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Coronavirus Update: U.S. COVID-19 vaccine program meets key goal, but India cases and Brazil deaths worry experts

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The U.S. vaccine program was in high gear on Monday, with the news that all American adults are now eligible for a shot, meeting a key goal of President Joe Biden’s coronavirus team set two weeks ago.

In further positive news, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says half of American adults have received at least one shot of the two-dose regimens developed by Pfizer Inc. and German partner BioNTech SE and Moderna Inc., as the Associated Press reported.

And Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Biden’s chief medical officer, said he expects regulators to resume administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after a CDC advisory committee reconvenes on Friday. That shot was paused by regulators after six women who received it suffered from a rare blood-clotting disorder, and one died.

The six represent a tiny number of the more than 7 million people who have received the vaccine. The women were between 18 and 48 years old.

 Fauci said Sunday that “a decision almost certainly will be made by Friday. I don’t really anticipate that they’re going to want it stretch it out a bit longer.”

Fauci told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that one possibility would be to bring the one-and-done vaccine back “with some form of restrictions or some form of warning. … I believe by Friday we’re going to know the answer to that.”

The pause on the J&J shot has experts concerned it may add to vaccine hesitancy, coming after similar problems were identified with the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca PLC
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and Oxford University. The European Medicines Agency determined a link between the AstraZeneca shot and blood clots, but it noted they, as with the J&J vaccine, were extremely rare. Some countries in Europe have moved to restrict the use of that vaccine to older age groups, and Denmark last week said it was scrapping its use all together.

See now: Getting COVID creates far higher risk of rare blood clots than vaccines, Oxford study finds

Fauci told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he doubted “very seriously” that the CDC committee would outright cancel the J&J vaccine, which like all other COVID vaccines has been administered under an emergency-use authorization. “I don’t think that’s going to happen,” he said.

Read now: Here’s how the ‘pause’ on J&J’s COVID-19 shot may or may not affect the company’s earnings

The CDC’s vaccine tracker is showing that as of 6 a.m. Eastern time on Sunday, 264.5 million doses had been delivered to states, 209.4 million doses had been administered, and 131.2 million people had received at least one shot, equal to 39.5% of the population.

A full 84.3 million people are fully vaccinated, equal to 25.4% of the population, meaning they have received two shots of the two-dose vaccines developed by Pfizer Inc.
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and German partner BioNTech SE
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and Moderna Inc.
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one-shot vaccine. The AstraZeneca vaccine has not been authorized for use in the U.S.

Among Americans 65 and older, 36 million people are fully vaccinated, equal to 65.9% of that group. More than 44 million people in that age bracket have received a first jab, covering 81% of that population.

Andy Slavitt, the acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and a member of Biden’s coronavirus team, urged people to make appointments.

 “If you are not one of the 130 million American adults who’ve been vaccinated, today is a great day for you. It has never been easier. So please join that group of people,” Slavitt said at a White House briefing.

Don’t miss:‘The more we talk about it, the more we’re validating the symptoms’: What we know about COVID vaccine side effects in women

Vaccination in the rest of the world continues to stumble, however, and cases continue to rise.

“The sixth consecutive (and steepest) weekly worsening took the worldwide case count increase to an average of 733,000, only 5% less than mid-January’s all-time high,” said Chris Meekins, analyst at Raymond James, on last week’s numbers.

India’s exponential surge continued, comprising one-fourth of the worldwide increase, and spurring more intense lockdown measures, he noted. The Indian capital, New Delhi, is planning a week-long lockdown from Monday night as it works to contain a huge surge in cases that has hospitals running out of beds and oxygen supplies shrinking.

“However, Brazil’s much higher case fatality rate means that it is posting more deaths than any country,” Meekins wrote in a note to clients.

See now: Pfizer’s CEO believes people will need COVID-19 vaccination shots every year

“There are surges in Turkey and Canada, and a serious outbreak in Thailand. On the vaccination front, a good week in Europe: Germany, Italy, and France surpassed 20 doses per 100 people, albeit still less than half the level of the U.K. and U.S.,” he wrote.

Cases are also still rising in the U.S., with the nation averaging 67,308 cases a day in the past week, according to a New York Times tracker, up 5% from the average two weeks ago. Michigan remains the hot spot, accounting for more than 10% of daily cases, and the Great Lakes State is home to 16 of the 17 metro areas with the nation’s worst case rates of late, the tracker shows.

In other news:

• The European Union may not renew its COVID-19 vaccine contract with AstraZeneca after the Anglo-Swedish drug company persistently failed to deliver what it promised, the Guardian reported. “My priority, as the person in charge of vaccine deliveries, is that those we have contracts with deliver the quantities stipulated at the time stipulated,” Thierry Breton, European commissioner overseeing deliveries, told French TV station BFM-TV

• Austria will only use Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine once the European Medicines Agency has approved it, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Monday, Reuters reported. Austria has been in talks with Russia to buy a million doses of the vaccine, and Kurz said on March 31 that the order would probably be placed the following week. That order has yet to be announced.

• Greece has lifted quarantine restrictions for travelers from most European countries, as well as Israel and the United States as it prepares to reopen tourism services next month, the AP reported. Air travelers from those countries will no longer be subject to a seven-day quarantine requirement if they hold a vaccination certificate or negative PCR test issued within the previous 72 hours, the Greek Civil Aviation Authority said. The countries made exempt are EU member states, the U.S., Britain, the United Arab Emirates, Serbia, Israel, and non-EU members Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland that are part of a European travel pact.

• A two-way travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand opened Monday, allowing passengers to move quarantine-free between both countries for the first time in more than a year, CNN reported. Australia had previously allowed New Zealand travelers to enter without quarantine, and New Zealand is now following suit. Hundreds of passengers crowded the international departure terminal at Australia’s Melbourne Airport early Monday amid long check-in lines.

• Law-enforcement officials are warning about a growing trade in counterfeit COVID-19 vaccination cards, the Washington Post reported. The paper said eBay listings are offering “Authentic CDC Vaccination Record Cards” priced at up to $10.99, that regulators say are illegal. The listings are a “perfect example” of burgeoning scams involving vaccination cards that could undermine people’s safety, as well as the success of the nation’s largest mass vaccination effort, said North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein.

Read: What does a strong reaction to a COVID-19 vaccine mean?

• Healthy, young volunteers who have previously had COVID-19 will be deliberately exposed to coronavirus for a second time to see how the immune system responds, as part of a new U.K. study, MarketWatch’s Lina Saigol reported. Researchers at the University of Oxford on Monday launched the “human challenge” trial to investigate what happens when volunteers who have recovered from the coronavirus disease are then reinfected with the virus a second time. The study, which is funded by the Wellcome Trust, is expected to start in the next few weeks after receiving ethics approval, and could help accelerate the development of new treatments and vaccines against the disease.

Read now: An Israeli study says a COVID-19 variant can still infect vaccinated people — here’s what Fauci says the research means

Latest tallies

The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness rose above 141.6 million on Monday, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, as the death toll climbed above 3.02 million, after breaching the 3 million mark on Saturday.

Almost 81 million people have recovered from COVID, the data show.

The U.S. leads the world in cases and deaths by wide margins, with 31.7 million cases, or more than 20% of the global total, while the 567,406 death toll makes up about 20% of the global toll. 

India has the second highest number of cases at 15.1 million, and is fourth globally by deaths at 178,769.

Brazil is third by cases at 13.9 million and second with a death toll of 373,335

Mexico is third by deaths at 212,339 and 14th highest by cases at 2.3 million.

The U.K. has 4.4 million cases and 127,522 deaths, the highest in Europe and fifth highest in the world.

China, where the virus was first discovered late last year, has had 102,254 confirmed cases and 4,845 deaths, according to its official numbers.

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