Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine weaker against South African variant, study says; New York City could run out of doses. Latest COVID-19 updates

Elinor Aspegren


New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said doses expected this week were delayed by winter weather elsewhere in the country, forcing the city to hold off making 30,000 to 35,000 vaccination appointments. The city has less than 30,000 first doses left and might run out of the COVID-19 vaccine Thursday, he said in a daily update

One public health expert said the delays were unacceptable.

“Having vaccine centers take snow days is just going to back things up more than they already are,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “The virus doesn’t take snow days.”

The southeastern U.S., walloped by power outages and icy conditions, is experiencing the same trouble. Some vaccination sites canceled appointments, and vaccine shipments continue to be delayed, said Jeff Zients, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator. 

Samantha Bequer, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Emergency Management, said 200,000 doses of Moderna vaccine expected to arrive Tuesday are now expected on Thursday.

And, in Texas, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention postponed last Friday’s shipments in preparation for the winter storm. State officials do not expect deliveries until later this week, at the earliest.

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In the headlines:

►New York is suing Amazon, claiming the company failed to provide workers with a safe environment at two warehouses as COVID-19 infections surged nationwide.

►North Carolina is shifting its vaccine distribution guidance to dissuade people from traveling long distances to receive a COVID-19 shot in the state. 

►If the COVID-19 vaccine rollout seems chaotic and incomprehensible, with numbers that don’t add up and allocations that don’t make sense, you’re not alone.

►North Korea tried to hack into the servers of U.S. drugmaker Pfizer to steal coronavirus vaccine information, South Korean intelligence officials reported Tuesday, according to The Washington Post.

►In remarks to the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on “all countries” to provide all data from the earliest days of their outbreaks. The comments come days after reports that China refused to give raw data on early COVID-19 cases to a World Health Organization team probing the origins of the pandemic.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 27.8 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 490,400 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 109.87 million cases and 2.42 million deaths. More than 72.4 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and about 56.2 million have been administered, according to the CDC.

📘 What we’re reading: Health officials say COVID-19 will likely become endemic in the next several years. Here’s what that means.

Pfizer vaccine is weaker against South Africa variant, new report says

Neutralizing antibody response from the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine diminished by two-thirds against the coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa, but it’s not known how that might impact the vaccine’s level of protection, according to a preliminary report published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The South Africa variant, known as B.1.351, has been detected in only about 20 COVID-19 cases in the U.S., but raised concerns because of the possibility it might resist vaccines. Pfizer and BioNTech said there has been “no clinical evidence to date” that its vaccine is not effective against that variant, but are working on an update or booster shot anyway. 

“It is unclear what effect a reduction in neutralization by approximately two thirds would have on (vaccine)-elicited protection from Covid-19 caused by the B.1.351 lineage of SARS-CoV-2,” says the report, authored by researchers from Pfizer, BioNTech and the University of Texas Medical Branch.

Researchers found no reduction in efficacy against the U.K. variant.

In a CNN interview Wednesday night, Dr. Anthony Fauci said that even though “the efficacy of the vaccines induced by both the Moderna and the Pfizer are diminished multiple-fold, there’s such a cushion of efficacy at the level of antibodies that are induced” that they both protect against most disease and especially against severe disease from the variant.

2 Louisiana residents accused of trying to bribe Hawaiian airport screener

Two Louisiana residents have been arrested for trying to bribe Hawaii airport screeners to allow them to bypass the state’s mandatory Safe Travels rules, officials said.

Johntrell White, 29, and Nadia Bailey, 28, arrived in Hawaii on Feb 12 without “valid COVID-19 exemptions or pre-tests,” officials said in a news release. They told an airport screener that they would give her $3,000 to let them both through without quarantining.

“The screener alerted deputy sheriffs, who arrested them both for bribery. White and Bailey were booked and released and immediately flew back to the mainland,” the release said.

Hawaii’s current travel restrictions allow for visitors if they produce a negative test before arrival, or to undergo a mandatory 10-day quarantine.

Mexico arrests 6 for trafficking false coronavirus vaccines

Police in Mexico arrested six people Wednesday in the northern border state of Nuevo León for allegedly trafficking in fake coronavirus vaccines. 

Assistant Health Secretary Hugo López-Gatell later said that the fakes were presented as Pfizer vaccines, which are only available in Mexico through government vaccinations teams. He said the suspects had offered the vaccines for sale for the equivalent of around $2,000 per dose.

“You don’t play around with health, and in these moments of pandemic, nobody should be profiteering,” said Public Safety Secretary Rosa Icela Rodríguez.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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