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April 15, 2021, 2:57 p.m. EDT

Global tally of COVID-19 cases tops 138 million as CDC committee opts to extend pause on J&J vaccine

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Ciara LinnaneJaimy Lee

The global tally of confirmed cases of the coronavirus-borne illness COVID-19 climbed above 138 million on Thursday and the death toll headed closer to 3 million, a day after an advisory committee voted to extend the ‘pause’ on Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine to further explore cases of blood clots in six people who received the shot.

The much-heralded rollout of J&J’s /zigman2/quotes/201724570/composite JNJ -0.42% single-dose vaccine hit a wall this week when federal health officials said  six cases of severe blood clots had been reported  among the nearly 7 million individuals who have received the J&J shot in the U.S. Members of the Biden administration  have sought to reassure the public  that vaccine safety is a priority and the nation’s immunization program remains well supplied.

The severity of the cases — one woman died, and all six were hospitalized in intensive care units — prompted the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration to recommend a “pause” in immunizations with this vaccine on Tuesday.

See also : An Israeli study says a COVID-19 variant can still infect vaccinated people — here’s what Fauci says the research means

The blood clots occurred as a result of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis in combination with thrombocytopenia, a condition that causes low levels of blood platelets.

“While causality has not been fully established between these very rare events and our vaccine, we recognize these events could represent an important potential risk with the Janssen vaccine,” Dr. Aran Maree, chief medical officer for J&J’s drugs business, said during the meeting.

The committee will reconvene at a date expected to be revealed on Friday.

In other vaccine news, a new study from researchers at Oxford University has found that people who contract COVID-19 are at far higher risk of developing blood clots than people who receive COVID-19 vaccines, further bolstering the case for vaccine use.

The study,  which was published in preprint form on Thursday, meaning it has not yet been peer-reviewed, found the risk of cerebral venous thrombosis, or CVT, after a COVID-19 infection is about 100 times greater than normal, and several times higher than after coronavirus vaccination or after the flu.

For more: Getting COVID creates far higher risk of rare blood clots than vaccines, Oxford study finds

the CDC has identified just 5,800 cases of people who were fully vaccinated against the coronavirus-borne illness COVID-19 but got infected anyway, CNN reported. That’s a tiny number compared with the almost 124 million who have received at least one dose. Some became seriously ill and 74 people died,  the CDC told CNN by email.  

“To date, no unexpected patterns have been identified in case demographics or vaccine characteristics,” the CDC said.

It is not unexpected to have these “breakthrough” cases, as the vaccines are not 100% effective in preventing infections, making it important that people continue to wear face masks and socially distance, even after being vaccinated.

The agency said it will be looking for clues about who is most prone to become infected despite having been vaccinated. “Vaccine breakthrough infections were reported among all people of all ages eligible for vaccination. However, a little over 40% of the infections were in people 60 or more years of age,” the CDC 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 6.00 a.m. ET Wednesday, almost 251 million doses had been delivered to states, 194.8 million doses had been administered, and 123.9 million people had received at least one shot, equal to 37.3% of the population.

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

A full 76.7 million people, or 23.1% of the population, are fully vaccinated, meaning they have received two shots of the two-dose vaccines developed by Pfizer Inc. /zigman2/quotes/202877789/composite PFE +0.05% and German partner BioNTech SE /zigman2/quotes/214419716/composite BNTX -3.45% and Moderna Inc. /zigman2/quotes/205619834/composite MRNA -6.19% , or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson /zigman2/quotes/201724570/composite JNJ -0.42% one-shot vaccine. The AstraZeneca vaccine has not been authorized for use in the U.S.

Among Americans 65 years-and -older, 34.5 million people are fully vaccinated, equal to 63% of that group. Almost 44 million people in that age bracket have received a first jab, covering 79.6% of that population.

The U.S. added at least 75,267 new cases on Wednesday, according to a New York Times tracker, and at least 932 people died. The U.S. has averaged 71,511 new cases a day over the past week, up 11% from the average two weeks ago.

Michigan remains a hot spot and currently accounts for about 10% of the nation’s daily cases. The state accounts for 16 of the 17 metro areas with the worst recent case rates in the U.S., the tracker shows.

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

In other news

•  Merck & Co. /zigman2/quotes/209956077/composite MRK +2.25% said the oral antiviral COVID-19 treatment it is developing with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics did not help hospitalized patients in a mid-stage clinical trial. The companies now plan to test molnupiravir in non-hospitalized COVID-19 patients in a Phase 3 trial, with plans to file for emergency authorization in the second half of the year. They are also planning to see if the experimental therapy works for post-exposure prophylaxis. In a separate news release, Merck said it is discontinuing MK-7110 as a treatment for patients hospitalized with COVID-19, saying that the Food and Drug Administration’s request for additional clinical information would push the launch into 2022.

• Curevac /zigman2/quotes/219999729/composite CVAC -7.27% said its COVID vaccine is in the final stage of clinical development and believed to be well on track to provide data for conditional approval based on a European Medicines Agency rolling submission, MarketWatch’s Rupert Steiner reported. The German company, which went public last August, struck an agreement with the U.K. last month to produce 50 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine aimed at targeting different variants of coronavirus. Earlier this month, CureVac reached an agreement with Novartis /zigman2/quotes/203243705/composite NVS +1.02% /zigman2/quotes/203286410/delayed CH:NOVN +1.12% that will see the Swiss drug company manufacture some of its German rival’s COVID-19 vaccines.

• Nearly every airline is allowing travelers to book the middle seats on flights, despite a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggesting that blocking the middle seat reduces passengers’ exposure to virus particles, MarketWatch’s Jacob Passy reported. A laboratory-based study predicted that keeping the middle seat vacant would lead to a 23% to 57% reduction in flight passengers being exposed to viable virus particles,  according to the CDC. In recent weeks, the number of people traveling by air has increased substantially, to the highest level since the onset of the pandemic in the U.S. Recently, the CDC  released new travel guidance  for people who are vaccinated, though the agency declined to recommend traveling at this time. The CDC continues to advise against travel for anyone who has not yet been fully inoculated to COVID-19.

• A Florida-based company called Oclo Nanotechnology Science, is peddling chlorine dioxide, a bleaching agent used in textile and paper manufacturing, as a treatment for the latest variants of COVID-19, the Guardian reported. The company is claiming its bleach products are effective in dealing with the B117 variant, that first emerged in the U.K. and is far more infectious than the original virus, the paper said. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned that such products are dangerous and even potentially life-threatening and has been clamping down on companies that promote them.

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