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US tops 4,000 coronavirus deaths in a day for the first time

ORANGE, Calif. — The US topped 4,000 coronavirus deaths in a single day for the first time, breaking a record set just one day earlier, with several Sun Belt states driving the surge.

The tally from Johns Hopkins University showed the nation had 4,085 deaths Thursday, along with nearly 275,000 new cases of the virus — evidence that the crisis is growing worse after family gatherings and travel over the holidays and the onset of winter, which is forcing people indoors.

Deaths have reached epic proportions. Since just Monday, the United States has recorded 13,500 deaths — more than Pearl Harbor, D-Day, 9/11, and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake combined.

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Britain, with one-fifth the population of the United States, likewise reported on Friday its highest one-day count of deaths yet: 1,325. That brings the country’s toll to nearly 80,000, the highest in Europe.

Overall, the scourge has left more than 365,000 dead in the United States and caused nearly 22 million confirmed infections. At least 5.9 million Americans have gotten their first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The goal is to vaccinate hundreds of millions.

Cases and deaths are soaring in California, Arizona, Texas, and Florida. Those four states had a combined nearly 1,500 deaths and 80,000 cases on Thursday. Daily records have been set in those states this week as well as in Mississippi and Nevada.

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UK approves use of Moderna’s COVID vaccine

LONDON — Britain’s regulator Friday approved the coronavirus vaccine developed by Moderna, the Cambridge-based biotechnology company.

The British government, which has ordered a total of 17 million doses of the Moderna vaccine, says it will be available in the spring once the company expands its production capacity in Europe. Britain’s Department of Health said it had met “the required safety, quality and effectiveness standards.”

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It’s the third vaccine to be granted approval for use in the United Kingdom, following the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

Around 1.5 million people in the United Kingdom have been given at least their first dose of a vaccine. The United Kingdom aims to vaccinate 15 million people by mid-February. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted that the approval of the Moderna vaccine was “excellent news.”

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Iran bans import of US and UK vaccines

Iran’s supreme leader Friday said that he was banning the import of US and British coronavirus vaccines, a surprise move that contradicts his own government’s recent efforts to ensure Iran’s access to safe and effective immunizations.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made the announcement in a televised address Friday, calling the US and British vaccines “forbidden.”

He specifically mentioned the vaccine developed by US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and the German-based firm BioNTech. In Britain, Oxford University teamed up with AstraZeneca in Cambridge to develop a separate vaccine using different technology.

“I have no trust in them,” Khamenei, Iran’s top religious and political authority, said of the United States and Britain. He suggested that the two countries want to “test” their vaccines on populations outside the West.

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Study says vaccines provide at least 8 months of protection

The human body typically retains a robust immune response to the coronavirus for at least eight months after an infection, and potentially much longer, researchers said in a study published in the journal Science. About 90 percent of the patients studied showed lingering, stable immunity, the study found.

The review of blood samples from nearly 200 patients also saw that multiple elements of the immune system — not just antibodies — continued to be effective at recognizing and responding to the virus.

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The authors of the new study said they believe their findings would apply to the United Kingdom variant as well as the more common coronavirus. The reason: The immune responses target hundreds of different pieces of the virus, few of which are affected by the mutations seen so far. The consensus is that the coronavirus would need a tremendous number of transmission-enhancing mutations in concert to evade natural or vaccine-induced immunity.

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New research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the decision to bring college students back to classrooms at large universities was correlated with a sharp increase in coronavirus infections in the surrounding county, while caseloads declined when administrators opted for remote learning.

The study, published Friday in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly report, has some limitations, most notably that it focuses exclusively on the country’s largest institutions of higher learning. Researchers tracked infection rates in 101 counties that are home to colleges with more than 20,000 students — more than are found at even some flagship state universities — and that began the fall semester before Aug. 29.

The counties where large universities held in-person classes experienced an average 56 percent rise in incidence in the 21 days after classes began, the study found. By contrast, those where online learning was the only option registered a nearly 18 percent decrease on average.

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During the same time period, counties without any large colleges also averaged a 6 percent drop in infection rates.

Many colleges that resumed in-person instruction in the fall also instituted extensive surveillance testing regimens. Those efforts could explain increased case counts, the CDC researchers note, but they wouldn’t explain why the percentage of people testing positive increased after classes resumed.

Counties where colleges held in-person classes were also more likely to meet the criteria to be considered hot spots, the study found.

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CDC: asymptomatic carriers transmit more than half of virus cases

People with no symptoms transmit more than half of all cases of the novel coronavirus, according to a model developed by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Their findings reinforce the importance of following the agency’s guidelines: Regardless of whether you feel ill, wear a mask, wash your hands, stay socially distant, and get a coronavirus test. That advice has been a constant refrain in a pandemic responsible for more than 350,000 deaths in the United States.

Fifty-nine percent of all transmission came from people without symptoms, under the model’s baseline scenario. That includes 35 percent of new cases from people who infect others before they show symptoms and 24 percent that come from people who never develop symptoms at all.

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WHO: Interval between Pfizer vaccine doses can be up to six weeks

The time period between the first and second doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine can be up to six weeks, World Health Organization experts said in interim guidance issued Friday, citing “available clinical trial data.”

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The recommended waiting period between the two doses is 21 to 28 days, the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization said, but noted that countries can opt to extend that interval when necessary.

“Countries experiencing exceptional epidemiological circumstances may consider delaying for a short period the administration of the second dose as a pragmatic approach to maximizing the number of individuals benefiting from a first dose while vaccine supply continues to increase,” the report said. “Should additional data become available on longer intervals between doses, revision of this recommendation will be considered.”

The guidance comes as many countries are dealing with surges in coronavirus cases and officials are rushing to immunize as many people as quickly as possible.

Some countries had already issued guidance that the interval between doses could be extended. Denmark announced Monday that it would extend the period between shots to six weeks. On Thursday, French Health Minister Olivier Véran said at a news conference that it was possible to delay the second dose up to six weeks.

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