Johnson & Johnson pause risks 'feeding' vaccine hesitancy; White House says US has 'plenty of supply': Latest COVID-19 updates

John Bacon, Elinor Aspegren and Doyle Rice, USA TODAY
·10 min read

States began halting use of Johnson & Johnson's one-shot vaccine Tuesday after federal health officials recommended a pause "out of an abundance of caution" because of rare but dangerous blood clots.

California, New York, Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Florida were among more than a dozen states to almost immediately follow the guidance from the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Jeff Zients, White House COVID-19 response coordinator, said the pause would have little impact on vaccine availability. The U.S will have enough Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for 300 million Americans by end of July, he said.

"We're prepared for a wide range of scenarios," Zients said at a White House briefing. "We have plenty of supply to continue our vaccination program and hit our goals."

More than 6.8 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been administered in the U.S. CDC and FDA are reviewing data involving six reported U.S. cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot – cerebral venous sinus thrombosis – in individuals after receiving the J&J vaccine, the statement said. All six cases were among women 18 to 48, and symptoms occurred six to 13 days after vaccination.

One of the six patients died and another was in critical condition, officials said. FDA chief Janet Woodcock said no definitive cause had been determined, but that it appears to be an extremely rare immune response. Officials said such clots are treated differently from other clots, and that incorrect treatment could cause death.

The CDC will convene a meeting of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices on Wednesday to further review the cases and assess their potential significance.

The pause is an example of a "double-edged sword in public health interventions," said Ogbonnaya Omenka, an associate professor and public health specialist at Butler University in Indianapolis.

"The decision is indicative of vigilance and swiftness of action, which are both necessary for effectively dealing with public health threats," he told USA TODAY. "At the same time, there is a risk of the decision feeding into the already existing vaccine hesitancy. ... Nevertheless, this step is in the interest of the public, because it is the duty of the authorities involved to be safe instead of sorry.

Have questions about the J&J vaccine you want answered? Submit them here and we’ll use your question to compile a FAQ for the group. And here are some things you should know.

Also in the news:

►Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak announced Tuesday that he plans to drop statewide social distancing protocols by May 1 but that the Silver State's mask mandate will remain in place at least through the end of next month. “I want to be crystal clear: the mask mandate is a statewide standard,” Sisolak told reporters at a press conference in Carson City.

►On Tuesday, the Virginia Department of Health reported it received confirmation from the CDC that the death of a Virginia woman is "part of its investigation into possible adverse side effects from the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine." So far, 184,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been administered in Virginia.

►Pfizer has ramped up the production of its COVID-19 vaccine and can deliver 10% more doses to the nation by the end of May than previously agreed, for a total of 220 million doses, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said Tuesday. The company will also be able to supply the full 300 million does agreed on for the end of July two weeks early, Bourla said.

►Health officials are urging Americans not to panic over news that federal agencies issued a recommendation Tuesday for states to pause vaccinations with the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine because of blood clots. “This is a really rare event … It’s six out of the 6.85 million doses, which is less than one in a million,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday.

►President Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama are appearing in a TV special airing Sunday to help educate, raise awareness and dispel concerns about COVID-19 vaccines.

►Britain has begun offering coronavirus vaccinations to anyone over 45 after hitting its target of giving at least one dose to everyone over 50 by the middle of April.

►India is experiencing its worst pandemic surge: Average daily infections exceeded 143,000 in the past week. India is a major vaccine producer and supplier to the U.N.-backed initiative to help distribute shots fairly. The rise in cases has forced India to focus on satisfying its domestic demand and delay deliveries elsewhere.

📈 Today's numbers: The U.S. has more than 31.3 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 563,400 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: 137.2 million cases and 2.95 million deaths. More than 237.79 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 189.96 million have been administered, according to the CDC.

📘 What we're reading: Three vaccines are authorized for use in the United States and another two are coming soon. Here is a closer look at what we know so far.

USA TODAY is tracking COVID-19 news. Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates. Want more? Sign up for our Coronavirus Watch newsletter for updates to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

Moderna booster vaccine targeting a COVID variant was a success in mice trial

A booster shot of a new Moderna vaccine targeting the B.1.351 COVID-19 variant increased neutralizing antibody levels in mice, the company announced Tuesday. Current vaccines have shown somewhat lower efficacy against the variant, which was first identified in South Africa.

When the booster was given to mice six months after the first two-dose series of shots, the booster vaccine closed the neutralizing antibody gap between the variants and the original COVID-19 strain the first vaccine was designed to protect against, the company said in a release.

The data has been submitted to a peer-reviewed journal, Moderna said. The company is evaluating three different approaches to providing a boost to its original vaccine to fight newly emerging strains of the virus.

The company also reported that in humans, its original COVID-19 vaccine is more than 90% effective six months after the second dose of the two-dose series.

Elizabeth Weise

Coronavirus pandemic fallout to stalk countries for years

U.S. intelligence officials warned Tuesday that the coronavirus pandemic will continue to test governments across the globe for years to come, “fueling humanitarian and economic crises, political unrest and geopolitical competition.”

In its annual Worldwide Threat Assessment report, officials outlined a daunting challenge against a backdrop of other persistent threats posed by climate change and mass migration.

“No country has been completely spared, and even when a vaccine is widely distributed globally, the economic and political aftershocks will be felt for years,” the report concluded, referring to the massive virus fallout. “Countries with high debts or that depend on oil exports, tourism or remittances face particularly challenging recoveries, while others will turn inward or be distracted by other challenges.”

The report, issued by the Director of National Intelligence, comes in advance of a Wednesday Senate hearing where lawmakers are expected to question the nation’s top intelligence officers.

“The United States and its allies will face a diverse array of threats that are playing out amidst the global disruption resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and against the backdrop of great power competition, the disruptive effects of ecological degradation and a changing climate, an increasing number of empowered non-state actors and rapidly evolving technology,” the report found.

“The complexity of the threats, their intersections, and the potential for cascading events in an increasingly interconnected and mobile world create new challenges for the (U.S. intelligence community).”

– Kevin Johnson

Youth sports linked to Michigan surge

Michigan hospitalizations reached 3,953 on Monday, surpassing the state's November/December spike. Among the biggest drivers of coronavirus infections in the state, health officials have said, are outbreaks among youth athletes and those associated with K-12 schools. This week, the state reported 312 ongoing or new school outbreaks, which includes infections linked to classrooms, after-school activities and sports.

"While they may not be getting it directly from the sporting event, there's a lot of things that go along with sports," said Dr. Matthew Sims, director of infectious disease research at Beaumont Health. "A lot of people go in to watch. There's the celebration after, where people are gathering together."

Kristen Jordan Shamus and Christina Hall, Detroit Free Press

Get a doughnut with a jab? Freebies combat vaccine hesitancy

Hesitant to get a COVID vaccine? Would a free doughnut or Amazon gift card change your mind? When Krispy Kreme recently offered free donuts to Americans who get vaccinated, it weathered backlash from critics who said the marketing effort might help ease the pandemic but would also contribute to the obesity epidemic. Still, don’t be surprised if other businesses and local and state governments begin offering even more substantive incentives, such as gift cards, to people who might otherwise resist the shots.

“It will depend on the company, but generally speaking it can be a positive thing,” Bunny Ellerin, director of the Healthcare and Pharmaceutical Management Program at Columbia Business School, said of the giveaways. “It’s positive reinforcement.”

Nathan Bomey

Oregon fines Twisted River Saloon in Springfield $18K

An Oregon saloon was fined more than $18,000 on Monday for “violating three standards” to protect employees from COVID-19.

The $18,430 fine was leveled against the Twisted River Saloon in Springfield, which “willfully continued to potentially expose workers to the virus” by allowing indoor dining beginning roughly around Jan. 4 and continuing until Feb. 26, according to the release from Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

At that time, Lane County was designated as an “extreme risk” for COVID-19 transmission, and indoor dining was supposed to be at zero capacity.

During an inspection, owner James Butt said he chose to reopen the saloon even though he was aware it was against workplace health requirements, the release says.

– Louis Krauss, Register-Guard

CDC says Michigan not likely to get extra vaccines to combat surge

The federal government is not inclined to ship extra vaccine supplies to Michigan to combat the state's severe surge in cases, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky noted that it takes two to six weeks from the time vaccines are jabbed until the impact could be realized.

"When you have an acute situation, an extraordinary amount of cases like we have in Michigan, the answer is not necessarily to give vaccine, the answer is to really close things down," Walensky said at a White House COVID response briefing. "If we tried to vaccinate our way out of what is happening in Michigan we would be disappointed that it took so long for the vaccine to work, to actually have the impact."

Andy Slavitt, the White House senior COVID adviser, said shifting vaccine supplies "to play Whac-a-Mole isn't the strategy that public health leaders and scientists have laid out."

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: J&J vaccine halted due to blood clots: Latest COVID updates, news