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Pfizer, BioNTech will vaccinate summer Olympians; vaccine highly effective against 2 variants, studies say: COVID-19 updates – USA TODAY

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Pfizer and BioNTech will provide their COVID-19 vaccine to Olympic athletes participating at the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Tokyo games this summer, the two companies announced Thursday.

Delivery of initial doses is expected to begin at the end of May to ensure participating athletes and staff receive second doses ahead of arrivals in Tokyo. The Summer Olympics are scheduled to begin July 23. The Paralympics begin about a month later. The Games had been scheduled for last summer but were postponed one year because of the pandemic.

“The return of the Olympic and Paralympic Games represents a monumental moment of world unity and peace after a grueling year of isolation and devastation,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in a staetment. “We are proud to play a role in providing vaccines to athletes and national Olympic delegations.”

Also in the news:

►Initial analysis of Phase 2/3 testing of Moderna’s vaccine in adolescents ages 12 to 17 years showed vaccine effectiveness of 96%, the company says. The vaccine was “generally well tolerated” with no serious safety concerns identified thus far, the company said.

►The coronavirus variant first discovered in New York City does not appear to be leading to more severe infections, according to a study published by the CDC on Wednesday.

►CVS Health announced Wednesday that it is accepting walk-in appointments for COVID-19 vaccines at pharmacy locations across the country.

►California officials say a bar owner who sold undercover agents fake COVID-19 vaccine cards is now facing charges for multiple crimes.

►New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Broadway shows will resume Sept. 14, and tickets will go on sale starting Thursday.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 32.5 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 579,200 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: Over 155 million cases and 3.2 million deaths. More than 321.5 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 249.5 million have been administered, according to the CDC. More than 107.3 million Americans have been fully vaccinated.

📘 What we’re reading: Want to know if your family or friends got the COVID-19 vaccine? It’s not rude to ask, etiquette experts say.

Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates. Want more? Sign up for our Coronavirus Watch newsletter for updates to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

Social climbing: Everest climbers discouraged from visiting other camps

 Everest ER in Nepal reports that its doctors have met with Mount Everest expedition leaders in recent days to help combat respiratory illnesses, encouraging all to maintain climb camp “bubbles” and discouraging the common practice of visits between camps. Climber Pawel Michalski posted on Facebook that more than 30 people evacuated to Kathmandu have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Everest ER said climbers are being encouraged to wear masks even within their camps. Expedition leaders are being urged to send  any members with respiratory illness to Everest ER for further evaluation to isolate and monitor ill camp members. Michalski said every base is functioning in “closed mode.”

 “We live like islands scattered on the ice sea,” he wrote.

Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine effective against two major variants

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is effective at protecting against severe disease caused by two variants rapidly spreading around the U.S., according to two studies published Wednesday. The vaccine protects against severe illness caused by both the variant first identified in the U.K. and the variant first discovered in South Africa, the studies show. One was published in the New England Journal of Medicine and the other in The Lancet.

There have been 20,915 cases of the U.K. variant in the U.S., Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows. In April, CDC Director Rachelle Walensky announced it had become the dominant strain in the U.S., and in January British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that the variant might be 30% more deadly than previous versions of the disease. But The Lancet study showed that in Israel, where the variant accounted for nearly 95% of all coronavirus cases, the two doses provide more than 95% protection against COVID-19 infection, hospitalization, and death.

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India under siege, Southeast Asia battles surges

India has already reported more cases this year than it did in all of 2020, Johns Hopkins University data shows. India passed that mark Tuesday, and on Wednesday reported more than 412,000 cases. India in all of 2020 reported 10.27 million cases; so far this year, it’s 10.81 million. On average this year, India has been adding one case every second; the current pace is closer to five cases per second.

Meanwhile, the huge COVID-19 crisis in India extends beyond its borders to other Southeast Asian countries, and infections are spiking throughout the region. In Thailand, a surge that began in April has prompted health officials to rush to vaccinate thousands of people in Bangkok’s biggest slum of Bhutan, which borders India. Laos is also reporting surges in infections in recent weeks, mostly blamed on virus variants but also failure to adhere to mitigation measures.

Mike Stucka

States that lifted restrictions early saw short-lived booms

States that lifted business restrictions early during the COVID-19 pandemic benefited from a boost in economic activity, but those gains were limited or short-lived, as other states often caught up within a month, according to a study by Moody’s Analytics. The aggressive states notched a longer-lasting advantage in employment but even in that critical category, the other states have narrowed the gap, the Moody’s analysis shows.   

“I don’t see the states, by reopening aggressively, bought themselves that much additional growth,” Moody’s economist Adam Kamins says. Read more here.

Paul Davidson

Once grim CDC projections now ‘quite hopeful’ for summer

Hospitalizations and deaths should decline sharply by July if the nationwide vaccination program remains strong and community mitigation efforts are followed, according to a federal report released Wednesday.

Still, ignoring mitigation efforts such as masks and social distancing in some situations could lead to substantial increases in “severe COVID-19 outcomes,” even with improved vaccination coverage, the report from the CDC says.

“High vaccination rates and compliance with public health prevention measures are essential to control the pandemic and to prevent surges in hospitalizations and deaths in the coming months,” the report says.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky , CDC director, said variants remain a “wild card,” but that so far the vaccines appear to work well against them.

“Models once projecting really grim news now offer reasons to be quite hopeful for what the summer may bring,” Walensky said at a White House briefing. “The sooner we get more and more people vaccinated, the sooner we will all get back to normal.”

US backs lifting intellectual property rules for COVID-19 vaccines

The Biden administration will support efforts to waive intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines, a major step in the attempts to end the pandemic as it continues to rage in India and other parts of the world. U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai announced the decision in a Wednesday statement, amid World Trade Organization talks over easing global trade rules to enable more countries to produce more of the vaccines.

“This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures,” Tai said in the statement. “The administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines.”

She also cautioned that it would take time to reach the required global “consensus” to waive the protections under WTO rules, and U.S. officials said it would not have an immediate effect on the global supply of COVID-19 shots. The pharmaceutical industry has opposed lifting the patent protections.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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