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Health Highlights: Dec. 21, 2020

By HealthDay Reporter

Below are newsworthy items compiled by the HealthDay staff:

U.S. Army Researchers Analyze New Coronavirus Variant

The new coronavirus variant in the UK that appears to spread faster is being studied by U.S. military scientists to determine if it might be resistant to vaccines.

The team at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research is checking genetic sequences of the mutated virus variant posted online by British researchers, CNN reported.

While they expect vaccines will be effective against the new variant, they should know for sure within a few days, according to Dr. Nelson Michael, director of the Center for Infectious Diseases Research at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.

The new variant is rapidly spreading in parts of England, CNN reported.

Congress Strikes Deal on Economic Relief Package

A deal on a $900 billion COVID-19 economic relief package was reached Sunday by the U.S. Congress.

It includes $600 direct payments to individuals making less than $75,000 a year or couples making less than $150,000, and $300 in enhanced unemployment for the next 10 weeks, CBS News reported.

There's also $25 billion in direct rental assistance and the eviction moratorium is extended until January 31, the same day the moratorium on student loan payments ends.

Other measures include $82 billion for education funding, $45 billion for public transit systems and $13 billion for increased food stamps and child nutrition benefits, CBS News reported.

The deal also includes more than $30 billion to acquire and distribute coronavirus vaccines and $27 billion for testing and state health care programs.

Low U.S. Flu Rates Seen as Pandemic Rages

Higher flu vaccination rates are one reason why flu cases are way down in the United States, experts say.

Seasonal flu activity is lower than normal for this time of year, with 0.3% of specimens testing positive at clinical laboratories last week, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Many more people are getting flu shots to avoid the risk of getting both the flu and COVID-19, CBS News reported.

The CDC said more than 190.4 million flu vaccines have been distributed across the country this season -- the highest ever in one flu season -- and flu shots among adults rose 46%, from 31.1 million doses to 45.3 million as of Nov. 28.

Other factors contributing to the sharp fall in flu cases this season include pandemic-related use of face masks, social distancing, stay-at-home orders, school closures and much less international travel, CBS News reported.

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