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Moderna looks to test Covid-19 booster shots a year after initial vaccination

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One of the boxes containing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is prepared to be shipped at the McKesson distribution center in Olive Branch, Mississippi, U.S. December 20, 2020.

Paul Sancya | Reuters

Moderna plans to test a booster shot of its Covid-19 vaccine a year after the initial two-dose immunization, as the duration of protection from the new vaccines is still unclear.

The biotech company plans to start the trial in July, according to a corporate presentation at the JPMorgan Healthcare Conference on Monday. Staff at its clinical trial sites have already started to contact participants in its earlier studies, according to an e-mail shared by one of those people.

“From what we’ve seen so far, I think our expectation is that the vaccination should last you at least a year,” Moderna’s chief medical officer, Dr. Tal Zaks, told investors and analysts at the conference. “To the degree that you need a booster shot, we’ll make a data-based recommendation, and that will require us getting the data.”

The first participants in Moderna’s human clinical trials received their shots in mid-March; a second was given four weeks later. Since the earlier trials tested multiple doses of the vaccine, those on lower doses than the one ultimately authorized — 100 micrograms — would get their booster earlier, while those on 100 micrograms or higher would get their booster at the year mark, according to an e-mail to participants.

The booster being planned now is the same version of the vaccine that’s on the market, but Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said it may be necessary in the coming years to adjust the vaccine to cover new variants.

“I think this will become a market like flu,” he told CNBC. Moderna has recently started a seasonal flu vaccine program as well.

The booster study for Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine will evaluate both safety and how much of an immune response an additional shot one year later generates, Bancel said at the conference.


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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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President Joe Biden targets 1.5 million Covid vaccinations a day, up from 1 million

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US President Joe Biden delivers remarks before signing a “Made in America” Executive Order in the South Court Auditorium at the White House on January 25, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images

President Joe Biden said Monday the United States could reach 1.5 million Covid-19 vaccinations per day, topping his previously targeted pace of 1 million per day, which was nearly met already by the Trump administration.

Biden has pledged to administer 100 million shots of coronavirus vaccine in his first 100 days in office, a pace of 1 million shots per day.

“That is my promise, that we would get 100 million vaccinations,” he said Monday. “I think with the grace of God and the good will of the neighbor and the crick not rising, as the old saying goes, I think we may be able to get that to 1.5 million a day, rather than 1 million a day, but we have to meet that goal of a million a day.”

Some public health specialists have criticized Biden’s pledge to administer 100 million shots of vaccine in his first 100 days in office as too modest. When Biden assumed the presidency last week, the U.S. was already well on its way to achieving the necessary pace of 1 million shots per day. As of Sunday, the U.S. topped a seven-day average of 1.1 million vaccinations per day, according to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And with the anticipated introduction of Johnson & Johnson‘s one-shot vaccine next month, the Biden administration is now saying that the 1 million shots per day pace is a floor, rather than a goal. The two currently authorized vaccines, manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna, both require two doses to achieve maximum protection against the virus. The potential authorization of JNJ’s one-shot vaccine could substantially accelerate the mass effort.

But just last week, Biden dismissed the idea that the goal of 100 million vaccinations in 100 days might be too low of a threshold, claiming that he was told before he took office that the target might be too high.

“I find it fascinating that yesterday the press asked the question, ‘Is 100 million enough?’ The week before they said, ‘Biden, are you crazy? You can’t do 100 million in 100 days,” the president said Friday. “We’re, God willing, not only going to do 100 million, we’re going to do more than that.”

Biden said Monday that the administration is working to increase the number of people who can administer the shots, boost production of the doses, and set up more facilities where people can schedule appointments and receive their inoculations.

“Time is of the essence,” he said. “We’re trying to get out a minimum of 100 million vaccinations in 100 days, and move in the direction where we are well beyond that in the next 100 days, so we can get to the point where we reach herd immunity in a country of over 300 million people.”

His change in tune echoes comments made this weekend by White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, who served in the Trump administration. Fauci said Sunday the Biden target of 100 million doses in 100 days is not a final number.

“It is really a floor and not a ceiling,” Fauci told the CBS program “Face The Nation.” “It is going to be a challenge. I think it was a reasonable goal that was set. We always want to do better than the goal that you’ve set.”

With a limited supply of doses, states are still rationing the lifesaving shots, setting eligibility parameters that vary widely. The Trump administration and now the Biden White House have both encouraged states to quickly move through the phases of eligibility to broaden the population able to get the vaccines.

Pressed on Monday by a reporter about when the U.S. will get to the point when anyone who wants to get the vaccines will be able to, Biden said this spring. But he added it is going “to be a logistical challenge that exceeds anything we’ve ever tried in this country.”

“I feel confident that by summer we’re going to be well on our way to heading toward herd immunity,” he said.

But even as Biden voiced a more aggressive target for the vaccination campaign, he added Monday that the U.S. is “going to see somewhere between a total of 600,000 to 660,000 deaths before we begin to turn the corner in a major way.”

And the president painted an even bleaker picture last week, saying that “there’s nothing we can do to change the trajectory of the pandemic in the next several months.”

— CNBC’s Nate Rattner contributed to this report.


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