Covid: HHS chief pushes to open vaccines to more people; Senate Democrats eye stimulus-check boost

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U.S. health experts continue to raise alarm over the country's slow vaccine rollout. As of Tuesday morning, just 4.8 million vaccine doses had been administered across the country, out of a total 17 million doses distributed to administration sites, according to the CDC. CVS Health said Wednesday it's on pace to complete the first round of vaccinations at long-term care facilities by Jan. 25. The company also said a small number of vaccine doses could be made available at pharmacy locations in the coming weeks ahead of a broad rollout. Experts have recommended a number of changes to improve the pace of vaccinations, including broadening early eligibility and reducing stored capacity for second doses.

Here are some of the biggest developments Wednesday:

The U.S. is recording at least 219,200 new Covid-19 cases and at least 2,670 virus-related deaths each day, based on a seven-day average calculated by CNBC using Johns Hopkins University data.

The following data was compiled by Johns Hopkins University:

  • Global cases: More than 86.94 million
  • Global deaths: At least 1.87 million
  • U.S. cases: More than 21.22 million
  • U.S. deaths: At least 359,977

DC Health cancels afternoon vaccine appointments as riots erupt

DC Health announced all Covid vaccine appointments scheduled for Wednesday after 4 pm, have been canceled as District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered a citywide curfew from 6 pm through 6 am on Thursday.

Congress was forced to suspend confirmation of Joe Biden's election as president after protesters supporting President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol.

DC Health said healthcare providers should reschedule their vaccination appointments.

—Melodie Warner 

Newsom cancels Covid update to ensure safety following Trump protests

California Gov. Gavin Newsom canceled his scheduled coronavirus briefing out of "an abundance of caution to ensure the safety" of his staff as a mob of protestors supporting President Donald Trump storm the U.S. Capitol.

"We are concerned for the safety of California's congressional delegation and U.S. Capitol staff, and are reaching out to offer support in every way possible," the Democratic governor said in a statement.

California is in the midst of the deadliest part of its pandemic response so far. The state is reporting roughly 354 Covid-19 deaths daily, a record weekly average and a near 49% increase compared with a week ago, according to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

—Noah Higgins-Dunn

NFL committed to playoff schedule though Covid-19 outbreaks continue

Despite an increase in Covid-19 cases, and another virus outbreak involving a team, the National Football League is proceeding as scheduled with its postseason games.

The NFL and its players union said they are in agreement and prefer to keep games as scheduled. The league confirmed 70 new positive cases on Tuesday, some of which impact a postseason club.

The Cleveland Browns, who are back in the NFL playoffs for the first time since 2002, will be without players and coaches after personnel tested positive for Covid-19. But the team's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday remains as scheduled.

Six NFL playoff games are scheduled for this weekend, including the Browns contest. Though the NFL has postponed regular-season games due to the pandemic, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said the flexibility window for rescheduling games is limited in the postseason.

—Jabari Young

Status of vaccination progress, by state

About 5.3 million Americans have received an initial dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to the latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated Wednesday afternoon. That figure is up from 4.8 million initial shots reported as of Tuesday. More than 17 million vaccine doses have been shipped to U.S. states and territories, according to the CDC.

A handful of states — South Dakota, West Virginia, North Dakota, and Vermont — have administered first doses to more than 3% of their populations — a relative feat in an otherwise slow national rollout. Mississippi, Georgia, and Alabama appear to be lagging in their vaccine administration, with less than 1% of the population receiving their first shots in those states, according to the CDC.

—Nate Rattner

CDC study says severe allergic reactions to vaccine run 10 times the flu shot, but still rare

A new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that people receiving Covid-19 vaccines experience anaphylaxis — a severe and life-threatening allergic reaction that occurs rarely after vaccination — at a rate 10 times higher compared with the flu vaccine.

However, the condition is still thought to be rare, and the drugs from Pfizer and Moderna remain safe for public use, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters on a conference call.

"Of course, we all would hope that any vaccine would have zero adverse events, but even at 11 cases per million doses administered, it's a very safe vaccine," Messonnier said. 

—Noah Higgins-Dunn

At Georgetown, tensions rise over the university's plan for the spring semester

As a growing number of colleges and universities announce plans to invite more students back for the spring, including neighboring schools such as American University, Catholic University and Johns Hopkins, undergraduates at Georgetown are facing another semester of distance learning.

The university asked just 500 additional seniors of the more than 6,300 enrolled students to live on campus – and, still, classes will be taught remotely.

Now the administration is facing significant backlash from students and their families. Over 1,800 members of the community have signed a petition to reopen the school for in-person learning.

—Jessica Dickler

Walgreens, CVS say they're on track with Covid vaccines at nursing home

Walgreens and CVS Health said they are on schedule for giving Covid vaccinations to residents and staff at thousands of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities across the U.S. They said they expect to complete the first round of vaccines by Jan. 25.

The two pharmacy chains were tapped by the government to administer the vaccines at the facilities, which have been especially hard-hit by coronavirus outbreaks and deaths. Vaccines at the nursing homes began in mid-December and are have expanded to every state except West Virginia, which did not opt in to the federal program.

With their recent updates, the companies offered a bright spot for a vaccine rollout that has been slower than federal officials and public health officials anticipated. The U.S. has distributed just over 17 million doses, and 4.8 million people have been given their first shot as of Tuesday.

—Melissa Repko and Will Feuer

HHS secretary recommends states open vaccinations to more people

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar recommended states open up Covid-19 vaccinations to the elderly and other vulnerable groups even if they haven't vaccinated all of their health-care workers.

"There is no reason that states need to complete, say, vaccinating all health-care providers before opening vaccinations to older Americans or other especially vulnerable populations," he told reporters. "If they are using all the vaccine that is allocated, ordered, distributed, shipped and they are getting it into health-care providers arms, every bit of it, that's great."

U.S. officials are trying to pick up the pace of vaccinations after a slower-than-expected initial rollout. More than 4.8 million people in the U.S. have received their first dose of a vaccine as of Tuesday morning, according to the CDC. The number is a far cry from the federal government's goal to inoculate 20 million Americans by the end of 2020 and 50 million Americans by the end of this month.

The CDC has provided states with an outline that recommends prioritizing health-care workers and nursing homes first, but states can distribute the vaccine as they see fit.

–Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

$2,000 stimulus checks will be 'one of the first things' on Democratic Senate to-do list

Democratic U.S. Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock look on as they appear together at a campaign rally ahead of U.S. Senate runoff elections in Augusta, Georgia, U.S. January 4, 2021.
Mike Segar | Reuters

Democrats could be on the verge of getting control of the U.S. Senate, following runoff elections for two seats in Georgia this week.

That could pave the way for $2,000 stimulus checks to make it into the hands of millions of Americans.

The direct payments have been a key issue in the Georgia elections that took place on Tuesday, with all of the candidates in that race endorsing the higher payments.

Congress passed a $900 billion stimulus package last month with checks of $600 per person.

President Donald Trump called for higher sums of $2,000 per person. Democrats supported the idea, but were met with opposition by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other Republicans.

Now, with Democrats close to clinching Senate control with the conclusion of the Georgia runoffs, members of the party are calling for higher stimulus checks.

"One of the first things that I want to do when our new senators are seated is deliver the $2,000 checks to the American families," Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said at a news conference on Wednesday.

Though the results of the Georgia elections are not yet official, Schumer announced that he plans to assume the role of majority leader.

—Lorie Konish

Researchers expect Covid baby bust, not boom

US is facing a potential underpopulation problem — fewer workers and consumers
US is facing a potential underpopulation, not overpopulation problem

The U.S. birth rate in 2019 fell to its lowest level in 35 years, well below the requisite 2.1 babies per woman required to sustain our population through birth alone. Researchers expect this trend to continue into 2021, some attributing it to economic hardships caused by the coronavirus recession.

"What we learned from the Great Recession is that every 1 percentage point increase in the unemployment rate reduces births by 1 percent," said Wellesley College economics professor Phil Levine. That will mean fewer American-born workers and consumers, which could slow long-term economic growth.

Others see the continued decline in births in correlation to more economic opportunities for women and fewer unintentional births thanks to what Levine calls "essentially perfect contraception."

More women in the workforce, however, spur economic growth. If women entered and stayed in the U.S. workforce at the same rate as women in Norway, the U.S. economy would be $1.6 trillion larger according to one study by S&P Global.

Now it seems demographers expect delays in childbearing until the recession is resolved. The U.S. population is over 330 million people, and the total global population is nearly 7.8 billion. The global population is expected to peak at 9.7 billion by 2064 and then fall back down to 8.8 billion by 2100.

Lindsey Jacobson

How vaccine doses get from the manufacturing plant to your arm

Nurses, doctors, the elderly and other vulnerable people across America are getting the first Covid vaccine shots from Pfizer and Moderna, although U.S. officials have acknowledged that the process has been slower than anticipated.

The much-awaited vaccines — and whether they're distributed quickly, smoothly and widely — will help determine whether the U.S. can gain control of the virus. So far, the nation has distributed just over 17 million doses, and 4.8 million people have been given their first shot as of Tuesday, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Eventually, vaccine doses will be made available to the general public at pharmacy chains such as CVS and Walgreens, potentially as early as March. CNBC dives into the journey of the Covid-19 vaccines, from factory to the arms of millions of Americans.

—Noah Higgins-Dunn, Melissa Repko

Gottlieb says receiving a vaccine does not mean a return to pre-pandemic life

Dr. Scott Gottlieb warns that getting vaccinated doesn't mean people can just return to pre-Covid life
Dr. Scott Gottlieb warns that getting vaccinated doesn't mean people can just return to pre-Covid life

Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CNBC that life will continue to be altered by the coronavirus, even after Americans become vaccinated against Covid-19. The former Food and Drug Administration chief in the Trump administration likened it to how the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks forever changed airline travel.

"It's not going to be like it was in 2017 and 2018, when we didn't worry at all about catching a respiratory pathogen," Gottlieb said on "Squawk Box." "We're going to worry about it, even if we're vaccinated. I think we'll worry much less than we're worrying right now, hopefully."

For example, he said public venues may still want to take people's temperature before allowing admittance. "I don't think masks are going to be mandatory next fall and winter if we can get the vaccination rate up and if these new variants go away or don't become prevalent. But I do think a lot of people will want to wear masks, and that's OK."

Kevin Stankiewicz

Disclosure: Scott Gottlieb is a CNBC contributor and is a member of the boards of Pfizer, genetic testing start-up Tempus and biotech company Illumina. He also serves as co-chair of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings' and Royal Caribbean's "Healthy Sail Panel." 

Phone scams are targeting isolated grandparents, New York AG warns

New York Attorney General Letitia James issued an alert to warn senior citizens of fraudsters posing as a grandchild calling to ask for money. 

The scammers often call in the middle of the night or early in the morning claiming to be the senior's grandchild. The caller falsely claims that there is an emergency and asks the grandparent to immediately send money.

"Due to COVID-19 restrictions, many grandparents have not seen their grandchildren for months and may be especially susceptible to this common and despicable scam," James said in a statement.

"We should all be speaking with elderly family members and warning them that scammers are ready to prey on their love of family in an effort to take their money," she added.

—Melodie Warner 

CVS says it's in talks to offer vaccine at pharmacies soon

CVS Pharmacy staff members prepare as COVID-19 vaccinations begin at Life Care Center of Kirkland, a long term seniors care facility which was the focus of attention at the start of the U.S. coronavirus disease outbreaks in March 2020, in Kirkland, Washington, U.S. December 28, 2020.
David Ryder | Reuters

CVS Health said Wednesday that it's in talks with several states "to make a limited number of doses available in the coming weeks in advance of the broader rollout" of Covid vaccines.

The Department of Health and Human Resources has tapped CVS and other retail pharmacies to eventually offer vaccinations at sites across the country when the broader rollout begins. CVS' comments come after Politico reported on Tuesday that a senior HHS official said that 3,000 to 6,000 pharmacies could begin administering Covid-19 shots in the next two weeks.

That could help drastically ramp up the rollout of the vaccine, which has been slower than expected. Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said Tuesday at an event hosted by STAT News that she expects the rollout to speed up this month.

—Will Feuer

Sundance Film Festival moves drive-in screenings online amid Los Angeles outbreak

Sundance Film Festival

The Sundance Film Festival announced it will cancel its planned drive-in film screenings in Southern California and move them online because of the "overall public health situation in the Los Angeles area and the trajectory of the spread of the virus there, the health guidelines, and crisis the hospital systems are facing."

The festival, which runs from Jan. 28 through Feb. 3, planned on hosting a number of drive-in screenings in cities throughout the country, though the Los Angeles-area screenings will no longer go ahead as planned as Covid cases and hospitalizations in the area surge.

"The safety and well-being of our audiences, community and staff is the most important thing to Sundance Institute and Sundance Film Festival," the festival said in a statement.

—Noah Higgins-Dunn

IRS says some taxpayers won't receive stimulus check before tax season

The IRS has started to send millions of stimulus checks, worth up to $600 for individuals and each of their child dependents.

But the agency on Tuesday said taxpayers who received the message "Payment Status #2 – Not Available" when using its IRS Get My Payment tool won't receive a second stimulus check automatically.

Instead, they will need to claim a Recovery Rebate Credit on their 2020 tax return. This means it could take weeks or months for some people to receive the money.

The IRS did not clarify why this is the case or why the issue seemed to affect those who had filed their 2019 taxes through H&R Block and TurboTax in particular.

Alicia Adamczyk

U.S. stocks open mixed as traders await Georgia election results

U.S. stocks opened mixed as investors await the final call on two runoff elections in Georgia that will determine control of the Senate, reports CNBC's Fred Imbert and Yun Li.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average started the session along the flatline. The S&P 500 dipped 0.4%, and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 1.2%.

—Melodie Warner 

Private payrolls fall for the first time since April

ADP: Private payrolls declined by 123,000 in December, vs 60,000 gain expected
ADP: Private payrolls declined by 123,000 in December, vs 60,000 gain expected

Private payrolls contracted in December for the first time since April, CNBC's Jeff Cox reports.

The jobs number fell 123,000 during the month, a sharp decline compared with the 60,000 job gain economists expected. The national jobs market had been on the mend after widespread business shutdowns in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sara Salinas

EU approves Moderna's vaccine

Dave Lacknauth, Pharm. D., Director of Pharmacy Services, Broward Health Medical Center shows off a bottle of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine during a press conference on December 23, 2020 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Joe Raedle | Getty Images

Health regulators for the European Union approved Moderna's Covid vaccine for use in the 27-nation bloc. It's the second such drug to get approval from the European Medicines Agency, CNBC's Silvia Amaro reports.

The greenlight could help jumpstart Europe's vaccine rollout, which has faced criticism for a slow pace and occasional mishaps.

Moderna's vaccine was previously approved in the U.S., where it is currently being distributed and administered. The vaccine, similar to Pfizer's, is a two-dose regimen and was found in clinical trials to be 94% effective.

—Sara Salinas

Correction: Moderna's vaccine was previously approved in the U.S. An earlier version misstated where the drug had been approved.

The Covid variant found in South Africa is worrying experts

A new strain of the virus that has emerged in South Africa is causing concern. Similar to a variant that has been discovered in the U.K. in recent months, the strain that has emerged in South Africa is proving to be far more transmissible.

So far, scientists do not believe either new variant is more deadly. But being more transmissible means more people can get infected and could mean more serious infections and more fatalities as a result.

Questions are now being raised over whether the coronavirus vaccines developed at breakneck speed in the last year will be effective against significant mutations of the virus, such as the one identified in South Africa. CNBC looks at what we know (and what we don't) about this new strain.

Holly Ellyatt

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