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Dec. 14 Coronavirus updates: First federally approved vaccine administered

An estimated 2.9 million doses will be distributed within the first week.

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

The first federally approved coronavirus vaccine was set to arrive at 145 locations across all 50 states Monday, a landmark moment as the nation struggles to contain a virus that's killed 300,000 Americans.

The vaccine, developed by German company BioNTech and its United States partner Pfizer, was given emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration on Friday night.

Trucks departed Pfizer's plant in Portage, Michigan, on Sunday and the company expects to deliver 2.9 million doses to 636 locations by the end of this week.

Still, the vaccine will not be given to the vast majority of Americans until well into next year. And it will take some time to make even a dent in a pandemic that is killing thousands of people across the U.S. every day — more than ever before.

Another grim milestone: U.S. death toll tops 300,000

The United States passed another grim milestone on Monday as more  than 300,000 Americans have now died from Covid-19, since the pandemic took earlier this year, according to a rolling count by NBC News.

There have been more than 16.4 million sickened by the deadly virus in the U.S.

Image: El Paso County Medical Examiner's Office staff move bodies in El Paso
County Medical Examiner's Office staff roll bodies that are in bags labeled "Covid" from refrigerated trailers into the morgue office in El Paso, Texas, on Nov. 23, 2020.Ivan Pierre Aguirre / Reuters

The sad moment came as U.S. healthcare workers received the first shots of a Pfizer vaccine that could eventually control the virus.

“Just because we’re giving out the vaccine is no excuse for the public out there not to continue wearing masks, not to social distance, etc.,” Northwell Health CEO Michael Dowling said, moments before critical care nurse Sandra Lindsay at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens became the first person to get the vaccine in New York City.

 “You have to continue to comply with safety standards, even though the vaccine is going to be distributed over the next couple of months.  You have to do both if we’re going to be successful.” 

Caregiver who works with senior citizens receives first vaccine in Canada

A Canadian caregiver who works with senior citizens became the first person in the country to receive the Covid-19 vaccine on Monday.

Anita Quidangen, who works at the Rekai Centre at Sherbourne Place in Toronto, was administered her first done of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at noon, Canadian media reported.

“This is a watershed moment --- the beginning of the end of this terrible pandemic,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said in a statement. “The light at the end of the tunnel grows brighter every day, but we must remain on our guard.”

Ford specifically acknowledged the contributions of Quidangen, who has been a personal support worker since 1988 and often worked double-shifts during the pandemic to take care of residents.

"Anita has spent years rolling up her sleeves to protect our province, and today, she didn't hesitate to find a new way to do so," Ford said.

Canada has reported 466,949 coronavirus cases and 13,490 deaths due to Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University researchers.

Why you can't ditch your mask even after you've been vaccinated

People who receive the coronavirus vaccine will still need to wear a mask and practice social distancing, experts say, because it’s not yet known whether the shots can prevent even vaccinated individuals from spreading the virus.

Vaccines can potentially serve three different purposes: they can prevent an infection by blocking a virus from invading cells in the body; they can reduce the risk of serious illness if a person is infected; or they can reduce the amount of virus a person “sheds,” essentially curbing a person’s ability to transmit the virus to others. 

“The challenge is that not all vaccines can do all three,” said Dr. Bruce Y. Lee, a professor of health policy and management at the City University of New York.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is 95 percent effective at preventing symptomatic Covid-19, and the Moderna vaccine is 94.5 percent effective at reducing infection, but neither of the trials were designed to focus on whether the shots could prevent infection altogether — or what effect they could have on transmission.

The CDC has said that until more is known about how the vaccines perform under real-life conditions, “it will be important for everyone to continue using all the tools available to us to help stop this pandemic.”

That includes wearing a mask, washing hands frequently and staying six feet apart from others.

“A vaccine is a very important tool in our arsenal, but we also can’t overestimate it,” Lee said. “We have to layer all these interventions on top of each other to make them more effective.”

London to move toughest level of Covid-19 restrictions as cases rise

London will enter into England’s toughest tier of coronavirus restrictions this week, as cases increase "exponentially" across the city and London hospitals are saddled with a growing number of patients, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced Monday.

Tier 3 – the highest level of Covid-19 restrictions – will go into effect on Wednesday morning for London, and some surrounding areas. Under tier 3, thousands of bars, pubs, cafes and restaurants will close, except for takeaway and delivery, along with other non-essential businesses. 

People are also advised not to travel to and from tier 3 areas and may only meet others not from their households in groups up to 6 in outdoor settings.

"We know from bitter experience that when cases start to rise quickly, it's much better to act early, rather than too late. This is how we can avoid even tougher restrictions, for longer, further down the road," said London Mayor Sadiq Khan.

Hancock said that while he knows this is difficult news, especially for businesses affected, the action is "absolutely essential," and can prevent "more damaging and longer-lasting problems later."

According to the BBC, more than 34 million people will be placed under tier 3 when the rule goes into effect. 

NYC Mayor de Blasio warns of possible full shutdown

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio warned of another possible full shutdown of the city because “we’re seeing the kind of level of infection with the coronavirus we haven’t seen since May and we have to stop momentum.”

During his press briefing after first making the remark during a CNN interview, de Blasio said “what is increasingly clear is that all forms of restrictions have to be on the table at this time.”

Reiterating what New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said earlier, de Blasio said “we have to be ready for a full shutdown...just to break the back of this second wave.”

“The state will ultimately make the decision,” the mayor said. 

New variant of coronavirus identified in Britain, U.K. health secretary says

A new variant of the coronavirus has been identified by British scientists and it may have contributed to the recent rapid spread of Covid-19 in and around London, the country's health secretary said Monday.

Matt Hancock told the House of Commons that there was no evidence this new variant was any more deadly, or that it would be less responsive to vaccines. "Initial analysis suggests that this variant is growing faster than the existing variant," Hancock told lawmakers.

The United Kingdom has one of the highest deaths per capita in the world. Its government has come under heavy criticism from experts, many of whom believe it has acted too slowly in introducing social restrictions, often attempting to prioritize the economy over controlling the pandemic.

After two national lockdowns, the country is operating under a system of regional tiered restrictions. On Monday Hancock also announced London and parts of southeast England would move from Tier 2 to Tier 3, meaning bars and restaurants can only offer takeaways, and people are banned from meeting up in private gardens.

This is not the first time scientists have identified a new variant of this coronavirus. In October researchers announced that one such new strain had emerged in Spain in June, and by fall made up most infections in Europe.

New poll finds 84 percent of Americans plan to get Covid vaccine

More than 80 percent of Americans plan to get a Covid-19 vaccine as soon as available or shortly thereafter, according to a poll released Monday by research firm Ipsos and ABC News.

The poll comes as the first U.S. vaccinations were administered Monday morning and indicates growing public acceptance of the safety and efficacy of the vaccines. Previous surveys have found some hesitance and even outright refusal to receive a vaccine.

The Ipsos/ABC News poll illustrated an ongoing political split over the vaccine — 26 percent of Republicans surveyed said they plan to never receive a Covid-19 vaccine, compared to 6 percent for Democrats. 

Navajo Nation to receive its first shipment of Pfizer vaccine

The Navajo Nation on Monday expects to receive nearly 4,000 doses of Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine, which began rolling out over the weekend, with the first shipments coming to the Indian Medical Center in Gallup, New Mexico, and distributed to regional health care centers.

By Tuesday, health care workers and residents of long-term assisted living facilities will start receiving the vaccine first on a volunteer basis, tribal leaders said.

"This is the first step in the vaccine process to help rid this invisible monster from our homes and communities," Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a statement. He added that the tribe was heavily involved in the vaccine process with Pfizer, and that more than 200 people on the Navajo Nation volunteered for the clinical trials.

The tribe, whose lands span Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, grappled early on during the pandemic and had among the highest per capita case rates in the country. The tribe's health department has warned of an "uncontrolled spread" in some communities, and continues to institute stay-at-home orders and the closing of businesses during weekend lockdowns.

FedEx makes first deliveries of Covid vaccine

HHS Sec. Azar says Covid vaccines will be widely available by February or March

In an appearance on the "Today" show Monday, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said that 2.9 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine will be delivered to locations across the country this week and that the potential approval of additional vaccines could mean that vaccines will be as widely available as flu shots by early spring.

"We hope we will see as much of that used as humanly possible this week," Azar said of the initial shipment of 2.9 million doses.

Azar repeated a claim he made last month that up to 20 million Americans could receive their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine by the new year.

Azar said the 20 million figure is "possible" because there is enough vaccine in the U.S. for 20 million to be vaccinated before 2021, for 50 million by the end of January, and up to 100 million people by the end of March.

Azar urged Americans to "please get the vaccine" as soon as you are able and recommended to get it, adding that Americans must keep their vigilance high during the current Covid-19 surge, which is coinciding with the holiday season.

"I want you to be there to get these vaccines, I want you to be there — I want next year's Christmas and holidays, I want everyone in your family to be there, so please be careful over the next several weeks, be very careful," Azar said.

The HHS secretary predicted that with the likely approval of Moderna's apparently safe and effective vaccine, and the potential approval of others from Johnson & Johnson or AstraZeneca —both of which are scheduled to publish data in 2021 — could mean that Covid-19 vaccines are as easy to obtain as a flu shot by the end of February.

North Carolina, Tennessee top 10,000 Covid cases, California sets new record

California reported 38,468 new Covid-19 cases Sunday, the most any state has reported in a single day according to NBC News' count.

The 214,267 cases reported in the state the past week is more than any country except Turkey, Brazil and India, according to Johns Hopkins figures.

Across the U.S., 205,780 new infections and 1,337 deaths were reported Sunday. As of this morning, 299,597 have died of the virus here since the pandemic began.

The U.S. has averaged 214,941 cases and 2,410 reported deaths per day in the last week.

These states also set single-day records:

  • New York, 12,519 cases
  • North Carolina, 10,561 cases, its first time above 10,000
  • Tennessee, 11,352 cases, its first time above 10,000

Vaccines start arriving across the U.S.

With cargo trucks and planes fanning out across the nation, the first federally approved Covid-19 vaccine was set to arrive in 145 locations in all 50 states Monday.

They are the first of 2.9 doses of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine the companies expect to deliver across the U.S. this week, arriving at 425 other locations Tuesday and 66 Wednesday, according to Gen. Gustave Perna, chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, speaking at a briefing this weekend.

Having been approved by the Food and Drug Administration last week, the first super-cool boxes of vaccine left departed Pfizer's plant in Portage, Michigan, on Sunday under the guard of U.S. marshals.

The elderly and health and nursing home workers will be prioritized, but most Americans will not receive the vaccine until next year.

Read the full story here.

Japan, South Korea fret as surging coronavirus undermines leaders' support

Japan and South Korea grappled with surging coronavirus cases and growing public frustration on Monday as Japan's prime minister tiptoed around a contentious travel subsidy program while an anxious South Korean president warned of harsh curbs.

Japan reported more than 3,000 new cases on Saturday, yet another record as winter set in, with infections worsening in Tokyo, the northern island of Hokkaido and the city of Osaka. 

South Korea reported a new daily record of 1,030 infections on Sunday, a big worry for a country for months held up as a mitigation success story but still a fraction of the tallies being seen in some European countries and the United States, where vaccines are being rolled out.

Japan, with a focus on the economic costs, has steered clear of tough lockdowns. It tackled its first wave of infections in the spring by asking people to refrain from going out and for businesses to close or curtail operating hours.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said last week a halt to a campaign that subsidizes domestic tourism was not under consideration, citing economic considerations.

Critics say encouraging people to travel has helped spread infections. Media reported on Monday that Suga could restrict the program after weekend polls showed his support had eroded over his handling of the pandemic.

Across the sea in South Korea, President Moon Jae-in also faces sliding ratings as clusters of new infections fuel criticism over what many see as slack containment.

"Our back is against the wall," Moon said. "This is a crucial moment to devote all our virus control capabilities and administrative power to stopping the coronavirus."

Germany calls on all to forgo Christmas shopping to stop exponential rise in Covid cases

BERLIN — The German government called on citizens Monday to forgo Christmas shopping, two days before the country heads into a hard lockdown that will shut most stores, tighten social distancing rules and close schools across the country.

“I wish and I hope that people will only buy what they really need, like groceries,” Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said late Sunday. “The faster we get these infections under control, the better it is for everyone.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel and the governors of Germany’s 16 states agreed Sunday to step up the country’s lockdown measures beginning Wednesday and running to Jan. 10 to stop the exponential rise of COVID-19 cases. Merkel said existing restrictions imposed in November failed to significantly reduce the number of new infections. Germany has been recording steadily higher confirmed cases and deaths in recent weeks.

On Monday, the country's central disease control center reported 16,362 new cases — that's about 4,000 cases more than a week before. The Robert Koch Institute reported 188 new deaths bringing the overall death toll to 21,975. Last week, the daily death numbers rose to almost 600 cases, but after the weekend the numbers are usually lower because not all states reported new figures on the weekend.

Hospitals across the country had in recent weeks repeatedly warned that they were reaching their limits in caring for COVID-19 patients and that staffing on intensive care units was becoming a problem. On Monday, 4,552 COVID-19 patients were being treated in intensive care in the country, 52 percent of them on respirators.