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Coronavirus update: CDC to unveil school reopening guidance; U.S. purchases 200 million more vaccine doses

Anjalee Khemlani
·Senior Reporter
·4 min read
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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) unveiled a centralized school reopening plan Friday that includes safety and mitigation practices such as physical distancing and masking, as well as using new measures such as "podding."

Podding includes keeping the same students together (as in a pod) to reduce students' possible exposure to the virus. But questions about access to critical resources like better ventilation, testing and masks, remain unanswered. During a press briefing Friday, CDC officials said the burden rests on Congress to pass funding to achieve such measures.

The Biden administration has said it will prioritize education and getting students and teachers back to school safely and equitably.

Other industries are also working to find ways to begin operating at pre-pandemic levels. The airline industry, one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, has recently seen a testing mandate for international flights, though the U.S. government is also weighing testing mandates for domestic flights. The airline industry, however, is pushing back against the move, saying it unfairly places the burden of testing on airlines and will negatively affect their bottom lines.

In a letter to the White House COVID-19 Response Team viewed by Yahoo Finance, Boeing said the onus should be on the federal government to fund such testing.

But Michael Mina, testing expert and an assistant professor of epidemiology at Harvard University, said that even current international testing requirements are basically futile.

"The test before flights with like three to five days before you fly ... is not effective," Mina told Yahoo Finance.

In fact, getting results from those tests may not capture your current state of health, Mina said. It's why he has continued to push for cheap, rapid antigen tests, rather than the more laborious but accurate PCR tests, to be conducted at the gate right before takeoff.

"The point is, we need the testing, if it's going to be effective, we need it to be very close to the event," Mina said.

More vaccine doses

The U.S. agreed to purchase a total of 200 million additional doses, 100 million each from Pfizer (PFE) and (MRNA), pushing the U.S. total to 600 million doses from the only two authorized companies.

While that helps cover a majority of the U.S. population, it is not sufficient for all, as both vaccines require two doses. Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) is likely the next vaccine to be available to Americans, with an authorization potentially coming by the end of the month.

President Joe Biden announced the intention to purchase additional doses on January 26, and White House officials have noted that the current batch of 200 million doses per company is likely to come through by the end of the second quarter.

Pfizer's vaccine, developed with BioNTech (BNTX), is being sold to the U.S. at the same price as previously disclosed, or about $1.95 billion for the 100 million doses.

Moderna did not disclose its pricing, but noted the company has already delivered 41 million doses to-date. Its commitment to the U.S. is nearly double the commitment to the European Union. The federal government has committed up to $5.75 billion to-date in developing, manufacturing and purchasing Moderna's vaccine.

To-date, more than 68 million doses have been shipped and more than 46 million have been administered in first and second doses, according to the CDC.

Meanwhile, top health officials are concerned about increasing spread of coronavirus variants. The B.1.1.7 variant, from the U.K., is becoming the dominant strain in the U.S., with more than 981 cases reported in 37 states. Fewer cases have been reported of the more concerning B.1.351 strain, from South Africa, and P.1 strain, from Brazil, but experts believe they, too, are spreading.

In an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and colleagues at the National Institute of Health, stressed the need to control the pandemic before even stronger strains appear that could render vaccines ineffective.

"It is unclear whether changes in vaccine composition will be needed to effectively control the COVID-19 pandemic; however, it is prudent to be prepared. Some companies have indicated plans to manufacture and test vaccines based on emerging variants, and such studies will provide important information on the potential to broaden the immune response," the authors wrote.

Dr. Paul Offit, a top vaccine expert and pediatrician at the Children's Hospital of Pennsylvania (CHOP), said Thursday that the group of experts that were gathered to develop a coordinated research strategy for therapeutics and vaccines have reconvened on account of the concern over variants.

"We actually thought we were done, but with the variants now arising, we're meeting again," Offit said during an interview with JAMA Thursday.

While vaccines look like they will hold up against severe disease now, Offit worries about September of this year, where the weather will get colder again and a new variant could pop up.

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