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Moderna CEO says the world will have to live with Covid ‘forever’

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Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel

Steven Ferdman | Getty Images

The CEO of Covid-19 vaccine maker Moderna warned Wednesday that the coronavirus that has brought world economies to a standstill and overwhelmed hospitals will be around “forever.”

Public health officials and infectious disease experts have said there is a high likelihood that Covid-19 will become an endemic disease, meaning it will become present in communities at all times, though likely at lower levels than it is now.

Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel appeared to agree Wednesday that Covid-19 will become endemic, saying “SARS-CoV-2 is not going away.”

“We are going to live with this virus, we think, forever,” he said during a panel discussion at the JPMorgan Healthcare Conference.

Health officials will have to continuously watch for new variants of the virus, so scientists can produce vaccines to fight them, he said. Researchers in Ohio said Wednesday they’ve discovered two new variants likely originating in the U.S. and that one of them quickly became the dominant strain in Columbus, Ohio, over a three-week period in late December and early January.

Pfizer researchers said its vaccine developed with BioNTech appeared to be effective against a key mutation in the U.K. strain as well as a variant found in South Africa.

Moderna’s vaccine has been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration for use in Americans who are 18 years old and older. Additional studies still needed to be completed in children, whose immune systems can respond differently to vaccines than those of adults.

U.S. officials are racing to distribute doses of both vaccines, but it will likely take months before the U.S. can vaccinate enough people to achieve herd immunity, meaning the virus won’t have enough new hosts to spread. Still, Bancel said Wednesday he expects the U.S. will be one of the first large countries to achieve “sufficient protection” against the virus.

There are already four coronaviruses that are endemic across the world, but they aren’t as contagious or deadly as Covid-19, according to the World Health Organization.


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Exploring reparations for Black Americans is ‘necessary,’ says NAACP president

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CEO and President of the NAACP Derrick Johnson told CNBC that his organization supports legislation reintroduced by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) to create a formal commission to explore reparation options for Black Americans. 

“This is the initiating process that members of Congress, particularly members of the Congressional Black Caucus, have been pushing for since the bill was initiated by John Conyers in the 70s,” said Johnson during a Monday evening interview on “The News with Shepard Smith.” “At the NAACP we supported that effort then, we continue to support the effort, it’s something that’s needed and necessary in order for many many individuals who have been harmed as a result of strict structural barriers to be made whole.” 

H.R.40 has 147 Democratic co-sponsors in the House, and was originally introduced in January 2019. Republicans, however, have shown forceful opposition to the bill. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in 2019 said it was not a good idea to impose reparations “for something that happened 150 years ago, for whom none of us currently living are responsible.”

Johnson told host Shepard Smith that Black Americans “have been injured” by the U.S. government, and that you didn’t need to go back to slavery to witness clear injustice against Black Americans by the U.S. government. 

“You can go back to public policy dealing with housing, go back to public policy dealing with education,” Johnson said. “Still today, the delivery of quality education is not afforded to all children, and has been a special emphasis on African Americans.”

Johnson added that he’d like the Biden administration to remove those barriers “put in place by public policy,” and that “being equal is fine, but being equitable is the measurement for us at this time.” 

One of President Biden’s first executive actions included an order to promote racial justice. He ordered the government to reallocate resources to “advanc[e] equity for all, including people of color and others who have been historically underserved, marginalized and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality.”

The Biden administration also announced that it will revive the push to make Harriet Tubman the face of a new $20 bill, an effort that was held back during former President Donald Trump‘s term. White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Monday that it’s important that U.S. currency “reflect the history and diversity of our country, and Harriet Tubman’s image gracing the new $20 note would certainly reflect that. So we’re exploring ways to speed up that effort.”


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Minnesota confirms first known U.S. case of more contagious strain

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The Minnesota Department of Health said Monday it has confirmed the first known U.S. case of a more contagious coronavirus variant originally found in Brazil.

The Brazil strain was found through the health department’s variant surveillance program, according to a press release. The department collects 50 random samples each week for genome sequencing.

The patient with the Brazil variant is a resident of the Twin Cities metro area who recently traveled to Brazil, according to state health officials. The person became ill during the first week of January and the specimen was collected Jan. 9, the state said.

“We’re thankful that our testing program helped us find this case, and we thank all Minnesotans who seek out testing when they feel sick or otherwise have reason to get a test,” Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm said in a statement. “We know that even as we work hard to defeat COVID-19, the virus continues to evolve as all viruses do.”

Earlier in the day, President Joe Biden extended travel restrictions for Europe, the U.K. and Brazil, in an effort to curb the spread of Covid-19, particularly as new strains of the coronavirus are identified.

Health officials are concerned that the Covid-19 vaccines currently on the market may not be as effective in guarding against new, more contagious strains of the coronavirus. Moderna said Monday it is working on a booster shot to guard against another strain found in South Africa.

The Brazil strain, called P.1, was first identified in four travelers from Brazil who were tested during a routine screening in Tokyo, Japan, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It contains a set of additional mutations that may affect its ability to be recognized by antibodies, according to the CDC.

State health officials also said Monday they found two more cases of the B.1.1.7 virus that was first identified in the U.K. through last week’s variant surveillance testing. Of the two new cases of that variant, both are Twin Cities metro area residents and both reported recent travel to California, officials said.

“These cases illustrate why it is so important to limit travel during a pandemic as much as possible,” said epidemiologist Dr. Ruth Lynfield in a statement. “If you must travel, it is important to watch for symptoms of COVID-19, follow public health guidance on getting tested prior to travel, use careful protective measures during travel, and quarantine and get tested after travel.”


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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wants sports stars to promote Covid vaccinations

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NBA legend Kareem Abdul Jabbar

Adam Jeffery | CNBC

Basketball Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said he’s supportive of teams and players using their platforms to promote Covid-19 vaccinations.

The former National Basketball Association star joined CNBC’s “Closing Bell” on Monday and discussed getting vaccinated. Abdul-Jabbar revealed he received his vaccination shots this month and said the league should promote awareness to help slow Covid-19 infections.

“From what I’ve seen, the vaccination is much less worse than the virus,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “So, we have to get as many people vaccinated as possible. And I hope every effort toward that end is fruitful.”

President Joe Biden has set a goal to administer 100 million Covid-19 vaccine shots within his first 100 days. Abdul-Jabbar mentioned the Black community’s importance to get vaccinated but acknowledged the history around the Tuskegee Experiment for the mistrust of vaccinations among Black people.

The event dates back to 1932 in Tuskegee, Alabama, when Black men were given placebos to treat syphilis. In 1972, the Associated Press reported the federal government allowed the men to go untreated for over 40 years, as penicillin was revealed to be the disease’s treatment in 1947.

“That took a terrible toll on the issue of trust with the Black community,” Abdul-Jabbar said of the experiment. “We have to overcome that, and we have to get past that moment. The more people who can get on board with promoting vaccinations will definitely help change that and put that in a positive light.” 

In a Pew Research poll conducted in November,  only 42% of Blacks surveyed say they plan to be vaccinated, compared with more than 60% of Americans overall.

The NBA released its latest Covid-19 report on Jan. 20, which revealed 11 new players tested positive. Abdul-Jabbar called on players make public service announcements about vaccinations. Asked if athletes should get special access to vaccinations, Abdul-Jabbar said no.

“I don’t think you can move people out of the line, so to speak, to let sports stars get to the front of the line,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “But anyone who has a following in our country can do a great job of getting people to understand that they need to be vaccinated ASAP. And I don’t think there is any problem with that.”


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