AstraZeneca vaccine vindicates delaying second dose; deaths, new infections in decline: Latest COVID-19 updates.

Elinor Aspegren

John Bacon


A COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by the British-Swedish firm AstraZeneca appears to provide strong protection three months after just one dose while also curbing spread of infections, researchers said Wednesday.

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the study supports a strategy of delaying the second shot so more first doses can be delivered to more people. Researchers also found a 67% reduction in positive “swabs” among those vaccinated. If no virus is present, the virus can’t be spread.

“This primary analysis reconfirms that our vaccine prevents severe disease and keeps people out of hospital,” said Sir Mene Pangalos, executive vice president of BioPharmaceuticals R&D. “Extending the dosing interval not only boosts the vaccine’s efficacy, but also enables more people to be vaccinated upfront.”

The vaccine also can be stored, transported and handled at normal refrigerated conditions for at least six months and administered within existing healthcare settings, the company said.

COVID-19 has killed more than 445,000 Americans, and infections have continued to mount despite the introduction of a pair of vaccines late in 2020. USA TODAY is tracking the news. Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates. Sign up for our Coronavirus Watch newsletter for updates to your inbox, join our Facebook group or scroll through our in-depth answers to reader questions.

In the headlines: 

►Britain’s health chief says a new study showing that a single dose of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca provides a high level of protection for 12 weeks supports the government’s strategy of delaying the second shot so more doses can be delivered to more people.

►Australian regulators said in a statement Tuesday that they decided to place no upper age limit on use of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine despite reports of dozens of deaths among the elderly in Norway.

►A single shot of the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine reduced transmission of the coronavirus by 67% and provided substantial protection against COVID-19 for at least three months, according to preliminary data from three trials unveiled Tuesday.

►The National Park Service will now require all visitors and employees to wear masks inside buildings and facilities and on lands “when physical distancing cannot be maintained.” That includes busy and narrow trails.

►A new study finds that cleaner air from the pandemic lockdown warmed the planet a bit in 2020, especially in places such as the eastern United States, Russia and China.

►The Biden administration will begin distributing COVID-19 vaccine doses directly to retail pharmacies next week in an effort to expedite vaccinations across the nation.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has 26.4 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 446,700 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 103.8 million cases and 2.2 million deaths. Nearly 52.6 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 32.7 million have been administered, according to the CDC.

📘 What we’re reading: How many people in your state and across the U.S. have received the COVID-19 vaccine so far? Check the USA TODAY vaccine tracker.

Vaccine sites around the Northeast are reopening Wednesday after a winter storm walloped the region, dumping up to three feet of snow in some areas. In New York, New Jersey and at least three New England states, many COVID-19 vaccination appointments for Monday and Tuesday were canceled due to the weather.  

“The safety and well-being of our state’s vulnerable populations is our highest priority,” said New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson Jake Leon, reported the Portsmouth Herald, part of the USA TODAY Network.

For the first time since Nov. 13, the United States has reported fewer than 1 million new coronavirus cases over a seven-day period. The weekly total peaked at more than 1.7 million a few weeks ago. Johns Hopkins University data shows 989,974 new cases in the seven-day period ending Tuesday. Still, aAt that pace 98 Americans were reported positive very minute.

Deaths in the week ending Tuesday were 21,633, falling bellow 22,000 for the first time since Jan. 9. But for nearly a month America has averaged at least 3,000 deaths a day, a rate worse than the human cost of the 9/11 attacks every single day. The Centers for Disease Control in estimate the United States lost 22,000 people to last year’s flu season; America lost that many people to coronavirus each week, several weeks running. The United States has reported 100,930 COVID-19 fatalities in 2021 alone.

Mike Stucka

After protesters disrupted drive-in COVID-19 vaccinations at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles last week, local police said Tuesday that any further protests would prompt “immediate and swift” arrests.

“It’s my expectation and direction that … individuals will be arrested, they’ll be cited, and their actions will be caused to be ceased,” said Police Chief Michel Moore during a virtual meeting of the Police Commission, per the Los Angeles Times. “This going forward is a means of ensuring that the lines will stay open, that the vaccine sites will be unhindered.”

The stadium, one of the largest vaccination sites in the country, was temporarily shut down Saturday because dozen of protesters blocked the entrance. However, no vaccination appointments were cancelled and the site was not shut down permanently, according to Moore.

Andrew Yang, the entrepreneur turned presidential candidate who is now running for New York City mayor, has tested positive for COVID-19, he announced Tuesday. Yang said he had tested negative as recently as this weekend but then received a rapid test that had a positive result, he tweeted on Tuesday. “I’m experiencing mild symptoms, but am otherwise feeling well & in good spirits,” Yang tweeted.

Yang said he was quarantining. Among New York City mayoral candidates, he has been among the most prolific in-person campaigners in a race that has been otherwise forced online because of the pandemic.

– Ryan Miller

The Biden administration will begin distributing COVID-19 vaccine doses directly to retail pharmacies in an effort to expedite vaccinations across the nation. White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said the program will start with about 1 million doses sent to 6,500 pharmacies beginning next week. The number of pharmacies could ultimately each 40,000.

“This will provide more sites for people to get vaccinations in their communities,” Zients said. “And it’s an important component to delivering vaccines equitably.”

Zients said 10.5 million doses will be distributed to states this week, up 5% from last week and a 22% increase in weekly doses since President Joe Biden took office Jan. 20.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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