By MORGAN WINSOR, EMILY SHAPIRO, ERIN SCHUMAKER, IVAN PEREIRA and MEREDITH DELISO, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — A pandemic of the novel coronavirus has now infected more than 75 million people worldwide and killed over 1.6 million of them, according to real-time data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.
Here’s how the news is developing Friday. All times Eastern:
Dec 18, 8:17 am
Pence receives Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on live TV
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence was vaccinated against COVID-19 on Friday morning in Washington, D.C.
Pence received the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on live television, along with his wife, Karen, and U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams.
All three were wearing face masks, as were the health care workers who administered the injections.
Dec 18, 8:04 am
Moderna vaccine could be authorized in US ‘as soon as today,’ HHS secretary says
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration could grant emergency-use authorization for Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine “as soon as today,” Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said Friday.
“The FDA has communicated to Moderna that we expect to grant their emergency-use authorisation. That could come as soon as today,” Azar told ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos in an interview Friday on Good Morning America.
If the FDA does give the green light Friday, Azar said “trucks will roll, planes will fly this weekend,” with “5.9 million doses of Moderna vaccine allocated for next week.”
“This is an exceptionally safe vaccine,” he said, “it’s a shockingly effective vaccine — the Moderna vaccine as well as the Pfizer vaccine.”
Some 20 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines will be available across the United States for the month of December, according to Azar, who urged people to get the shot.
“All of us have complete confidence in the independence and quality of the FDA’s review process,” he said. “That’s why you’re seeing the vice president, the second lady, the surgeon general today getting vaccinated.”
Azar said a number of government officials and leaders will be inoculated against COVID-19 “over the coming weeks.”
“I plan to get vaccinated next week as long as the White House physician says that it’s appropriate to do so and do so on TV,” he added. “We just want to make sure people know we have supreme confidence in the process and confidence in the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, and we wouldn’t ask you to do something that we wouldn’t do.”
With several governors saying that they have been told to expect far fewer doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in the coming weeks, Azar cited “a miscommunication.”
“There’s nothing actually to fix. There was some misunderstanding,” he said. “We had put into the planning tool some base scenarios just so they could do some rough work on planning. The allocations, though, are always what Pfizer tells us or Moderna now tells us is available and ready for shipment. We’ve always said this week that they would have 2 million doses of Pfizer available for next week for an allocation. We’ll work to clear up any misunderstanding they’ve got, but it’s really just a miscommunication between the governors and us.”
Azar said his wife, Jennifer, is “doing very well” after recently testing positive for COVID-19, and that he tested negative himself “just minutes ago.”
“We’re following all the CDC protocols, I’ve talked directly to director Redfield as well as the White House physicians of doing exactly what they say to do,” he said.
Dec 18, 7:21 am
Federal prisoner scheduled to be executed in January tests positive
A federal prisoner scheduled to be executed in January has tested positive for COVID-19. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) notified attorneys for Dustin Higgs on Thursday that their client was diagnosed with the disease, according to one of Higgs’ lawyers, Shawn Nolan.
“This is surely the result of the super spreader executions that the government has rushed to undertake in the heart of a global pandemic,” Nolan told ABC News in a statement Thursday evening. “Following the two executions that took place last week and one other two weeks prior, the COVID numbers at the federal prison in Terre Haute spiked enormously. Now our client is sick. We have asked the government to withdraw the execution date and we will ask the courts to intervene if they do not.”
Higgs was convicted of ordering the 1996 murders of three women — Tamika Black, 19, Mishann Chinn, 23, and Tanji Jackson, 21 — at a national wildlife center near Beltsville, Maryland. Prosecutors allege Higgs and two friends kidnapped the three women after Higgs became enraged because one of them rebuffed his advances at a party earlier that night.
Higgs is scheduled to be executed on Jan. 15
A BOP spokesperson confirmed to ABC News that other federal death row inmates at the U.S. penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, the only site in the country where federal executions are carried out, have tested positive for COVID-19 but declined to say how many or provide further information, citing “pending litigation and privacy interests.”
The spokesperson also said that a BOP employee assigned to the Special Confinement Unit (SCU) — which houses federal death row inmates at the Terre Haute complex — was found to be positive for COVID-19, following a contact investigation that was conducted per guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to identify any potential exposures in connection with the unit.
“This employee had no contact with BOP staff involved with executions in November or December,” the spokesperson said. “We can also share that as inmates in the SCU continue to be tested, those who are positive and/or symptomatic for COVID-19 are being placed in isolation until they are considered recovered by medical staff as determined by CDC guidelines.”
“All inmates are managed per CDC guidelines,” the spokesperson added. “While a number of inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 at USP Terre Haute in recent weeks, many of these inmates are asymptomatic or exhibiting mild symptoms. Our highest priority remains ensuring the safety of staff and inmates.”
Dec 18, 4:01 am
US reports over 233,000 new cases
There were 233,271 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed in the United States on Thursday, bringing the country’s cumulative total soaring past 17 million, according to a real-time count kept by Johns Hopkins University.
It’s the 45th straight day that the U.S. has reported more than 100,000 newly diagnosed infections, and the second straight day with over 200,000. Thursday’s tally falls just under the country’s all-time high of 247,403 new cases confirmed a day earlier, according to Johns Hopkins data.
An additional 3,270 deaths from the disease were also registered nationwide on Thursday, down from a peak of 3,656 fatalities recorded the previous day. It’s only the fifth time since the pandemic began that the country has reported more than 3,000 COVID-19 deaths in a single day, according to Johns Hopkins data.
A total of 17,212,496 people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the pandemic began, and at least 310,782 of them have died, according to Johns Hopkins data. The cases include people from all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and other U.S. territories as well as repatriated citizens.
Much of the country was under lockdown by the end of March as the first wave of the pandemic hit. By May 20, all U.S. states had begun lifting stay-at-home orders and other restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. The day-to-day increase in the country’s cases then hovered around 20,000 for a couple of weeks before shooting back up over the summer.
The numbers lingered around 40,000 to 50,000 from mid-August through early October before surging again to record levels, crossing 100,000 for the first time on Nov. 4 and reaching 200,000 for the first time on Nov. 27.
Dec 18, 3:10 am
Former US President Jimmy Carter to get vaccine
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter plans to get vaccinated for COVID-19, his foundation announced Thursday night.
“After consulting with his doctors, President Carter is looking forward to receiving the COVID-19 vaccine when it is available to him,” The Carter Center wrote in a statement on Twitter.
Carter has not said when he will receive the vaccine or whether it will be on camera like other former presidents have indicated they will do.
All living former U.S. presidents have now announced they will get the vaccine.
Dec 18, 1:12 am
Inmates on death row test positive
The Bureau of Prisons confirmed to ABC News that various inmates on death row have tested positive for COVID-19, although they declined to say how many, citing ongoing litigation.
They also said a staff member has tested positive.
“We can confirm that inmates in the Special Confinement Unit (SCU) at the United States Penitentiary (USP) in Terre Haute, Indiana, have tested positive for COVID-19,” a BOP spokesperson said in a statement.
They added that as inmates in the SCU continue to be tested, those who are positive and/or symptomatic “are being placed in isolation until they are considered recovered by medical staff as determined by CDC guidelines.” Many inmates, they said, are either asymptomatic or exhibiting mild symptoms.
“Our highest priority remains ensuring the safety of staff and inmates,” the BOP spokesperson said.
The BOP’s statement came after it was announced Thursday that Dustin John Higgs, a federal prisoner scheduled to be executed just days before President-elect Joe Biden takes office, tested positive for the virus.
Dec 18, 1:02 am
75 cases linked to church Christmas event in North Carolina
The Henderson County Department of Public Health said Thursday that it has identified 75 positive COVID-19 cases associated with the Hendersonville First Baptist Baptist Church in North Carolina.
The Henderson County Department of Public Health said the holiday event took place on the weekend of Dec. 5.
“To date, the Health Department has identified 75 individuals who have tested positive as a result of the event,” they said in a statement. “The Health Department is working to identify any additional close contacts of these individuals. The CDC defines close contact as being within approximately six feet of an infected person with COVID-19 for a cumulative 15 minutes.”
The news comes as Henderson County continues to see an increase in COVID-19 cases linked to parties, family gatherings and social events.
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