AstraZeneca vaccine vindicates delaying second dose; deaths, Pope Francis gets second vaccine shot: 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 446,000 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:

►Pope Francis received his second vaccine dose on Wednesday. The pope, 84 had the first jab on January 13.

►Dr. David Chokshi, New York City’s Health Commissioner, said he has tested positive and is experiencing mild, “manageable” symptoms. “This is a reminder – if we ever needed one – that COVID is still with us and we all must continue to wear masks, wash our hands, socially distance and stay home if feeling ill.”

►Japan enacted legislation allowing officials to fine violators of coronavirus orders. The country is struggling to slow the latest wave of infections amid growing uncertainty about the distribution of COVID-19 vaccine considered key to holding the Olympics this summer.

►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.

►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.

📈 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 103.9 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: Raymond James Stadium not only is site of Super Bowl 55, but also a symbol of the pandemic that has killed more than 440,000 Americans.

Dr. Anthony Fauci is warning America to “just lay low” rather than gathering for Super Bowl parties on Sunday. President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser said during TV interviews Wednesday that now isn’t the time to host watch parties because of the possibility that guests could be infected with the coronavirus and could sicken others. The NFL has capped attendance for the game in Tampa at 22,000, citing the pandemic and citywide coronavirus mandates. Fauci says the best thing people can do is watch the game on TV at home with the people in your household.

“You don’t want parties with people that you haven’t had much contact with,” he told NBC’s “Today” show. “You just don’t know if they’re infected, so as difficult as that is, at least this time around, just lay low and cool it.”

As more Americans anxiously wait their turn to get the COVID-19 vaccine, people are discovering that smokers are one of the priority groups for vaccination. The revelation has drawn frustrations on social media, but a study published last week in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that people who smoke or who have smoked in the past are more likely to be hospitalized or die from COVID-19.

“I could see why people would feel as if that would be unfair,” said Dr. Samuel Kim, a thoracic surgeon at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago. “But people who are smokers are in general at higher risk for getting sicker when they develop COVID-19.” Read more here.

Adrianna Rodriguez

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 because of 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, at 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, according to 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 canceled 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 W Miller

Contributing: The Associated Press

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