • Connecticut: Gov. Ned Lamont has lifted some COVID-19 restrictions on restaurants and houses of worship. With both virus cases and hospitalizations trending lower, houses of worship can now hold up to 50 percent capacity with no limit. The curfew for restaurants has also been extended.

  • Tennessee: Health officials say vaccinations are now open to residents 70 years old and older, but it will probably take the entire month of February to inoculate everyone who is eligible. Officials say there are about 300,000 Tennessee residents in that age category.

  • Nevada: U.S. officials say Nevada is another state that has administered the vaccine efficiently. So far, it has administered 76.7 percent of the COVID-19 vaccine doses it has received from the federal government, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

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