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Coronavirus updates: First Moderna vaccines roll out of distribution center; $900B stimulus deal near; Biden gets vaccinated Monday – USA TODAY

USA TODAY is keeping track of the news surrounding COVID-19 as vaccines begin to roll out nationwide. Just last week, the U.S. marked the stark milestone of more than 17 million cases and 300,000 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates on vaccine distribution, including who is getting the shots and where, as well as other COVID-19 news from across the USA TODAY Network. Sign up for our Coronavirus Watch newsletter for updates directly to your inbox, join our Facebook group or scroll through our in-depth answers to reader questions for everything you need to know about the coronavirus.

In the headlines: 

The first shipments of the nation’s second COVID-19 vaccine rolled out of a Memphis-area distribution center Sunday. Inoculations with the vaccine developed by Moderna  and the National Institutes of Health are expected to begin Monday, three days after the Food and Drug Administration authorized their emergency rollout.

Italy, Belgium, Austria and the Netherlands have banned travel from the U.K. to prevent the spread of a more infectious variant of coronavirus. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered tighter restrictions and scrapped a plan to relax rules for the holidays.

► An impasse that had stalled stimulus talks appeared to be worked out Sunday as lawmakers scrambled to finalize a $900 billion deal that could avert a government shutdown. A compromise appeared to be reached on Republican efforts to curtail some emergency powers of the Federal Reserve, multiple media outlets reported.

► President-elect Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, will get vaccinated Monday, Biden’s office said. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, will receive their doses the following week. Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi received their first doses Friday.

► U.S. health officials say they have seen six cases of severe allergic reaction out of more than a quarter million shots of the first authorized COVID-19 vaccine.

► The 2021 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race will be about 140 miles shorter than normal as a result of complications stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 17.7 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 316,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 76 million cases and almost 1.7 million deaths. 

Here’s a closer look at today’s top stories: 

New virus strain a concern, but vaccines still expected to be effective

A new variant of the coronavirus that has prompted tighter restrictions in England poses a danger because of its increased level of transmissibility, but it does not appear to be immune to vaccines.

“We should be vigilant, not worried,” said Butler University associate professor Ogbonnaya Omenka, among the public health experts who noted that vaccine makers take into account virus mutations when developing their products.

Vivek Murthy, President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for surgeon general, said Americans should not lose confidence in the new COVID-19 vaccines just because the virus has mutated.

– John Bacon

Moderna coronavirus vaccines are on the way

Moderna coronavirus vaccine deliveries should begin to arrive across the nation Monday, just three days after it was authorized by the Food and Drug Administration. Initial shipments of the second COVID-19 vaccine authorized in the U.S. left a Memphis-area distribution center Sunday. 

The Pfizer vaccine was approved Dec. 11. The first Pfizer and Moderna shots are nearly all going to health care workers and residents of long-term care homes, based on the advice of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. That panel meets Sunday to debate who should get the doses available after those early shots are given. The general public are expected to have access to the shots in the spring or summer.

As vaccine rolls out, undocumented immigrants fear retribution

After years of isolationist and punitive immigration policies from the Trump administration, many immigrants – whose physical and fiscal health has, along with many people of color, been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic –  might be unwilling to come forward and get vaccinated. COVID-19 has been particularly merciless to Black, Hispanic and Asian Americans for reasons that include poverty, preexisting health conditions and front-line jobs. This demographic includes many immigrants; the vast majority of those undocumented are from Mexico and Central America. Many of them are critical to farming and meatpacking, and their illness and death represent both a human tragedy and an economic blow.

“The vaccine must be fully available to undocumented Americans, if not, it will put all of us at risk,” said Manuel Pastor, head of the Equity Research Institute at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, which uses data and analysis to dissect equity issues. Read more here.

– Marco della Cava, Daniel Gonzalez and Rebecca Plevin, USA TODAY Network

Fast-moving COVID-19 strain in UK blamed for new restrictions

Millions of people must cancel their Christmas get-togethers and most shops have to close in London and much of southern England, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Saturday as he imposed a new, stricter level of coronavirus restrictions on the region to curb rapidly spreading infections. 

In announcing the more restrictive category, Johnson said a fast-moving new variant of the coronavirus that is more than 70% more transmissible than existing strains appears to be driving the rapid spread in London and southern England. While London fared relatively well in controlling the virus throughout the fall, the city now has the highest infection rates in England. Officials said the new mutation accounted for about 60% of the capital’s cases. 

“There’s no evidence to suggest it is more lethal or causes more severe illness,” the prime minister stressed, or that vaccines will be less effective against it. 

England’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, said the U.K. has alerted the World Health Organization that the new variant identified this week appears to be accelerating the spread of COVID-19. The government’s scientific advisers came to that conclusion based on preliminary modelling figures, and they are continuing to analyze the available data, he said.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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