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Friday's Indiana coronavirus updates - Feb. 19, 2021

The latest updates on the coronavirus pandemic from Friday, Feb. 19.

INDIANAPOLIS — Friday's latest updates on the coronavirus pandemic, including the latest news on COVID-19 vaccinations and testing in Indiana. Registrations for the vaccine are now open for select groups through Indiana State Department of Health. This story will be updated over the course of the day with more news on the COVID-19 pandemic.

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6 million COVID-19 vaccine shipments delayed by winter storm

White House coronavirus adviser Andy Slavitt says the drive to vaccinate Americans against COVID-19 has been set back by the winter storms that have spanned the country, shutting down transportation hubs and highways.

But Slavitt says it’s possible to catch up with a concerted effort.

The weather has led to a 3-day delay in shipping vaccines, or about 6 million doses. Slavitt says the vaccine won’t spoil and is “safe and sound” in warehouses.

About 1.4 million doses were being shipped Friday and the rest of the backlog should be cleared in several days. In addition, the government said it is opening up five new mass vaccination centers, one in Philadelphia, and four others in the Florida cities of Miami, Orlando, Tampa and Jacksonville.

FedEx is facing delivery delays because of snow at its world hub in Memphis. To keep up with demand, the shipping giant is leveraging its second-largest hub in Indianapolis, as well as regional hubs in California and New Jersey to reroute vaccine shipments to as many locations as possible.

The company said contingency plans are in effect as it adapts to the changing weather conditions throughout the country.

FedEx transports COVID-19 vaccines from manufacturers and distributors to dosing centers based on the government's allocation and distribution plans.

ISDH update

The Indiana State Department of Health reports 1,080 more cases and 44 additional deaths from COVID-19. The state has seen a total of 653,245 positive cases of the virus and 11,898 confirmed deaths.

Biden rolling out plan for $4 billion global vaccine effort

Joe Biden is set to announce that the U.S. will soon begin releasing $4 billion for an international effort to bolster the purchase and distribution of coronavirus vaccine to poor nations, White House officials said.

Biden will also encourage Group of Seven partners to make good on their pledges to COVAX, an initiative by the World Health Organization to improve access to vaccines, according to a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to preview Biden’s announcement.

The $4 billion in U.S. funding was approved by Congress in December and will be distributed through 2022.

 The U.S. is committed to working through COVAX to ensure “equitable distribution of vaccines and funding globally,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Thursday. 

Latest US, world numbers

There have been more than 27.89 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States as of 3:30 a.m. ET Friday, according to Johns Hopkins University. There have been more than 493,000 deaths in the U.S. 

Worldwide, there have been more than 110.32 million confirmed cases with more than 2.44 million deaths and 62.12 million recoveries.

RELATED: See where confirmed Indiana coronavirus cases are with this interactive map

RELATED: VERIFY: Are Indiana’s new COVID-19 case numbers inflated with multiple positive tests for the same person?

The real number of people infected by the virus around the world is believed to be much higher — perhaps 10 times higher in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — given testing limitations and the many mild cases that have gone unreported or unrecognized.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness like pneumonia, or death.

Pfizer to begin vaccine clinical trials in pregnant women

Pfizer-BioNTech is recruiting 4,000 pregnant women in the US and eight other countries who are 24 to 34 weeks into their pregnancy to take part in clinical trials for its COVID-19 vaccine.

Some of the women will get the real COVID-19 shots, while others get a placebo. They won't know which kind they received until after giving birth. At that point, women who got the placebo will be offered the vaccine.  

Researchers will monitor for any negative side effects in women, including miscarriage. 

There is some preliminary data on safety during pregnancy because some initial trial volunteers became pregnant, and it did appear to be safe. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pregnant women who become infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, have an increased risk for complications, including preterm birth and the need to be put on a ventilator. 

The CDC has not issued clear guidance on whether pregnant women should get the COVID-19 vaccine.

The second wave of COVID-19 cases appears to be about over in Indiana. What's the next worry?

Fewer Hoosiers are being sickened, hospitalized and killed by COVID-19. 

Numbers from the Indiana State Department of Health are all headed in the right direction, but there are concerns that new forms of the virus will spread and instead of turning a corner, Indiana's numbers will take a turn for the worse.

In the race against the deadly virus, hospital workers are finally catching their breath.

The 29 daily deaths reported Thursday are about one-fourth of what they were at the pandemic's peak in December.

Hospitalizations, less than a thousand now, were three-and-a-half times higher in November.

"It's a huge weight lifted off our shoulders," said Dr. Warren Gavin.

The physician said he felt overwhelmed by the number of COVID-19 patients he treated at Methodist and University hospitals. Their numbers have fallen from a high of roughly 200 to about 30.

"It honestly feels...I don't want to say normal, but we are getting back there," Gavin explained. "It's the first time that I felt confident that we could get back to a normal."

RELATED: How will we know we've reached herd immunity?

"I think this is the beginning of the end. I don't know if we've turned the corner yet," said Thomas Duszynski, an epidemiologist at the Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI. "What these numbers are telling me is that we are doing the right things. Two, we can (get) control of the pandemic by doing these right things."

According to Duszynski, the more than 1 million Hoosiers having at least one dose of the vaccine is a good start, but not enough to have substantial impact on spread of COVID-19.

RELATED: How do we know the COVID-19 vaccines are safe?

The big surge of cases attributed to holiday parties and travel is over. Winter weather is a great incentive to stay home and socially distance.

The concern is complacency and the arrival of new, more contagious forms of the virus.

"Can we get enough people vaccinated?" he asked. "Can we maintain these types of activities before these new variants take hold in the population?"

Instead of letting down their guard, Hoosiers are encouraged to roll up their sleeves, stay masked up and continue to keep their distance.