Menacing coronavirus variants are sweeping across the nation even as new cases of the original virus are dropping quickly.
The United States reported 1,932 variant cases through Tuesday night, up 49% from a week earlier. The variants appear to spread more easily, dodge some immunities and treatments, or both. They remain, however, a very small percentage of all cases.
The B.1.351 variant first detected in South Africa was reported over the last week in Idaho, New Mexico, Nevada, New York and Tennessee for the first time. On Sunday, South Carolina said it had two cases of that variant; on Tuesday, it reported 21 cases.
The variant is a concern because experts warn it might spread more readily than the original virus and might reduce the effectiveness of some COVID-19 vaccines.
On Tuesday, the U.S. reported 220 new cases for a total of 1,881 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant first seen in the United Kingdom. The variant appears to be markedly more infectious than the original virus. The Centers for Disease Control says U.K. variant is now found in 45 states and territories.
Also in the news:
►Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf says all residents and staff members at senior care facilities in the state that are enrolled in the Federal Pharmacy Partnership have received at least the first vaccine dose if they wanted it.
►China is moving ahead with two more COVID-19 vaccines in the regulatory process, one from state-owned company Sinopharm and another from a private company CanSino.
►Ghana became the first country in the world to receive vaccines acquired through the U.N.-backed COVAX initiative as the nation received a delivery Wednesday of 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Ghana is among 92 countries that have signed onto the COVAX program.
►The U.S. House of Representatives will vote on President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package Friday, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Tuesday.
►The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, is calling for better COVID-19 vaccine access for poor nations. “More than 210 countries are yet to administer a single dose,” he said.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 28.2 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 502,400 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 112 million cases and 2.48 million deaths. More than 82.1 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and about 65 million have been administered, according to the CDC.
📘 What we’re reading: In one year, COVID-19 has left more than 500,000 dead in the United States. If we were to bring them together, the resulting community would be filled with grandparents, great-uncles and aunts, making it the oldest large city in America. View the data.
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FDA: Johnson & Johnson vaccine raises no red flags
Detailed information on a Johnson & Johnson candidate vaccine for COVID-19 raises no safety concerns, according to a report released early Wednesday. A Food and Drug Administration advisory committee is holding an all-day meeting Friday to review the data and is likely to give the vaccine a thumbs up. That could lead to an FDA authorization for the vaccine within the next few days. The J&J vaccine differs from the two already authorized because only one shot is recommended instead of two.
The FDA advisory committee, called the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee or VRBPAC, is expected to sign off on the vaccine because it seems to have met all the criteria for authorization the FDA established last year.
– Karen Weintraub
Churches serving as vaccine sites in many communities of color
More faith-based groups are stepping up as vaccine sites, particularly in communities of color, which have been disproportionately hard hit by the novel coronavirus. During the pandemic, vaccinations have become the latest public service in a health and economic crisis that has seen places of worship offer canned food, clothing, housing and other assistance.
“There’s a comfort level with the church,’’ said the Rev. Karen Curry, an associate minister at the Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. “Familiarity is important. We’re providing what people want and need.”
– Deborah Barfield Berry
2,400 doses wasted in Tennessee
More than 2,400 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in Tennessee’s most populous county went to waste over the past month while local officials sat on tens of thousands of shots that they thought had already gone into arms, the state’s top health official said.
The finding comes after the state Health Department launched an investigation over the weekend into a report that recent severe winter storms caused 1,000 doses to be tossed in Shelby County, which includes Memphis. Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said the problems were far more widespread and date back to Feb. 3.
“The people of Shelby County deserve efficient and effective vaccinations,” Piercey said. “It is our largest population center. It is also one of our centers of color, as far as disadvantaged and minority communities, but the people deserve to have good access to vaccines.”
States will receive about 14.5 million vaccine doses this week, marking a nearly 70% increase in distribution over the last month, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday. Psaki also said governors were told that the number of doses sent directly to pharmacies will increase by about 100,000 this week. Before last week’s winter storm delayed vaccine doses to many states, the rollout of shots had been steadily increasing. At least in some states, like Texas, vaccinations had resumed by the weekend. But others hoped to get back on track this week.
The rollout could get even faster as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers emergency-use authorization for the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Richard Nettles, the company’s vice president of medical affairs, said Tuesday that J&J hopes to supply 100 million vaccine doses by the end of June.
Biden administration to send millions of masks throughout the country
President Joe Biden, who has asked all Americans to wear masks during the first 100 days of his term to limit spread of the coronavirus, said Tuesday his administration intends to send millions of face coverings to people throughout the nation soon.
Biden confirmed the plan during a virtual roundtable discussion with four Black essential workers, saying, “We’re probably going to be sending out an awful lot of masks around the country very shortly, millions of them.”
He did not offer details about the timing or the type of mask under consideration.
Contributing: Mike Stucka, USA TODAY; The Associated Press