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Russians asked to abstain from drinking for 8 weeks; Third vaccine, from AstraZeneca and Oxford, shows promise

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Britain became the first western nation to start vaccinating its population against the coronavirus on Tuesday, and the U.S. could begin its own mass vaccinations within days.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine gets look inside COVID-19 vaccine warehouse

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It can’t come soon enough. The U.S. death toll over the last week was 15,658, according to data from Johns Hopkins University’s dashboard. That’s the second largest seven-day total since the pandemic began and the most deaths in a week since April. The COVID Tracking Project reports that at least 41 states are seeing a rise in the percentage of tests coming back positive.



a group of people walking down the street: People wait in line for COVID-19 testing on Monday in Los Angeles.


© Jae C. Hong, AP
People wait in line for COVID-19 testing on Monday in Los Angeles.

Russia is beginning mass vaccinations as well. But there is a hitch: Recipients aren’t supposed to drink alcohol for almost two months. That’s a tough ask in a country where some polls indicate only about 25% of the population was willing to get vaccinated.

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Putin has heralded the Russian vaccine as the world’s first, but distrust of the medical establishment has tamped down the public appetite for it. Tens of thousands of Russians have been vaccinated, including many health care workers and members of the military.

What you should know today:

  • An FDA panel on Thursday will consider an emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine now being used in England. Around 50 hospitals in the U.K.’s state-run National Health Service started administering the COVID-19 inoculation to people over 80 who are either hospitalized or have outpatient appointments scheduled, along with nursing home workers.
  • State police raided the Tallahassee home of Rebekah Jones, the former Department of Health data scientist who built the state’s much-praised COVID-19 dashboard before being fired over what she said was refusing to “manipulate data.” Video shows FDLE agents with guns drawn.
  • A USA TODAY survey finds most states are ready to distribute a coronavirus vaccine to health care workers but maybe not all who are next in line. Here’s how all 50 states are scrambling to dole them out. 
  • The White House is dismissing reports that the administration passed on buying additional doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine before other countries cut their deals.

📰 What we’re reading: The second person in the world to receive Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine shares the same name as the U.K.’s most famous poet and playwright. William Shakespeare, 81, is known to friends and family as “Bill,” and he said he was “pleased” to get the shot. Read more about the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine here.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has reported more than 14.9 million cases and over 283,700 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: 67.5 million cases and 1.5 million deaths.

This file will be updated throughout the day. For updates in your inbox, subscribe to The Daily Briefing newsletter.

Third vaccine, from AstraZeneca and Oxford, shows promise

Data on a candidate COVID-19 vaccine made by AstraZeneca and Oxford University is strong enough to present to regulators in the U.K., Europe and elsewhere around the world, the collaborators said Tuesday. But they don’t expect approval from the U.S. without more data from American volunteers. 

The team presented data in the medical journal, The Lancet, the first late-stage trial information to be published under peer review. The vaccine was shown to be 70% effective among the more than 11,000 participants, but 90% effective for a subset of about 2,700 participants who received a half-dose of the vaccine the first time and a full-dose of the vaccine the second. It’s not yet clear whether that improved effectiveness was due to a statistical fluke.

– Karen Weintraub and Adrianna Rodriguez

Morocco could begin mass vaccinations this week

Morocco is gearing up for an ambitious COVID-19 vaccination program, aiming to vaccinate 80% of its adults in an operation relying initially on a Chinese vaccine. The first injections could come within days, a Health Ministry official said. Some Moroccans have taken to social media to question the safety of the vaccine. Medical experts and health officials have appeared on TV in recent weeks to promote the vaccines and encourage skeptical Moroccans to get immunized.

Morocco, like much of the world, is battling a resurgence in virus infections, with the number of recorded deaths from the virus surpassing 6,000. 

Russia: Vaccine recipients shouldn’t drink booze for 8 weeks

Russia has begun mass immunizations but is warning recipients they must abstain from drinking alcohol for eight weeks for the inoculations to be effective. The head of Russia’s consumer safety agency, Anna Popova, said recipients should not drink for two weeks prior to getting the first of two doses required for the vaccine. Alcohol also should be avoided for the three weeks between the first and second dose, then for three weeks after the second dose, Popova said. 

“It’s a strain on the body. If we want to stay healthy and have a strong immune response, don’t drink alcohol,” she told the Moscow Times.

Alexander Gintsburg, the head of the state-run Gamaleya research center that developed Sputnik V, was a bit less rigid. Gintsburg said that while alcohol should not alcohol abused before or after vaccination, “a single glass of champagne never hurt anyone.”

FDA issues encouraging report on fate of first vaccine candidate

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration released a 53-page report Tuesday supporting  earlier findings that the vaccine candidate from Pfizer and BioNTech is safe and effective. The earlier findings found the vaccine is safe and will prevent 95% of people from becoming sick with COVID-19. 

The companies are asking the FDA for authorization to use the vaccine in people ages 16 and up. They have also begun testing the vaccine in ages 12-15, but have not yet accumulated enough data to request authorization in that age group. 

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, said he received a briefing on the material in recent days.

“The group I was with who heard the data arrived interested and left the presentation enthusiastic,” Schaffner said. “The extraordinary thing is that there were no major areas of concern.”

Karen Weintraub

White House rejects claim it passed on buying more Pfizer vaccine doses

The White House is dismissing reports that the administration passed on buying additional doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine before other countries cut their deals. The New York Times was first to report that before Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine was proved highly successful in clinical trials last month, the company offered the Trump administration the chance to lock in supplies beyond the 100 million doses already committed.

The Times, citing people familiar with the talks, said the White House never made the deal – “a choice that now raises questions about whether the United States allowed other countries to take its place in line.” Senior administration officials, however, told reporters the story was “false” and that negotiations were ongoing. 

“We feel absolutely confident that we will get the vaccine doses, for which we’ve contracted, and we’ll have sufficient number of doses to vaccinate all Americans who desire one before the end of the second quarter 2021,” a senior administration official said.

David Jackson and Courtney Subramanian

Police raid home of Florida woman who build state’s virus dashboard

State police brandishing firearms raided the Tallahassee home of Rebekah Jones, the former Department of Health data scientist who built the state’s much-praised COVID-19 dashboard before being fired over what she said was refusing to “manipulate data.”

“They pointed a gun in my face. They pointed guns at my kids,” Jones tweeted after Monday’s raid. Later that night she was able to tweet a bit of humor: “So… how was everyone else’s day?”

Jones said the warrant based on a complaint filed by the Florida Department of Health. State police spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger confirmed the seizure, citing possible unauthorized access to a department messaging system. Video from the scene appears to show an agent entering the house with his gun drawn, calling for Jones’s husband to come down the stairs.

“Ms. Jones refused to come to the door for 20 minutes and hung up on agents,” Plessinger said in a statement. “After several attempts and verbal notifications that law enforcement officers were there to serve a legal search warrant, Ms. Jones eventually came to the door and allowed agents to enter.”

Jeffrey Schweers

COVID-19 explosion a stunner, even for the experts

Public health experts warned for some time that a winter surge would come. But four who spoke with USA TODAY said they have been stunned by the dismal trajectory of the virus over nine grueling months, and they never expected the nation to be in as bad of a position as it is right now. November broke records that December is already pursuing.

“I don’t think there’s a single person anywhere who thought that we would still be facing this in December, let alone that this would be at such a peak at this particular time,” said Dr. Robert Amler, dean of New York Medical College’s School of Health Sciences and Practice and a former chief medical officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ryan W. Miller

British grandmum, William Shakespeare are first to get vaccinated

England on Tuesday became the first western country to start vaccinating its population against a virus that has killed more than 1.5 million people worldwide and sickened tens of millions more. Margaret Keenan, a grandmother who turns 91 next week, received the first shot at University Hospital Coventry.

“It’s the best early birthday present I could wish for,” Keenan said. Second in line: a man named William Shakespeare. Billy to his friends.

Fifty hospitals in the U.K.’s state-run National Health Service started administering the COVID-19 inoculation to people over 80 who are either hospitalized or have outpatient appointments scheduled. Some nursing home workers also received the vaccine. 

– Kim Hjelmgaard

Here’s how all 50 states are scrambling to roll out first vaccines

Days before the first COVID-19 vaccine could be cleared for use in the U.S., an exclusive USA TODAY Network survey of health officials in all 50 states revealed a patchwork of preparations and different distribution plans that may mean wide variations in what the rollout looks like as it expands across the nation. Many states are struggling to prepare because information about what, when and how much vaccine is coming constantly changes, and extra funding to make the undertaking possible depends on Congress. Preparedness varies widely depending on how well a state’s health department is funded, how hard the pandemic has hit and how robust its immunization system was pre-pandemic. Read more here.

– Elizabeth Weise

Colorado’s first gentleman in hospital for COVID-19 symptoms

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis’ longtime partner, first gentleman Marlon Reis, has been hospitalized as a precaution after experiencing shortness of breath and a worsening cough eight days after being diagnosed with the coronavirus. Polis’ office said in a statement late Sunday that the governor, who also was diagnosed with COVID-19, drove Reis to a hospital “for review and treatment.” Polis was not experiencing severe symptoms, his office said.

Reis “has normal oxygen saturation, is in good spirits, and looks forward to returning home soon,” said a statement released by the governor’s office Monday evening. The first gentlemen has not required supplemental oxygen. Polis and Reis tested positive Nov. 28 and both had been quarantining at home.

Trump to hold White House summit to tout vaccine development

President Donald Trump is set to kick off a summit at the White House on Tuesday to highlight the rapid development of a COVID-19 vaccine he is eager to take credit for despite criticism for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. The summit will provide an update on the status of the administration’s ambitious plan to vaccinate all Americans against the coronavirus. Trump has repeatedly credited Operation Warp Speed, his administration’s public-private coronavirus response initiative, for the record development of vaccines but has provided little leadership to curb the deadly surge in COVID-19 cases that’s led to more than 282,000 deaths in the U.S. 

The White House was initially in talks to include two drug companies leading the vaccine charge but determined their participation was not required after the decision to include Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation. 

“It was more appropriate not to have one or more vaccine companies with pending applications before the FDA also participating,” a senior administration official said on a briefing call with reporters.

– David Jackson, Courtney Subramanian

Wyoming issues statewide mask requirement

Wyoming will require people to wear masks in indoor public spaces across the state starting Wednesday and heading into the New Year, Gov. Mark Gordon announced Monday. Previously, Gordon had left decisions on mask mandates to county governments. Sixteen of the state’s 23 counties had local orders. But as the state topped 32,000 cases on Sunday, and Gordon tested positive Nov. 25, he said face coverings “will make a big difference, but it will take time.”

“These new orders are meant to support local leadership and we should all know that in Wyoming these mandates are not about citations, but about caring for others,” Gordon said.

Also announced: indoor and outdoor gatherings without distancing will be limited to 10 or fewer, down from the 25 or fewer allowed on Nov. 24.  Bars, restaurants and cafes will be prohibited from serving in house between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.

Warriors’ Draymond Green, James Wiseman test positive

Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green, a three-time All-Star and former NBA Defensive Player of the Year, and rookie center James Wiseman have tested positive for the coronavirus, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Both players missed Monday’s first group practice of training camp and will have to quarantine for 10-12 days. The absence from the team could be especially detrimental for Wiseman, the No. 2 overall pick in last month’s draft, as he begins his NBA career after playing only three games in college.

– Jorge Ortiz

COVID-19 resources from USA TODAY 

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Contributing: Mike Stucka, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coronavirus updates: Russians asked to abstain from drinking for 8 weeks; Third vaccine, from AstraZeneca and Oxford, shows promise

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