Biden would only commit to a return to normal by Christmas, saying he did not want to boost hopes when he could not be certain of a still-early vaccine rollout. The prediction of nearly another year in pandemic-dampened conditions was admittedly not optimistic. But Biden still said it was as good as he could offer with any level of confidence, Kevin Liptak writes. He also weighed in on the national debate on the safest way to reopen schools, saying teachers should be moved higher on the list of those who are getting vaccinated.
The pace of the vaccine rollout has steadily picked up each week since Biden started in the White House, and reached his goal of 1.5 million shots per day just about three weeks into his term. But there have been some shortcomings: Leaders in most states have stated publicly or in interviews with CNN that vaccine supply is the key — or only — hold up to increasing the pace of vaccinations, Deidre McPhillips and Amanda Watts report. CNN has also learned that if the Johnson & Johnson vaccine gets the green light from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), its rollout will be slower than officials initially expected.
The other roadblock is this week’s fierce winter storms, which have slowed vaccinations across the country. From Colorado to Georgia, states have delayed shipments or vaccination appointments due to frigid and dangerous weather conditions. Other areas are confronting the inequity of vaccine distribution. New York City officials said Tuesday they were working to combat these disparities, building off efforts that have focused outreach to some of the region’s hardest-hit communities.

YOU ASKED. WE ANSWERED

Q: In light of the variants, will I need a Covid-19 booster shot?

A: Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said it’s “possible” that the Covid-19 vaccine could become a yearly vaccine, like the flu shot.

“We hope we can contain this particular outbreak and all of its ramifications throughout the world in a way that doesn’t have the … cycling of various versions of the virus so that you have to address it differently each year,” Fauci said in an interview with Spectrum News’ Lisa McRee on Tuesday.

Fauci also said that it’s “entirely conceivable” that scientists are already working on a universal coronavirus vaccine that would address all the variants.
Send your questions here. Are you a health care worker fighting Covid-19? Message us on WhatsApp about the challenges you’re facing: +1 347-322-0415.

WHAT’S IMPORTANT TODAY

Did North Korea hack Pfizer and steal vaccine data?

The answer depends on who you ask in South Korea. Lawmaker Ha Tae-keung told reporters Tuesday that he and other members of the National Assembly Intelligence committee were briefed by the country’s spy agency about an alleged hack of drugmaker Pfizer by North Korea. Later that morning, the agency rebutted Ha’s claims, saying it “reported general incidences of hacking attempts” of coronavirus vaccine developers to Ha and the committee, but “did not specify any company names including Pfizer.”

Pyongyang has not publicly acknowledged the alleged theft of data on Covid-19 vaccines and treatment research, and Pfizer said Tuesday it would not comment on the matter, Yoonjung Seo, Gawon Bae and Joshua Berlinger report.

But this is not the first time North Korean cybercriminals have been accused of stealing Covid-19 related information. Microsoft claimed in November that cyberattacks from North Korea targeted vaccine makers, sometimes “masquerading as World Health Organization representatives.”

South Africa scraps AstraZeneca, pivots to Johnson & Johnson vaccine

South Africa has offered its stock of Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines to the African Union, a senior health official said, as the country pivots to using shots developed by Johnson & Johnson instead, Eliza Mackintosh reports.

The country paused its rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine after preliminary trial data showed it offered minimal protection against mild to moderate illness caused by the variant of the virus that emerged in South Africa last year. The study, which has not yet been peer reviewed, was however unclear on whether the vaccine protected against severe disease from the B.1.351 variant.

Unequal distribution plagues Peru and Mexico

A scandal has rocked Peru over at least 480 people, including several ministers and a former president, quietly being vaccinated against Covid-19 before the country’s official vaccination campaign began. In a televised address, the country’s President Francisco Sagasti said those people “took advantage of their position” to receive the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine early.
In Mexico, officials are unhappy with the way vaccines are being rolled out worldwide, saying the process favors richer countries while leaving poorer countries behind. The Mexican delegation to the United Nations will file a complaint at the UN Security Council today concerning the “inequality” and “inequity” impeding vaccine access, according to the country’s foreign minister. Mexico has struggled with its rollout, only managing to administer about 750,000 vaccine doses so far, despite having signed purchase agreements for the eventual delivery of more than 230 million doses of various Covid-19 vaccines.

ON OUR RADAR

Thermal imaging shows revelers exiting an illegal party in Birmingham, England, in the early hours of Sunday.

TOP TIP

Severe winter storms can keep you stuck inside for days, knock out your power and leave you chattering from the cold. If you’re prepared when storms strike, though, you’ll make it through more comfortably.

We’ve assembled guidance from the CDC, FEMA and Ready.gov, among other agencies, on what to have on hand if you’re stuck in a winter storm.

TODAY’S PODCAST

“It’s been this typical political discussion about who are you going to blame as opposed to actually looking at the fact that educators want to be in classrooms, they want to be safe.” — Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers

In today’s episode, CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Evan McMorris-Santoro give a reality check on the CDC’s new guidelines for returning to in-person learning. Listen now.

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