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Coronavirus update: FDA greenlights the Moderna vaccine, 3,000 deaths a day since Tuesday

Walgreens and CVS are getting the vaccine to nursing homes

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Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)

Total U.S. confirmed cases: 17,269,542 (17,011,532)

Total U.S. deaths: 311,230 (308,098)

Total global cases: 75,179,482 (74,467,555)

Total global deaths: 1,668,030 (1,654,461 )

Moderna’s vaccine gets a green light

A committee advising the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on the Moderna coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine voted late Thursday to recommend emergency use authorization (EUA) for the vaccine. That’s expected to be granted within hours.

In a statement, the FDA said it would act quickly to grant the EUA, perhaps as early as today, sending millions of additional doses of the vaccine into the system. Since last weekend, health care workers and nursing home residents have been getting the vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech, which received EUA a week ago.

According to U.S. health officials, there are about six million doses in the initial delivery of the Moderna vaccine. Once the EUA is in force, the vaccine will head for distribution points around the country.

U.S. deaths top 3,000 again

While the vaccines provide hope for an end to the pandemic, the grim fact is that people continue to get infected and die in ever-greater numbers. The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 exceeded 3,000 Thursday for the third straight day, according to the COVID-19 Tracking Project at Johns Hopkins University.

Health officials are increasingly worried that the rising number of new cases will swamp hospitals across the country. The number of people admitted to U.S. hospitals continues to set records, moving higher over each of the last 20 days. A Reuters analysis shows that hospitalizations approached 114,000 on Thursday.

"We expect to have more dead bodies than we have spaces for them," Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told reporters.

Drug store chains to serve nursing homes

When the coronavirus vaccine is available to the general public, retail drug stores will be a big part of the network. But two chains, CVS and Walgreens, are stepping up immediately to get the vaccine to some people who are at the head of the line -- elderly residents in long-term care facilities.

Walgreens says it is administering the shots starting today at nursing homes in Ohio and Connecticut. Eventually, it plans to serve 35,000 facilities as the program expands across the country.

CVS says its pharmacists will also visit facilities to administer the vaccine. The company says more than 40,000 facilities have enlisted CVS Pharmacy as their provider.

‘Long haulers’ still struggle after recovering

“Long haulers,” people who were infected with the virus early in the pandemic but still are affected by symptoms, are continuing to struggle as 2020 comes to a close. 

Emily Ringering of Denver came down with the virus in March but recovered after a week or so -- or at least that’s what she thought. Nine months later, she says some of the symptoms are still around.

“I feel like I have aged 20 years,” she told Denver TV station KCNC. “I had a couple months there where I felt good. Then stuff started coming back. In late August, stuff started coming back where I was having memory issues, bad fatigue, joint pain, I was getting winded.”

Research ‘strongly suggests’ the virus can enter the brain

Scientists publishing their findings in the journal Nature Neuroscience have found that the spike protein in the coronavirus, often depicted as the red arms of the virus, can cross the blood-brain barrier in mice. It could explain why some patients suffer memory issues.

Among researchers, the intense inflammation caused by the COVID-19 infection is called a cytokine storm. The immune system, upon seeing the virus and its proteins, overreacts in its attempt to kill the invading pathogen. The infected person can be left with brain fog, fatigue, and other cognitive issues.

The scientists say they saw a similar reaction when they were studying the HIV virus, concluding that both viruses have that effect.

Around the nation

  • Illinois: There’s finally a little good news for state health officials: The positivity rate for COVID-19 tests continues to decline. The state health department reported 8,828 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19, as well as 181 additional coronavirus deaths on Thursday.

  • Arizona: Gov. Doug Ducey has resisted a return to business closures and stay-home orders, but pressure is growing as the number of cases in the state rises. This week, state health officials say half of Arizona’s counties are seeing a “substantial” spread of the virus.

  • Texas: Gov. Greg Abbott says Texans will see ample supplies of the coronavirus vaccine, beyond doses intended for high-risk groups, within a couple of months. “There will be multiple vaccines available to us by the time we get to March, and we’ll be providing far more doses of vaccines than what we currently have,” he said.

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