Covid live updates: Congress clears major stimulus hurdle on Fed lending; U.S. general apologizes to states for vaccine cuts

As the U.S. races to deliver more life saving vaccines after Moderna's two-dose shot was approved for emergency use, Congress is up against the clock to deliver economic lifelines for Americans who are struggling from the pandemic's economic fallout.

For months, negotiations in Congress have failed to produce a new Covid stimulus deal. But on Saturday night, lawmakers finally reached a compromise on a major hurdle — the Federal Reserve's emergency lending powers — paving the way for votes as soon as Sunday.

Lawmakers had to pass last-minute emergency funding on Friday to avert a government shutdown and create time for another round negotiations over the weekend.

If lawmakers do not reach a deal by 12:01 a.m. ET Monday morning, the government will shut down.

As Congress fumbles the economic response to the pandemic, there are also growing questions about Operation Warp Speed's logistical plan for delivering vaccine doses. Several U.S. states are reporting that their allotment of doses has either been reduced or delayed.

U.S. Army Gen. Gustave Perna, who oversees logistics for Operation Warp Speed, said the confusion was due to a "planning error" in which the initial vaccine numbers he provided to the states were higher than the amount of doses actually available for release.

What's holding up the new relief package?
What's holding up the new relief package?

As the government struggles with its response, the suffering from the pandemic continues to mount. More than 2,800 deaths attributed to the virus were recorded Friday in the U.S., while the nation reported more than 249,000 new infections

The following data is from Johns Hopkins University:

  • U.S. deaths: more than 313,000
  • U.S. infections: more than 17.4 million
  • Global deaths: 1.67 million
  • Global infections: 75.7 million

Here's what you need to know:

Lawmakers reach Fed lending compromise for Covid-19 stimulus package

Senior lawmakers reached a compromise over the Federal Reserve's emergency lending powers late Saturday night, overcoming a major hurdle that prevented Congress from completing a $900 billion coronavirus relief package earlier in the week, according to multiple sources.

A last-minute roadblock emerged on Friday as Democrats accused Republicans, namely Pennsylvania's Sen. Pat Toomey, of attempting to encumber the incoming Biden administration by cutting off the Federal Reserve's emergency lending abilities created by the CARES Act meant to protect the already battered economy.

"...Democrats have agreed to a version of Sen. Toomey's important language," a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told NBC News.

Compromise language is being finalized and any remaining items are expected to be worked out overnight, according to aides.

—NBC News

Senate adjourns without a stimulus deal, but will reconvene tomorrow

The Senate has adjourned for the evening without a Covid stimulus deal, but will reconvene tomorrow around 1 p.m. ET as Congress races against a self-imposed deadline.

The House of Representatives, meanwhile, will not vote on a stimulus package until 1 p.m. ET at the earliest on Sunday. Congress has tied stimulus to broader government funding legislation and needs to reach a deal by 12:01 a.m. ET Monday to avoid a government shutdown.

Lawmakers expressed optimism Saturday morning, but talks have gotten bogged down over a proposal from Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., to end the Federal Reserve's emergency lending powers that allow it to provide loans to small and medium-sized business as well as state and local governments.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Toomey have met at least twice Saturday evening to try and find a path forward.

—Spencer Kimball

CDC: Don't take vaccine if you've had severe allergic reaction to any ingredient

Latrice Davis, a nurse at Roseland Community Hospital, receives the COVID-19 vaccine on December 18, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. The hospital began distributing the vaccine to its staff yesterday.
Scott Olson | Getty Images

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that people not get a Covid-19 vaccine if they have had a severe allergic reaction to any individual ingredient in that vaccine.

People who have severe reactions to other vaccines should consult with their doctors to figure out if they should get a vaccine for the virus, the CDC said. People who have a severe allergic reaction after getting an initial dose of a Covid vaccine should not get a second shot of it, the agency said.

The recommendation comes after the CDC has received reports of some people having severe allergic reactions to coronavirus vaccines. The agency considers a reaction severe if it requires the use of epinephrine, an EpiPen or a hospital visit.

Vaccination providers are expected to report cases of severe allergic reactions to Covid shots in the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration's Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System.

"Reports of adverse events that are unexpected, appear to happen more often than expected, or have unusual patterns are followed up with specific studies," the CDC said.

—Jordan Novet

Pfizer says vaccines must receive 'certificate of analysis' two days prior to distribution, after Army general apologizes for shortfalls

Several U.S. states have reported that the number of Pfizer vaccine doses they were promised by the federal government has been significantly reduced, and although the logistics chief for Operation Warp Speed has taken responsibility for the confusion, it's still not entirely clear what caused the shortfalls.

Pfizer, however, explained in a statement to CNBC that each lot of its vaccines must receive "certificates of analysis" at least 48 hours prior to distribution under the company's emergency use authorization with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Pfizer's statement comes after U.S. Army Gen. Gustave Perna, the OWS logistics chief, apologized to the states for what he called a "planning error."

"The mistake I made is not understanding with exactness — again my responsibility — on all the steps that have to occur to make sure the vaccine is releasable," Perna said at a press briefing.

It wasn't made clear whether the certificates were the reason for the discrepancy between the numbers Perna originally gave the states and what was actually available for release.

A spokesperson for OWS was not immediately available for comment.

"Our sites continue to produce more vaccine and at an increasing rate as we gain more experience with the mRNA vaccine manufacturing process," Pfizer spokeswoman Kim Bencker told CNBC in an emailed statement following Perna's apology.

Pfizer has "millions" of doses in its warehouses ready to ship once it receives word from Operation Warp Speed, and the company continues to coordinate closely with Perna regarding future shipments, Bencker said.

"We remain confident in our ability to deliver up to 50 million doses globally this year and up to 1.3 billion next year," Bencker said.

— Noah Higgins-Dunn

Bernanke says Fed lending authorities should remain intact in stimulus package

Ben Bernanke
T.J. Kirkpatrick | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is calling for the central bank's emergency lending authorities to remain in place to fight future crises.

Bernanke's statement comes as congressional lawmakers battle over a Republican-backed provision in the Covid-19 stimulus package that would end the Fed's emergency lending powers.

Read the full statement:

I strongly support the passage of new aid for families and businesses suffering from the effects of the pandemic. However, it is also vital that the Federal Reserve's ability to respond promptly to damaging disruptions in credit markets not be circumscribed.

The relief act should ensure, at least, that the Federal Reserve's emergency lending authorities, as they stood before the passage of the CARES Act, remain fully intact and available to respond to future crises.

Emma Newburger

Battle over Fed’s lending powers is holding up stimulus deal

Disagreement by congressional leaders over a provision on the Federal Reserve's lending powers is hampering progress on a Covid-19 stimulus deal.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told GOP Senators on a conference call on Saturday that he strongly supports Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey's provision that would end the Fed's emergency lending powers, a source on the call told NBC News. Those powers allow it to lend to small and medium-sized businesses as well state and local governments.

McConnell suggested he won't back down on the issue. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin was also on the call and said he supported Toomey.

Democratic lawmakers have criticized Toomey's proposal as unnecessary to the relief bill, arguing it will weaken the Treasury Department and the Fed's ability to fight economic crises.

Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said on Saturday that Toomey's provision has "nothing to do" with the pandemic and would damage the Biden administration's ability to handle a recession.

Emma Newburger

FDA chief says extra doses of Moderna vaccine, like Pfizer, could be used if found

Providers will be allowed to administer extra doses of Moderna's coronavirus vaccine if they're found in the vials once the drug is distributed, the chief of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said in a tweet.

On Wednesday, the FDA acknowledged in a tweet that some vials of Pfizer-BioNTech's Covid-19 vaccine contained an extra full dose — in some cases two extra doses — after the original five that typically come in the vials were used. For the time being, the agency said the extra Pfizer doses could be administered.

Extra shots of Moderna's vaccine will also be fair game if there are any full doses left after the original 10 shots are used, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said in a tweet Saturday.

"Every dose of #COVID19 vaccine makes a difference to overcoming this pandemic," Hahn's tweet read.

During the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices meeting on Saturday, a Moderna representative said that while the company doesn't expect providers to find an 11th dose of its vaccine, a "very skilled" person may be able to occasionally withdraw an extra dose.

— Noah Higgins-Dunn

Bernie Sanders and Chuck Schumer receive vaccine

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, receives a Covid-19 vaccine, Dec. 19, 2020.
Sanders Office

Senator Bernie Sanders, I-VT, received the Covid-19 vaccine on Saturday, according to a release from his Senate office. 

"As the vaccine is being distributed, we must all continue wearing masks and engage in social distancing," Sanders said in a statement. "That is how we will beat this virus and end this terrible pandemic."

Sanders is among several lawmakers in Washington who have received doses of the vaccine and are trying to reassure Americans of its safety.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, and Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., tweeted photos of themselves getting the vaccine on Friday. Sen. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., received an injection on Saturday.

"The vaccine is safe and effective, and I encourage everyone to take it as it becomes available," Schumer wrote in a tweet.

Vice President Mike Pence received the vaccine on live television Friday, calling it a "medical miracle" and reassuring the public that they can be confident in its safety and effectiveness. President-elect Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, are set to receive the vaccine on camera on Monday.

Emma Newburger

CDC advisory panel unanimously backs Moderna vaccine

Moderna coronavirus vaccine
Joel Saget | AFP | Getty Images

A panel of experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has endorsed Moderna's vaccine for people 18 years of age and older in the U.S., clearing another hurdle before shots start on Monday.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted 11-0 to recommend the vaccine. Three people on the panel recused themselves.

CDC Director Robert Redfield now has to sign off on the recommendation.

The recommendation comes after the Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization for Moderna's vaccine on Friday.

—Spencer Kimball

Lawmakers expect stimulus deal soon, but final vote may not come until Monday

With the clock ticking toward a government shutdown, some congressional lawmakers are optimistic about a Covid relief deal coming together soon.

Senate Republican Whip John Thune, R-S.D., said on Saturday that a final vote on the relief plan could happen on Sunday but will more likely occur on Monday.

"I'm still somewhat hopeful we could wrap this up if the House moves quickly," Thune said.

A final outstanding issue involves the battle over the Federal Reserve's lending powers. Senator Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa, is drafting language to block the incoming Biden administration from reviving emergency lending programs, a move that Democrats have condemned.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Saturday that once arguments over the Fed's lending programs are resolved, the deal could come together quickly and "everything will fall into place."

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was briefing Republican Senators on Saturday at 1 p.m. ET to provide status updates on negotiations and potentially address the Fed lending issues.

Emma Newburger

U.K. to impose restrictions ahead of Christmas following new virus strain, prime minister says

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced fresh restrictions ahead of the Christmas holiday, saying gatherings can't go ahead and non-essential shops must close in London and much of southern England.

Johnson said that the capital and other areas in southern England currently under Tier 3, the highest level of coronavirus restrictions, will move to an even stricter new Tier 4 that requires non-essential shops, hairdressers and indoor leisure venues to close after the end of business hours Saturday.<