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 European Union countries 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 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 were triggered by the vaccine. But overall the vaccine is safe and should be delivered across Europe and elsewhere, they said.
Germany, France, Spain and Italy were among the European countries that paused use of that vaccine pending the EMA’s review, and their officials said Thursday they would resume using the shot.
The AstraZeneca vaccine is not available in the U.S., where a large-scale study has been finished but not yet made public. That data is expected within the next few weeks, followed by a request for FDA emergency use authorization.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is finalizing efforts to send a combined 4 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Mexico and Canada in its first export of shots, the White House said Thursday. Tens of millions of doses have been stockpiled in the U.S. awaiting authorization, sparking an international outcry that they were being withheld when they could be used elsewhere.
Mexico will receive 2.5 million doses of the vaccine, which has been approved by the World Health Organization. Canada will receive 1.5 million doses as a “loan,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.
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. Maryland aims to do the same by April 27, while Illinois is aiming for April 12. Nevada is also making its vaccines available to those 16 and older starting Monday, but only if they have an underlying health condition.
►AMC Theatres said it will have 98% of its U.S. theaters open by Friday, including more than 40 locations in California. Movie theaters have been among the hardest-hit businesses by the pandemic.
►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 said, adding that the new variants might be contributing to the increase. Michigan has also recently eased restrictions, including allowing 50% capacity at restaurants and in-person learning.
►Sniffer dogs in Thailand taught 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.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has over 29.6 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 539,200 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: 121.6 million cases and 2.68 million deaths. More than 151 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 115.7 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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Low-dose aspirin may help avoid COVID’s worst outcomes
A new study is adding to the growing body of evidence that low-dose aspirin helps lessen the harsher effects of contracting the coronavirus.
The study, conducted by George Washington University researchers and published in the journal Anesthesia and Analgesia, examined the records of 412 patients admitted to U.S. hospitals with COVID-19 from March to July of last year.
Of those, nearly 24% had taken aspirin seven days or less before of hospital admission or within 24 hours after admission. More than 40% of those patients had improved results in key areas compared to patients who did not take the cheap, widely available drug.
“Aspirin may have lung-protective effects and reduce the need for mechanical ventilation, ICU admission, and in-hospital mortality in hospitalized COVID-19 patients,” the report concluded.
The researchers warned that a randomized controlled trial would be needed to establish a causal relationship, but a study conducted around the same time last year in Israel also found a link between taking so-called baby aspirin and better COVID-19 outcomes.
Study: Pandemic likely began before late-December Chinese market cluster
The coronavirus pandemic probably started in China’s Hubei province a month or two before late December, when a cluster of cases tied to a seafood market was first detected, a new analysis says.
Evolutionary biologist Michael Worobey says the study, published Thursday in the journal Science, is “pointing pretty strongly to that market not being the original source of the virus but the first place where it encountered sort of one of these superspreading events.”
John Kerry fights criticism of maskless photo
White House climate envoy John Kerry was accused of hypocrisy after he was photographed reading with his mask hanging from his left ear on a flight from Boston to Washington, D.C. Kerry’s tray table appeared to up and there were no drinks or food in sight, which would have allowed him to remove his mask per the CDC’s mask order.
“Let’s be clear: If I dropped my mask to one ear on a flight, it was momentary,” Kerry fired back in a tweet. “I wear my mask because it saves lives and stops the spread. It’s what the science tells us to do.”
American Airlines spokesperson Stacy Day told USA TODAY that the cabin crew “did not observe Secretary Kerry without a mask, and they were not alerted by other customers to a noncompliance issue.” She added that they will continue reviewing the matter.
– Jayme Deerwester, USA TODAY
Immunity from COVID infection ‘robust’ for young, study shows
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. That’s 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 47% protection for people 65 years and older. Since that group is also more prone to serious illness, the researchers urged protective measures for the elderly in the form of effective vaccines and enhanced physical distancing and infection control.
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 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 a new lockdown amid a surge of infections
“We cannot hug each other, but we are more united today,” Draghi said. “Never again will fragile persons not get adequate assistance.”
Contributing: The Associated Press