States seek excess vaccines reserved for nursing homes; US commits $4B to Covax initiative — 7 COVID-19 updates

Nationwide, cases have fallen for five consecutive weeks, hospitalizations for four weeks and deaths for two weeks, according to The COVID Tracking Project's weekly update published Feb. 18. 

Even as COVID-19 case and death rates slow, the U.S. is approaching a milestone of 500,000 total deaths reported since the pandemic began. 

Six more updates:

1. There's no evidence that COVID-19 spreads via food or food packaging, the FDA said Feb. 18. Some studies have found virus particles on food packaging, though most find the genetic fingerprint of the virus and not live virus that can result in infection, according to the joint release from the Department of Agriculture, the FDA and the CDC. 

2. The U.S. government is committing $4 billion to the Covax vaccine initiative, according to a Feb. 18 White House news release. Using money appropriated by Congress in December, the U.S. will provide an initial $2 billion to Gavi, the financing instrument of the Covax Facility, which supports access to safe and effective vaccines for 92 low- and middle-income countries. The U.S. will release another $2 billion through 2021 and 2022 to expand the program's efforts. 

3. Pfizer and BioNTech launched a trial testing the safety and efficacy of their COVID-19 vaccine for pregnant women. The trial is enrolling about 4,000 healthy pregnant women across nine countries, with the first U.S. participants already having received their first dose. The trial is estimated to conclude by January 2023.

4. A World Health Organization team investigating the pandemic's origin has zeroed in on two animals as a possible source of the virus: ferret badgers and rabbits, reports The Wall Street Journal. Both animals were sold at a market in Wuhan, China. However, the WHO team said they still need to investigate the suppliers of all animals sold at the market, some of which are traced to a region of China where the SARS-CoV-2 virus' closest known relative has been found in bats, according to WSJ.

5. Some states are claiming excess vaccine doses that were originally designated for nursing homes through a federal program or stockpiled for second doses late last year, reports The New York Times. Up to six million doses are still in reserve, federal officials estimate. Now, states are trying to free up these doses to vaccinate the general population. 

6. At least 85 large vaccination sites and hundreds of smaller providers in Texas closed this week amid complications from winter storms, reports The Texas Tribune. In addition, shipments containing more than 407,000 first doses and 333,000 second doses were delayed in anticipation of the severe weather.

Snapshot of COVID-19 in U.S.

Cases: 27,897,356

Deaths: 493,138

Americans receiving at least one vaccine dose: 41,021,049

Counts reflect Feb. 18 and Feb. 19 data from Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins University and the CDC.

More articles on public health:
US life expectancy fell drastically in 2020; US seizes 11M counterfeit N95s — 7 COVID-19 updates
COVID-19 hospitalizations by state: Feb. 19
States ranked by percentage of COVID-19 vaccines administered 


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