FDA aims to quickly OK booster shots for variants; US passes 500,000 deaths — 6 COVID-19 updates

More than 500,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began, according to data from Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins University. 

President Joe Biden has ordered all U.S. flags to be flown at half-staff for the rest of the week in remembrance of the half a million lives lost, reports The Washington Post.  

Five more updates:

1. Vaccine makers won't be required to conduct monthslong, randomized clinical trials to get approval for COVID-19 vaccines altered to fight virus variants, the FDA said Feb. 22. Vaccines will be authorized if they produce an immune response relatively close to that of the original vaccines. Most drugmakers that have vaccines authorized or in late-stage trials have said they plan to adjust their vaccines to protect against virus variants.  

2. COVID-19 vaccine shipments delayed by winter storms will be delivered by midweek, Andy Slavitt, White House pandemic adviser, said Feb. 22. "Today alone, we plan to deliver seven million doses," Mr. Slavitt said Feb. 22. The adviser also encouraged vaccination sites that were forced to temporarily close to work extended hours to catch up on deliveries.

3. Pfizer and Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine both drastically reduced hospitalizations and infections in the U.K., according to three new studies cited by The New York Times. A single dose of either vaccine prevented most COVID-19 hospitalizations, though researchers said it's too early to share precise estimates, according to the Times. The research represents the first real-world data from the U.K.'s mass vaccination effort and comes after promising real-world data about the Pfizer vaccine's efficacy in Israel.

4. Five drugmakers are slated to testify on the nation's COVID-19 vaccine rollout and how to expand availability during a Feb. 23 hearing with the House Committee on Energy & Commerce. Executives from Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca and Novavax will attend. Pfizer and Moderna will pledge to ramp up production with the aim of reaching 220 million doses by March 31, according to prepared testimony cited by The Washington Post.

5. While COVID-19 cases are declining nationwide, the East Coast remains a lingering hotspot, according to The New York Times. Of the 10 states with the highest rate of new cases, eight border the Atlantic Ocean. 

Snapshot of COVID-19 in U.S.

Cases: 28,191,227

Deaths: 500,443

Americans receiving at least one vaccine dose: 44,138,118

Counts reflect Feb. 22 and Feb. 23 data from Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins University and the CDC.

More articles on public health:
California will set aside 10% of COVID-19 vaccines for teachers, Newsom says
COVID-19 death rates by state: Feb. 23
States ranked by percentage of COVID-19 vaccines administered 


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