Rare blood-clotting issue dominates COVID news as Denmark scraps AstraZeneca vaccine

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The growing concerns about a rare blood-clotting disorder that has been reported in people who received the vaccines developed by AstraZeneca PLC with Oxford University and by Johnson & Johnson dominated COVID-19 news on Wednesday, with Denmark becoming the first country to fully discontinue use of the AstraZeneca jab.

The Danish Health Authority said on Wednesday that following its own review the country’s vaccine rollout would continue without the AstraZeneca jab, as it warned of a “real risk of severe side effects.”

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The health agency said it agreed with the EU drug regulator’s assessment that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks but noted that the watchdog urged individual countries to consider their own situations and vaccine availability when making a judgment.

Denmark’s move is another setback to the European Union’s already sluggish vaccination campaign, which was exacerbated on Tuesday after Johnson & Johnson said it would delay the planned rollout of its coronavirus shot across the 27-member bloc due to reports of blood clotting in six vaccine recipients. That came after the leading U.S. health agencies called for an immediate pause of the vaccine’s use while they examine the six cases of blood clots that have been reported in women who had received the shot. J&J was due to supply 55 million doses of its single-shot vaccine to the EU in the second quarter.

The European Union is speeding up delivery of 50 million doses of the vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc. and German partner BioNTech SE to the second quarter from their original fourth-quarter delivery date.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU is also negotiating with Pfizer and BioNTech for a third contract that will deliver 1.8 billion doses over the 2021–23 period. Production of the vaccines and all essential components will be based in the EU.

The EU reached a milestone of 100 million vaccinations as of Wednesday, and more than a quarter are second doses, as its vaccine program begins to gain ground after a slow, stumbling start caused by a shortage of supplies.

Experts will closely watch today’s meeting of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s advisory committee on the J&J vaccine that kicks off at 1:30 p.m. Eastern time. The committee has been combing through vaccine data to better understand why the clotting is happening and to devise a treatment plan for when it does occur.

SVB Leerink is expecting the committee to update its recommendations to say that the vaccine should no longer be given to women younger than 50. Women have been disproportionately affected by the condition, both with J&J’s vaccine and AstraZeneca’s. A number of European countries have already restricted use of the AstraZeneca
AZN,
+1.71%

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+1.45%
vaccine to their older populations.

Don’t miss: Johnson & Johnson vaccine pause: What to know if you got or scheduled the shot

The clotting issue is very rare, and the six cases are negligible out of the 6.8 million people that have been dosed. But the grim headlines are a concern for health experts who worry it may deter people who are uncertain about vaccines from getting one and undermine public education efforts.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and President Joe Biden’s chief medical officer, said the pause may actually help combat vaccine hesitancy.

“The very fact that you have … the CDC and the FDA looking so carefully at this, making safety the primary concern, in my mind, confirms or underscores the situation that we take safety very seriously,” Fauci told NBC News.

Fauci said he is not expecting the pause to last long.

“They did the pause because, as we saw, first one, two, three, then four and then six [cases]. Albeit, as rare as it is, as you just said quite correctly and appropriately, less than one in a million, nonetheless, as you said, out of an abundance of caution, they want to take a quick pause, take a look at it, see what’s going on, see if there are any more details, and then that’s it. I think it is going to be a matter of days, not months, for sure,” he said.

The U.S. vaccine program, meanwhile, continues to show good progress. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker is showing that as of 6 a.m. Eastern on Tuesday, 245.4 million doses had been delivered to states, 192.3 million doses had been administered, and 122.3 million people had received at least one shot, equal to 36.8% of the population.

A full 75.3 million people, or 22.7% of the overall population, are fully vaccinated, meaning they have received two shots of the two-dose vaccines developed by Pfizer Inc.
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-0.30%
and German partner BioNTech SE
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+2.02%
and Moderna Inc.
MRNA,
+6.18%,
or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson
JNJ,
+0.15%
one-shot vaccine. The AstraZeneca vaccine has not been authorized for use in the U.S.

Among Americans 65 and older, 34.2 million are fully vaccinated, equal to 62.5% of that group. More than 43 million people in that age bracket have received a first jab, covering 79.2% of that population.

The U.S. added at least 77,312 new COVID cases on Tuesday, according to a New York Times tracker, and at least 987 people died. The U.S. has averaged 71,215 cases a day for the last week, up 8% from the average two weeks ago.

Michigan remains a hot spot, adding cases at the highest rate in the U.S. In the Northeast, cases are beginning to stabilize, with New York and New Jersey starting to see numbers improve after a surge in early spring.

Read now: Biden administration sending tests and vaccinators to Michigan, where COVID transmission rate is nation’s worst

In other news:

• A major U.K. trial looking at whether COVID-19 vaccines can be safely mixed has been expanded to include shots made by Moderna and Novavax, researchers announced on Wednesday, as MarketWatch’s Lina Saigol reported. The Com-Cov study, led by the University of Oxford, was launched in February to compare the effect of administering a first dose of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, followed a few weeks later by the vaccine made jointly by Pfizer and BioNTech, and vice versa. The expanded study will look to recruit adults over 50 who have received their first vaccination in the past eight to 12 weeks.

• President Joe Biden said the U.S. has enough vaccine “for every single solitary American,” in the wake of U.S. health authorities’ recommendation of a pause in use of the Johnson & Johnson  vaccine, MarketWatch’s Robert Schroeder reported. Biden echoed comments made by Jeff Zients, the White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator, saying the administration  has secured enough doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

President Biden announced in early April that he was pushing up the deadline from May 1 to April 19 for states to make all adults in the U.S. eligible for COVID-19 vaccines.

See now: It’s a ‘question of time’ before another virus jumps from animal to human, says co-inventor of flu treatment Tamiflu. Preventative therapies are needed.

• Pfizer Inc. Chief Executive Albert Bourla tweeted late Tuesday that the pharma company has “ramped up” production of its COVID-19 vaccine, and will be able to deliver 10% more doses to the U.S. by the end of May than a previously agreed total of 220 million doses, as well as supply “the full [300 million doses] agreed on for the end of July two weeks early.” Said Bourla: “In the fight against COVID-19, we’re in this together.”

• Moderna said that its COVID-19 vaccine continued to show “strong efficacy,” including greater than 90% efficacy against cases of COVID-19 and greater than 95% against severe cases of COVID-19 in a median six-month follow-up, MarketWatch’s Claudia Assis reported. New preclinical data also showed variant-specific booster vaccine candidates working, the company said. “We are looking forward to having the clinical data from our variant-specific booster candidates,” as well as clinical data from a study of the vaccine in teens, Chief Executive Stéphane Bancel said in a statement. “The new preclinical data on our variant-specific vaccine candidates give us confidence that we can proactively address emerging variants.” 

• Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday he got his second COVID-19 vaccine shot, three weeks after getting the first dose, the Associated Press reported. The Russian leader announced getting the jab, which was kept out of the public eye, during a session of the Russian Geographical Society, in which he took part via video link. The president told reporters after the event that he didn’t experience any adverse effects after the second shot. “As you see, everything is normal, no side effects,” Putin said, adding that doctors told him he developed “a good immune response” after the first shot. Putin got his first coronavirus shot on March 23, also out of sight of the cameras, and the Kremlin wouldn’t reveal which of the three vaccines currently approved for use in Russia the president has taken.

Latest tallies

The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness rose above 137.5 million on Wednesday, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, as the death toll climbed above 2.96 million.

AT least 78 million people have recovered from COVID, the data show.

The U.S. leads the world in cases and deaths by wide margins, with 31.3 million cases, or about 23% of the global total, while the 563,475 death toll makes up about 19% of the global toll.

Outside of the U.S., India has replaced Brazil as the country with the second highest number of cases at 13.9 million and is fourth globally by deaths at 172,085.

Brazil is third by cases at 13.6 million and second with a death toll of 358,425.

Mexico is third by deaths at 210,282 and 14th highest by cases at 2.3 million.

The U.K. has 4.4 million cases and 127,369 deaths, the highest in Europe and fifth highest in the world.

China, where the virus was first discovered late last year, has had 102,108 confirmed cases and 4,844 deaths, according to its official numbers.

What’s the economy saying?

The cost of imports surged in March for the fourth month in a row and added to growing inflationary pressures in the U.S. as a resurgent economy spawns strong demand for a host of goods ranging from lumber to computer chips to cars, MarketWatch’s Jeffry Bartash reported.

The import-price index leaped 1.2% in last month, the government said Wednesday. Economists polled by Dow Jones and the Wall Street Journal had forecast a 0.9% increase.

The cost of imports began to surge at the end of last year. Rising oil prices were the chief cause at first, but now the prices of many goods and services are increasing as demand rebounds and supplies fail to keep up.

Import prices have climbed 6.9% over the past 12 months, their fastest-paced rise since 2012. The cost of imports had fallen during the early phases of the pandemic.

“The acceleration in import inflation should be temporary and trend lower in the second half of the year,” said Kathy Bostjancic, chief U.S. financial economist at Oxford Economics.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average
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and S&P 500
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were higher Wednesday.

Additional reporting by Lina Saigol and Callum Keown.

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