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Dec. 16 Coronavirus updates: Fauci predicts U.S. herd immunity by mid-2021

Dr. Anthony Fauci predicts that the U.S. could achieve herd immunity by "the end of the second quarter 2021."
Image: A sailor assigned to Naval Medical Center San Diego (NMCSD), vaccinates a volunteering service member
A sailor assigned to Naval Medical Center San Diego (NMCSD), vaccinates a volunteering service member, on Tuesday.U.S. Navy, Petty Officer 2nd Class Jasmin Fiorini / AP

Live coverage here has ended, please click here for NBC News' latest coverage of Covid-19.

As vaccine rollouts continue across the United States and other economically advanced nations, health leaders are sounding the alarm for the developing world, which could have to wait months or years for enough shots to achieve herd immunity.

The U.S. death toll has now passed 300,000, while more than 200,000 infections have been recorded in one day.



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Two tech groups say they’ll merge efforts on digital vaccine cards

Two groups of technologists said Wednesday they were combining their work to speed up the development of digital vaccine cards, so that people may eventually be able to use a smartphone app to prove they’ve gotten a Covid-19 vaccine. 

Digital vaccine certificates, or passports, are expected to be in demand next year as a possible requirement for international air travel or in-person gatherings. They would be an electronic version of the paper-based “yellow cards” that have been around for decades, but they’re not a reality yet because of complications around privacy and interoperability. 

One of the tech groups, the Linux Foundation Public Health, was involved in earlier efforts to roll out pandemic-related apps that alert users when they’ve been exposed to someone who’s tested positive for the coronavirus. The foundation said it would host the work of the other group, the Covid-19 Credentials Initiative, which sprung up this year specifically to work on digital vaccine cards. 

The two groups plan to work with public health authorities on challenges including the ethics of digital vaccine cards, said Lucy Yang, co-lead of the Covid-19 Credentials Initiative.

Twitter to remove false vaccine conspiracy theory tweets

Twitter announced on Wednesday it would remove false or misleading claims about Covid-19 vaccines. The move follows similar actions by YouTube in October and Facebook in December. 

Twitter said it would remove tweets that advance “harmful or misleading narratives,” including false claims about the vaccines that have been “widely debunked about the adverse impacts of receiving vaccinations” and false claims that Covid-19 is “not real or not serious.”

The changes will begin until next week, and the company will also ban tweets about global conspiracy theories that suggest vaccines are “used to intentionally cause harm to or control populations.”

Conspiracy theories around Covid-19 vaccines have spread unabated on social media since the summer, according to a recent report from First Draft, a global nonprofit organization that researches online misinformation. Vaccine-related conspiracy content accounted for some 10 percent of total vaccine posts, according to the report.

Anti-vaccination groups have created organized campaigns since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, some claiming outlandish global conspiracies about secret societies and microchips. The conspiracy theories have gone wildly viral on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, including the repeatedly debunked viral video “Plandemic,” which took off due to coordinated cross-promotion by anti-vaccine groups that existed well before the pandemic.

'Don't be afraid': In Puerto Rico, respiratory therapist gets first Covid vaccine

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico— A respiratory therapist who treated the first two COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Puerto Rico became the first person in the U.S. territory to be vaccinated against the virus on Tuesday.

Yahaira Alicea had treated an Italian couple who visited the island aboard a cruise ship in March. The woman later died. Alicea said it was a fearful moment for her that wore her down physically and emotionally as she urged everyone to get vaccinated.

“This is what we want, for this pandemic to end,” Alicea said. “Don’t be afraid.”

A health official approached Alicea with the needle as both smiled: “Let’s make history.”

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California police department held superspreader event, community groups say

California police agency after dozens of its maskless officers gathered under one roof and stood shoulder-to-shoulder.

Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna and other top department brass "knowingly and willfully" organized "a super spreader event," the People of Long Beach and Long Beach Reform Coalition said in a complaint to the city's Citizen Police Complaint Commission.

"Not only was the assembly a violation of Health Department mandates but also a direct contradiction and demonstration of impunity that countered Mayor Robert Garcia's pleas" for "all persons, including city employees to practice social distancing and wear masks," according to the groups' complaint, filed on Monday.

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Direct cash payments under consideration as lawmakers near Covid aid deal

WASHINGTON — Congressional leaders and the White House are nearing agreement on a roughly $900 billion coronavirus relief deal that will likely include a new round of direct payments, three sources familiar with the negotiations said Wednesday.

The emerging package will include enhanced federal jobless benefits, small business funding and money to distribute Covid-19 vaccines. The dollar amount of the stimulus payments has not yet been determined — some aides said it could be $600-per-person while others said it may be higher.

Negotiators have not yet settled on an income cap for the direct payments, as was done for the previous round of payments approved in March.

The proposal, which is still being finalized and does not have leadership agreement, is not expected to include liability protections for employers or state or local funding, two sticking points in negotiations that prevented Congress from passing meaningful Covid-19 legislation for months.

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Operation Warp Speed: Covid-19 vaccine deliveries on track

An additional 886 shipments of Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine are scheduled for delivery to health care systems nationwide on Thursday and Friday, the chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, Army Gen. Gustave Perna, said during a media briefing Wednesday.

Together with deliveries that have already been distributed, a total of 1,522 shipments of the vaccine will have been shipped in the first week. Each shipment contains about 1,000 doses. 

Because the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine must be kept at ultra-cold temperatures, each shipment has a temperature monitoring system. Perna said that while most shipments have gone smoothly, a few boxes sent to California and Alabama arrived at the incorrect temperature. Those boxes were removed from distribution before any shots could be given and replaced.

The first doses of the vaccine have gone to health care workers. Several states are now starting vaccinations in long-term care facilities, or will be doing so imminently. They are Connecticut, Florida, Ohio and West Virginia. By Monday, 1,110 long-term care facilities are anticipated to have the vaccine, with thousands more long-term care facilities added daily, Perna said.

Pompeo in quarantine after close contact with Covid-positive person

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in quarantine after he came into contact with someone who tested positive for Covid, a State Department spokesperson said Wednesday. 

"For reasons of privacy we can’t identify that individual," the spokesperson said. "The Secretary has been tested and is negative. In accordance with CDC guidelines, he will be in quarantine."

Pompeo has come under scrutiny for hosting indoor holiday parties at the State Department, flouting CDC guidelines about limiting gatherings due to the pandemic. He had previously been expected to host similar such receptions on Tuesday and Wednesday, though it's unclear if those were canceled.

The spokesperson said Pompeo is being closely monitored by the department's medical team. 

Covid-19 vaccines are being hoarded by rich countries — poor ones are missing out

LONDON — Lost among the jubilation of America's vaccine rollout this week is an uncomfortable reality: The world's poorest countries will have to wait months and possibly years to see any doses at all.

The U.S., Canada, Britain and the European Union have pre-ordered enough Covid-19 shots to inoculate their populations several times over, subject to regulatory approvals.

In this critical game of medicine logistics — where supply is small but demand immediate and universal — campaigners and some officials accuse these wealthy nations of snapping up orders and hoarding more than they need.

The People's Vaccine Alliance, a collaboration between several aid groups including Oxfam and Amnesty International, has said that unless drastic measures are taken nearly 70 poor countries will be unable to vaccinate 90 percent of their populations next year.

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