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Covid: Vaccine rollout marred by confusion around the next shipments

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The U.S. blew past records for daily new Covid-19 cases and virus deaths on Wednesday, as the national crisis continues to worsen. More than 247,000 new infections and more than 3,600 Covid deaths were reported on Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University data, the highest single-day tallies yet. A record 113,000 people are currently hospitalized with the virus, according to The Atlantic's COVID Tracking Project. The new and disheartening highs come at the same time the U.S. is beginning a vaccine rollout.

The U.S. is recording at least 215,729 new Covid-19 cases and at least 2,570 virus-related deaths each day, based on a seven-day average calculated by CNBC using Johns Hopkins University data.

Here are some of the biggest developments Thursday:

The following data was compiled by Johns Hopkins University:

  • Global cases: More than 74.95 million 
  • Global deaths: At least 1.66 million
  • U.S. cases: More than 17.20 million
  • U.S. deaths: At least 310,699

Doctors are continuing to monitor vaccine side effects very closely, professor says

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Moderna's Covid vaccine likely to be more widely distributed in the beginning: Professor

A system is in place to monitor for rare side effects as vaccines are administered, said William Schaffner, a professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

"The side effect monitoring doesn't stop with the trials. We continue, now that we're using the vaccine," he told CNBC's "Street Signs Asia," adding that any cases will be investigated quickly.

His comments came after reports of at least three severe allergic reactions to the vaccine, first in the U.K. and this week in the U.S.

Schaffner said doctors are prepared for such adverse reactions. "I think we have things under good control," he said.

"Everyone who gets vaccinated will be observed for 15 minutes or longer after they are vaccinated, that's a good, good comfort for everybody getting vaccines," he added.

— Abigail Ng

HHS secretary Alex Azar's wife tests positive for Covid

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told his staff in an email that his wife had tested positive for coronavirus, NBC News reported. Azar and his children both tested negative.

"Today, my family learned that my wife Jennifer has tested positive for COVID-19," Azar said. "Jennifer is experiencing mild symptoms but otherwise doing well and has been self-isolating at home from the moment of her first symptoms (she scrupulously followed public health guidelines: she isolated upon mere aches and received a negative instant test, but stayed in isolation pending results of the non-instant PCR test today). I have been tested as have our children, and thankfully we have received negative results and are not exhibiting any symptoms."

Azar said he will be following CDC guidelines for essential workers, and carrying out his essential duties, while "continuing to practice social distancing, wearing a mask, and monitoring for any symptoms."

"In addition, I have been tested every day and will be tested every day until my exposure period has concluded," Azar added.

Riya Bhattacharjee

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he will get Covid vaccine in coming days

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement that he will be getting the coronavirus vaccine in the coming days, NBC News reported.

"As a polio survivor, I know both the fear of a disease and the extraordinary promise of hope that vaccines bring," McConnell said. "I truly hope all Kentuckians and Americans will heed this advice and accept this safe and effective vaccine."

McConnell said he had been following health guidelines since last spring and "advocated mask wearing, social distancing and other best practices."

"The only way to beat this pandemic is for us to follow the advice of our nation's health care professionals: get vaccinated and continue to follow CDC guidelines," he added.

Riya Bhattacharjee

FedEx revenue beats estimates as e-commerce deliveries surge

FedEx posted better-than-expected revenue of $20.6 billion for its most recent quarter as the pandemic continues to bolster package deliveries in the U.S. and internationally, according to the company's latest earnings release.

Average daily package volume for FedEx Ground, which runs e-commerce deliveries, climbed 29% to 12.3 million for the three months ended Nov. 30 as retailers tried to extend the holiday shopping season by offering discounts as early as October.

The Memphis-based company, however, did not provide an earnings forecast for fiscal 2021, citing continued uncertainty and higher costs stemming from the pandemic.

Noah Higgins-Dunn

Biden advisor tests positive for Covid-19

(L-R) Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden greet each other as Biden arrives at Columbus Airport on October 27, 2020 in Columbus, Georgia.
Drew Angerer | Getty Images

Congressman and incoming White House advisor Cedric Richmond has tested positive for Covid-19.

The Louisiana Democrat will quarantine for two weeks and test negative twice before returning to work in the House or on President-elect Joe Biden's transition, Biden spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield said in a statement.

Richmond did not come in close contact, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with Biden. The president-elect tested negative Thursday.

Two people who drove Richmond's car during Biden's campaign rally for Georgia's Democratic Senate candidates Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff are self-quarantining.

—Jacob Pramuk

FDA panel endorses Moderna's vaccine for emergency use

Getty Images

An influential FDA panel overwhelmingly backed Moderna's coronavirus vaccine, a key step paving the way to distribute the second Covid-19 vaccine in the United States next week.

The nonbinding decision, which was adopted 20 to 0 with one abstention, from the FDA's Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee came exactly a week after the outside group of vaccine and infectious disease experts voted to recommend Pfizer and BioNTech's vaccine for an emergency use authorization, or EUA.

The FDA could authorize Moderna's vaccine as early as Friday. The U.S. plans to ship just under 6 million doses next week, pending the agency's OK, Gen. Gustave Perna, who oversees logistics for the Operation Warp Speed vaccine project, told reporters Monday.

–Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

HHS says vaccine allocations have not been reduced, countering states' claims

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services said vaccine allocations for next week have not been reduced, despite several governors' public remarks that their allocations have been slashed nearly in half.

"Reports that jurisdictions' allocations are being reduced are incorrect," the spokesperson said in a statement to CNBC, adding that shipments will arrive over several days. "This same process was successfully used for the initial distribution of Pfizer's vaccine, and we are simply applying lessons learned."

The spokesperson said that next week's allocations of Pfizer's vaccine doses were provided on Tuesday.

"Those are the only official allocation numbers that have been provided," the spokesperson said. "Operation Warp Speed remains on track to allocate enough vaccine for about 20 million Americans to receive their first doses before the end of the month, pending Moderna receiving an EUA."

—Will Feuer

Northern Ireland will enter a six-week lockdown the day after Christmas

A woman wearing a face mask leaves a shop in Belfast city centre as businesses across Northern Ireland reopen their doors following a two-week circuit-breaker lockdown aimed at stemming the spread of coronavirus.
Brian Lawless | PA Images | Getty Images

Northern Ireland will enter a six-week lockdown starting the day after Christmas, Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neil announced. All non-essential shops will close, and pubs, bars and restaurants will be limited to take-out, Reuters reports.

"It will be disappointing to many, but I think a lot of people would also have expected it. It's very clear that we needed an urgent intervention. I think this is the right decision by the executive," she said, according to the report.

—Sara Salinas

Portugal imposes New Year's Eve curfew

Portugal will set a nationwide curfew of 11 p.m. on New Year's Eve, Prime Minister Antonio Costa said.

"We have to totally cut out on New Year celebrations," Costa told reporters, according to Reuters.

The country is implementing strict lockdowns around the holiday in an effort to avoid mass virus spread, barring residents from leaving their homes between 1 p.m. and 5 a.m. from Jan. 1 to Jan. 3, Reuters reports.

There are no restrictions around Christmas, though, but Costa urged people to avoid poorly ventilated spaces and to wear face masks during family gatherings whenever possible.

Portugal, with a population of roughly 10 million people, has suffered a fearsome second wave of the virus, with more than 3,700 new cases and nearly 100 deaths reported each day on average, according to JHU data.

—Sara Salinas

San Francisco issues mandatory 10-day quarantine for those coming from outside Bay Area

The TransAmercia building at the end of an empty Columbus Street in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

San Francisco health officials ordered a mandatory quarantine of 10 days for anyone traveling, moving or returning from anywhere outside the San Francisco Bay Area.

The quarantine order begins on Friday and will remain in effect until Jan. 4. The travel quarantine order strongly discourages non-essential travel, including from one place to another within the Bay Area.

"COVID-19 cases are surging in San Francisco and across the country. Hospitals in the Bay Area are close to being overwhelmed," Mayor London Breed said in a statement. "Now is not the time to travel and risk being exposed or exposing others. We need to do the right thing to protect ourselves, our neighbors and our loved ones and make sure that we can celebrate together when this is over."

The order includes returning residents, people moving to San Francisco and those who work in San Francisco as well as visitors, unless specifically exempted by the order.

Exemptions include essential workers, medical professionals, first responders, official government business, essential infrastructure work and other activities such as receiving medical care or travel required by a court order.

Riya Bhattacharjee

Hospital CEOs predict Covid vaccine hesitancy among staff will fade over time

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Hospital CEOs on distributing vaccines: As people get educated, they'll take it

While some health-care workers may be skeptical of receiving a vaccine against Covid-19 right away, hospital leaders are expressing confidence the hesitancy will eventually subside.

Will Ferniany, CEO of UAB Health System in Alabama, said on CNBC's "Squawk on the Street" that he was not shocked by the reticence. "But I believe as they see what happens with their friends and as this rolls out — and the vaccine has been rolling out very smoothly in Alabama — I think that most everybody" will want to receive the shots, he said.

A similar story is playing out in Texas, according to Dr. Marc Boom, CEO of Houston Methodist. Some employees are very eager to receive the vaccine, while others are have taken a "wait-and-see" approach, he said.

"We've mandated flu vaccine for over 15 years and always get to full vaccination with that. We'll get there eventually with this" even if it takes a little time because they cannot mandate the Covid-19 vaccine, Boom said.

Kevin Stankiewicz

Vice President Pence, second lady to receive Covid vaccine on Friday

Vice President Mike Pence and second lady Karen Pence will be publicly vaccinated against Covid-19 on Friday during an event at the White House at 8 a.m., according to NBC News.

The pair will be joined by Surgeon General Jerome Adams, who will also receive the vaccine at Friday's event. President-elect Joe Biden is expected to receive the vaccine at some point next week, a transition official told NBC News.

Biden has said that he will also take the vaccine publicly in order to boost confidence in the drug's safety.

—Noah Higgins-Dunn

Pfizer waiting on shipping instructions for millions of vaccine doses

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Pfizer says it's not having problems with vaccine distribution

Pfizer has millions of vaccine doses sitting in a warehouse awaiting shipping orders from the federal government as U.S. states report delays and apparent reductions in deliveries. The drug company, in a press release, said it is not experiencing production issues with the vaccine, as the Trump administration has claimed, and no shipments are on hold or delayed.

"This week, we successfully shipped all 2.9 million doses that we were asked to ship by the U.S. Government to the locations specified by them," Pfizer said. "We have millions more doses sitting in our warehouse but, as of now, we have not received any shipment instructions for additional doses."

Pfizer's statement comes after some states reported their vaccine allotments were being reduced or delayed. The Iowa Department of Public Health on Wednesday said it was informed by the federal government that Iowa, and other states, will not receive the volume of vaccine initially anticipated. Iowa's allocation could be reduced by as much as 30%, according to the state health department.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a press conference Tuesday that the federal government told him the state would receive 205,000 Pfizer vaccine doses next week and 247,000 the following week. Those shipments are now on hold, DeSantis said, and it's unclear when they will arrive.

"We don't know whether we will get any or not. And we're just going to have to wait," DeSantis said. "It's a production issue with Pfizer, it has nothing to do with the federal government or nothing to do specifically with Florida, this is just what's happening nationwide."

CNBC has reached out to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as Operation Warp Speed for comment.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar told CNBC earlier on Thursday that he'd like "more visibility" into the manufacturing of Pfizer's vaccine. He said the company has kept the federal government at "arm's length" throughout the process.

Pfizer said it has "continuously shared" every aspect of its production and distribution capabilities with Operation Warp Speed and HHS through weekly meetings.

—Spencer Kimball, Noah Higgins-Dunn

Biden cuts ad with Covid focus for Georgia Senate candidates

President-elect Joe Biden acknowledges the crowd as he attends a "Get Ready to Vote Rally" with Georgia's U.S. Senator Democratic nominees Reverend Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff on December 15, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Joshua Lott | The Washington Post | Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden in a new campaign ad for two Georgia Democrats locked in tight runoff races suggested that his plans for beating the coronavirus pandemic hinge on which party controls the Senate.

"Georgia, I know things are tough right now. But I want you to know, help is on the way," Biden said in a straight-to-camera appeal for Georgia voters to elect Democratic Senate hopefuls Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.

The 1-minute ad, produced jointly by the Ossoff and Warnock campaigns, debuted less than three weeks before the Jan. 5 runoff elections in the Peach State.

"My administration is preparing to beat Covid-19, and bring economic relief to the American people. On Day 1 as your president, I'm prepared to sign a Covid relief package that fully funds the public health response needed, led by Georgia's own CDC. It will ensure testing and vaccination for every American, and will get small businesses the assistance they need right now," he said.

"Let me be clear: I need Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in the United States Senate to get this done," Biden warned. "There are folks in Congress threatening to do everything in their power to block our efforts."

Kevin Breuninger

Bill Gates thinks 50% of business travel is going away. Here's what current C-suites say

Young businessman wearing protective face mask in business first class seat.
Mongkol Chuewong

Lots of forecasts have been issued on the future of business travel. Airline CEOs are hopeful that no matter how long it takes, at some point corporate jet-setting returns to a pre-pandemic level.

Bill Gates predicts, however, that as much as half of corporate travel will be wiped out in the wake of the pandemic.

What do senior executives across a wide cross-section of the market's largest companies who were doing much of the traveling before Covid-19 say? Two new CNBC C-suite surveys offer some answers. And there's bad news for airlines and hotels: many executives think Bill Gates is right. But not all of them.

Top technology executives surveyed by CNBC think a significant portion of corporate travel will return, though it may take years, but many chief financial officers who control company budgets don't see business travel ever returning to the pre-pandemic level.

Eric Rosenbaum

HHS Secretary Azar says Pfizer keeps U.S. distant on vaccine manufacturing

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HHS Sec. Azar says he'd like more visibility into Pfizer's manufacturing

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told CNBC that he'd like "more visibility" into the manufacturing of Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine. He said the company has kept the government at "arm's length" throughout the process.

"We contract, give (Pfizer) a guaranteed purchase, that allows them to make capital investments, have a predictable purchaser, but we don't have complete visibility into their manufacturing because they have kept that a bit more arm's length," he told "Squawk Box." "We're working with Pfizer. We're very optimistic that we'll secure additional quantities in the second quarter, but they're going to need help from us on their manufacturing."

Unlike other drugmakers, Pfizer did not accept federal funding to help develop or manufacture its vaccine. Pfizer has a deal with the U.S. to supply 100 million doses of its vaccine as part of Operation Warp Speed, enough to inoculate 50 million Americans since the vaccine requires two doses three weeks apart. Pfizer is also currently negotiating with the U.S. for an additional 100 million doses.

—Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

Congress tries to put the finishing touches on a Covid relief deal

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks at a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., December 15, 2020.
Nicholas Kamm | Reuters

Congress is pushing to wrap up a coronavirus relief deal as the expiration of financial lifelines looms.

Lawmakers hope to put the finishing touches on a $900 billion aid package. The plan would include small business loans, an extension of expanded unemployment insurance eligibility, a federal jobless benefit supplement and a second direct payment to Americans, among other provisions.

Congressional leaders hope to tie the assistance to legislation to fund the government through Sept. 30, 2021. As lawmakers near a midnight Friday deadline to avoid a shutdown, however, they may have to pass another short-term spending bill.

Some lawmakers have warned the rescue package would not go nearly far enough to boost Americans struggling to afford food and housing in a damaged economy.

—Jacob Pramuk

46,000 businesses cut 401(k) funding amid Covid

Around 8% of companies cut the 401(k) contributions they typically pay workers during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a survey by Plan Sponsor Council of America, which represents businesses with workplace retirement plans.

There are about 572,000 401(k) plans in the U.S., according to the Employee Benefits Security Administration.

Extrapolating the survey data would mean nearly 46,000 businesses took such cost-saving measures against the backdrop of an economic downturn that, at its depths, was the worst since the Great Depression.

Cuts include eliminating or reducing their 401(k) match or non-matching contribution. Another 1%, roughly 5,000 plans, are considering such cuts.

Greg Iacurci

You can't sue Pfizer or Moderna over vaccine side effects

If you suffer severe side effects of Covid-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, there's no real legal course of action, CNBC's MacKenzie Sigalos reports.

The U.S. government has granted companies immunity from liability if something unintentionally goes wrong, you can't sue the Food and Drug Administration for authorizing a vaccine for emergency use, nor can you hold an employer accountable if they require inoculation as a condition of employment, experts told CNBC.

The limitations are part of an equation to get life-saving vaccines developed and distributed as quickly as possible, but lawyers say it comes at a cost for some.

—Sara Salinas

FDA panel starts day-long meeting on Moderna vaccine — Watch live

Thanksgiving jet-fuel demand fell 45% from last year

Air travel demand spiked to a pandemic high over Thanksgiving but many would-be travelers stayed home or hit the road for the holiday, according to new fuel-consumption data.

U.S. airlines consumed 4.6 million gallons of jet fuel over Thanksgiving week, down 45% from a year earlier, the Energy Information Administration estimated. That was for about 108,000 flights from U.S. airports, 63% of last year's schedule. Overall, transportation fuels including gasoline, were down just 11% from last year, the EIA said.

Airline executives have warned that a slowdown in bookings in recent weeks — the result of new coronavirus infections, government recommendations against travel and new quarantine rules — is weighing on revenue.

Leslie Josephs

Initial jobless claims rise to highest level since September

Initial jobless claims rose last week to 885,000, the highest level since early September, CNBC's Fred Imbert reports.

Continuing claims, the number of filers putting in for unemployment benefits for at least two weeks, improved slightly to 5.5 million.

The Labor Department readout comes as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations surge across the U.S., prompting reclosures and stricter public safety measures. Officials have warned of a tough winter, which could mean more trouble for the labor market ahead.

—Sara Salinas

How the pandemic is reshaping the future of retail stores

The retail industry, buffeted by the devastating impacts of the Covid pandemic, is being forced to redefine the role of the of the brick-and-mortar store.

The fallout felt around the world from the global health crisis has accelerated several trends: People flocked to the web at unprecedented levels to order goods; the rate of permanent store closures ramped up, leading to a deepening crisis hitting America's malls; and many retailers got smarter about using inventory stored in stock rooms to fulfill shoppers' digital purchases.

In coming years, retailers that want to survive and thrive in this new era of commerce should rethink their store layouts and make features like curbside pickup permanent, to meet shoppers' changing needs, according to a report released Thursday from CBRE, a commercial real estate services firm.

Source: CBRE, Floored

Other changes include stock rooms operating as mini warehouses, along with extra space in stores dedicated to processing returns. There will also be implications for how much rent retailers pay to their landlords, CBRE said.

—Lauren Thomas

FDA panel votes on Moderna's vaccine today

A vial and a medical syringe seen displayed in front of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the United States and Moderna biotechnology company's logos. FDA finds the COVID-19 vaccine.
Pavlo Gonchar | LightRocket | Getty Images

An influential FDA panel is scheduled to vote Thursday on whether to recommend the authorization of Moderna's coronavirus vaccine for emergency use. Here's what you need to know before they vote.

The decision from the FDA's Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, an outside group of experts in infectious diseases and vaccines, is the last step before the agency would give a final OK. Pfizer's vaccine was authorized for emergency use a day after the committee meeting last week.

Initial doses will be limited as manufacturing ramps up, with officials predicting it will take months to immunize everyone in the U.S. who wants to be vaccinated. The U.S. plans to ship just under 6 million doses of Moderna's vaccine once the FDA gives the OK, Gen. Gustave Perna, who oversees logistics for the Operation Warp Speed vaccine project, told reporters Monday

—Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

France's Macron tests positive for Covid, prompting other European leaders to self-isolate

French President Emmanuel Macron listens to Portugal's Prime Minister Antonio Costa during a joint statement prior to their meeting at the Elysee Presidential Palace on December 16, 2020 in Paris, France.
Chesnot | Getty Images News | Getty Images

French President Emmanuel Macron has tested positive for the coronavirus and will now self-isolate for seven days.

It follows a week when he has met with several other European officials, some of whom are now also in isolation.

Macron's diagnosis was established "as soon as the first symptoms appeared," Elysee Palace said in a brief statement. His office did not provide further details about his symptoms.

The French president is one of several world leaders to have tested positive for Covid-19 this year, including U.S. President Donald Trump, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

—Sam Meredith

Russia's Putin says he has not yet had Russia's Covid vaccine because he's too old

Russia's President Vladimir Putin called on the public to get the coronavirus vaccine, but said he is yet to receive it himself as he's too old.

Putin encouraged the Russian public to take the vaccine, called "Sputnik V," and said he would receive it as soon as he was able to.

"Our health care professionals say the vaccines ... are meant for people of certain ages ... people like me are not yet allowed to take vaccines," Putin said during his annual press conference Thursday.

"I am a law-abiding citizen and I always listen to what our health care professionals say, therefore I haven't been inoculated yet but I will surely do that as soon as it is permitted," he said.

Sputnik V has been tested on volunteers aged 18-60 and is currently only being recommended for people between those ages. Putin is 68, so he does not qualify.

Holly Ellyatt

Vaccine cooperation will increase in 2021, Russian official believes

Cooperation between vaccine makers will increase in 2021, according to the head of Russia's sovereign wealth fund, which has backed the development of Russia's Covid-19 vaccine 'Sputnik V.'

"I think next year will be the era of vaccine cooperation rather than vaccine competition," Kirill Dmitriev, the chief executive of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), told CNBC Thursday.

Last Friday, British pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca said it would soon start work with Russia's Gamaleya Institute, which developed 'Sputnik V,' to investigate whether their two jabs could be successfully combined.

RDIF said clinical trials of AstraZeneca's vaccine in combination with its own would begin by the end of December. Dmitriev told CNBC Thursday that the tie-up was a "great example of partnership on vaccines."

Holly Ellyatt

Snow blasts the Northeast U.S., days after the start of the vaccination campaign

A snowman is seen as snow begins to fall in Times Square during a Nor'easter, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., December 16, 2020.
Jeenah Moon | Reuters

One of the biggest snowstorms in years blanketed parts of the Northeast U.S. with as much as 2 feet of snow during a key period in the coronavirus pandemic, the Associated Press reported.

The storm came days after the start of a vaccination campaign launched in the thick of a massive virus surge across the U.S. Officials said they didn't expect the storm to disrupt vaccine distribution, which began Monday for frontline health-care workers, according to AP.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Wednesday that the government is carefully tracking the vaccine shipments, and that he believes the companies transporting the drugs can navigate the storm, AP reported.

"This is FedEx, this is UPS express shipping. They know how to deal with snow and bad weather. But we are on it and following it," Azar told Fox News Channel's "Fox & Friends."

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has exempted vaccine delivery trucks from a storm-related prohibition on commercial traffic on some highways. The state was anticipating more than two dozen vaccine deliveries in the next day or two.

Terri Cullen

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