Covid updates: Nearly 28 million vaccine doses doled out in U.S.; Novavax upping monthly vaccine production

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The World Health Organization has warned that new and more contagious Covid variants are fueling a spike in infections and death across Africa. WHO Regional Director for Africa Dr. Matshidiso Moeti said the variant first identified in South Africa "has spread quickly beyond Africa, and so what's keeping me awake at night right now is that it's very likely circulating in a number of African countries." The United States on Thursday confirmed its first two cases of the South Africa strain, known as B.1.351, in two South Carolina adults with no travel history or connection with one another.

Here are some of the biggest developments Friday:

The U.S. is recording at least 158,500 new Covid-19 cases and at least 3,200 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 101.9 million 
  • Global deaths: At least 2.2 million
  • U.S. cases: More than 25.88 million
  • U.S. deaths: At least 435,765

Coachella music festival canceled for 2021

Beyonce Knowles performs onstage during 2018 Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival Weekend 1.
Larry Busacca | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

The Coachella and Stagecoach music festivals have been canceled under a heath order issued by Riverside County, California due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The festivals were canceled last year as well.

"This order is intended to reduce the likelihood of exposure to COVID-19," the Riverside County health officer said in a public notice to organizers. "If COVID-19 were detected at these festivals, the scope and number of attendees and the nature of the venue would make it infeasible, if not impossible, to track those who may be placed at risk."

No new dates were immediately announced.

Riya Bhattacharjee

Moderna asks FDA to allow extra doses in Covid vaccine vials

A healthcare worker holds a vial of the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine at a pop-up vaccination site operated by SOMOS Community Care during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in New York, January 29, 2021.
Mike Segar | Reuters

Moderna is said to have asked the FDA to allow it to put additional doses in its vaccine vials, a source familiar with the matter told CNBC. The move seeks to alleviate a bottleneck in Covid-19 vaccine manufacturing.

The availability of Covid-19 vaccines has been a source of frustration since their clearance in the U.S. in mid-December. 

Meg Tirrell

Brazil's national debt hit record high in 2020 due to Covid

The national debt in Brazil hit a record in 2020 as Latin America's largest economy struggles amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The country's total debt reached 89.3% of its GDP last year — an all-time high — topping economist expectations, according to Reuters. Brazil's annual primary deficit, meanwhile, came in at 703 billion reais ($129 billion U.S.), or 9.5% of GDP.

Brazil has been battered by the Covid-19 outbreak. More than 9 million cases have been confirmed in Brazil since the pandemic began, the third-most of any country, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Brazil is also the country with second-most coronavirus deaths, with at least 221,547 confirmed.

Fred Imbert

Novavax expects to produce 150 million vaccine doses per month as early as May

Biotech firm Novavax expects to produce up to 150 million Covid-19 vaccine doses per month by May or June, CEO Stanley Erck told Reuters.

The company also expects to complete its clinical trial for the vaccine in the next few weeks, but is already working on building up its manufacturing, Erck told Reuters.

Novavax currently has a $1.6 billion deal with the U.S. government to deliver 100 million doses of its vaccine in early 2021. That deal was announced in July as part of the Trump administration's Operation Warp Speed initiative.

The update on manufacturing comes a day after the company said its vaccine was more than 89% effective in protecting against Covid-19 in its phase three clinical trial conducted in the United Kingdom. It also said the vaccine was well tolerated among the trial's 15,000 volunteers.

—Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

U.S. has administered nearly 28 million vaccine doses

The U.S. has now administered more than 27 million Covid vaccine doses, according to updated CDC data. The latest data tallies another 1.69 million doses in arms since Thursday for a total of 27,884,661 administered to date.

That's more than half of the 49,216,500 vaccine doses distributed to vaccination sites so far.

More than 4.7 million people have received two doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine and are therefore fully inoculated against the virus.

Rich Mendez, Sara Salinas

United sends 14,000 furlough notices, flight attendants seek more federal aid

United Airlines told 14,000 employees, some of whom were recently called back to work, that their jobs are at risk when a second round of federal payroll aid expires at the end of March.

United has spent the last few weeks calling back the roughly 13,000 workers it furloughed in the fall along with dozens of others who were on voluntary leave, a requirement to receive portions of the $15 billion in federal aid Congress approved late last year. United and American together cut some 30,000 jobs in the fall when the first round of federal aid expired after Sept. 30.

In December, United said the recalls of furloughed employees would likely be temporary because of weak demand. U.S. airlines lost a record $34 billion last year.

Leslie Josephs

Canadian airlines suspend service to Caribbean, Mexico in effort to slow virus spread

Air Canada planes on the tarmac at Pearson Airport, Toronto
Rene Johnston | Toronto Star | Getty Images

Canada's main airlines are suspending service to all Caribbean destinations and Mexico starting Sunday and until April 30 in an effort to slow the spread of new variants of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced.

"With the challenges we currently face with Covid-19, both here at home and abroad, we all agree that now is just not the time to be flying," Trudeau said. "By putting in place these tough measures now, we can look forward to a better time when we can all plan those vacations."

Trudeau also said travelers returning from abroad will soon have to quarantine in a designated hotel until they receive results from Covid tests taken at the airport. Those who produce negative results will be allowed to quarantine at home for the remainder of the mandated two weeks, but those who produce positive results will have to isolate in designated government facilities.

Rich Mendez

Covid may be spurring support of labor unions

In 2020, Gallup estimated that 65% of all Americans approve of labor unions; including 83% of Democrats, 64% of independents and 45% of Republicans. 

Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO says support has increased further — in part because the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the need for workplace safety and the importance of essential workers.

"This pandemic has amplified [public support] even more. It showed how helpless workers are without a union. They couldn't even get PPE and unions were able to get it for them," he says. "For years and years and years, people that we call 'essential workers' were invisible. It was as if no one knew they existed. They did their jobs every day to keep the country and the economy going. And then Covid came and everybody was staying home except people they called 'essential workers', people that were driving buses, and delivering food, and taking care of sick people, and making us better.

"Now people see those workers and the dignity that they represent."

—Abigail Johnson Hess

Here's what you need to know about Covid vaccines

This week, two companies released more news on their Covid-19 vaccines as they prepare to seek regulatory clearance, flashing signs of hope that the U.S. could soon have more weapons against the pandemic. 

The introduction of two more shots could significantly bolster the country's arsenal of tools to drive back the virus and bring the pandemic to an end. But the new announcements also carried signals of caution, as the not-yet-authorized vaccines appeared to be less effective against some rapidly spreading strains of the virus.

With more vaccines entering the fray, here are five things you need to know as you prepare to get your shot.

—Will Feuer

EU places temporary export controls on Covid vaccines

This photograph taken on December 22, 2020 in Puurs, Belgium shows the entrance of US multinational pharmaceutical company Pfizer's production site of the Covid-19 vaccine.
John Thys | AFP | Getty Images

The EU has placed temporary controls on the export of Covid vaccines after pressuring British pharma giant AstraZeneca to move vaccines made in the U.K. into the bloc, reports CNBC's Matt Clinch.

"Protecting the health of our citizens remains our utmost priority, and we must put in place the necessary measures to ensure we achieve this," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Friday.

The measure comes after Pfizer recently said it would be temporarily lowering production while it upgraded its production capacity. AstraZeneca also said it would be delivering much fewer doses than originally expected due to production issues.

The temporary measures are expected to last until the end of March.

Rich Mendez

California extends eviction protections through June 30

California eviction protections set to expire at the end of January were extended to June 30 with the signing of a bill into law Friday, Gov. Gavin Newsom's office said in a release.

The legislation pauses evictions for people who cannot pay for Covid-related reasons, establishes a rental assistance program to distribute federal funds and prohibits the selling or assigning of rental debt accrued during the pandemic until the end of the moratorium, the release said. 

"This law not only provides greatly needed support for tenants, but also provides relief to small property owners in need of assistance to pay for mortgages, thanks to $2.6 billion in federal stimulus funding," Newsom said in a statement.

—Chris Eudaily

Airlines oppose mandatory Covid testing for domestic flights

A healthcare worker wearing protective gloves collects a Covid-19 swab test from a person inside a vehicle at a United Airlines drive-thru testing site inside San Francisco International Airport (SFO) in San Francisco, California, Jan. 9, 2021.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The Biden administration is "actively looking" at mandating Covid tests for domestic flights a senior Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official said, according to a report by CNBC's Leslie Josephs.

After travel restrictions resulted in a loss of $34 billion last year for the industry, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly said the move is unfairly targeting airlines.

"If you want to test people, test them, but test them before they go to the grocery store. Test them before they go to a restaurant," Kelly said.

The U.S. Travel Association, an industry group that represents large hotel chains, Airbnb and several airports said on Wednesday that the plan was "unworkable" due to a lack of uniformity in testing eligibility across states.

Rich Mendez

NYC restaurants could reopen indoor dining starting on Valentine's Day, Cuomo says

New York City restaurants could reopen their indoor dining sections at 25% capacity beginning on Feb. 14 as long as the state's Covid-19 cases remain stable following a post-holiday spike, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

Some industry experts have said that 25% capacity for indoor dining may not be enough for restaurants to stay afloat, but Cuomo said during a press briefing that some capacity is better than none. The Democratic governor added that the number could go up if cases don't climb again amid the threat of new, highly transmissible variants of the virus.

The city's restaurants were ordered to close their indoor dining sections beginning Dec. 14 after an increase in cases was projected to worsen during the holiday season. New York City's positivity rate, or the percentage of all Covid-19 tests returning positive, has dropped from a high of 7.1% on Jan. 5 to just below 5% as of Jan. 28, according to the governor.

—Noah Higgins-Dunn

Hundreds get vaccinated after Seattle hospital puts out open call when freezer breaks

People wait in line for a last-minute COVID-19 vaccine event at Seattle University after a freezer failure at a nearby hospital on January 29, 2021 in Seattle, Washington.
David Ryder | Getty Images

Hundreds of Seattle residents lined up in pajamas at Seattle University and University of Washington clinics to receive a Covid-19 vaccine after a freezer failure left 1,650 Moderna vaccine doses at risk of expiring, KING 5 NBC reports.

One of the clinics posted an urgent message to social media around 11 p.m. Thursday stating that it had hundreds of appointments available from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. to administer the doses before expiration.

Appointments were full within hours and all doses were administered.

Rich Mendez

Covid-19 is causing consumers to abandon cash once and for all

Francesco Carta fotografo | Moment | Getty Images

Amid the coronavirus crisis, Americans have stopped using cash almost entirely in favor of "tap and go" transactions.

More than half of consumers are now using some form of touch-free or contactless payment, which includes tap-to-go credit cards and digital wallets like Apple Pay or Google Pay, according to Mastercard. Fewer and fewer are using printed or minted U.S. currency at all.

And, for the first time, consumers are going out of their way to find retailers that offer contactless payment options, according to Cyndie Martini, CEO of Member Access Processing, which has caused the rate of adoption to "leap frog."

"This is unprecedented change," she said. "Now that consumers are used to it there is no going back. The continued rise of contactless is just going to grow exponentially."

—Jessica Dickler

European regulators approve AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine

A vial of the Oxford University/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is seen at the Lochee Health Centre in Dundee, Scotland, Britain January 4, 2021.
Andy Buchanan| Pool | Reuters

The European Medicine Agency approved the coronavirus vaccine created by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, CNBC's Holly Ellyatt reports.

The vaccine is already in use in the U.K. after it was approved at the end of December and it makes up the majority of shots administered in the country.

The EMA said it expects the vaccine to be effective in those aged 55 and older, but did not have enough results from older participants in trials to fully evaluate efficacy in that group. Thursday a German vaccine committee recommended the vaccine only be given to those aged between 18-64, citing the lack of data for people 65 and older.

Rich Mendez

Drug shortage crisis in the U.S. hits Covid-19 vaccine rollout

Pharmacist Jason Hyde fills syringes with the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine as first responders wait to receive it at UMass Memorial Hospital in Marlborough, Massachusetts on January 12, 2021.
Joseph Prezioso | AFP | Getty Images

At a time when the nation is battling the worse health crisis in a century, and Covid-19 patients are filling up hospital intensive care units the U.S. is facing a drug shortage. It's a problem that has plagued U.S. hospitals for two decades: recurring shortages of essential drugs including injectable generics, required to treat a range of acute conditions — from infections to cancer.

Now as the nation rushes to produce Covid vaccines it has exposed potential shortages of essential materials used in manufacturing. In November, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported that vaccine manufacturing supply chains may be strained by disruptions caused by the pandemic.

It has been a factor in the problematic rollout of Covid-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. In December, a Pfizer spokesperson told Reuters that a scale-up of its raw material supply chain took longer than expected. At the same time, The Wall Street Journal reported that the development of some early batches of raw materials had failed to meet standards, causing production delays.

The new administration recognizes this dilemma. President Joe Biden has invoked the Defense Production Act to increase the availability of the materials needed for domestic manufacturing. The problem is the result of Big Pharma offshoring about 80% of the production of generic drugs and ingredients, principally to India and China, in search of lower costs. It's a supply chain issue that now has national security implications.

Lori Ioannou

U.S. consumer spending fell 0.2% in December

Americans slowed their spending for a second straight month in December, as the U.S. economy continues to struggle amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Associated Press reports.

The 0.2% decline in spending followed a 0.7% drop in November, the Commerce Department reported. It was the latest sign that consumers are putting off traveling, shopping and dining out amid fears of contracting Covid-19, the wire service said. Sales at retailers have declined for three straight months.

Separately, personal income in December rose 0.6% following two months of declines, AP said.

Terri Cullen

Dr. Fauci says J&J vaccine will keep people out of hospitals

NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci addresses the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, January 21, 2021.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert, said the most important finding of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine data is the single-shot may keep people out of hospitals and prevent them from getting severely ill.

J&J said the vaccine was 85% effective in preventing severe disease four weeks after vaccination in all adults in its phase three trial. The vaccine offered complete protection against Covid-related hospitalizations four weeks after vaccination, the company said

"The most important thing, more important than whether you prevent someone from getting aches and a sore throat, is preventing people" from getting severe disease, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said on a call with reporters. "That will alleviate so much of the stress and human suffering and death in this epidemic."

—Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

Lady Gaga on the safe return to public spaces

Lady Gaga on the safe return to public spaces

Here's a preview of CNBC anchor Becky Quick's conversation with Lady Gaga for the official "Squawk Box" podcast "Squawk Pod."

Shares of vaccine makers Novavax, Johnson & Johnson move after posting clinical trial data

Dr. Sonia Macieiewski samples proteins at Novavax labs in Rockville, Maryland on March 20, 2020, one of the labs developing a vaccine for the coronavirus, COVID-19.
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds | AFP | Getty Images

Shares of biotech company Novavax have surged more than 64% in premarket trading after the company posted its latest Covid-19 vaccine data on Thursday. Novavax's candidate was found to be more than 89% effective in protecting against Covid-19 in its phase three clinical trial conducted in the U.K.

Meanwhile, Johnson & Johnson shares are down roughly 3% in premarket trading after the company said its one-dose coronavirus vaccine was 66% effective overall in protecting against Covid-19. The vaccine's performance varied by region, with the U.S. arm of the trials posting a 72% effectiveness overall.

Both companies found that their doses weren't as effective in other parts of the world, specifically in South Africa, where fast-spreading virus mutations have become widespread.

—Noah Higgins-Dunn

J&J's vaccine is 66% effective, but shot may fall short against variants

J&J says its one-shot Covid vaccine is 72% effective in the U.S.

Johnson & Johnson said that its one-dose coronavirus vaccine was 66% effective overall in protecting against Covid-19. The vaccine, however, appeared to be less effective against the new variant in South Africa.

The level of protection varied by region, the company said, with the vaccine demonstrating 66% effectiveness overall, 72% in the United States, 66% in Latin America, and 57% in South Africa after four weeks.

J&J said the vaccine was 85% effective in preventing severe disease four weeks after vaccination in all adults. The vaccine offered complete protection against Covid-related hospitalizations four weeks after vaccination, the company said.

J&J said the trial includes those infected with B.1.351, the new, highly contagious strain found in South Africa. The new data comes as U.S. health officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, are concerned that the Covid-19 vaccines currently on the market may not be as effective in guarding against new, more contagious strains of the coronavirus.

–Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

Eli Lilly profit benefits from successful launch of Covid antibody treatment

The Eli Lilly logo is shown on one of the company's offices in San Diego, California, September 17, 2020.
Mike Blake | Reuters

Eli Lilly's fourth-quarter profit beat Wall Street estimates, thanks in part to strong demand for its diabetes and cancer drugs and sales of its Covid-19 antibody treatment, Reuters reported.

The company's overall sales rose 21.7% to $7.44 billion and quarterly sales of the Covid-19 therapy, bamlanivimab, were $871.2 million.

Excluding items, Eli Lilly earned $2.75 per share, beating estimates of $2.35 per share.

—Melodie Warner 

EU publishes AstraZeneca vaccine contract amid dispute over delays

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gives a presser at the end of a video conference meeting of the members of the European Council focused on the Covid-19 pandemic, in Brussels, on January 21, 2021.

The European Union has published a redacted version of its contract with AstraZeneca for its coronavirus vaccine, amid escalating tensions over delivery delays to the bloc.

It comes as the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, continues to ratchet up the pressure on the drugmaker after it said it would only be able to deliver a fraction of the shots agreed upon for the first quarter due to production issues.

The company has since denied that it has failed to honor its commitments to the EU, saying delivery figures to the 27-nation bloc were targets rather than promises.

The contract, which was entered into as of Aug. 27, stipulates that AstraZeneca had committed to using its "best reasonable efforts" to build capacity to manufacture 300 million doses of vaccine, with an option for the Commission to order an additional 100 million doses.

—Sam Meredith

Malaysia finance minister says latest Covid lockdown won’t hit the economy as much as last year

A man wearing a facemask as a protection against Covid-19 walks past two Malaysian flags in capital city Kuala Lumpur.
Faris Hadziq | SOPA Images | LightRocket via Getty Images

Finance Minister Zafrul Aziz said Malaysia's ongoing lockdown to contain Covid will hit its economy much less than the previous one that restricted more economic activity, reports CNBC's Yen Nee Lee.

The minister said the current round of measures costs Malaysia an estimated 700 million ringgit ($172.7 million) a day in lost economic output or GDP, less than the estimated 2.4 billion ringgit ($592.3 million) a day when the entire country was locked down last year.

"Today, we've learnt from lessons from the past. So we are restricting more targeted sectors but more importantly, social activities and some movements interstate," he told CNBC as part of the coverage of the World Economic Forum's Davos Agenda.

The government is maintaining its forecast for the Malaysian economy to grow between 6.5% and 7.5% this year. Zafrul also said his ministry is maintaining its budget deficit forecast of 5.4% of GDP.

—Melodie Warner 

WHO team opens investigation into Covid’s Wuhan origin

WHO team opens investigation into Covid's Wuhan origin

CNBC's Eunice Yoon reports on a World Health Organization investigation into the origin of Covid-19.

Read CNBC’s previous live coverage here: