Coronavirus update: Pfizer considers a booster shot, better news on the jobs front

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Los Angeles orders higher pay for grocery and drug store workers

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

Total U.S. confirmed cases: 28,340,700 (28,265,193)

Total U.S. deaths: 506,232 (502,856)

Total global cases: 112,716,833 (112,282,725)

Total global deaths: 2,500,770 (2,488,895)

Pfizer considers a booster shot

By all accounts, both the Pfizer and Moderna coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines are working well. But Pfizer is holding out the possibility that a third “booster” shot might make its vaccine even more effective. Both vaccines achieved a 95 percent efficacy rate in clinical trials.

In an interview with NBC, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said there is a belief among scientists within the company that a third dose would boost the immune response even higher, especially increasing protection against variants.

Pfizer announced today that a booster dose is being studied among people who received their first doses of the vaccine more than six months ago. "We believe that the third dose will raise the antibody response 10- to 20-fold," Boula said.

New jobless claims drop sharply

Amid growing optimism about the decline in new coronavirus cases, the job market is suddenly showing new signs of strength. The Labor Department reported today that new claims for unemployment benefits fell last week by 111,000.

The total of 730,000 claims was the lowest so far in 2021. The previous week's level was revised downward by 20,000 from 861,000 to 841,000. The four-week moving average was 807,750, a decrease of 20,500 from the previous week's revised average.

In another promising sign, there was also a decline in the number of people who stayed on unemployment. Continuing jobless claims dropped by 101,000 to 4.42 million, the lowest since March of last year, just as the pandemic hit.

Los Angeles mandates extra pay for some retail employees

The Los Angeles City Council has voted overwhelmingly to require “hero pay” for people who work at supermarkets and drug stores. The measure would boost their pay by $5 an hour.

In California, the cities of Oakland, Long Beach, and San Jose have passed similar measures. Advocates have argued that special pay is needed for the people who risk their health to work in crowded stores during the pandemic.

The California Grocers Association, an industry trade group, has filed lawsuits against municipalities that have passed these ordinances. The group argues that the mandates will have “severe unintended consequences on not only grocers but on their workers and their customers.”

COVID-19 has crushed the flu season

Have you, or anyone you know, come down with the flu this season? Probably not. Health officials say cases of influenza have plunged, citing the coronavirus as the main reason.

Health experts say coronavirus mitigation efforts -- such as mask mandates, social distancing, and plentiful hand sanitizer in public venues -- have also served to tamp down cases of the flu, which spreads in much the same way as COVID-19.

Whatever the reason, Lynnette Brammer of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tells ABC News that the 2020-21 flu season has seen the fewest cases in the last 25 years.

Football player cites the virus in ending his career

COVID-19 has apparently ended a football career. Clemson defensive end Justin Foster has announced that he will no longer play football at the college or professional level. He recently recovered from COVID-19 and says the combination of the virus and his asthma has made it impossible for him to play football. 

"The decision came after months of recovery and treatment, which required asking a lot of difficult questions about my future," Foster posted on Twitter. "While I still have a way to go, I feel confident I will fully recover."

Foster’s head coach, Dabo Swinney, said his player is feeling much better than he did after being diagnosed, but he appears to be suffering lingering effects. Foster tested positive for the virus last August.

Around the nation

  • Louisiana: Louisiana is an example of how serious COVID-19 cases are in decline across the country. The state health department reports that hospitalized COVID-19 patients dropped below 700 this week as the state added to its streak of days with declining hospitalizations. Only 102 patients have required ventilators, officials said. 

  • Connecticut: Gov. Ned Lamont has announced that the state will continue giving vaccination priority to older residents. In addition to the age-based eligibility, elementary and high school staff and teachers, along with professional childcare providers, will be eligible to receive the vaccine in March.

  • Michigan: Michigan has imposed some of the tightest restrictions on public activity of any state -- sometimes drawing protests -- but Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said she’s ready to begin opening things up. “We’re expecting to make more announcements on additional re-engagements in the coming days,” she said. “Our case numbers and public health metrics are trending in the right direction, and we’re very pleased to see that.”

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