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Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

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People line up to get vaccinated at the Essa Academy school in Bolton, England, on May 15. Photo: Charlotte Tattersall/Getty Images

Two doses of the COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech or AstraZeneca are "highly effective" against variants first detected in India and the United Kingdom, health officials in England announced Saturday.

Why it matters: Some health experts have expressed concerns that contagious new variants could be more resistant against coronavirus vaccines, potentially prolonging the pandemic.

By the numbers: Public Health England, an executive agency of the U.K. Health Department, said in a statement Saturday that research conducted from April 5 to May 16 found that:

  • Two weeks after the second dose, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was 88% effective against symptomatic disease from the B.1.617 variant first detected in India. It's 93% effective against the B.1.1.7 variant first found in England.
  • Two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine were "60% effective against symptomatic disease from the B.1.617 variant compared to 66% effectiveness against the B.1.1.7 variant."
  • Both vaccines were 33% effective against symptomatic disease from B.1.617, three weeks after the first dose compared to roughly 50% effectiveness against the B.1.1.7 variant.

What they're saying: Public Health England said in the statement that "we expect to see even higher levels of effectiveness against hospitalization and death" in regards to these vaccines.

  • U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said in the statement that due to this "groundbreaking" research gave officials confidence that those vaccinated against the coronavirus "have significant protection against this new variant."

The big picture: The World Health Organization has called the B.1.617 coronavirus mutation a "variant of concern."

  • Health experts expect this variant to soon become the "dominant strain" in the U.K., with Hancock reporting a surge in B.1.617 cases — describing the situation as a "race between the virus and the vaccine," per the Guardian.
  • German authorities have imposed a ban on most non-essential travel from the U.K. from Sunday to prevent the spread of new variants in the country.

Go deeper: The race to avoid a possible "monster" COVID variant

Go deeper

Aug 30, 2021 - Health

CDC: Unvaccinated teacher caused an outbreak in classroom

Kindergarteners play during recess on the first day of school at Los Angeles Unified School District. Photo: Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

An outbreak at an elementary school classroom in Marin County, California, appears to have been caused by an unvaccinated teacher who was occasionally unmasked, a new case study out Friday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows.

Why it matters: The outbreak — in which about 50% of the students got infected with COVID-19 — highlights the challenge of sending unvaccinated children back to school, particularly in light of the Delta variant’s increased transmissibility.

Florida withholds funds from 2 school districts over mask mandates

Gov. Ron DeSantis. Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Florida's Department of Education announced Monday it has withheld funds from two districts that defied Gov. Ron DeSantis' order banning mask mandates in schools.

Driving the news: Amid a surge of COVID-19 cases largely driven by the Delta variant, several Florida school districts have implemented mask mandates, despite threats from the Republican governor and state officials to withhold funds for doing so.

Education Department probing 5 states over mask mandate bans

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

The Education Department said Monday that it launched investigations into five GOP-led states that banned mask mandates in schools.

Driving the news: In letters to education chiefs in Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah, the department's Office for Civil Rights said the bans could discriminate against students with disabilities or underlying medical conditions.

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