Europe’s top medicines regulator on Thursday said the AstraZeneca-Oxford University COVID-19 vaccine is safe, despite reports of unusual blood clots in several people among the 18 million who have received at least one dose in Europe and the UK.
“The committee has come to a clear scientific conclusion,” said Emer Cooke executive director of the European Medicines Agency. “This is a safe and effective vaccine.”
Researchers with the EMA – the European equivalent of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration – said they can’t totally rule out the possibility that a few dozen cases of blood clots and disorders out of all those vaccinated were triggered by the shot. But overall the vaccine is safe and should be delivered across Europe and elsewhere.
A number of countries in Europe, including Germany, France and Italy, have paused on giving the AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine, pending the EMA’s review.
Cooke said these countries should now resume distributing the vaccines, but it’s not clear whether and how quickly they will.
The AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine is not available in the United States, where a large-scale study has been finished but not yet made public. That data is expected within the next few weeks and the company and university are expected to ask for FDA authorization after then.
Also in the news:
► Utah is among the latest states to announce an expansion in COVID-19 vaccine eligibility, with residents 16 and older allowed to get the vaccine starting March 24. Illinois will do the same starting April 12. Nevada is also making their vaccines available to those 16 and older starting Monday, but only if they have an underlying health condition.
► In anticipation of Arizona’s triple digit heat, the state health department said this week that Arizona’s first 24/7 large-scale COVID-19 vaccine site at State Farm Stadium in Glendale will cut back hours and convert to an overnight operation in early April “to protect staff, volunteers and patients from extreme heat.” To replace that capacity, the state is identifying indoor venues to use.
► Michigan’s COVID-19 case rate is up 50% from the February low, and now stands at 144 cases per million people, state health officials warned Wednesday. Officials say the new variants might be contributing to this increase. Michigan has also recently eased restrictions, including 50% capacity at restaurants and in-person learning.
►Sniffer dogs in Thailand trained to detect COVID-19 in human sweat proved nearly 95% accurate during training and could be used to identify coronavirus infections at busy transport hubs, the head of a pilot project told Reuters.
►France is set to announce new coronavirus restrictions on Thursday, including a potential lockdown in the Paris region, as the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units spikes.
►The European Commission proposed a Digital Green Certificate for travel inside the EU. The certificate would provide proof that a person has been vaccinated, received a negative test result or recovered from COVID-19. Details will be worked out “in the coming months.”
►More than 15% of U.S. adults are now fully vaccinated and 28% have had at least one dose, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has over 29.6 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 538,000.deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: 121 million cases and 2.68 million deaths. More than 147.5 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 113 million have been administered, according to the CDC.
📘 What we’re reading: Could COVID-19 vaccination bring relief for long-haul sufferers? Researchers are finding out. Read the full story.
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Study: Immunity from COVID infection usually not as good as vaccination, for those 65 and older
The natural immunity provided by a first coronavirus infection is “robust” for relatively young people but not so much for people over 65 – and generally not as good as vaccination, a new study found.
Researchers in Denmark found that 80% or more of the naturally infected population who are younger than 65 were protected against reinfection for at least six months. Good, but not as good as some vaccines that appear to provide more than 90% protection for people with no prior infection.
The researchers also found that previous infection provided less than 50% protection for people 65 years and older. Since that group is also more prone to a “serious clinical course of illness,” the researchers urged protective measures for the elderly in the form of effective vaccines and enhanced physical distancing and infection control.
“Furthermore, our data indicate that vaccination of previously infected individuals should be done because natural protection cannot be relied on,” the researchers said.
Italy marks anniversary of one of its darkest days in pandemic
Italy held a national remembrance for virus victims Thursday, marking one year since the Italian army needed a truck convoy to take coffins away from Bergamo, the city and province hit hardest by the first wave of the coronavirus. The northern city’s funeral facilities had been unable to cope with the number of the dead. Premier Mario Draghi laid a wreath at the cemetery there and inaugurated the ‘Wood of Remembrance’ at the city’s Martin Lutero alla Trucca park, where a first set of 100 trees was being planted. The anniversary comes as much of Italy is under new lockdown amid a new surge of infections
“We cannot hug each other, but we are more united today,” he said. “Never again will fragile persons not get adequate assistance.”
About half the 770 people who have died of COVID-19 in Travis County, Texas – home of the state capital of Austin – have been Latinos. And yet, an analysis by the USA TODAY network shows only 22% of people vaccinated in the county have been Latinos, even though they made up one-third of the 1.2 million residents in 2019, according to census data.
In Travis County, white-majority ZIP codes had average vaccination rates 1.7 times higher than ZIP codes where people of color were in the majority. The disparity was most pronounced in ZIP codes with a Latino majority, and Travis County’s gap for Latinos was bigger than in all but three other large Texas counties: Cameron, Harris –where Houston is located — and Dallas.
Overall, in the 20 largest counties in Texas, ZIP codes with white, non-Latino residents in the majority had vaccination rates 1.3 times higher than other ZIP codes on average through the end of February. No Latino-majority ZIP code had a higher vaccination rate than white-majority ZIP codes, according to the analysis.
— Sarah Asch and Jayme Fraser, Austin American-Statesman
Contributing: The Associated Press