GENEVA — The chief scientist of the World Health Organization is recommending that countries continue to use the AstraZeneca vaccine for now despite concerns about blood clots in some people who have received it.
Dr. Soumya Swaminathan says officials at the U.N. health agency “don’t want people to panic” even as close monitoring of the vaccine’s use continues. She said a review is under way that could produce updated recommendations as early as Tuesday.
Swaminathan noted that some 300 million doses of a variety of coronavirus vaccines have been given to people around the world, and “there is no documented death that has been linked to a COVID vaccine.”
She said the rates at which blood clots have occurred in people who received the AstraZeneca vaccine “are in fact less than what you would expect in the general population.”
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Why countries are halting the AstraZeneca vaccine, though there is no evidence the shot is responsible for reported blood clots
—- Extent of COVID-19 vaccine waste due to mishandling, poor recording keeping and other reasons, remains largely unknown
— Former cruise ship passengers recall deaths, frustration and quarantine last year
— An alarming number of US prison guards are refusing vaccines despite COVID-19 outbreaks
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
ROME — Italy on Monday temporarily halted administering the AstraZeneca vaccine only days after its government vowed to significantly step up the national vaccination program by tripling the number of shots given daily.
Italy joined several other European Union nations who have temporarily suspended AstraZeneca’s vaccine out of precaution following the deaths of several persons who received it. Autopsies and other procedures were underway in Italy to determine if the vaccine was related to the deaths.
Some 2.2 million of the 8.6 million vaccine doses of various brands delivered to Italy are AstraZeneca vaccines, so the temporary stoppage is likely to significantly hamper Italy’s current vaccine rollout.
The temporary suspension comes as admissions to hospitals of COVID-19 patients, including to ICUs, have been steadily rising, and Italy sees some of its highest new daily caseloads in weeks. In the nation of 60 million people, about 5.7 million have received at least one injection of a COVID-19 vaccine.
GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization says it is “routine practice” to investigate concerns like those over the AstraZeneca vaccine against the coronavirus amid reports of blood clots among some people who received it.
As a growing number of countries temporarily suspend the use of the vaccine, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the reported blood clots may not be linked to the vaccine.
The main problem facing most countries is a lack of access to vaccines, he said, particularly at a time when some rich countries have been “buying enough vaccines to immunize their populations several times over.”
He said a WHO advisory committee on vaccine safety was reviewing the data about blood clots among people who had received the AstraZeneca vaccine, and it would meet on Tuesday.
The AstraZeneca vaccine is a pillar of a U.N.-backed project known as COVAX that aims to get COVID-19 vaccines to people in need around the world, especially in poorer countries.
O’FALLON, Mo. — Missouri teachers and other school workers are now eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, even as the leader of the state’s largest jurisdiction said Missouri’s “fumbled vaccine rollout” continues to frustrate urban residents.
The state made educators and school staff along with transportation and infrastructure workers eligible for shots on Monday. Missouri officials estimate the new group includes about 550,000 people.
But Democratic St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said the St. Louis region is still a long way from vaccinating those in earlier groups. He declined to estimate how long it will be before doses can go to all teachers who want them in the county of 1 million residents, but stressed the importance of vaccinating them so schools can return to in-person learning.
“The fumbled vaccine rollout has added frustration to a process,” Page said during a news conference. “Seeing our residents drive several hours to snag an appointment or wait in hopes that there are surplus shots at the end of a vaccination event is no way to provide a service critical to ending a pandemic.”
A message left with Republican Gov. Mike Parson’s spokesperson was not immediately returned. Parson has repeatedly said the vaccine distribution is equitable and based on population.
PHOENIX — Arizona health officials are reporting no new COVID-19 deaths and 638 more confirmed cases, one of the lowest figures in months.
The state Department of Health Services released the latest numbers Monday, bringing the state totals since the pandemic started to 833,381 cases and 16,553 deaths.
The number of COVID-19 patients occupying hospital beds in the state also continues to drop. As of Sunday, 716 people were hospitalized due to the virus. Of those, 210 were in ICU beds.
Meanwhile, many Arizona schools reopened for full-time in-person instruction Monday as mandated by Gov. Doug Ducey’s executive order. He cited teachers getting vaccinated as a main factor for reopening.
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration says Medicare will significantly boost what it pays for COVID-19 shots to help get more Americans vaccinated, particularly those in hard-to-reach areas.
White House coronavirus special adviser Andy Slavitt said Monday that Medicare will now pay $40 per shot. That’s an increase over the average of nearly $23 per shot the program has been paying.
For a vaccine requiring two shots, it would work out to $80, nearly double the $45 Medicare now pays.
As the government’s flagship health insurance program, Medicare covers more than 60 million people, including those 65 and older and younger individuals who are disabled.
The payment increase will make it easier for more health care providers to get out into communities and give shots to those most in need, Slavitt said. Hard-to-reach areas can include rural communities but also urban neighborhoods in which a long bus ride is the only way to reach a vaccination center.
Payment rates for Medicaid are set by states individually. Slavitt said if states are interested in raising their Medicaid rates to match Medicare’s new payment, the federal government will see to it that states are held harmless financially.
PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron said that France is suspending the use of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine use out of precaution.
Macron told a news conference Monday that French authorities have decided to suspend shots at least until Tuesday afternoon, when the European Medicines Agency (EMA) will issue its recommendation over the vaccine. He didn’t elaborate on the reasons for the decision.
He said France hopes to be able to vaccine again with AstraZeneca shots “soon,” depending on the EMA’s assessment.
Other countries, including Germany on Monday, said it would temporarily halt the use of the vaccine as a precaution amid reports that some people developed blood clots after receiving the shot.
AstraZeneca, the European Medicines Agency and the World Health Organization have also said that the data does not suggest the vaccine caused the clots and that people should continue to be immunized.
TORONTO — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says health experts in the country are sure the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe and says the doses Canada receive are not from the same batch that are causing concerns in Europe.
Canada’s health regulator approved AstraZeneca last month and the government recently received 500,000 doses from the Serum Institute of India.
Trudeau says Health Canada ensures the vaccines are safe before they enter the country. He says the best vaccine is the first one you can get.
People between 60 and 64 in Ontario and elsewhere have started to receive AstraZeneca doses.
Germany and France have joined some other European countries in suspending the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine use out of precaution after reports of blood clots in some recipients.
BERLIN — Germany on Monday became the biggest country in Europe to suspend use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine over reports of dangerous blood clots in some recipients, though the company and European regulators said there is no evidence the shot is to blame.
The country’s health minister said the decision was taken on the advice of Germany’s national vaccine regulator, the Paul Ehrlich Institute, which called for further investigation into seven reported cases of clots in the brains of people who had been vaccinated.
“Today’s decision is a purely precautionary measure,” Jens Spahn said.
Several countries, starting with Denmark last week, have temporarily halted use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in recent days to investigate cases of blood clots that occurred after vaccination. They include Ireland, Thailand, the Netherlands, Norway, Iceland, Congo and Bulgaria.
AstraZeneca has said that there is no cause for concern with its vaccine and that there were fewer reported thrombosis cases in those who received the shot than in the general population.
The European Medicines Agency and the World Health Organization have also said that the data does not suggest the vaccine caused the clots and that people should continue to be immunized.
VACCINES: More than 69.7 million people, or 21.0% of the U.S. population, have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some 37.4 million people, or 11.3% of the population, have completed their vaccination.
CASES: The seven-day rolling average for daily new cases in the U.S. decreased over the past two weeks from 67,186 on Feb. 28 to 53,670.4 on March 14, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
DEATHS: The seven-day rolling average for daily new deaths in the U.S. decreased over the past two weeks from 1,946.4 on February 28 to 1,354.3 on March 14, according to Johns Hopkins University.
STATE VACCINATION RATES: The percentage of population that received at least one dose of vaccine, according to the CDC: New Mexico (29%); Alaska (27.7%); South Dakota (27.4%). States with the lowest rates: Alabama (17.3%); District of Columbia (17.1%); Georgia (15.7%).
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is pleading with Americans to follow public health guidance on mask-wearing and refraining from nonessential travel as the coronavirus continues to infect more than 50,000 Americans each day.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Rachelle Walensky says she is alarmed by escalating rates of travel, including around college spring break. Walensky pointed to the Transportation Security Administration reporting the heaviest travel date on Friday since the pandemic began, as well as images of maskless partygoers in beach towns as risks for another spike in virus cases.
Walensky notes cases of the virus have been on a slight decline over the last several weeks, but remain at elevated levels.
NEW YORK — About nine out of 10 people who got a first shot of a coronavirus vaccine got the second in the two-dose series, according to the first federal study to look at how many are people are completing the series.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday released results of a study of 12.5 million people who received the first vaccine dose and for whom sufficient time elapsed to get the second. The study focused on the period from December 14 to February 14.
The researchers found 88% completed the series, and another 9% did not but still had time to complete the series within the six weeks that CDC officials recommend as the maximum span between doses. About 3% did not complete the series within six weeks, the study found.
“This is good news. We think these findings are really encouraging. The fact that most people are completing the two-dose series to be fully vaccinated shows the system’s working,” said Robin Toblin of the CDC, one of the study’s authors.
BUDAPEST, Hungary — Around 1,000 demonstrators have broken a ban on public gatherings in Hungary’s capital to demand an end to the country’s lockdown restrictions.
The demonstration was organized by a far-right party called Our Homeland Movement. The party’s leaders argued that lockdown measures are leading to the destruction of Hungary’s economy as they demanded an end to the restrictions.
The illegal demonstration came as a powerful surge of the coronavirus pandemic sweeps Hungary.
Last week, the average number of new cases and those being treated in hospitals shattered previous records set in December. Hungary now has the seventh worst death rate per 1 million inhabitants in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University.