McConnell expects to have final stimulus agreement nailed down in hours

Surgeon general says it’s too early to tell if virus mutation is more dangerous

People walk past an illustration of a virus outside a regional science centre, as the city and surrounding areas face local restrictions in an effort to avoid a local lockdown being forced upon the region, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Oldham, Britain August 3, 2020.

Phil Noble | Reuters

Surgeon General Jerome Adams said it is too early to tell if a coronavirus mutation alarming public health officials in Europe is more dangerous than earlier variants, but noted that there were “no indications that it is going to hurt our ability to continue vaccinating people.”

“Viruses mutate all the time, and that does not mean that this virus is any more dangerous,” Adams said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “We don’t even know if it’s really more contagious yet or not, or if it just happened to be a strain that was involved in a super spreader event.”

The comments came after countries including the Netherlands, Belgium and Italy announced that they would suspend flights from the United Kingdom following an announcement from public health officials in the country that they had identified a variant of the virus that early data suggested could spread more quickly.

England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, said in a statement on Saturday that the U.K. had informed the World Health Organization about the mutation. He said there was “no current evidence to suggest the new strain causes a higher mortality rate or that it affects vaccines and treatments although urgent work is under way to confirm this.”

Tucker Higgins

McConnell says Congress will finish Covid relief, funding deal within hours

Congress should finish a coronavirus relief and government funding bill today, only hours before a deadline to avoid a government shutdown, according to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“We’re winnowing down the remaining differences … I hope and expect to have a final agreement nailed down in a matter of hours,” the Kentucky Republican said.

Lawmakers cleared the last major roadblock in the way of a deal when they reached a compromise over a GOP-backed plan to roll back the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending powers. Still, they had not unveiled legislative text for the more than $2 trillion pandemic aid and spending package with about 11 hours to go until government funding lapses.

The House, which will move on any proposal before the Senate does, expects to vote by tonight.

— Jacob Pramuk

Surgeon general says it’s too early to tell if virus mutation is more dangerous

People walk past an illustration of a virus outside a regional science centre, as the city and surrounding areas face local restrictions in an effort to avoid a local lockdown being forced upon the region, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Oldham, Britain August 3, 2020.

Phil Noble | Reuters

Surgeon General Jerome Adams said it is too early to tell if a coronavirus mutation alarming public health officials in Europe is more dangerous than earlier variants, but noted that there were “no indications that it is going to hurt our ability to continue vaccinating people.”

“Viruses mutate all the time, and that does not mean that this virus is any more dangerous,” Adams said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “We don’t even know if it’s really more contagious yet or not, or if it just happened to be a strain that was involved in a super spreader event.”

The comments came after countries including the Netherlands, Belgium and Italy announced that they would suspend flights from the United Kingdom following an announcement from public health officials in the country that they had identified a variant of the virus that early data suggested could spread more quickly.

England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, said in a statement on Saturday that the U.K. had informed the World Health Organization about the mutation. He said there was “no current evidence to suggest the new strain causes a higher mortality rate or that it affects vaccines and treatments although urgent work is under way to confirm this.”

Tucker Higgins

San Francisco Fed President Mary Daly says stimulus is “unequivocally beneficial”

Mary Daly, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, giving a speech in Singapore on June 3, 2019.

Monetary Authority of Singapore

The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco President Mary Daly said fiscal support is “unequivocally beneficial” as the economy tried to recover from the coronavirus-triggered recession.

“I’m bullish on the job market once we get fully through the coronavirus but we are not there yet,” Daly told Margaret Brennan on “Face The Nation” on Sunday. “Our future is bright but we have got a few challenging months ahead of us as we continue to battle coronavirus.”

Daly said aid for state and local governments is important, adding that programmatic cuts are being discussed in the areas that she serves.

Lawmakers reached a compromise over the future of Fed emergency lending programs, clearing the way to seal a deal on a roughly $900 billion coronavirus stimulus plan. This new package doesn’t include funding for state and local governments.

Yun Li

Impact of vaccinating workers or older adults first hardly differs, CDC official says

An advisory committee to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is meeting Sunday to vote on who should get access to the Covid vaccines after health-care workers and long-term care residents.

Central to the question is whether essential workers, who disproportionately have underlying conditions and are made up of racial and ethnic minorities, or older adults, who are at increased risk of dying of Covid, should be prioritized next.

But the CDC’s Dr. Kathleen Dooling noted that the different strategies will ultimately have little impact on the dynamics of the outbreak, based on the latest modelling.

“Differences between strategies is minimal,” she said. “Vaccinating older adults first averts slightly more deaths, while vaccinating younger adults first, essential workers and younger adults with high-risk conditions, averts slightly more infections.” 

“The largest driver of impact in averting deaths and infections is actually the timing of the vaccine introduction related to increases in Covid-19 cases,” she added. “This really emphasizes the need to continue non-pharmaceutical interventions, wearing a mask and social distancing.”

—Will Feuer

Covid vaccination most difficult immunization campaign in history, surgeon general says

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams testifies during a Senate Finance Committee committee hearing on Capitol Hill, October 24, 2019 in Washington, DC.

Mark Wilson | Getty Images

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams called the coronavirus vaccination the most challenging immunization program in history, warning that there will be inconsistencies and fluctuations in the number of doses during the rollout.

“This is going to be the most technically, logistically difficult vaccination project of all time,” Adams told Margaret Brennan on “Face The Nation” on Sunday. “We started slow and we are going to continue to increase. The American people should be hopeful about the vaccines but we also need to remain vigilant.”

“I want the American public to know the numbers are going to go up and down. There’s what we plan and there is what we actually allocate. There’s what’s delivered and there’s what’s actually put in people’s arms,” he added.

The federal government plans to distribute roughly 5.9 million doses of Moderna’s vaccine across the nation next week. Meanwhile, the U.S. is also sending out 2 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine after 2.9 million doses were cleared for shipment last week.

Yun Li

Moderna vaccine starts shipping

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

Paul Sancya | Reuters

The second Covid-19 vaccine approved by U.S. regulators has started shipping around the country, where it will add to the country’s arsenal for fighting the deadly disease.

The vaccine, made by Moderna, is being shipped from Louisville, Kentucky, and Memphis, Tennessee to nearly 4,000 locations in all 50 states.

The Food and Drug Administration cleared the drug on Friday, and it is expected to start being administered on Monday. The government plans to distribute about 5.9 million doses within the week.

Like the first vaccine to be approved, made by Pfizer, Moderna’s vaccine has been shown to be more than 90% effective and is given in two doses spaced several weeks apart.

Moderna’s vaccine can be stored at temperatures warmer than Pfizer’s, allowing it to reach areas that would be more difficult to inoculate with just the Pfizer vaccine.

Tucker Higgins

First Moderna immunizations expected Monday

In this March 16, 2020, file photo, a subject receives a shot in the first-stage safety study clinical trial of a potential vaccine by Moderna for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle.

Ted S. Warren | AP

Americans will likely receive the first Moderna vaccine shot on Monday morning, U.S. Covid-19 vaccine program head Moncef Slaoui said on Sunday.

“We look forward to the vaccine. It’s going to be slightly easier to distribute because it doesn’t require as low a temperature as Pfizer,” Slaoui said on CNN.

Moderna’s vaccine is the second Covid-19 vaccine authorized in the U.S. and was approved by the Food and Drug Administration on Friday.

Emma Newburger

House expects to vote on Covid relief, government funding

The House expects to vote on a coronavirus relief and government funding package today, according to Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s office.

Congressional leaders are working through the final details of an expected $900 billion pandemic aid proposal and could announce a deal in the coming hours. A compromise over a Republican-backed provision to limit the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending powers, which held up a deal at the last minute, cleared the way for Congress to move toward an agreement.

Lawmakers have to move quickly to both release legislation and push it through both chambers of Congress. The government will shut down at 12:01 a.m. ET on Monday if Washington does not pass a spending bill into law.

If Republicans and Democrats reach a deal, the House would move to approve it first, followed by the Senate. Any one senator can hold up swift passage of legislation.

More delays in putting together a bill may require Congress to approve another short-term measure to keep the government open.

— Jacob Pramuk

Mass vaccination by mid summer more likely, says Vivek Murthy

Vivek Murthy, who has been picked by President-elect Joe Biden to become the 21st surgeon general, urged caution on the coronavirus vaccine timeline, saying it’s more likely reach mass distribution by mid-summer or early fall.

“If everything goes well, we may see a circumstance where by late spring, people who are in lower risk categories can get this vaccine, but it would really require everything to go exactly on schedule,” Murthy said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“I think it’s more realistic to assume that it may be closer to mid summer or early fall when the vaccine can make its way to the general population. We want to be optimistic but we want to be cautious as well,” Murthy added.

The first shots of Pfizer‘s Covid-19 vaccine are given to front-line health-care workers and long-term care residents, who are among the most vulnerable to the disease. Meanwhile, after receiving approval for emergence use from the FDA, Moderna is gearing up to ship its first batch of vaccine doses.

Yun Li

Operation Warp Speed vaccine shortfalls stemmed from confusion over FDA requirements

Moncef Slaoui, the former head of GlaxoSmithKlines vaccines division, listens as U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks about coronavirus vaccine development in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 15, 2020 in Washington, DC. Dubbed “Operation Warp Speed,” the Trump administration is announcing plans for an all-out effort to produce and distribute a coronavirus vaccine by the end of 2020.

Drew Angerer | Getty Images

Dr. Moncef Slaoui, chief advisor of Operation Warp Speed, addressed the agency’s error of sending fewer initial Covid-19 vaccine doses than planned to some states and attributed the problem to a lag period in which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration must receive a certificate of analysis for each set of vaccines before shipment.

“We all made the mistake of assuming that the vaccine that’s actually produced and being released is already available for shipment, when in fact, there’s a two days lag between the time at which we generate a lot of data showing that this vaccine vile is safe and right, and the time we ship it,” Slaoui told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday morning.

“That lag period has resulted in differences in the plan and what was actually done,” Slaoui continued. “We have addressed that and optimize everyday what we are doing.”

Slaoui’s explanation comes one day after Operation Warp Speed Chief Operating Officer Gen. Gustave Perna repeatedly apologized for smaller deliveries of the Pfizer vaccine in at least 14 states.

The FDA requires a certificate of analysis, which includes quality control test results, for each round of Pfizer’s vaccines at least 48 hours prior to distribution.

Operation Warp Speed is set to ship 5.9 million Moderna vaccine doses and 2 million Pfizer vaccine doses across the U.S. on Monday, Slaoui said.

“We are increasing communication with the governors in order to make sure there are no mistakes that will happen,” Slaoui said. “We will work and learn from our mistakes every day.”

— Emma Newburger

Biden’s surgeon general pick tries to ease concern on new Covid strain

Vivek Murthy, who has been nominated by President-elect Joe Biden to serve as the US Surgeon General, speaks as Biden announces his team tasked with dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic at The Queen in Wilmington, Delaware on December 8, 2020.

Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images

Former surgeon general Vivek Murthy said the new strain of the coronavirus identified by the U.K. may not be more deadly and could be prevented by the vaccines.

Murthy has been tapped by President-elect Joe Biden to become the 21st surgeon general.

“While it seems to be more easily transmissible, we do not have evidence yet that this is a more deadly virus to an individual who acquires it,” Murthy said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “There’s no reason to believe that the vaccines that have been developed will not be effective against this virus as well.”

England’s top medical officer on Saturday announced that the U.K. has identified a new variant of the coronavirus that “can spread more quickly” than prior strains of the virus.

“The bottom line is if you are at home and you are hearing this news, it does not change what we do in terms of precautions as individuals that can reduce the spread of this virus,” Murthy said. “It turns out that masking, keeping physical distance and washing our hands … these are still the pillars of preventing Covid transmission.”

Yun Li

Growing number of EU countries ban flights to UK over new virus strain

A public health notice stands at the entrance to the check in desks at London Southend Airport, part of the Stobart Group on Tuesday, July 7, 2020.

Chris Ratcliffe | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium and Italy are suspending flights from the U.K., officials from those countries announced Sunday, amid fears over a new strain of the coronavirus sweeping London and southern England that is 70% more transmissible than existing strains.

German authorities have said they are considering “serious options” on halting flights from the U.K. but have not announced specific actions, while French media outlets have suggested France may also suspend flights.

The Dutch are banning the U.K. flights for the rest of the year at least, while Belgium is enacting a 24-hour flight suspension beginning at midnight as well as cutting train links to the country, which include the Eurostar. The moves come after U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson put London and surrounding areas into a new Tier 4 level of restrictions, mandating a much more severe lockdown this Christmas.

—Natasha Turak

Moderna vaccine will starting shipping soon

Moderna vaccine doses are being packed right now with shipping to start later today from UPS and McKesson facilities.

The vaccine doses will go to sites across all 50 states this week. The first shipments are expected to arrive Monday, with the first immunizations using the shot to occur the same day.

The rollout of the Moderna vaccine comes after Operation Warp Speed shipped 2.9 million doses of Pfizer’s shot to sites across the country last week, according to U.S. officials.

The U.S. government has allocated 7.9 million doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for distribution so far.

— Spencer Kimball

House vote as early as 1 p.m. ET; Senate will reconvene

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) talks to reporters after being re-elected to his leadership position along with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) (L) and Assitant Speaker Katherine Clark (D-MA) at the U.S. Capitol November 18, 2020 in Washington, DC.

Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images News | Getty Images

The House of Representatives will convene at noon today with voting to begin no earlier than 1 p.m. ET, according to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.

The Senate is set to reconvene at 1p.m. ET. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said both chambers could vote on Covid stimulus today if negotiations don’t hit another snag.

However, it’s not entirely clear at the moment what the House will vote on. Though senior lawmakers appear to be nearing a deal on Covid stimulus, they do not yet have an agreement in hand.

Congress passed emergency funding on Friday to keep the government open through Sunday. If they don’t pass new funding by 12:01 a.m. ET Monday, the government will shut down.

If stimulus talks hit a snag again, the House could vote on another continuing resolution to keep the government funded.

— Spencer Kimball

Toomey claims victory in Fed lending fight

Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) questions Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin during a hearing of the Congressional Oversight Commission on December 10, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

Sarah Silbiger | AFP | Getty Images

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., claimed victory in a fight over the Federal Reserve’s lending powers that was holding up a broader deal on Covid stimulus.

Though the agreement is tentative and compromise language is being finalized, a spokesperson for Toomey said Republicans had achieved all four of their objectives.

“This agreement rescinds more than $429 billion in unused CARES Act funds; definitively ends the CARES Act lending facilities by December 31, 2020; stops these facilities from being restarted; and forbids them from being duplicated without congressional approval,” Toomey spokesperson Steve Kelly said.

“This agreement will preserve Fed independence and prevent Democrats from hijacking these programs for political and social policy purposes,” Kelly said.

A senior Democratic aide told NBC News that “the Toomey impasse is over.”

—Spencer Kimball

Schumer says Congress could pass stimulus deal today

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, December 8, 2020.

Erin Scott | Reuters

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Congress could pass a stimulus deal Sunday after senior lawmakers reached a compromise in the fight over the Federal Reserve’s lending powers.

Though lawmakers do not yet have a deal in hand, Schumer said they were getting “very close.” Momentum toward a deal had stalled after Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., sought to include a provision that would end the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending powers.

Schumer told reporters late Saturday that the House and the Senate could pass a Covid stimulus bill Sunday “if things continue on this path and nothing gets in the way.”

— Spencer Kimball

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