A Food and Drug Administration advisory committee is holding an all-day meeting meeting Friday to review the data on Johnson & Johnson’s candidate vaccine and is likely to give the vaccine a thumbs-up, leading to an expected FDA authorization for the shot in adults within the next few days. An FDA report released early Wednesday deemed it safe and effective.
Johnson & Johnson has agreed to provide 100 million doses of its vaccine in the U.S. by June, including 20 million by the end of March. Those doses will add to the 300 million doses Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna each have promised to deliver by the end of July.
The vaccine was shown to be 72% effective in a U.S. trial in which all ethnic, racial and age groups benefited about the same, and was shown to be 85% effective in preventing the most severe disease .
Meanwhile, Pfizer-BioNTech will begin testing a booster shot to combat COVID-19 variants, the companies announced Thursday. The announcement came one day after new research published in the New England Journal of Medicine confirmed that two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine cut symptomatic COVID-19 cases across all age groups by 94%.
And Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease expert, warned people not to hold off on getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine if it soon becomes available while waiting for the slightly more effective Pfizer or Moderna shots. Fauci also told NBC News a third vaccine becoming available “is nothing but good news.”
Also in the news:
►The Food and Drug Administration will allow Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to be shipped and stored at freezers commonly found in pharmacies rather than the ultra-frigid ones initially required after data from the company showed the vaccine remains stable for up to two weeks in standard freezer temperatures. Thursday’s decision will make it easier to distribute and administer the vaccine.
►A Senate official ruled Thursday that a $15 federal minimum wage provision cannot be added into the COVID-19 relief package. Senate Democrats are using reconciliation to approve the bill, bypassing filibuster rules that require 60 votes, but reconciliation also triggers rules that require provisions of the bill be tied directly to the budget. The House is poised to pass the relief package Friday.
►Two U.S. Navy warships in the Middle East were returning to port in Bahrain as they’ve been hit COVID-19 outbreaks, officials said Friday. A dozen people on board the USS San Diego, which carries sailors and Marines, tested positive for COVID-19 while “several” were positive on the USS Philippine Sea, said Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich, a spokeswoman for the 5th Fleet.
►Gov. Kate Brown on Thursday extended Oregon’s declaration of a state of emergency until May 2 as confirmed COVID-19 cases continue to drop across the state but still number in the hundreds each day.
►After six straight weeks of declines in new COVID-19 infections across the U.S., daily cases have started to plateau in many states, but hospitalizations and deaths continue to drop, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
►The World Health Organization reported Thursday that case rates across Europe have been cut in half from their winter peak.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 28.4 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 508,100 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 112.9 million cases and 2.5 million deaths. More than 91.6 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and about 68.2 million have been administered, according to the CDC.
📘 What we’re reading: Surgery for a child, paying a loan, electric bills: We asked Americans how they would spend $1,400 stimulus checks. This is what they said.
Richard Carranza, New York City’s Schools chancellor, said Friday he was stepping down from his role, citing the need for time to grieve his 11 family members and close friends who died from COVID-19.
“I feel that I can take that time now because of the place that we are in and the work that we have done together,” he said.
The city’s schools have largely been heralded for its reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Carranza said the system reopened safely for children of essential workers, distributed over half a million electronic devices for remote learning, and delivered 80 millions meals to its students.
“We have stabilized the system in a way no one thought possible,” he added. “The light, my fellow New Yorkers, is truly at the end of the tunnel.”
Carranza will be succeeded by Bronx Executive Superintendent Meisha Ross Porter, who will become the first Black woman to lead the nation’s largest school district.
Mass shootings jumped nearly 50% in 2020, due in large part to a pandemic year rife with crippling unemployment, violent protests and idle youth. With COVID-19 cases falling and vaccines rolling out, some criminologists hope a rebounding economy and reopened schools will drive down those numbers in 2021.
Early results are promising, says Mark Bryant, founder of the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive, which tracks gun incident trends. In the first seven weeks of this year, there have been 63 mass shootings — defined as four or more people injured or killed in one incident — which if continued would show a drop from 2020, he said.
“I’m hoping last year proves to be the anomaly,” Bryant said. “The stresses caused by last year, from jobs to illness, were not just an urban thing or a rural thing. We saw bumps in towns in Louisiana and Mississippi, as well as in Chicago and Philadelphia.”
– Marco della Cava and Mike Stucka
People ages 40 and over will be next in line for the vaccine in the U.K., the country’s public health officials said. The BBC reported that the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation opted for an age-based rollout to prevent a slowdown from a “more complex” occupation-based one.
Meanwhile, Queen Elizabeth urged the public to get vaccinated, saying the process was quick and painless. “Well, once you’ve had the vaccine you have a feeling of, you know, you’re protected, which is, I think, very important,” the Queen said Friday.
The 94-year-old monarch said she understood some might be hesitant but that “they ought to think about other people rather than themselves.”
When Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee butted heads with Donald Trump last year over the prior administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the then-president called Inslee a snake.
“I may still be one,” the governor said on Thursday with a chuckle when asked how things have changed under President Joe Biden. “But I’m a well-cared-for snake.”
During the National Governors Association’s winter meeting, held virtually Thursday, Biden called states the “laboratories of democracy” in a nod to their independence. But he emphasized that a national approach is needed on the pandemic and other issues because “so many of our challenges don’t stop at our border of our states.”
“We have to fight this together as one,” Biden told the governors.
– Maureen Groppe and Courtney Subramanian
Dr. Brian Alverson, director of the Division of Pediatric Hospital Medicine at Rhode Island’s Hasbro Children’s Hospital, says he has witnessed what he described to The Providence Journal, part of the USA TODAY Network, as “a massive pandemic of mentally ill adolescents,” many of them admitted to Hasbro Children’s.
The Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry has published articles on the nationwide phenomenon stemming in part from social isolation and loneliness.
“And when I say massive, I don’t want to understate this,” Alverson said. On a recent Friday, “when I looked at the census of the hospital, three-quarters of the hospital was adolescents who wanted to hurt themselves because of mental illness.”
– G. Wayne Miller, The Providence Journal
The U.S. government is launching a nationwide initiative to study COVID-19 patients who suffer from residual symptoms months after recovery, commonly known as “COVID long-haulers,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said in a White House briefing Wednesday.
The nation’s leading infectious diseases expert also revealed a scientific name for the new syndrome – Post Acute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 (PASC) – further legitimizing the suffering population.
“(There are) a lot of important questions that are now unanswered that we hope with this series of initiatives we will ultimately answer,” Fauci said.
The announcement comes after a study published last week in JAMA Network Open found about 30% of COVID-19 patients reported persistent symptoms as long as 9 months after illness.
– Adrianna Rodriguez
Contributing: Karen Weintraub, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
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