February 24 coronavirus news

By Helen Regan, Rob Picheta, Melissa Mahtani and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 0719 GMT (1519 HKT) February 25, 2021
18 Posts
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11:42 a.m. ET, February 24, 2021

J&J data hints that Covid-19 vaccine might prevent asymptomatic infections 

From CNN’s Jen Christensen

Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine vials are seen at the Klerksdorp Hospital on February 18 in Klerksdorp, South Africa.
Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine vials are seen at the Klerksdorp Hospital on February 18 in Klerksdorp, South Africa. Phil Magakoe/AFP/Getty Images

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine might prevent Covid-19 infection without symptoms starting at about four weeks, according to the US Food and Drug Administration’s briefing document on the vaccine released Wednesday.

Earlier studies from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have shown that most coronavirus cases are spread by people without symptoms. If a vaccine prevented asymptomatic infection, it might help reduce opportunities to transmit the disease – not just keep the vaccinated from getting sick.

The clinical trial looked for asymptomatic infections among the volunteers at several points after they had been vaccinated. The trial found that the vaccine had “modest” protection against asymptomatic infection from day one through day 29, but after that, it seemed to offer protection. 

When the volunteers were checked at 71 days after they had gotten the vaccine, it seemed about 74% effective against asymptomatic infections. 

The document says these findings should be “interpreted with caution” and additional research is needed, since the follow-up time is limited and the number of volunteers in this sample was comparatively small, so “definitive conclusions cannot be drawn at this time.”

12:25 p.m. ET, February 24, 2021

New CDC forecast suggests daily Covid-19 death rate slowing in the coming weeks

From CNN’s Ben Tinker

An ensemble forecast published Wednesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now projects there will be 526,000 to 548,000 coronavirus deaths in the United States by March 20.

Notably, this forecast extends a week beyond the previous forecast, but the projected number of deaths has dropped. Normally, each new CDC forecast projects a greater number of total deaths over a longer period of time.

The previous ensemble forecast, published February 17, projected up to 559,000 coronavirus deaths by March 13. 

At least 502,698 people have already died from Covid-19 in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

CNN's John King reviews the latest US Covid-19 numbers: 

10:20 a.m. ET, February 24, 2021

House GOP lawmakers rail on Covid relief bill in closed meeting

From CNN's Manu Raju

Another sign of stiff Republican opposition to Biden’s Covid-19 relief plan: at a closed-door meeting today, one House GOP member after another railed against the measure, according to Reps. Doug Lamborn and Tom Reed. No one spoke in favor of it.

Reed, a member of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, told me that he will vote against the plan. 

“There's so many issues with the bill that the popularity of it is gonna wear off,” Reed said.

Republican leaders see opposition to the bill as key to unifying their party after a divisive few months of intra-party squabbling. 

10:23 a.m. ET, February 24, 2021

Johnson & Johnson's Covid-19 vaccine has "favorable safety profile," FDA says

From CNN’s Jacqueline Howard

Pharmacy technician Sara Berech prepares a dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for a clinical trial in Aurora, Colorado, on December 15, 2020.
Pharmacy technician Sara Berech prepares a dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for a clinical trial in Aurora, Colorado, on December 15, 2020. Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

Johnson & Johnson's single-shot coronavirus vaccine appears to be safe, according to a 62-page briefing document released by the US Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday.

An analysis of safety data through January – which included more than 40,000 adults – "supported a favorable safety profile with no specific safety concerns identified that would preclude issuance of an EUA," the FDA noted in the document.

The FDA advisory committee noted in the briefing document that the most common side effects associated with the vaccine were pain at the injection site, headache, fatigue and muscle pain.

There appeared to be more incidents related to blood clotting and ringing in the ears among those who received the vaccine compared with those who didn't, but the FDA notes, "Data at this time are insufficient to determine a causal relationship between these events and the vaccine."

Overall, non-fatal serious adverse events were infrequent, according to the briefing document, and there were no reported cases of anaphylaxis following vaccination.

As of Feb. 5, there were seven Covid-19-related deaths in the placebo group and no Covid-19-related deaths in the vaccine group. Nineteen deaths total had been reported as of Jan. 22 – three among those who received the vaccine and 16 among those who received a placebo. Then from Jan. 22 to Feb. 5, according to the document, an additional six deaths occurred – two in the vaccine group and four in the placebo group. 

Data on the vaccine will be discussed in a meeting of the FDA's Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee on Friday. The committee will decide whether to recommend that the FDA issue an emergency use authorization, or EUA, for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

9:56 a.m. ET, February 24, 2021

Combined flu and Covid-19 vaccine could be a possibility in the future, UK virologist says

From CNN's Amy Cassidy

A combined flu and Covid-19 vaccination is a future possibility, a leading British virologist testified Wednesday. 

Wendy Barclay, head of the Department of Infectious Disease at Imperial College London, told UK lawmakers: “[The] most likely scenario is that a combination vaccine would be given going forwards in the future, which would combine influenza, with an updated SARS-CoV-2."

“But that really is crystal ball gazing to an extent. I think the next year will really tell us much more about the epidemiology of how this new coronavirus [variant] will settle down, and how quickly it might mutate and necessitate vaccine updates, and how long the immunity for the current vaccines that we’re going to rollout to a large proportion of the UK population will last, and therefore how necessary it will be to give boosters.”

 

9:22 a.m. ET, February 24, 2021

Here's what has to happen before the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be available

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard and Jen Christensen

This file photo provided by Johnson & Johnson shows vials of the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine in the United States, on December 2, 2020.
This file photo provided by Johnson & Johnson shows vials of the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine in the United States, on December 2, 2020. Johnson & Johnson via AP

Johnson & Johnson says that it has four million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine ready to ship "immediately" once it receives emergency use authorization, which could happen this week.

In an analysis just released, the US Food and Drug Administration said the company's single-dose vaccine has met the requirements for emergency use authorization.

However, despite the excitement and anticipation, there are still several steps Johnson & Johnson has to go through before the vaccine will be available.

Here's what happens next:

The FDA's Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee meets on Friday to review data on the vaccine and decide whether to recommend it for emergency use authorization in adults 18 and older.

Once the vaccine is authorized, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, or ACIP, makes recommendations to the CDC on how the vaccine should be used, such as among what age groups and on what type of schedule. An emergency meeting of ACIP is scheduled for Feb. 28 and March 1.

Typically, the CDC director accepts the committee's recommendation. Shortly after that, the vaccine can be distributed, and can start going into arms.

What everyone wants to know is where the federal government will send those doses, and who they'll be steered toward.

"We're hoping that ACIP will provide some guidance on the most effective use of the J&J one dose vaccine," Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers, wrote in an email to CNN on Tuesday.

"States are looking for guidance for use of the vaccine in populations which might really benefit from the one dose series complete, such as transient populations," Hannan said. "We aren't hearing much on this."

You can read more about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine here.

9:06 a.m. ET, February 24, 2021

FDA says Johnson & Johnson's single-dose Covid-19 vaccine meets requirements for emergency use authorization

From CNN's Jen Christensen

A pharmacy technician prepares a dose of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine for a clinical trial in Aurora, Colorado, on December 15, 2020.
A pharmacy technician prepares a dose of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine for a clinical trial in Aurora, Colorado, on December 15, 2020. Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

In an analysis released Wednesday, the US Food and Drug Administration said Johnson & Johnson's single-dose Covid-19 vaccine has met the requirements for emergency use authorization.

The efficacy of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine against moderate to severe/critical Covid-19 across all geographic areas was 66.9% at least 14 days after the single dose vaccination, and 66.1% at least 28 days after vaccination, a new analysis meant to brief the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee said. 

“There were no specific safety concerns identified in subgroup analyses by age, race, ethnicity, medical comorbidities, or prior SARS-CoV-2 infection,” the analysis said.

In a briefing document, the FDA said that it has reviewed the data for the vaccine and has determined that it is “consistent with the recommendations set forth in FDA’s guidance Emergency Use Authorization for Vaccines to Prevent COVID-19.”

An independent group of FDA advisers, the Vaccines and related Biological Products Advisory Committee, will consider the documents and make a recommendation about whether the Covid-19 vaccination should be authorized. 

The committee meets on Friday.

Watch more:

8:42 a.m. ET, February 24, 2021

National Institutes of Health announces an initiative to study "long Covid"

From CNN’s Naomi Thomas

The National Institutes of Health announced a new initiative to study long Covid, and “to identify the causes and ultimately the means of prevention and treatment of individuals who have been sickened by Covid-19, but don’t recover fully over a period of a few weeks,” a statement from NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins said.

“While still being defined, these effects can be collectively referred to as Post-Acute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC). We do not know yet the magnitude of the problem, but given the number of individuals of all ages who have been or will be infected with SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, the public health impact could be profound,” said the statement, released Tuesday. 

In December, NIH was provided with $1.5 billion over four years to support research into the long-term health consequences of coronavirus infection, and on Wednesday it announced the first research opportunities for the PASC Initiative.

About the initiative: The aim is to learn more about how the virus may lead to widespread and long-lasting symptoms and to develop ways to treat or prevent them. Initially, the initiative will look at areas including the spectrum of recovery across the population and what the underlying biological cause of prolonged symptoms. 

Initial research will support ongoing and new research studies, as well as the creation of core resources. 

“Through the PASC Initiative, we now ask the patient, medical, and scientific communities to come together to help us understand the long-term effects of SARS-CoV-2 infection, and how we may be able to prevent and treat these effects moving forward,” Collins said.

A study published Friday found that 30% of people with Covid-19 continue to have symptoms up to nine months after initial infection. The most commons symptoms were fatigue and loss of taste or smell, although some reported cough, trouble breathing, muscle aches and brain fog. Nearly a third reported worse quality of life compared to before getting sick, and some said they had trouble performing at least one usual activity, such as daily chores.

8:18 a.m. ET, February 24, 2021

France "likely" to extend its AstraZeneca vaccine age range guidance, allowing over-65s to get the vaccine

From CNN’s Antonella Francini in Paris

A nurse administers the Covid-19 vaccine to an elderly patient at the Dunkirk hospital in France, on February 17.
A nurse administers the Covid-19 vaccine to an elderly patient at the Dunkirk hospital in France, on February 17. Denis Charlet/AFP/Getty Images

France is “likely” to alter its guidance and allow people aged 65 and over to get the AstraZeneca vaccine, a spokesman for France’s health ministry told CNN Wednesday. 

France had previously said AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine should only be administered to people aged under 65, citing a lack of clinical data on its efficacy for older people.

“This opinion is likely to change in the near future based on the results of clinical trials on this age group,” the spokesman said.

“A Scottish study on the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine seems to indicate very positive results,” he added.

A row erupted across Europe earlier in the year after Germany's vaccine commission, quickly joined by a handful of other countries, said the AstraZeneca vaccine shouldn't be given to the over-65s, citing insufficient data.

The decisions came amid an ongoing dispute between the European Union and AstraZeneca over delays to the delivery of its coronavirus vaccine to the bloc. The European drug regulator approved the use of the vaccine for all ages, and the company has said its data supported its use for over 65s.

But French President Emmanuel Macron went as far as suggesting the vaccine was “quasi-ineffective” in people over 65, a comment that drew sharp criticism from many experts.

France’s reassessment follows Italy’s decision Tuesday to raise the age limit for AstraZeneca’s vaccine by ten years, now approving it for use on people up to 65. 

Early data on the Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca shots in Scotland showed that by the fourth week after the initial dose, both vaccines had a significant impact on hospital admissions. The Pfizer vaccine reduced the risk of hospital admission from Covid-19 by up to 85%, and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine reduced the risk of hospitalization by up to 94%.

The study is the first to look at the two vaccines’ effect on preventing severe illness resulting in hospitalization across an entire country, with previous efficacy results coming from clinical trials. Unlike France and Italy, Scotland does not have an age cap on who the AstraZeneca vaccines is recommended for. 

Eleftheria Vasileiou, data analyst at the University of Edinburgh's Usher Institute, noted during a Monday press briefing on the study that in Scotland the "Pfizer vaccine is given to all age groups but it's not been given terribly much to those people who are over 75”. She said in Scotland the AstraZeneca vaccine has been primarily going to people who are over 65.