Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Tuesday, Dec. 15, as the day unfolded. It is no longer being updated. Click here to see all the most recent news about the pandemic, and click here to find additional resources.
The coronavirus vaccination has arrived in the United States, with the first Pfizer shots administered in New York on Monday morning, signaling a turning point in the battle against a pandemic that has devastated the country. Hundreds more hospitals will also begin vaccinating their workers Tuesday, while federal health officials review a second COVID-19 shot.
On Tuesday morning, a second COVID-19 vaccine, from Moderna, received a positive FDA review, moving it closer to authorization.
In Seattle, 3,900 doses of the vaccine arrived at the University of Washington Medical Center on Monday morning, and the hospital plans to “soft-launch” vaccination clinics Tuesday. UW Medicine expects to have administered all of the first doses by early next week and for its high-risk employees to be vaccinated by the end of December.
We’re updating this page with the latest news about the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the Seattle area, the U.S. and the world.
Biden’s challenge: Creating a COVID-19-free White House
WASHINGTON — Three blocks from the White House, office space for more than 500 Biden transition staffers sits mostly idle. The government is shipping out laptops so staffers can work from home. President-elect Joe Biden, surrounded by just a handful of aides in Delaware, is using Zoom to oversee his plans to assume power.
But Biden soon will be entering a no-Zoom zone at the White House — just one sign of the challenges his new administration will face when it moves to Washington in the midst of a pandemic.
After months of making a virtue of the cautious approach his campaign and transition team have taken toward COVID-19, Biden’s prudence will be tested by technology and tradition when he arrives on Jan. 20.
White House computers don’t allow the popular video conference software Zoom or rival systems like Google Meet and Slack. Government-issue cellphones only gained texting capabilities a few years ago. And many employees will need to be present at the White House to access classified information.
Telework is possible for some White House staff, and improvements in both secure and unclassified videoconferencing have been made over the last two decades. But the lack of in-person coordination could pose an additional challenge to the new government facing a multitude of crises.
Further complicating matters, the Biden team must devise health and safety protocols from scratch.
Negotiators report progress on long-delayed COVID aid bill
WASHINGTON — Top Capitol Hill Republicans labored Tuesday to keep the price tag for a long-delayed COVID-19 aid package in check, seeking to prevail in a battle over help for state and local governments, while capping the cost of bonus jobless benefits and direct payments sought by Democrats.
Negotiations on COVID-19 relief intensified Tuesday after months of futility. The top four leaders of Congress met twice in hopes of finally cementing an agreement that would revive subsidies for businesses hit hard by the pandemic, help distribute new coronavirus vaccines, fund schools and renew soon-to-expire jobless benefits.
After two meetings in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Capitol suite, where Democrats pressed for more generous steps to help individuals struggling in the COVID-19 economy, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., gave an upbeat assessment.
“I think we’ve built a lot of trust,” McCarthy said. “I think we’re moving in the right direction. I think there’s a possibility of getting it done.”
The uptick in activity could be a sign that an agreement is near, though COVID-19 relief talks have been notoriously difficult.
Front-line medical workers get first doses of coronavirus vaccine in Seattle
Thirteen health care workers were among the first in Washington state to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine Tuesday in an event at UW Medical Center. The event, which gave each worker a moment to speak, highlighted the complicated emotions of fatigued front-line workers, who experience both hope and catharsis with the vaccine’s arrival, but also deep concern over what’s to come amid a fall surge in hospitalizations.
South Korea reports new daily high, mulls new steps
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported another high in daily coronavirus increases as health officials face growing pressure to enforce stricter social distancing to slow the spread in the capital area.
The 1,078 cases confirmed by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Wednesday brought the national caseload to 45,442. The death toll was 612 after 25 COVID-19 patients died in the past 48 hours, the two deadliest days since the outbreak began.
The agency said 226 among 11,883 active patients were in serious or critical condition, which was also the most since the start of the pandemic, as fears grow about a possible shortage in hospital capacities.
Senior Health Ministry official Yoon Taeho said authorities were discussing whether to elevate social distancing restrictions to the highest “Tier 3,” which could possibly including banning gatherings of more than 10 people, shutting non-essential businesses, and requiring companies to have more employees work from home.
British officials monitor threat from mutations
LONDON – As vaccines are rolling out, the coronavirus is on the move, not merely spreading but also mutating, and possibly becoming more transmissible.
There is no evidence that these changes are making the virus deadlier, but new research has provided evidence that the virus is not a static target of vaccines and will need to be watched closely to see how it responds to therapeutic interventions and the human immune system.
The issue of mutations led to headlines across the United Kingdom after a top government official, Health Secretary Matt Hancock, stood in the House of Commons on Monday and announced that more than 1,000 confirmed coronavirus infections in southeastern England show genetic mutations that might be driving the surge in that region.
That news was quickly followed by a statement from Jeremy Farrar, the head of the Wellcome Trust biomedical research foundation, saying “there is evidence to indicate a new variant of the Covid-19 virus” and calling this development “potentially serious.” He said it is unclear whether the variant is responsible for the spike in infections in parts of the United Kingdom or what this may or may not mean for transmission of the virus and the efficacy of vaccines.
Modular construction meets changing needs in the pandemic
When the University of Denver reopened for classes this fall, there was a new building on campus next to the student athletics center: a coronavirus testing center created using modular construction.
Students and staff can either walk up or drive up to have their temperatures screened or to receive a coronavirus test at one of six windows at the center, a 40-foot-long building manufactured out of state in a factory and shipped to Colorado on a flatbed truck. Proponents say the method is faster and greener than conventional construction.
“With modular, we can build more quickly and have better quality control, while reducing waste and our carbon footprint,” said Andrew Ahrendt, director of national manufacturing at PCL Construction, a group of independent general contracting companies that manufactured the testing site, known as the Citizen Care Pod.
Modular construction has been growing in popularity among developers as a method for building multifamily housing, hotels and workplaces. The pace of hospitality and office projects has slowed in 2020 as a result of the pandemic, and many developers have turned instead to medical buildings, affordable housing and data centers.
Behind the push has been an effort to address the health concerns of businesses and schools trying to operate safely.
Kansas mayor resigns after threats over backing mask mandate
DODGE CITY, Kan. — A western Kansas mayor announced her immediate resignation Tuesday because of threats she has received after publicly supporting a mask mandate.
Dodge City Mayor Joyce Warshaw said she was concerned about her safety after encountering aggression, including threats via phone and email, after she was quoted in a USA Today article Friday supporting a mask mandate, The Dodge City Globe reported.
“I understand people are under a lot of pressure from various things that are happening around society like the pandemic, the politics, the economy, so on and so forth, but I also believe that during these times people are acting not as they normally would,” Warshaw said.
The commission voted 4-1 on Nov. 16 to impose a mask mandate, with several exceptions.
Ford County, where Dodge City is located, has recorded 4,914 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, according to the state health department. The county has about 33,600 residents.
Warshaw said despite the threats, she doesn’t regret voting in favor of the mask mandate.
Idaho health board rejects regional mask, distancing order
BOISE, Idaho — A proposed public health order that would have included a mask mandate for Idaho’s most populated region was voted down on Tuesday as hundreds of protesters again gathered outside the Central District Health building in Boise.
A previous attempt to vote on the order — which would have mandated masks in public and required businesses to practice social distancing or face a misdemeanor — was abruptly halted last week at the request of Boise officials and police amid fears that protests were becoming too “intense.” One board member had to rush out after rowdy protesters at her residence loudly played a clip featuring gunfire from the movie “Scarface” while her child was alone inside.
About 200 people gathered to protest at Central District Health on Tuesday, and police “were not involved in any events of significance,” department spokeswoman Haley Williams wrote in an email. The protests appeared largely peaceful, and police didn’t receive any reports of protesters gathering outside of board members’ homes.
California virus surge brings body bags, makeshift morgues
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California is distributing 5,000 body bags mostly to the hard-hit Los Angeles and San Diego areas and has 60 refrigerated trailers standing by as makeshift morgues in anticipation of a surge of coronavirus deaths from hospitalizations that now are double the summertime peak and threaten to overwhelm the hospital system, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday.
The number of average daily deaths has quadrupled from 41 a month ago to 163 now, while positive cases have surged to more than 32,500 each day. Of those new cases, an anticipated 12% will wind up in the hospital and 12% of those hospitalized will crowd already stretched intensive care units.
That means one day’s worth of cases can be expected to produce a staggering 3,900 hospitalizations and nearly 500 ICU patients.
“We are in the middle of the most acute peak,” Newsom said, urging residents to take precautions to slow the spread.
In Southern California’s Orange County, health officials said mobile field hospitals would be rolled out to three hospitals that already need more space. The large, heavy-duty, temperature-controlled canvas tents with hard flooring add an extra 125 beds.
Seattle again extends suspension of interest charges, late fees for utility bills
Seattle is again extending its COVID-19 suspension of interest charges and late fees for residential, nonprofit and small-business utility bills.
The City Council voted unanimously Monday to pass legislation from Mayor Jenny Durkan that will extend the policy until either June 30, 2021, or when Seattle’s COVID-19 emergency status is terminated, whichever is earlier.
The city began waiving interest charges and late fees for Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities bills in March to provide residential, nonprofit and small-business customers with relief during the pandemic.
The policy was going to expire on Aug. 1, but was extended until Jan. 1. The council’s Monday vote extends it again.
Hopeful sign: Midwestern states see drop in new virus cases
After a punishing fall that left hospitals struggling, some Midwestern states are seeing a decline in new coronavirus cases. But the signs of improvement are offset by the virus’s accelerating spread on both coasts: In California, officials scrambled to distribute body bags and deploy mobile morgues as infections rose at an alarming rate.
States including Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Nebraska have seen decreases in the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 over the past couple of weeks. All, however, are still experiencing an alarming number of deaths and hospitalizations because of the earlier surge of cases.
With winter weather driving people indoors, where the virus spreads more easily, there’s no guarantee the improving dynamic can be maintained, doctors and public health officials say.
“We have a vaccine rolling out, but that doesn’t change the overall picture,” Dr. James Lawler with the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Global Center for Health Security told the Omaha World-Herald. “Things could still turn south pretty easily.”
State confirms 1,272 new COVID-19 cases -- 260 in King County -- and 35 deaths
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,272 new COVID-19 cases as of Monday, and 35 new deaths.
In King County, the state’s most populous, 260 new cases were reported, as were 10 new deaths.
The update brings the state’s totals to 205,069 cases and 2,953 deaths, meaning that 1.4% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Monday.
The DOH also reported that 12,773 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus-- 124 new hospitalizations as of Monday.
In King County, state health officials have confirmed a total of 57,795 COVID-19 diagnoses and 928 deaths.
Because DOH no longer reports COVID-related deaths on the weekends, tallies for deaths may be higher early in the week.
DOH's method of reporting new cases each day differs from The Times', which was today’s total cases minus the previous day’s total cases.
The DOH’s report of new cases each day may include duplicate test results, results assigned to the wrong county, results that are reported for today but are actually from a previous day, occasional false positive tests, etc.
Mask dustup in Tim Eyman's trial
Tim Eyman took the stand on Tuesday in a long-running case in which he's charged laundering political donations to enrich himself, accepting kickbacks from a signature-gathering firm and a yearslong refusal to comply with campaign finance laws.
After he took the witness stand, in Thurston County Superior Court, Eyman asked for permission to remove his face mask. The conservative activist and serial initiative-filer told the court that he has ADHD and said the mask distracts him.
Eyman has been a consistent foe of Gov. Jay Inslee's mask mandate and other restrictions he's put into place to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Judge James Dixon initially granted Eyman's request, so long as Eyman moved his seat back and remained distant from others in the courtroom.
But lawyers with Attorney General Bob Ferguson's office, who are litigating the case against Eyman, objected. Courts, they noted, have been deemed essential and are continuing to operate, but Inslee's mask mandate remains in place. Eyman removing his mask, they said, threatened the safety of everyone in the court room.
Dixon, ultimately, agreed with the attorney general's office and asked Eyman to put his mask back on. He offered Eyman more frequent breaks.
The trial began last month, but was paused for several weeks after an attorney's family member had flu-like symptoms. The presentation of evidence is expected to conclude Wednesday or Thursday, followed by closing arguments, either Thursday or after Christmas.
Ferguson, whose 2017 lawsuit against Eyman precipitated the civil trial, seeks millions of dollars in damages and he hopes to permanently bar Eyman from accepting money on behalf of any political committee or handling their finances.
The African roots of inoculation in America: Saving lives for three centuries
The image was powerful: two Black women, both medical professionals, on either end of a syringe Monday, as one administered to the other one of the first doses of the coronavirus vaccine available to the American public.
It was powerful because it showed who is on front lines fighting the pandemic, and because many Black Americans have a justified suspicion of the medical community. Several decades ago, the government experimented on Black men without their knowledge in the Tuskegee study, and the “father of gynecology,” J. Marion Sims, performed dozens of operations without anesthesia on enslaved Black women.
But go back three centuries, and one finds this: The concept of inoculation arrived in America from Africa. In fact, in the 1700s, Africans taught their technique for protecting themselves against smallpox to the very European settlers who enslaved them.
It’s a once-hidden history recounted most recently by historian Ibram X. Kendi in “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America” and journalist Isabel Wilkerson in “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.”
You may remember from high school history the name Cotton Mather. He was an important Puritan minister and intellectual of his day, and the son of Increase Mather, who founded Harvard College. Cotton Mather was also a enslaver. At the time, about 1,000 people of African descent lived in the Massachusetts colony; many were indentured servants, but increasingly, they were enslaved for life.
Lummi Public Health Department gets first Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines
The Lummi Public Health Department received its first 300 doses of the Pfizer vaccine Tuesday with the first shots going to high-risk front-line workers and vulnerable populations in the state's third-largest tribe.
Vaccinations will begin for medical and dental staff, members of the Lummi Police Department and residents of a retirement and assisted living facility this week, the health department said in an emailed statement.
“This is welcome news in a really tough year,” said Lawrence Solomon, chairman of the Lummi Nation. “We are blessed to be able to protect some of our most vulnerable, frontline workers against the virus.”
It's unknown when more vaccines will be available. Lummi Indian Business Council extended its shelter in place order until January 12.
“This is good news, but we are far from out of harm’s way,” said Dr. Dakotah Lane, medical director of the Public Health Department and member of the Lummi Nation. “The need is far greater than the available number of vaccines at this time. Every member of our community should continue to shelter in place, wear a mask, and limit contact with members outside their household. We have a long way to go before we reach immunity at the scale that would be needed to roll back other protective measures.”
Lummi Public Health Department said it is also continuing to explore participation in AstraZeneca's phase 3 Novavax study. The Lummi Nation pulled out of an earlier trial citing "communications challenges."
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Native Americans test positive for COVID-19 at a rate 3.5 times higher; are hospitalized due to COVID-19 at a rate 5.3 times higher; and die from COVID-19 at a rate 1.8 times higher than that of non-Native populations. To date, only a few tribes nationwide are participating in COVID-19 vaccine trials.
Should you avoid licking your holiday card envelopes during a COVID-19 pandemic? We asked an expert
Sealing envelopes with a lick has always left a funny taste in the mouth, but in the Godforsaken year 2020, could it also turn your holiday cards into a superspreader event?
For months, we’ve been seeing warnings — some more official than others — on social media about the risks associated with licking your envelopes during the coronavirus pandemic. Earlier this year, election officials from Washington to New Jersey asked voters to use a wet sponge or cloth to seal mail-in ballots rather than risk spreading the coronavirus, which can live in saliva droplets.
With holiday card season upon us, I called on epidemiologist Dr. John Segreti, medical director of infection control and prevention at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, for some clarity: Can you send someone COVID-19 by licking an envelope before mailing it? Can you catch COVID-19 from an envelope someone else licked?
“If there is any risk at all, it’s got to be incredibly low,” Segreti said. “Inanimate surfaces play a very small part in transmission of COVID. The vast majority of cases are person-to-person, spread through respiratory droplets.”
Front-line medical workers at UW get first doses of coronavirus vaccine in Seattle
Nurses, doctors and an environmental technician who sanitizes hospital rooms were among the first people in Washington state to get inoculated with Pfizer’s FDA-authorized vaccine Tuesday.
About a dozen medical workers were scheduled Tuesday morning to get the vaccine at the UW Medical Center in Seattle’s Montlake neighborhood. A Seattle Fire Department paramedic, a flight nurse and a medical assistant were also set to be inoculated.
Vaccine doses shipped across the country Monday, with UW Medicine receiving some 3,900. Each of UW Medicine’s campuses, including UW Medical Center, UW Medical Center – Northwest, Valley Medical Center and Harborview Medical Center — received a tray of 975 doses of vaccine.
UW Medicine will begin vaccinating high-risk staffers en masse on Thursday. UW Medicine expects to have administered all of the first 3,900 vaccine doses by early next week and for its high-risk employees to have received their first doses by the end of December.
Washington’s governor halts changes to public health districts just before Pierce County vote
Pierce County Council's move to dissolve the joint health department between Tacoma and the county will have to wait until after the coronavirus pandemic.
Gov. Jay Inslee issued a proclamation Monday pausing the termination of agreements creating joint city-county health departments and health districts during the coronavirus pandemic.
The proclamation came a day before the Pierce County Council planned to vote on an ordinance to end the interlocal agreement between the city of Tacoma and the county creating the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.
It isn't clear if the Pierce County Council will vote on the ordinance as scheduled Tuesday afternoon. The legislation's sponsor, Councilmember Pam Roach, said in a statement that she originally was going to vote against the ordinance because there wasn't enough time for public input, but that Inslee's action has changed her mind.
Inslee said Monday the proclamation was needed to ensure the work being done by health districts across the state at a critical juncture during the pandemic continued without worry about a department's stability.
Canada getting 168K Moderna vaccine doses before year end
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday that Canada is contracted to receive up to 168,000 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine before the end of December, pending approval by Canada’s health regulator.
Trudeau said deliveries could begin within 48 hours of regulatory approval and health officials said they expect to approve use of the Moderna vaccine soon.
Canadians began receiving vaccine shots developed by Pfizer and BioNTech on Monday and Trudeau said Canada expects to receive about 200,000 doses from Pfizer next week. Canada received an initial batch of 30,000 this week.
Trudeau said they will have 70 sites ready to administer these doses next week, up from 14 sites this week.
State Department of Health will cease text-message updates next week
The Washington State Department of Health said it will disable all text-message notifications for its subscription email topics next week due to a huge increase in subscribers and the number of updates as well as costs associated with sending the texts, the department said Tuesday.
The department said texts will cease Dec. 22, though the department may in the future reintroduce them.
People who are currently signed up for text notifications can continue receiving DOH notifications by creating a new account here, registering with an email and selecting the topics they would like to receive information about. There is no action required for those who already have an email subscription.
WHO to sift Chinese samples, data in hunt for virus origins
A German scientist who is part of a small team of experts assembled by the World Health Organization to investigate the origins of the coronavirus says they plan to sift through samples and medical data from China to help determine where the bug first jumped from animals to humans and which species it came from.
The search for the source of the new coronavirus has sparked claims of cover-ups and fueled political tensions,, particularly between the U.S. administration of President Donald Trump and Beijing. Most researchers think that the virus, also known as SARS-CoV-2, originated in animals in China, probably bats, and the WHO has put together a 10-person team to examine the science.
Mission member Fabian Leendertz, a biologist at Germany’s Robert Koch Institute who specialized in emerging diseases, said that the goal is to gather data to be better prepared for possible future outbreaks.
“It’s really not about finding a guilty country,” Leendertz said. “It’s about trying to understand what happened and then see if based on those data, we can try to reduce the risk in the future.”
FDA allows use of over-the-counter home test for COVID-19
The first home test for COVID-19 that doesn’t require a prescription will soon be on U.S. store shelves.
U.S. officials Tuesday authorized the rapid coronavirus test which can be done entirely at home. The announcement by the Food and Drug Administration represents another important — though incremental — step in U.S. efforts to expand testing options.
The agency’s action allows the test to be sold in places like drugstores “where a patient can buy it, swab their nose, run the test and find out their results in as little as 20 minutes,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, in a statement.
Regulators granted emergency use for a similar test last month, but that one requires a doctor’s prescription.
Initial supplies of the over-the-counter test, expected to be priced around $30, will be limited.
How do you encourage people to wear a mask while avoiding confrontation? This app could help
One summer day, RealNetworks founder and CEO Rob Glaser stopped into a Tukwila 7-Eleven with his son for a Slurpee after a game of mini-golf. The only people in the store wearing a mask were the two of them and the clerk.
“Isn’t there a rule?” Glaser asked the clerk. Yes, she said, but there was no way to enforce it.
“If I say anything,” she said of unmasked customers, “they yell.”
Said Glaser: “I started to imagine a device you could set it up so it would record the faces of the people, and remind them to mask up.”
On Tuesday, RealNetworks is launching MaskCheck, a free app, service and data platform aimed at helping communities and businesses operate and reopen safely by encouraging and assessing face-mask compliance.
Through the use of tablets set up at the entrances to businesses and other buildings, the MaskCheck app is able to detect faces, determine if they are wearing a mask properly or not, and offer visual and audible feedback to encourage compliance. No images are saved, the company says, and all data is anonymous.
The app was developed in a partnership with the COVID-19 International Research Team, a community of scientists that provides tools and resources to the public to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
MaskCheck seeks to address the need for reliable data on mask compliance, which, until now, has been self-reported and can be inaccurate.
“Right now, if you think about what’s going on with mask compliance, how many people were infected, and in hospitals …,” Glaser began. “Everyone knows that mask-wearing is important, but there’s no data in the field.”
Free COVID-19 testing Wednesday at Mountlake Terrace High School
Free drive-thru COVID-19 testing will be offered Wednesday from 1 to 7 p.m. at Mountlake Terrace High School.
Preregistration is not available for this testing.
This event is free, regardless of insurance coverage, and will offer walk-in testing for people without vehicles.
Traffic will enter at the southern entrance of the high school at 21801 44th Ave. W, Mountlake Terrace, and flow in one direction around the school building.
The testing method will be the less invasive anterior nasal swab in which less than an inch of swab is inserted into the nostrils one at a time.
The test is safe for anyone age 2 and older, according to a statement by the agencies holding the event, Verdant Health Commission, city of Mountlake Terrace and Medical Teams International.
Test results will be sent to the University of Washington and will be available in two to five days.
Respiratory therapist receives Puerto Rico’s 1st vaccine
A respiratory therapist who treated the first two COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Puerto Rico became the first person in the U.S. territory to be vaccinated against the virus on Tuesday.
Yahaira Alicea had treated an Italian couple who visited the island aboard a cruise ship in March. The woman later died. Alicea said it was a fearful moment for her that wore her down physically and emotionally as she urged everyone to get vaccinated.
“This is what we want, for this pandemic to end,” Alicea said. “Don’t be afraid.”
A health official approached Alicea with the needle as both smiled: “Let’s make history.”
The event was cheered by many on the island of 3.2 million people that recently imposed more severe measures to fight an increase in coronavirus cases and deaths. Puerto Rico has reported more than 107,000 confirmed and probable coronavirus cases and more than 1,280 deaths.
Alicea was immunized a day after FedEx planes carrying more than 16,500 Pfizer vaccine doses landed in Puerto Rico, with another more than 13,600 expected later this week. The vaccine will be distributed to 65 hospitals around the island, according to Gov. Wanda Vázquez.
EU regulators move up Pfizer vaccine assessment to Dec. 21
Fcing strong pressure from Germany and other European Union nations, the bloc’s medicines agency on Tuesday moved up a meeting to assess the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine to Dec. 21, likely bringing vaccinations a step closer for millions of EU citizens.
The agency said it made the decision after receiving additional data from the vaccine makers. The announcement came after Germany’s health minister and others had publicly demanded that the agency move quicker than its previously planned Dec. 29 meeting at which it was to discuss approving the vaccine.
The vaccine is already being given daily to thousands of people in Britain, Canada and the United States, galling some Europeans who note that BioNTech is a Germany company.
After the committee recommends a marketing authorization, the EU’s Executive Commission will “fast track its decision-making process” to giving the vaccine approval for all 27 EU nations and a few others within days, the EMA said.
“Our goal is an approval before Christmas,” German Health Minister Jens Spahn told reporters earlier Tuesday in Berlin. “We want to still start vaccinating this year.”
Poor countries face long wait for vaccines despite promises
With Americans, Britons and Canadians rolling up their sleeves to receive coronavirus vaccines, the route out of the pandemic now seems clear to many in the West, even if the rollout will take many months. But for poorer countries, the road will be far longer and rougher.
The ambitious initiative known as COVAX created to ensure the entire world has access to COVID-19 vaccines has secured only a fraction of the 2 billion doses it hopes to buy over the next year, has yet to confirm any actual deals to ship out vaccines and is short on cash.
The virus that has killed more than 1.6 million people has exposed vast inequities between countries, as fragile health systems and smaller economies were often hit harder. COVAX was set up by the World Health Organization, vaccines alliance GAVI and CEPI, a global coalition to fight epidemics, to avoid the international stampede for vaccines that has accompanied past outbreaks and would reinforce those imbalances.
But now some experts say the chances that coronavirus shots will be shared fairly between rich nations and the rest are fading fast. With vaccine supplies currently limited, developed countries, some of which helped fund the research with taxpayer money, are under tremendous pressure to protect their own populations and are buying up shots. Meanwhile, some poorer countries that signed up to the initiative are looking for alternatives because of fears it won’t deliver.
Coronavirus vaccine heads to Washington’s nursing homes, bringing hope and questions
Patricia Short navigates the halls and quarantine zones in the nursing home where she works, checking residents for COVID-19 symptoms, testing them when they show signs of coronavirus infection and telling their frustrated family members they still can’t come inside to visit.
It’s been an unrelenting nine months for Short and other long-term care facility staff and residents across Washington, with more than half of the state’s coronavirus deaths linked to long-term care.
Some of her coworkers at the Yakima County nursing home have quit or retired. Short, a nurse of more than 25 years, has endured more than one outbreak.
But she’s still optimistic — because the vaccine has arrived in Washington and is due soon in the state’s nursing homes.
It could bring relief to workers and residents, who health officials have said will be prioritized along with health care workers at high risk. The state’s goal is for all to receive the first dose of the two-dose vaccine by the end of January, said Michele Roberts, acting assistant secretary for the state Department of Health.
Most of the state’s approximately 4,000 long-term care facilities are expected to begin receiving vaccines sometime after Dec. 28 under a federal partnership with CVS and Walgreens.
“I see it as something that will help,” Short said. “If enough of us get vaccinated.”
UK urged to ax ‘rash’ easing of restrictions over Christmas
The British government faced mounting calls Tuesday to reassess its plans to ease coronavirus restrictions for a few days over Christmas, following a spike in new infections that will see tougher rules imposed on London and some surrounding areas.
Leaders from across the U.K.’s four nations are holding a meeting later where the Christmas easing is expected to top the agenda. It is taking place after concerns were raised, including from two of the country’s leading medical journals, over the planned five-day easing that will permit three households to form a so-called bubble.
In only their second joint editorial in their more than 100-year histories, the British Medical Journal and the Health Service Journal urged a rethink of a “rash” decision that they said will “cost many lives.”
“We are publishing it because we believe the government is about to blunder into another major error,” they said.
Britain’s Conservative government, which devises the public health strategy for England, along with the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, agreed last month to allow a maximum of three households to mix between Dec. 23 and Dec. 27, regardless of what local restrictions are in place.
But with new infections rising in many parts of the country, there are growing concerns that the government’s Christmas relaxation of restrictions will see a further escalation in infections and deaths and put too much pressure on the country’s already-stressed National Health Service.
Sweden’s health officials misjudged new infection wave
Health officials in Sweden, which opted not to impose a national lockdown in response to the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, misjudged the power of the virus’s resurgence, the country’s prime minister said Tuesday.
Sweden’s statistical agency said Monday it had recorded a total of 8,088 deaths from all causes in November — the highest mortality ever reported in the Scandinavian country since the first year of the Spanish flu that raged across the world from 1918 through 1920.
This year Sweden has seen 320,098 coronavirus infections and 7,514 virus-related deaths, a death toll much higher than neighbors Norway, Finland or Denmark.
Sweden has also currently imposed its tightest virus restrictions to date by banning public gatherings of more than eight people.
Quarantine corner: Things to do while cooped up
• Holiday movies: We watched six brand-new Netflix Christmas films. From “Jingle Jangle” to “The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two,” here’s how they rate on a handy snowflake scale.
• Peppermint patties make a perfect holiday treat, tied with a festive bow. Teen chef Sadie shares her recipe.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
• Vaccinations begin today in Seattle, marking what we all hope is a turning point against the virus that has killed 3,000 Washingtonians. Nationally, the number of dead now rivals the population of St. Louis or Pittsburgh. Here's a look inside a new ritual as health workers unbox one of the first shipments at UW Medicine and prepare for the giant challenges ahead.
• The FDA moved a second vaccine closer to approval with a positive review this morning. Authorization for Moderna's shot could come within days.
• Washington's schools chief says his hands have been tied amid power struggles over reopening school buildings. He wants changes — including more authority — but not everyone thinks that's a good idea.
• The UW Huskies' withdrawal from the Pac-12 championship game yesterday came after COVID-19 so decimated their ranks that the team had zero offensive linemen able to play.
• Anderhalvemetersamenleving, the Dutch word of the year, may look like an unfamiliar mouthful. But its translation, and those of the runner-ups, aptly describe what we've all been experiencing in the pandemic.
How is the pandemic affecting you?What has changed about your daily life? What kinds of discussions are you having with family members and friends? Are you a health care worker who's on the front lines of the response? Are you a COVID-19 patient or do you know one? Whoever you are, we want to hear from you so our news coverage is as complete, accurate and useful as possible. If you're using a mobile device and can't see the form on this page, click here.
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