A version of this story appeared in the December 22 edition of CNN’s Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction newsletter. Sign up here to receive the need-to-know headlines every weekday.
(CNN)President-elect Joe Biden received his first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine on live television Monday afternoon and sought to reassure Americans of the vaccine’s safety.
Biden’s vaccination came one week after the first doses of the shot were injected into US health care workers, and on the same day that a second vaccine, developed by Moderna, was administered to Americans. “We’re still in the thick of this,” the President-elect said, urging Americans to listen to public health experts and wear masks and socially distance and to not travel unless absolutely necessary during the holiday season. “If you don’t have to travel, don’t travel.”Meanwhile, countries around the world are imposing travel bans on the United Kingdom to stem the transmission of a coronavirus variant that health authorities believe can spread faster than others. The US government is considering requiring all travelers from Britain to present proof of a negative Covid-19 test as a condition of entry, two Trump administration officials told CNN.Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Monday that the UK coronavirus variant is probably already in the US, but is “not yet the prevalent one.”Read MoreRegardless of the variant, the US has failed to limit the spread of Covid-19. The winter solstice on Monday marked the darkest day of the year in more ways than one: The US reported about 191,000 new Covid-19 cases, 1,700 new deaths and a record 115,000 hospitalizations.YOU ASKED. WE ANSWERED.Q: Will the vaccines work against the new variant?A: Both the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and the Moderna vaccine have shown efficacy rates of around 95% in clinical trials. But many are questioning whether the vaccines would work on variants of the virus — like one that is spreading in the UK.”Up to now, I don’t think there has been a single variant that would be resistant to the vaccine,” Operation Warp Speed chief science adviser Moncef Slaoui said. “We can’t exclude it, but it’s not there now.” He said critical aspects of the virus, such as the spike protein involved in a vaccine, are very specific to the novel coronavirus and unlikely to mutate much.Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna say they are currently testing their vaccines to see if they work against the new mutated version of the virus. BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin said he has “scientific confidence” that the current Pfizer/BioNTech could work against the new variant, but full data will be available in two weeks. Here’s what else you need to know about the variant. WHAT’S IMPORTANT TODAYCongress approves long-awaited $900 billion Covid rescue packageCongress voted Monday evening to approve a far-reaching $900 billion Covid relief package that promises to accelerate vaccine distribution and deliver much-needed aid to small businesses hit hard by the pandemic, Americans who have lost their jobs during the economic upheaval, and health care workers on the front lines of the crisis.It will include direct payments of up to $600 per adult, enhanced jobless benefits of $300 per week, roughly $284 billion in Paycheck Protection Program loans, $25 billion in rental assistance, an extension of the eviction moratorium and $82 billion for schools and colleges.The White House has said that President Donald Trump will sign the legislation once it reaches his desk. Hunting for “Disease X”Showing early symptoms of hemorrhagic fever, the patient sits quietly on her bed, wrangling two toddlers desperate to flee the cell-like hospital room in Ingende, a remote town in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). They are waiting for the results of a test for Ebola.But the question at the back of everyone’s mind is: What if this woman doesn’t have Ebola? What if, instead, she is patient zero of “Disease X,” the first known infection of a new pathogen that could sweep the world as fast as Covid-19, but one that has Ebola’s 50% to 90% fatality rate?This isn’t the stuff of science fiction. It’s a scientific fear, based on scientific facts. Humanity faces an unknown number of new and potentially fatal viruses emerging from Africa’s tropical rainforests, according to Professor Jean-Jacques Muyembe Tamfum, who helped discover the Ebola virus in 1976 and has been on the frontline of the hunt for new pathogens ever since.”We are now in a world where new pathogens will come out,” he told CNN’s Sam Kiley. “And that’s what constitutes a threat for humanity.”Trucks pile up at UK-France border amid travel banHundreds of trucks are piled up at the UK border as a French travel ban brought on by a fast-spreading coronavirus entered a second day.The crossing between the English port of Dover and French city of Calais is a major European trade artery — and its closure, just days before Christmas and the end of the Brexit transition period, is leading to growing concerns of food and medicine shortages in the UK.European truck drivers told CNN they didn’t know when they would be able to return home, and feared they would have to spend Christmas in their cabs. The UK government said it was providing food, drink and toilets for the drivers. ON OUR RADARDr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Francis Collins and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar will get vaccinated against Covid-19 on Tuesday.The State Department is reverting back to Phase 1 Covid-19 guidelines, which include limiting travel to mission-critical trips, according to a department-wide memo reviewed by CNN.Four cases of the UK Covid-19 variant have been detected in Australia, the country’s Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said Monday. Being vaccinated against Covid-19 is morally acceptable, the Vatican has deemed, after some anti-abortion groups raised concerns about how the vaccines were manufactured. Taiwan, home to one of the most successful pandemic responses in the world, has recorded its first locally-transmitted case of coronavirus since April. South Korea is curtailing Christmas gatherings during the holiday season by declaring a “special quarantine period.” Eight medical associations of doctors and nurses in Japan declared “a medical emergency” on Monday as Covid-19 cases topped 200,000. TOP TIPSImagine spending two weeks in a strict quarantine, not allowed to go anywhere beyond a small hotel room even to eat or exercise. Now, imagine doing all of that — with children.Three parents told CNN Travel how they turned enforced quarantine time into opportunities to connect with their children during exceptional circumstances — and managed to survive it without losing their sanity. TODAY’S PODCAST”The body biologically, biochemically, bioelectrically needs that stimulation. So we have to get it from somewhere. And we might not be getting it from our friends or from our family as much as we normally would. So we need to do something like exercise to compensate.” — Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research InstituteJust about everyone in the world right now appears to be experiencing less touch. There’s less hugging, less hand-shaking. Even people who are living with others during the pandemic report very little physical engagement. Researchers know that touch can have important biochemical benefits for health and wellbeing. Dr Sanjay Gupta talks to Field about what these months without touch are doing to our bodies, and how we can reclaim some of the benefits of touch in the Covid-19 era. Listen now.
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