On Friday, a panel of experts to the Food and Drug Administration will debate whether to authorize emergency use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine after the FDA confirmed Wednesday that it is safe and effective.
On Thursday, President Biden marked the administration of the 50 millionth dose of COVID-19 vaccine since his swearing-in. The moment came days after the nation reached the devastating milestone of 500,000 coronavirus deaths and ahead of a meeting with the nation's governors on plans to speed the distribution even further.
“The more people get vaccinated, the faster we’re going to beat this pandemic,” Biden said at the White House ceremony, noting that his administration is on course to exceed his promise to deliver 100 million shots in his first 100 days in office.
“We’re halfway there: 50 million shots in 37 days," Biden said. "That’s weeks ahead of schedule."
Meanwhile, Pfizer and Moderna, the makers of the two coronavirus vaccines approved in the United States, told Congress on Tuesday that they expect a jump in shot supplies within the next month. Executives insisted they will be able to provide enough vaccine for most Americans by summer.
The U.S. has reported more than 506,000 deaths and 28 million coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, according to a tally by NBC News.
Here are the latest coronavirus updates from the U.S. and elsewhere:
Harris Implores Black Americans to Get COVID Vaccine Despite 'Righteous Skepticism'
Vice President Kamala Harris addressed concerns that some Black Americans have had about COVID-19 vaccines, encouraging them to get the shot despite historical skepticism of the medical field.
"We must speak truth about the history of medical testing in this country," Harris said in an interview with MSNBC's Rev. Al Sharpton. "We must be honest about the fact that people have a righteous skepticism about how it has been used, how it has been tested and on whom it will be used."
The U.S. has a long record of unethical medical experimentation on Black Americans, from non-consensual testing on slaves to forced sterilization during the early 20th century and the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. Experts have cautioned that this history, along with broader health care disparities in the modern era, has led to a distrust of the vaccine's safety.
Harris noted she had received the vaccine in hopes of helping to build trust in others.
"I got vaccinated," she said. "I can tell you first of all that these vaccines are safe. It will save your life. There is a Black woman, Dr. Kizzy Corbet, who was part of the team of scientists who created this vaccine and it will save your life."
Read the full story on TODAY.com.
How Would COVID-19 Vaccine Makers Adapt to Variants?
COVID-19 vaccines appear to be working against today’s variants, but companies are making plans to update their shots if needed. Adjusting the vaccines should be easier than coming up with the original shots.
COVID-19 vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna are made with new technology that's easy to update. The so-called mRNA vaccines use a piece of genetic code for the spike protein that coats the coronavirus, so your immune system can learn to recognize and fight the real thing.
If a variant with a mutated spike protein crops up that the original vaccine can't recognize, companies would swap out that piece of genetic code for a better match — if and when regulators decide that's necessary.
Updating other COVID-19 vaccines could be more complex. The AstraZeneca vaccine, for example, uses a harmless version of a cold virus to carry that spike protein gene into the body. An update would require growing cold viruses with the updated spike gene.
The Food and Drug Administration said studies of updated COVID-19 vaccines won’t have to be as large or long as for the first generation of shots. Instead, a few hundred volunteers could receive experimental doses of a revamped vaccine and have their blood checked for signs it revved up the immune system as well as the original vaccines.
More difficult is deciding if the virus has morphed enough to modify shots.
Pfizer Begins Trials Testing Third Dose of COVID Vaccine
Pfizer announced it has begun studying a third dose of its COVID-19 vaccine, part of a strategy to guard against mutated versions of the coronavirus.
Health authorities say first-generation COVID-19 vaccines still protect against variants that are emerging in different parts of the world. But manufacturers are starting to prepare now in case a more vaccine-resistant mutation comes along.
Pfizer said it will offer a third dose to 144 volunteers, drawing from people who participated in the vaccine’s early-stage U.S. testing last year. It wants to determine if an additional booster shot given six to 12 months after the first two doses would rev up the immune system enough to ward off a mutated virus.
Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech, also are tweaking their vaccine recipe. The companies are in discussions with U.S. and European regulators about a study to evaluate doses updated to better match variants such as the one first discovered in South Africa.
Fauci: Whatever Vaccine Is Available, Take It
Dr. Anthony Fauci says if a coronavirus vaccine is available, regardless of which one, take it.
The top U.S. infectious disease expert told NBC's "TODAY" show on Thursday that a third vaccine becoming available “is nothing but good news” and would help control of the pandemic. U.S. regulators announced Wednesday that Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine offers strong protection against severe COVID-19. It’s expected to be approved soon by the FDA.
Fauci warns people not to hold off on getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine while waiting for the slightly more effective Pfizer or Moderna shots.
He says it’s a race “between the virus and getting vaccines into people” and “the longer one waits not getting vaccinated, the better chance the virus has to get a variant or a mutation.”
Fauci says public health officials are always concerned about virus variants and stressed following public health measures of wearing masks and social distancing.
The predominant coronavirus variant in the United States is from Britain. Fauci says the vaccines distributed in the U.S. “clearly can take care of that particular strain.”
Scientists Criticize Premature Data Release of Alleged New Virus Variant Found in New York
A New York Times report on a possible new COVID variant spreading in New York City is making waves, but scientists and City Hall were quick to criticize what they said was the potentially premature release of unfinished research.
The Times reported Wednesday, in part citing unpublished research from Columbia University, that a new variant seemed to be popping up in the city with a mutation that could weaken the effectiveness of vaccines.
Neither city nor state health officials had previously spoken publicly about this new development, and it immediately raised concerns about the prospect of another surge of illness.
But prominent figures were quick to criticize both Columbia and the Times for reporting what they suggested was unfinished work.
"This wasn't even a 'pre-print' - I was asked to provide comment on someone's draft manuscript that still had tracked changes and didn't include the figures. Based on this, the NYT wrote a story. This is an absolute mess," Nathan Grubaugh, a professor at the Yale School of Public Health, wrote on Twitter.
Read the full story here
California Becomes First State to Top 50K COVID-Related Deaths
At least 50,992 people have died of the coronavirus in California, according to an NBC News tally. It is the first state to surpass 50,000 deaths.
California also leads the country in infections, where at least 3,550,058 cases have been identified since the beginning of the pandemic.
One in ten COVID deaths in the U.S. have occurred in the state, although about 12% of the U.S. population is estimated to live in California.
On Wednesday, Los Angeles County reported a backlog of 806 coronavirus-related deaths dating from Dec. 3 to Feb. 3.