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Pfizer begins vaccine trial on kids younger than 12

A healthcare worker prepares a Pfizer coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination in Los Angeles, California, January 7, 2021.

Lucy Nicholson | Reuters

Pfizer started a clinical trial testing its Covid-19 vaccine on healthy 6-month to 11-year old children, a crucial step in obtaining federal regulatory clearance to start vaccinating young kids.

Vaccinating children, which make up roughly 20% of the U.S. population, is crucial to ending the pandemic, health experts say. The U.S. is unlikely to achieve herd immunity – when enough people in a given community have antibodies against a specific disease – until children can get vaccinated, experts say.

For the first phase of the trial, the company will identify the preferred dosing level for three age groups – between 6 months to 2 years old, 2 years to 5 years old and from 5 years through age 11. The kids will begin by receiving a 10 microgram dose of the vaccine before progressively moving to higher doses, Pfizer said.

Researchers will then evaluate the safety and effectiveness of the selected dose levels in the next phase of the trial, with participants being randomly selected to receive the vaccine or a placebo, the company said.

–Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

About $325 billion in stimulus checks has gone out so far

Delmaine Donson | E+ | Getty Images

The government has sent a total of about 127 million $1,400 stimulus checks so far, for a total of about $325 billion.

The new tally was announced by the Treasury Department, Internal Revenue Service and Bureau of Fiscal Service after the second batch of payments was completed that included about 37 million checks that totaled almost $83 billion.

The third round of stimulus payments was authorized by Congress and President Joe Biden when the American Rescue Plan was passed earlier this month.

If you are still waiting on the money, take note: additional payments are set to be made in the coming weeks.

While most of the stimulus checks have been paid by direct deposit, others are being issued through the mail either through paper check or prepaid debit card.

Most people do not need to take any action in order to get their payments, according to the government agencies.

The IRS is working to obtain updated information so that federal beneficiaries — those who receive income from Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, Railroad Retirement Board or the Veterans Administration — get their automatic payments promptly, the agencies said.

—Lorie Konish

Trump’s former vaccine chief departs more companies following sexual harassment claims

Moncef Slaoui, the Trump administration’s former Covid vaccine chief, is parting ways with two more companies just a day after he was fired as chairman of Galvani Bioelectronics, a joint venture between GlaxoSmithKline and Verily, following sexual harassment allegations.

Centessa Pharmaceuticals announced that the former head of Operation Warp Speed has stepped down as chief scientific officer, effective immediately. Vaccine developer Vaxcyte also said in an SEC filing posted to its website that Slaoui has agreed to step down from his position as chairman at the company’s request.

Slaoui apologized Wednesday following the allegations and said he would take a leave of absence from his current responsibilities to focus on his family.

—Noah Higgins-Dunn

Free with Covid vaccine: Krispy Kreme, marijuana and more

Getting vaccinated is its own reward, but some businesses are doing their part to sweeten the pot.

AT&T, Instacart, Target, Trader Joe’s, Chobani, Kroger, Publix, Petco, Darden Restaurants, McDonald’s and Dollar General are among several companies giving workers time off and extra money to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

Now, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts is offering a free doughnut a day for the rest of the year to anyone with proof of a Covid vaccination.

The Greenhouse of Walled Lake, a marijuana dispensary in Walled Lake, Michigan, is giving anyone over the age of 21 with proof of vaccination a free pre-rolled joint. In Cleveland, Market Garden Brewery is offering 10-cent beers and Chagrin Cinemas is giving out free popcorn to moviegoers with a vaccination card.

A survey by Blackhawk Network found that these incentives could be effective. One-third of workers said they would get vaccinated for $100 or less.

— Jessica Dickler

CNBC’s vaccine passport sentiment poll

CNBC’s Brian Sullivan discusses a poll on sentiment around vaccine passports on the daily “Random But Interesting” (RBI) segment on “Worldwide Exchange.”

United launches 26 new nonstop flights from the Midwest in bid for vacationers

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – MARCH 16: Travelers arrive for flights at O’Hare international Airport on March 16, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. On March 12, the TSA screened more than 1.3 million travelers, the highest number since the start of the pandemic. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Scott Olson | Getty Images News | Getty Images

United Airlines is making a bet on Midwest vacationers this summer, adding 26 new non-stop flights and resuming 20 other domestic routes for the summer season.

The focus shows United is continuing to think of ways to capitalize on vacation demand during the pandemic that goes beyond its traditional model of routing travelers through its big hubs.

The Covid-era has kept a lid on business and international travel but demand from travelers eager for a vacation, or wanting to visit friends and relatives, is rebounding.

Leslie Josephs

A look at the myriad problems that have plagued AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine

AstraZeneca’s Covid shot was heralded as “the vaccine for the world” and was accompanied by high hopes ever since its inception. But, unlike other coronavirus vaccines, the one developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford has been plagued by problem after problem.

AstraZeneca’s troubles started almost as soon as it published interim trial data, and have continued ever since.

The drugmaker “seems to have a real PR problem on its hands in the U.S. and in Europe,” Sunaina Sinha Haldea, managing partner of Cebile Capital, told CNBC on Thursday, warning that its “public relations problem risks undermining confidence in the vaccine outside of the U.K.”

Check out CNBC’s timeline of all the problems that have struck AstraZeneca in the past year.

Holly Ellyatt

Weekly jobless claims tumble to pandemic-era low

Weekly jobless claims came in considerably lower than expected as the U.S. employment market shows signs of a stronger recovery.

First-time claims for state unemployment insurance totaled 684,000 for the week ended March 20, down from 781,000 the previous week and better than the 735,000 Dow Jones estimate.

That marked a couple of milestones for the jobs picture: It was the first time claims were below 700,000 during the Covid-19 era and the first time the level was below the pre-pandemic high dating back to October 1982.

While the layoff level is still well above the average before the coronavirus struck, continuing claims also fell again, to a new pandemic-era low of 3.87 million.

—Jeff Cox

Lowe’s, Home Depot seek to stretch pandemic gains into spring

A customer pushes a shopping cart towards the entrance of a Lowe’s store in Concord, California, on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

As home improvement’s busiest sales season begins, Lowe’s and Home Depot want to stretch their pandemic gains into the spring. Both retailers have extended their sales events and plan to cater to customers who are using their homes in different ways.

Lowe’s has added a wider variety of merchandise on its website, from tents and cocktail shakers to exercise bikes. It’s also encouraging customers to tackle DIY projects or decorate rooms — or the backyard — for a “hometrip” as they put off travel plans.

The two retailers have had strong, pandemic-fueled runs, but have cautioned that they may not be able to keep up the pace of growth. Home Depot declined to provide a forecast for the year. Lowe’s said its net sales for the year will likely decline by 5% to 7%, even in a favorable market.

Both retailers’ shares have touched all-time highs this week. Along with pandemic trends, they have a hot real estate market and the growth of remote work in their favor for now, too.

—Melissa Repko

EU and Britain try to broker a vaccine supply deal

Shortly after European Union officials announced stricter rules on Covid vaccine exports, the bloc is trying to resolve a dispute over vaccine supplies with the U.K., reports CNBC’s Silvia Amaro.

Since the end of January, more than 10 million doses produced in the EU have gone to the U.K., but the U.K. had exported none in return, the EU has complained.

“We are all facing the same pandemic and the third wave makes cooperation between the EU and UK even more important. We have been discussing what more we can do to ensure a reciprocally beneficial relationship between the UK and EU on Covid-19,” the U.K. government and the European Commission said in a joint statement on Wednesday.

“Given our interdependencies, we are working on specific steps we can take — in the short-, medium- and long term — to create a win-win situation and expand vaccine supply for all our citizens,” the U.K. and EU said, adding that talks would continue.

—Melodie Warner 

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