Fauci, health officials testify as J&J vaccine faces concerns

Fauci says most prevalent Covid variant in U.S. is ‘well covered’ by vaccines

Dr. Anthony Fauci said Covid vaccines are effective against strains of the virus that are spreading in the U.S.

Fauci, in his opening remarks, stressed that “we are in a race between vaccinating as many people as quickly and as expeditiously as we possibly can, and the threat of the resurgence of viruses in our country.”

But the “good news,” he said, is that the highly contagious B.1.1.7 variant, now the most common Covid strain in the U.S., is “very well covered by the vaccines that we are using.”

Even with other variants, “if the vaccination doesn’t protect against initial infection, it protects against severe disease,” Fauci added.

Kevin Breuninger

GOP Rep. Steve Scalise criticizes ‘ineffective’ lockdowns

U.S. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) speaks during a news conference with other House Republicans at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., December 10, 2020.

Erin Scott | Reuters

GOP Rep. Steve Scalise criticized the lockdowns put in place last year to curb the spread of the virus, saying the actions by federal and state officials caused children to miss school and businesses to permanently close.

“Far too many Americans have been thrown out of work because of selective, ineffective lockdowns,” said Scalise, a representative for Louisiana and the ranking member on the committee.

He also praised former President Donald Trump’s vaccine program Operation Warp Speed and the pharmaceutical industry for “delivering the fastest vaccine in history.”

“Through President Trump’s leadership and his refusal to be told no, that led to extraordinary speed, warp speed to use his term in getting vaccines in the lab and into the arms of over 100 million Americans,” he added.

–Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

Clyburn to hearing participants: Mask up or shut up

House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., conducts a news conference on the coronavirus relief bill, the American Rescue Plan Act, in the Capitol Visitor Center on Tuesday, March 9, 2021.

Tom Williams | CQ-Roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images

House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., the chairman of the Covid panel, issued a warning at the start of the hearing: Anyone attending in person has to mask up if they want to speak.

The hearing on U.S. vaccination progress is being conducted in a “hybrid” setting, with some participants appearing in person at a congressional hearing room in Washington, and others speaking via videoconference.

“Since some members are appearing in person, let me first remind everyone that pursuant to the guidance from the House attendant physicians, all individuals who are attending this hearing in person must wear a face covering,” Clyburn said.

“Members who are not wearing a face covering are not permitted to remain in the hearing room and will not be recognized to speak,” he said.

In addition to examining the Biden administration’s vaccination efforts, the hearing is also set to focus on the need for people to wear masks and follow social distancing measures.

Kevin Breuninger

U.S. averaging 3 million shots per day pace as nearly half of adults have received at least one dose

The U.S. is averaging 3.3 million daily vaccine doses reported administered over the past week, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The country has maintained a daily average above 3 million for eight straight days.

About 37% of the total population, and 48% of those aged 18 and older, have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine.

U.S. officials say the halt in use of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine will not slow down the country’s vaccine rollout, noting there is enough supply from Moderna and Pfizer to continue the current vaccination pace.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine makes up about 7.5 million of the 195 million total shots given to Americans thus far, according to the CDC. Roughly 10% of the more than 76 million people who are fully vaccinated have received the single-shot J&J vaccine.

The country is reporting about 71,200 daily new Covid cases, based on a seven-day average of data from Johns Hopkins University. That is far below the nation’s winter peak but similar to levels seen during the summer surge, when average daily cases topped out at more than 67,000.

—Nate Rattner

More young people are ending up in the hospital as variants spread

Molecular model of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus spike (S) protein (red) with the B.1.531 and B.1.1.7 variant mutation sites highlighted. S proteins are found in the viral membrane, they bind to angiotensin converting enzyme 2 receptors (ACE2, blue) on host cell membranes and facilitate the virus’s entry to the cell.

Juan Gaertner | Science Photo Library | Getty Images

Doctors told CNBC they are seeing a rise in the number of young people admitted to the hospital with Covid-19. They attributed the worrying trend, in part, to the highly contagious B.1.1.7 variant.

Young people are “getting infected more frequently because of the contagiousness” of the strain, said Dr. Paul Offit, a physician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said last week B.1.1.7 variant, the strain first identified in the U.K., is now the most common Covid strain circulating in the U.S.

The U.K. identified B.1.1.7, which appears to be more deadly and spread more easily than other strains, last fall. It has since spread to other parts of the globe, including the United States, which has identified 20,915 cases across 52 jurisdictions as of last week, according to the CDC. However, health experts say that number is likely much higher.

Even as the pace of vaccinations picks up, the highly contagious variants could potentially stall the nation’s recovery from the pandemic, U.S. health officials have warned.

Additionally, young adults, some of whom have not been vaccinated yet, may be at risk of more severe cases. Hospitals are seeing more and more younger adults in their 30s and 40s admitted with severe cases of Covid-19, Walensky said. “Data suggests this is all happening as we are seeing increasing prevalence of variants, with 52 jurisdictions now reporting cases of variants of concern.”

Walensky previously warned that traveling for spring break could lead to another rise in cases, especially in Florida where the variant was rapidly spreading.

“I’m pleading with you, for the sake of our nation’s health,” Walensky said at a briefing last month. “Cases climbed last spring, they climbed again in the summer, they will climb now if we stop taking precautions when we continue to get more and more people vaccinated.”

– Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

J&J vaccine remains on pause after CDC panel says it needs more data

Vials of Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine.

Johnson & Johnson via Reuters

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory panel on Wednesday decided to postpone a decision on the use of Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine while officials investigate six cases of women developing a rare but potentially life-threatening blood-clotting disorder.

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted unanimously to reconvene in a week, when it will decide what it will recommend to the CDC on J&J’s vaccine.

A day earlier, the Food and Drug Administration and the CDC advised states to temporarily stop using the single-shot vaccine “out of an abundance of caution” after six women developed cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, or CVST. One of the women has died.

The postponement means the pause on J&J’s vaccine will remain in effect.

U.S. health officials will likely though face questions from lawmakers on the J&J shot. Earlier this week, health officials had said the pause on the use of the vaccine might last only a matter of days, depending on what they learn in their investigation of the cases.

CVST is a rare form of a stroke that happens when a blood clot forms in the brain’s venous sinuses. It can eventually leak blood into the brain tissues and cause a hemorrhage.

White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday the pause would give U.S. health regulators the time they need to thoroughly investigate the cases and “find some common denominators among the women who were involved.”

–Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

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