The Moderna vaccine is now in some Americans' arms as Covid-19 cases in the US pass 18 million

As the number of Covid-19 cases reported in the United States passed 18 million, the second vaccine given emergency authorization was being administered Mond...

Posted: Dec 21, 2020 9:49 AM
Updated: Dec 21, 2020 9:45 PM

As the number of Covid-19 cases reported in the United States passed 18 million, the second vaccine given emergency authorization was being administered Monday for the first time outside of clinical trials.

One of the first people to get a public dose of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine was a doctor in Texas who has gone to work, fighting the virus for 277 consecutive days.

'This is like having gold,' Dr. Joseph Varon told CNN as he held a box of doses shortly before he was vaccinated. 'I don't cry, but I came very close ... You know how many lives you can save with this?'

Varon was the first at his hospital to get the vaccine in an effort to assure staff and the largely minority community he serves that the vaccine is safe.

As of Monday, at least 18.01 million people have been infected with coronavirus, and more than 319,000 people in the US have died, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Varon, a critical care doctor and chief of staff at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, said he has signed far more death certificates during this pandemic than he could have ever imagined. And some of his staff members have fallen sick with Covid-19.

Varon said those working in the Covid unit will get the vaccine first followed by staff assigned to the emergency room.

President-elect Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, received their first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Monday at a hospital in Newark, Delaware..

'We owe these folks an awful lot,' Biden said, thanking those involved in the vaccine's development and distribution and frontline health care workers.

Biden said the Trump administration deserved 'some credit' for Operation Warp Speed, the federal government's vaccine program, and their role in making coronavirus vaccinations possible.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Francis Collins, and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar will be vaccinated against Covid-19 on Tuesday.

Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), said on Twitter that he will receive Moderna's vaccine, alongside Azar, Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and other NIH frontline workers.

As of Monday morning more than 614,000 Americans have received a vaccine shot, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Covid Data Tracker.

Most Americans will have to wait months before getting their inoculations.

In the meantime, new infections, hospitalizations and deaths keep soaring, prompting health experts to urge the public to stay home this Christmas week.

'This is really not the time to be traveling,' epidemiologist Dr. Celine Gounder said.

But millions of airline passengers ignored such advice and traveled over the weekend.

Now travelers risk getting infected with a variant of coronavirus that might be even more contagious.

'These viruses mutate all the time'

A variant of the virus is spreading rapidly in the UK, prompting dozens of travel bans and raising concerns about what this means for the world.

England's Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty warned Saturday that the variant 'can spread more quickly' and was responsible for 60% of new infections in London.

On Monday, an epidemiologist from the World Health Organization explained why the variant might be infecting more people.

'We are hearing that it could spread up to 70% faster, but what that means is there are scientists in the UK that are evaluating the surveillance data, the genomic sequencing data, and looking at the spread in parts of England and across England,' said Maria Van Kerkhove, the technical lead for Covid-19 for the WHO.

'What they're seeing is that the reproduction number -- so this is the number of individuals that an infected person transmits to -- has increased from 1.1 to 1.5 ... I just want to put into context this up to 70% increase.'

Van Kerkhove said scientists are trying to determine 'how much of that is associated with the variant itself, as well as behavioral differences in individual that this variant has infected. So they're still working through that right now.'

The increase is happening even as interventions are in place across England, she said.

'It does mean that we have to work a little bit harder about preventing the spread,' she said. 'But, what we do know is that the interventions that work about preventing the spread for this variant also work for the viruses that are circulating around.'

Those interventions include physical distancing and wearing masks. 'These viruses mutate all the time,' Van Kerkhove said.

Operation Warp Speed chief science adviser Moncef Slaoui said while there's 'clear evidence that there is more of it in the population,' so far 'there is no hard evidence that this virus (variant) is actually more transmissible.'

There's also no evidence so far to suggest the new variant is more lethal, or that current vaccines wouldn't work against it, Whitty said.

But a virus that spreads more easily could result in more infections, which in turn might lead to more hospitalizations and deaths.

Backward tracing using genetic evidence suggests the new UK variant emerged in September and then circulated at very low levels in the population until mid-November, according to Public Health England.

At least 24 countries are now banning passenger travel from the UK, including Canada, Russia, France, Chile, Italy, Iran and Sweden.

As of Monday morning, there are no plans to enact a US travel ban against the UK, US Assistant Secretary for Health Adm. Brett Giroir said.

British Airways, Delta Airlines and Virgin Atlantic have agreed to require a Covid-19 test before allowing passengers to board planes traveling from the UK to New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo told CNN.

Gounder said a travel ban might not do much good now. 'We have seen this virus circulating within the UK for at least a few months now,' Gounder said. 'Because this virus has been circulating for some period of time in the UK already, the cat's out of the bag. It has spread elsewhere, including the United States.'

Travel bans can also backfire, Gounder said.

'As we saw when there were efforts to ban travel from China before, people rushed to travel. So the likelihood (is) that that could backfire -- that people will actually travel more, all of a sudden, in advance of impending bans.'

Will the vaccines work against the new variant?

Both the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and the Moderna vaccine have shown efficacy rates of around 95% in clinical trials. But many are questioning whether the vaccines would work on variants of the virus -- like one that is spreading in the UK.

'Up to now, I don't think there has been a single variant that would be resistant to the vaccine,' Slaoui sad. 'We can't exclude it, but it's not there now.'

He said the novel coronavirus may be prone to variance. But critical aspects of the virus, such as the spike protein involved in a vaccine, are very specific to the novel coronavirus and unlikely to mutate much.

Giroir also said he thinks the current vaccines will work against the variant.

'Remember, our vaccines develop antibodies against multiple parts of that spike protein -- not just one that's the mutated one,' he said.

Scientists at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research are examining the variant and expect to know in the next few days whether vaccines might not work against it.

But most Americans can't get vaccinated for months.

'So I think what we really need to be doing is focusing on the things we know will prevent spread of this new variant -- which is the same thing that works against spread of the coronavirus in general,' Gounder said.

'That is masks, social distancing. If you're going to be around other people, do it outdoors. And with the holidays coming up, this is really not the time to be traveling.'

No more ICU capacity

The US recently broke records for daily Covid-19 infections reports, hospitalizations and deaths.

Health officials Monday reported the nation reached an all-time high of 115,351 current patients.

In Los Angeles County, an estimated one in every 64 residents is infected with coronavirus and 'actively infecting others,' county health services director Christina Ghaly said Monday.

The county's hospitals are full. About half of all intensive care unit patients are suffering from Covid-19 and about a third of regular hospital beds are filled with coronavirus patients, Ghaly said.

ICU capacity in Southern California and in the San Joaquin Valley remains at zero, with just 2.1% of ICU beds available statewide.

Guidelines on how Los Angeles County hospitals could prioritize patients by rationing care have been circulated among doctors at some area hospitals, the Los Angeles Times reported. Without enough staff to save every patient, doctors may soon be faced with just trying to save as many as possible.

'It's heartbreaking, really, to see where we're at,' Ghaly said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story and headline incorrectly described Assistant Secretary for Health Adm. Brett Giroir's comments on vaccine distribution. Health officials are working to have enough doses for 20 million people distributed by the first week of January. He did not promise that 20 million people would be inoculated by that time.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 751242

Reported Deaths: 13795
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1032931788
Lake556911009
Allen41692692
St. Joseph36990565
Hamilton36588417
Elkhart29398461
Tippecanoe22901226
Vanderburgh22556400
Porter19356325
Johnson18471389
Hendricks17682317
Clark13226195
Madison13149344
Vigo12614253
LaPorte12419221
Monroe12207176
Delaware10966198
Howard10321225
Kosciusko9630121
Hancock8576146
Bartholomew8169157
Warrick7860156
Floyd7811180
Grant7242179
Wayne7162201
Boone6966103
Morgan6761141
Dubois6218118
Marshall6209116
Cass6016110
Henry5900110
Dearborn589878
Noble581488
Jackson509076
Shelby501496
Lawrence4742122
Gibson444894
Clinton442355
Harrison441875
DeKalb439885
Montgomery438090
Whitley406543
Huntington402681
Steuben400159
Miami395269
Jasper388054
Knox375991
Putnam372960
Wabash361983
Ripley347170
Adams345555
Jefferson335886
White331953
Daviess3033100
Wells295281
Decatur289992
Greene286885
Fayette284864
Posey273835
LaGrange273072
Scott270156
Clay267148
Washington246036
Randolph244783
Jennings235349
Spencer234531
Starke228058
Fountain220948
Sullivan214643
Owen211858
Fulton202942
Jay200932
Carroll193620
Orange188255
Perry187237
Rush175926
Vermillion174844
Franklin170335
Tipton166246
Parke149416
Pike138234
Blackford136232
Pulaski120647
Newton113936
Brown104243
Crawford102516
Benton101714
Martin91715
Warren84015
Switzerland8148
Union72810
Ohio57911
Unassigned0420

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1108736

Reported Deaths: 20166
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1287201467
Cuyahoga1157922211
Hamilton813971250
Montgomery525481043
Summit484271001
Lucas43353820
Butler39013606
Stark33332929
Lorain25672505
Warren24591303
Mahoning22370603
Lake21207388
Clermont20117253
Delaware18852136
Licking16662222
Fairfield16574204
Trumbull16548482
Medina15610271
Greene15281248
Clark14237306
Wood13292200
Portage13251215
Allen11913239
Richland11605211
Miami10849225
Wayne9141223
Columbiana9032230
Muskingum8906135
Pickaway8663122
Tuscarawas8649250
Marion8642138
Erie8056165
Ashtabula7160179
Hancock6998132
Ross6944161
Geauga6838151
Scioto6534106
Belmont6157174
Union584549
Lawrence5731102
Jefferson5678158
Huron5546122
Sandusky5442126
Darke5420129
Seneca5348128
Washington5319109
Athens523960
Auglaize502187
Mercer487385
Shelby476895
Knox4571112
Madison444266
Ashland435797
Putnam4336103
Defiance432399
Fulton432074
Crawford4037110
Brown402461
Logan387677
Preble3855105
Clinton379166
Ottawa373681
Highland359665
Williams348278
Champaign344759
Guernsey324953
Jackson318254
Perry297350
Morrow291840
Fayette285450
Hardin275265
Henry273467
Holmes2701101
Coshocton269060
Van Wert247264
Adams243256
Pike242835
Gallia240650
Wyandot234556
Hocking220563
Carroll197348
Paulding176542
Meigs148440
Monroe136344
Noble136239
Harrison114138
Morgan109624
Vinton85517
Unassigned03
Fort Wayne
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Angola
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Huntington
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Hi: 88° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 75°
Decatur
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Feels Like: 79°
Van Wert
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Scattered showers and storms are likely Sunday evening. Strong to severe storms are possible. Hot and humid for Father's Day.
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