Fears over a more contagious COVID-19 variant are casting a shadow on the US rollout of the Moderna vaccine. While hospitalization rates continue to break records nearly every day, health officials celebrate the addition of a new vaccine to add to the arsenal of tools to fight the deadly virus.
Discovery of New COVID-19 Variant Has Medical Experts Worried: A newly discovered variant of the COVID-19 virus in the UK has medical experts rightfully worried. The variant is believed to be up to 70% more contagious than the previous strain. While the death rate from one incidence of infection is not believed to be substantially different, the fact that it likely spreads more easily will make it significantly more difficult to contain.Read More »
Parts of UK Under Strict Lockdown: Because of the growing fears of this more contagious strain, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has imposed much stricter restrictions on a large portion of southern and eastern England. Those areas seeing the highest spread of the virus are now under Tier 4 restrictions. These restrictions will carry through the holidays, making it against the order to gather with anybody outside of your immediate household on Christmas.
Is the New Mutation Already in the US? So far, the mutation of the virus has only been confirmed in the UK. There is a similar mutation being seen in South Africa. While there has been no confirmation that the mutation has arrived in the US, most medical experts believe that it is already here on some level of spread.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), said on Monday that he would be surprised if the mutation was not already on American soil. Fauci also confirmed that the virus is expected to mutate a lot as it passes through humans.
New Travel Restrictions to Contain Mutation: As a result of the worries of the virus mutation, some countries are already placing travel bans to and from the UK and South Africa. Most recently, the government of Panama announced that it was placing a temporary suspension of entry of passengers who have traveled through the UK or South Africa over the last 20 days.
Other countries that have announced full or partial suspensions of travel to and from the UK include Russia, Argentina, Germany, Israel, Iran, the Republic of Ireland, Sweden, Italy, and more.
In addition, Virgin Atlantic announced on Monday that it will begin requiring proof of a negative COVID-19 test starting on December 24 for all passengers flying from London into the US. The test needs to be taken with 72 hours of travel.
Hope on the Horizon: The first doses of the newly approved Moderna vaccine were administered on Monday in the US, giving weary Americans one more glimmer of hope during this ongoing dark winter. As of early Monday, there had been over 600,000 Americans who have received the Pfizer vaccine. The data is being provided by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID Data Tracker.
According to Operation Warp Speed (OWS), over 4.6 million doses of the vaccine have been delivered to the individual states to administer. In a news conference on Monday, OWS Chief Operating Officer Gen. Gustave F. Perna said that he believes they will have 20 million doses of the vaccines out to medical professionals to distribute by the end of the year.
One of the people to receive the vaccine on Monday was President-elect Joe Biden. He received his first dose in a live televised event at a medical clinic in Newark, Delaware.
Help is on the Way: Congress worked late into the night on Monday to finally pass a new COVID-19 stimulus package. The $900 billion bipartisan effort will bring relief to many Americans in the form of expanded unemployment benefits, an extension of the eviction moratorium, and financial assistance for small businesses. In addition, Americans making less than $75,000 will receive a personal stimulus check of $600.
Moderna Vaccine Differences: According to US Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar, the new Moderna vaccine will be sent to a wider array of distribution points than its Pfizer counterpart. The reason for this is due to Moderna’s less restrictive storage demands. While the Pfizer vaccine requires refrigeration in specially designed cooling units, the Moderna version can be stored in a regular freezer. This makes it easier to transport and store, providing more flexibility for rural medical facilities not equipped with the tools to safely store the Pfizer vaccine.
California Continues to Struggle with COVID-19 Infections: California’s COVID-19 woes continue, particularly in the southern part of the state. Los Angeles County Health Services Director Christina Ghaly said on Monday that her office estimates that 1 in every 64 people in the county are currently infected with the virus and possibly spreading it to others.
Approximately half of the county’s ICU beds are currently occupied by patients suffering from serious cases of COVID-19. The total ICU capacity in Southern California is currently sitting at zero. Statewide, there are only 2.15% of ICU beds remaining.
Gov. Gavin Newsom is also under quarantine for the second time in this crisis after being in close contact with a staffer who recently tested positive for the virus. Additionally, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is quarantining following the positive diagnosis of his nine-year-old daughter last week.
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