U.S. health officials on Friday night lifted an 11-day pause on Johnson & Johnson vaccinations following the recommendation of an expert advisory committee to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The recommendation by the CDC committee, called the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, came hours earlier Friday. The CDC and the Food and Drug Administration agreed, believing the benefits of the single-dose COVID-19 shot outweigh a rare risk of blood clots.
The vaccine was paused after reports of a combination of blood clots and low levels of platelets within two weeks of vaccination in six women out of the more than 7 million Americans who recently got the J&J shot, and one man from an earlier clinical trial. One of the women died, and another was hospitalized in critical condition.
European regulators earlier this week made a similar decision, deciding the clot risk was small enough to allow the rollout of J&J’s shot.
Also this week, CDC head Rochelle Walensky said while the agency has received more reports of medical conditions, it was still investigating whether they were connected to the shots, and was not hearing about a substantial number of new cases.
Also in the news:
► More than 40% of Americans have been at least partially vaccinated, ranking the U.S. near the top in vaccination rates, Our World In Data reports. This comes as Michigan’s coronavirus case rate has begun to fall, dropping 12.5% over the last week, suggesting the state’s third surge — the worst in the U.S. — may be waning.
► The Biden administration announced Friday it will open two mass vaccination sites in Kentucky with a combined capacity of 7,000 shots a week.
►Two independent studies found the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to be effective in preventing serious illness and death from the New York variants, the New York Times reported.
►Researchers in the U.K. found two cases of human-to-cat transmission of the coronavirus, according to the Guardian. But their study showed no evidence of people being infected by their pets, the Guardian reported.
►Amid a surge in new coronavirus variant cases, Japan declared a third state of emergency Friday, which will begin Sunday and last until May 11 to discourage holiday traveling. While the Olympics committee reaffirmed its determination to hold the summer games, with the committee president expected to visit the country mid-May, a majority of the public have supported canceling or further postponement.
►The California State University and University of California systems jointly announced Thursday they will both require all students and staff returning for on-campus classes and activities to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The requirement, however, will not take effect until one or more of the vaccines receives full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. UMass Amherst also reportedly joined the growing number of colleges requiring students to be vaccinated this fall.
►South Africa will resume the administration of Johnson & Johnson shots to health care workers next week.
►COVID-19 hospitalizations among older Americans have plunged more than 70% since the start of the year, and deaths among them appear to have tumbled as well, dramatic evidence the vaccination campaign is working.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has nearly 31.9 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 570,900 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 145 million cases and 3 million deaths. Nearly 282.2 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and almost 219 million have been administered, according to the CDC.
📘 What we’re reading: As states expand COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to allow shots for 16- and 17-year-olds, teens in rural America may have trouble getting them. Read more here.
The CDC is recommending pregnant people receive COVID-19 vaccinations.
Walensky announced the recommendation during an update on the pandemic at a White House briefing. She noted a CDC study published this week found no safety concerns with Moderna and Pfizer vaccinations given during the third trimester of pregnancy.
‘”We know that this is a deeply personal decision, and I encourage people to talk to their doctors or primary care providers to determine what is best for them and for their baby,” Walensky said.
Her recommendation seems to go farther than advice on CDC’s website, which says the vaccines are unlikely to pose a safety risk during pregnancy but doesn’t flat-out recommend the shots.
The United States’ land borders with Canada and Mexico will remain restricted to nonessential travel through at least May 21, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
“To deter the spread of #COVID19 and protect our citizens, the United States is continuing restrictions on non-essential travel at our land borders through May 21, while maintaining the flow of essential trade and travel as we have for over a year,” DHS announced via tweet.
The agency continued: “We are guided by science and public health data and engaged in discussions with Canada and Mexico about easing restrictions as health conditions improve.”
DHS and its Canadian and Mexican counterparts enacted the initial closure on March 21, 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic began to spread throughout North America. It has been extended on a month-to-month basis since then.
– Jayme Deerwester and Julia Thompson
White House expects vaccination rates to ‘moderate and fluctuate’
The U.S. is vaccinating an average of nearly 3 million people a day, but White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said he expects daily vaccination rates in the U.S. to “moderate and fluctuate” going forward.
“We’ve gotten vaccinations to the most at-risk and those most eager to get vaccinated as quickly as possible,” Zients said in a task force briefing Friday, adding, “We know reaching other populations will take time and focus.”
About 90% of all Americans live within five miles of a vaccination site, Zients said, and the U.S. will have enough vaccine supply by the end of May for every adult who wants one.
About 80% of Americans 65 and older now have at least one shot, Zients said. As of Friday, 66% of Americans age 65 and older are fully vaccinated, Walensky, the CDC director, said. “We are well on our way to have one of our most vulnerable populations fully protected against this deadly virus, and that is a reason to celebrate,” she said.
However, there are “some unsettling gaps in our coverage,” Walensky said. “While we have many reasons to celebrate, we also have the potential, indeed the need to do more to protect people now.”
As part of its vaccine public education initiative, the White House announced a “We Can Do This: Live” campaign to connect people on social media to trusted information by pairing influencers with health professionals.
Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said actresses Eva Longoriaand Olivia Holt; personalities Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest; Barbara Corcoran and Mark Cuban of Shark Tank; Walter Kim, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; NASCAR; the NBA and the WNBA have signed on to the campaign.
“To truly turn this pandemic around requires more than government action. It’s going to require each of us to take action as well,” Murthy said. “We have to decide who we are as a country. Are we 300 million people who happen to live in the same place? Or are we fellow Americans who recognize we are stronger when we care for and protect one another?”
With hospitals in India pleading with the government on social media to replenish their oxygen supplies and threatening to stop fresh admissions of patients, the government put oxygen tankers on special express trains to save COVID-19 patients who are struggling to breathe.
“We have ramped up the production as oxygen consumption is rising through the roof,” said Saket Tiku, president of the All India Industrial Gases Manufacturers Association. “But we have limitations and the biggest challenge right now is transporting it to where it’s urgently needed.”
India is seeing the world’s worst coronavirus surge, setting a grim record for daily infections for a second straight day with 332,730. India has confirmed 16 million cases so far and recorded 2,263 deaths in the past 24 hours. Adding to the deaths, a fire in Mumbai, India, killed 13 COVID-19 patients early Friday when an air conditioning unit exploded in a hospital’s ICU.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top epidemiologist, called the situation in India “dire” in a White House task force briefing Friday. “We’re trying to help in any way we can,” Fauci said, adding, “I think what this is telling us, in Africa and in India, that when you have a global pandemic it is a global pandemic, and there are no countries that are really safe from it.”
As rich countries buy excess vaccine doses, poor countries struggle to vaccinate, study shows
The world’s richest countries have collectively bought 1 billion more doses than their citizens need, according to a study by the global advocacy group ONE. The rest of the world has only been able to secure 2.5 billion doses — not enough to vaccinate their populations.
Some are calling on the U.S. to share doses with other countries, like India, which reported a global one-day record of more than 332,700 new infections Friday as a coronavirus surge in the world’s second-most populous country overwhelms a fragile health care system critically short of hospital beds and oxygen.
The Biden administration has said it will share surplus coronavirus vaccine doses with Canada and Mexico. Asked Friday about sharing vaccine with India, Zients, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, said: “We are committed to sharing vaccine supply as our confidence around our supply increases.”
“This is a global pandemic, and India demonstrates the risk of what can happen if we don’t get the pandemic under control everywhere,” Zients said.
CDC investigating woman’s death after J&J vaccine
Oregon health officials said Thursday that federal officials are investigating the death of a woman in her 50s who developed a rare blood clot and low platelets within two weeks of receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine against COVID-19.
Federal officials already were examining six reports of the unusual clots, including a death, out of more 8 million Americans given the one-dose vaccination so far.
The woman developed a “rare but serious blood clot in combination with very low platelets,” the Oregon Health Authority said in a statement.
Texas health officials also say the U.S. government has reported that a Texas woman is hospitalized with possible blood clots associated with Johnson and Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine.
The announcement by Texas quotes the FDA and CDC as saying the adult woman has “symptoms that appear to be consistent with those few other reported cases” of a rare blood clotting disorder developed after receiving the J&J vaccine. No other information is being released, because of patient privacy and confidentiality.
Contributing: Elizabeth Weise, Karen Weintraub and Nada Hassanein, USA TODAY; The Associated Press