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Dec. 9 Coronavirus updates: Countries across the world prepare to vaccinate millions

Millions of people in the U.S. and across the world could be vaccinated this month.
Image: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and and his Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, center, attend the arrival of over 100,000 of doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccines at the Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, at the arrival of over 100,000 doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine at the Ben Gurion Airport on Wednesday.Abir Sultan / AP

Live coverage of this blog has ended, click here for NBC News' ongoing coverage of Covid-19.

For the first time, more than 3,000 Covid-19-related deaths were recorded in the United States on Wednesday. More than 290,000 people have died from the coronavirus across the country since the beginning of the pandemic this spring.

As at least 15 U.S. states step up their own efforts to encourage people to take a Covid-19 vaccine, countries across the world are hurtling ahead with unprecedented plans to vaccinate millions of vulnerable adults and frontline healthcare workers.



Hackers accessed information about Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine, regulator says

Hackers have accessed some information about Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine that was stored on a European Union regulator's server, the company said Wednesday.

The European Medicines Agency, an E.U. agency that evaluates medical products, announced Wednesday morning it had been the victim of a cyberattack, and is currently investigating its severity. 

As part of its investigation, the EMA told Pfizer and its partner in developing the vaccine, BioNTech, that the hackers were able to access "some documents relating to the regulatory submission for Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate."

None of the organizations were immediately willing to name a culprit, but the U.S. government and a number of tech and cybersecurity companies have warned that China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia have all tasked hackers with stealing COVID-19 vaccine research.

Pentagon to get about 44,000 Covid vaccines as early as next week

The military is expected to get about 44,000 initial doses of Pfizer’s Covid vaccine as early as next week, and has identified 16 locations around the world where the vaccines will be administered first, according to Pentagon officials. 

“We expect to have shots in arms of personnel within 24 to 48 hours” of FDA emergency authorization, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Tom McCaffrey said. 

The vaccine will be voluntary for everyone to take, because it’s an emergency use authorization, Lt. Gen. Ronald Place, director of Defense Health Agency said, but added that the Department of Defense is strongly encouraging people to take it because the safety profile is good, he said. 

McCaffrey said the initial vaccines will go mainly to health care workers and first responders, but that 44,000 covers less than 10 percent of that workforce. Assuming they get a re-supply, the next shipments will go to critical national capabilities and essential workers, including those assigned to nuclear deterrence, homeland defense, and key national strategic leadership.  

A select group of very visible senior leaders will also get vaccinated in this first batch, McCaffrey said, as an effort to demonstrate confidence in the vaccine. That group includes: Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller, Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley, and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General John Hyten. They are also looking at service leadership and combatant commanders for early rounds of vaccine.

Pennsylvania Gov. Wolf tests positive for Covid-19

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf is self-isolating at home after testing positive for the coronavirus, his office said in a statement. 

Wolf, a Democrat, said he is asymptotic and "feeling well." His wife, Frances, is awaiting results of her test.

“As this virus rages, my positive test is a reminder that no one is immune from COVID, that following all precautions as I have done is not a guarantee, but it is what we know to be vital to stopping the spread of the disease," Wolf's statement read in part. "I ask all Pennsylvanians to wear a mask, stay home as much as possible, socially distance yourself from those not in your household, and, most of all, take care of each other and stay safe.”

 

Idaho health board ends meeting after protests outside site, members’ homes

An Idaho public health meeting ended abruptly Tuesday evening after protesters converged around the city’s health department building and outside the homes of multiple health officials.

The Central District Health meeting in Boise, Idaho, where members were expected to discuss a Covid-19 health order, ended just 15 minutes into the agenda due to safety concerns related to the protests, various city officials said. A photographer with NBC News affiliate KTVB on the scene outside the health department estimated there were several hundred protesters present, most of whom were not wearing masks.

Health board members were listening to a presentation by Dr. David Peterman, CEO of Primary Health Medical Group, an Idaho hospital company, when a board member interrupted him and said there were protesters outside her home, according to KTVB.

"My 12-year-old son is home by himself right now and there are protesters banging outside the door," Central District Health board member Diana Lachionado said, according to KTVB. "I'm gonna go home and make sure he's OK."

Idaho is one of many states in which government efforts to institute pandemic mitigation measures have been met with protests, but it's unclear how widespread those sentiments are. A Pew Research Center survey from August found that 69 percent of Americans thought governments had lifted outbreak restrictions too quickly.

Read the full story here.

Gov. Cuomo announces vaccine allocations by region based on nursing home residents, staff

The first doses of Covid-19 vaccine could arrive in New York “as soon as this weekend,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.

First in line for the initial shipment of 170,000 doses of the Pfizer-made vaccine will be high-risk health care workers and nursing home residents, the governor said.

“Staff at every hospital will have access to this allocation,” Cuomo said. 

And while 90 distribution centers have been set up around the state, the majority of first shots (72,000) are heading to New York City.

New York was the hardest hit state in the early days of the pandemic and still leads with nation with 35,987 Covid-19 deaths, according to the latest NBC News data.

Brazil registers highest COVID-19 daily death toll in almost a month

BRASILIA, Dec 8 - Brazil reported 51,088 additional confirmed coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours and 842 fatalities from COVID-19, its Health Ministry said on Tuesday, marking the highest death toll since Nov. 14.

The South American country has now registered 6,674,999 cases since the pandemic began, while its official death toll has risen to 178,159, according to ministry data. Brazil has the world’s third highest case count, after the United States and India, and second highest death toll.

Easing quarantines in Brazilian cities have led to crowded bars and restaurants, giving some the impression that life has returned to normal. With the approaching holiday season, experts worry that COVID-19 will spread even faster.

Click here to read the full story.

Facebook removes some large health misinformation pages

Facebook has removed several large pages associated with a coordinated network of websites pushing health misinformation around natural cures and vaccines.

The removal of at least nine pages follows new research from the German Marshall Fund, a nonpartisan public policy think tank. The GMU research linked the networks back to five so-called alternative health websites, which they found operating 20 Facebook pages with a combined 65 million followers.

The most popular removed Facebook page, The Idealist, had 16 million followers and mixed funny or inspirational posts alongside links to the junk news websites, a common growth tactic of spammers. The websites garnered more than 71 million interactions on Facebook this year, according to the research. 

The websites behind the network have a history of publishing content that misleads readers about health topics, including misinformation about vaccines and false claims that the flu vaccine is dangerous.

The pages flagged by GMF were removed under Facebook’s spam policies, according to company spokesperson Andy Stone. 

The removal comes as Facebook faces pressure to contain health misinformation around the pandemic and as Covid-19 cases and deaths spike around the country. In the last month, Facebook has removed several of the largest anti-vaccination pages and groups, and announced it would start removing false claims about Covid-19 vaccines that have been debunked by public health experts.

“Content from the sites our researchers found swamped information coming from authoritative sites like the CDC and WHO — nearly 10 to 1,” said Karen Kornbluh, GMF’s senior fellow and director of its Digital Innovation and Democracy Initiative. “It undermines faith in scientific and medical experts and softens the ground for more dangerous conspiracy theories.”

American Airlines offering at-home Covid-19 tests for travelers flying to U.S. states with restrictions

American Airlines passengers, starting Wednesday, are able to purchase at-home Covid-19 testing kits if they are planning to fly to a U.S. state with coronavirus-related travel restrictions. 

The domestic preflight testing program was announced by the airline on Tuesday in partnership with LetsGetChecked, a company that offers a variety of health-related at-home tests. Customers can purchase the testing kits for travel on or after December 12. 

American Airlines previously offered at-home Covid-19 testing kits for travelers flying to international destinations that required a negative test prior to or upon arrival. 

“We’ve made great strides to help open international travel with our testing partners, and we recognize the need for similar domestic travel solutions,” Chief Customer Officer for American Airlines Alison Taylor said in a press release. “As travel requirements continue to quickly evolve, we’re simplifying the research and COVID-19 testing fulfillment process for an overall more seamless travel experience.”

The airline said it will continue working with LetsGetChecked to expand the testing as state requirements change. Currently, 14 U.S. states of territories have Covid-19 travel restrictions. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has decimated the airline industry. In late September, as many as 50,000 airline workers were furloughed and tens of thousands were laid off after Congress failed to pass relief aid to the industry.  

Health Canada approves Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine

The Canadian government, on Wednesday announced the approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against Covid-19.

Health Canada said the vaccine was submitted for review on October 9 and "after a thorough, independent review of the evidence, Health Canada has determined that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine meets the Department's stringent safety, efficacy and quality requirements for use in Canada."

The vaccine is indicated for use in patients ages 16 and up. "Pfizer-BioNTech are running further clinical trials on children of all age groups and the indication could be revised in the future to include children if the data from these studies support it," Health Canada wrote.

Coach K wonders out loud: Should college basketball be played in pandemic?

Duke University basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski on Tuesday night questioned whether his sport should be played, as America embarks on what's feared to be a dark winter of coronavirus spread.

“I don’t think it feels right to anybody,”  Krzyzewski said following his team's 83-68 loss to Illinois.  “I mean everyone is concerned.”

Krzyzewski stopped short of calling for a halt to college basketball. But he seemed to hint the sport could stop temporarily, as vaccinations roll out in early 2021.

"You have 2,000 deaths a day,” said Krzyzewski, who leads all active coaches in wins. “You have 200,000 cases, a million and a half last week. You have people saying that the next six weeks are going be the worst. To me, it’s already pretty bad. And on the other side of it, there are these vaccines that are coming out that where people say by the end of the month 20 million vaccine shots will be given, especially to our healthcare (workers) and the other who need it.  By the end of January or in February, another 100 million.  Well, should we not reassess that? And see just what would be best?" 

The NCAA's wildly popular postseason basketball tournament, known as March Madness, was one of the first major cultural casualties of the pandemic earlier this year. The annual competition is usually held in cities across America, but the NCAA announced last month that its 2021 tournament would be played entirely in one region, so to limit travel and lessen the chance of spread.