Biden to bring back travel bans to stop new strain

U.S. goal to squeeze more Covid shots from Pfizer vials hampered by syringe production

The world’s largest syringe maker does not have the capacity to substantially increase U.S. supplies of specialty syringes needed to squeeze more doses from Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine vials in the coming weeks, an executive said in an interview.

The vaccine made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, one of two authorized for U.S. emergency use, is shipped in vials initially indicated to hold five doses. Six doses can be drawn with special syringes, called low dead space syringes, which minimize the amount of vaccine left in the syringe after use.

Syringe maker Becton Dickinson has contracted with the U.S. government to provide 286 million syringes for use with Covid-19 vaccines, including around 40 million low dead space syringes, and is fully prepared to deliver on that agreement, said Troy Kirkpatrick, the company’s senior director of public relations.

Low dead space syringes are a niche product and Becton Dickinson had not discussed plans with the U.S. government to substantially boost their output when they began preparing for the vaccine rollout last year, he said.

“We are ready to support the U.S. government but we are trying to make sure everyone understands that those devices are not something we have infinite capacity to produce and bringing up new lines does take time,” Kirkpatrick said.

The United States added 2,173 Covid-19 deaths, 146,379 cases Sunday

Another 2,173 new Covid-19 deaths were recorded across the United States on Sunday, according to NBC News’ tally.

The country also added 146,379 new cases.

While the daily total of new coronavirus cases has fallen 15 percent in the last two weeks, the number of daily deaths is up 12 percent.

Overall, there are more than 25.2 million confirmed Covid-19 cases and more than 420,000 deaths as of Monday morning.

No states set daily records Sunday.

N.Y.C. postponing the opening of Yankees Stadium, Citi Field vaccination mega sites

New York City is postponing the opening of Covid-19 vaccination mega sites at Yankees Stadium and Citi Field, home of the New York Mets, because there isn’t enough supply of doses, city officials told NBC New York’s Andrew Siff.

The city has 20,000 doses left this week, and only 100,000 fresh ones arriving. It needs some 200,000 to open the sites at the baseball stadiums.

Fauci says drop in Covid cases not due to vaccine: ‘We don’t want to get complacent’

Dr. Anthony Fauci on Monday said that a drop in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations in most of the country cannot likely be attributed to vaccines, meaning people should continue to be as cautious as possible.

“I don’t think the dynamics are what we’re seeing is significantly influenced, yet — it will be soon — but yet by vaccine,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on NBC’s “TODAY” show.

The chief medical adviser to the president said the drop was more likely due to a natural plateauing of cases following a spike after the holiday season.

“We don’t want to get complacent and think … ‘Oh, things are going in the right direction, we can pull back a bit, because we do have circulating in the country a variant from the U.K. that’s in over 20 states right now,” Fauci said, pointing out that the variant is more easily transmitted from person to person.

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WHO in Wuhan is probing Covid’s origins as politics hangs over mission

A team of scientists from the World Health Organization is in China investigating mysteries of the pandemic more than a year after it broke out: where the coronavirus came from and how it spilled over into humans.

The long-awaited trip, initially hampered by delays by China, has started what could be a lengthy process of piecing together the virus’s origin to answer key questions about the pathogen and how to prevent similar — and possibly worse — future outbreaks.

But the world will be watching the results of the investigation — and China’s willingness to cooperate will also be the focus of intense interest around the world.

That the trip is happening more than a year after the virus was first identified has stoked concern that the government has not been transparent in its handling of the virus. And political quarrels have emerged, particularly between China and the United States, with the Trump administration assigning blame on China for the pandemic.

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Moderna working to upgrade vaccine, develop booster to target South African variant

Moderna announced Monday that the company is working to upgrade its vaccine to better protect against the new South African strain of the coronavirus.

While the vaccine protects effectively against the new, more easily transmitted U.K. variant, antibody levels are diminished sixfold by the South African variant, said a statement from the company.  

According to Moderna, the vaccine should still be effective against the South African variant, which Dr. Anthony Fauci also said on NBC’s “TODAY” show Monday, but Moderna is nevertheless working to specifically target that variant.

Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said on CNBC on Monday that while the current vaccine should protect against the variant, it is “unknowable what will happen in six months, in 12 months.”

“Immunity may go down over time,” he said, adding that the new work on the vaccine is being done out of an “abundance of caution.” 

“We cannot be behind — we cannot fall behind this virus,” Bancel said. 

U.K. prime minister considers quarantining foreign travelers in hotels

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday he was looking to tighten the United Kingdom’s border controls because of the risk of “vaccine-busting” new Covid-19 variants.

“We have to realize there is at least the theoretical risk of a new variant that is a vaccine-busting variant coming in — we’ve got to be able to keep that under control,” he told reporters at a vaccination center.

Johnson added that the government was “actively working on” the option of quarantining international travelers in hotels upon their arrival.

He said the United Kingdom was on target to reach its vaccination targets for vulnerable groups by Feb. 15. So far, it has given 6.3 million people their first vaccine shot. 

Merck discontinues two Covid-19 vaccine candidates

Pharmaceutical giant Merck said Monday that it was discontinuing the development of two Covid-19 vaccine candidates after early clinical trial data showed an “inferior” immune response.

Merck said in a statement posted on its website the decision to scrap the two vaccine candidates followed its review of findings from Phase 1 clinical studies.

The company said the studies showed that both candidates were generally well-tolerated, but the immune responses were inferior to those seen following natural infection and those reported for other Covid-19 vaccines.

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Israel begins vaccinating students ages 16-18

Israel has begun vaccinating students between the ages of 16-18 in a bid to enable them to take their exams.

The announcement from the health ministry that the vaccination program was opening up to some school pupils came last week and one Israeli health plan told NBC News it had started administering doses Sunday.

The development comes as Israel decided to halt passenger flights to and from the country from midnight Monday to Jan. 31.

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