March 15 coronavirus news

By Nectar Gan, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 0741 GMT (1541 HKT) March 16, 2021
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12:20 p.m. ET, March 15, 2021

Norway announces the death of a person vaccinated with AstraZeneca

From CNN’s James Frater

A person who received the AstraZeneca vaccine in Norway has died following blood clots, bleeding and a low platelet count, the Norwegian Medicines Agency said Monday.

“On Saturday 13 March, Norwegian National Institute of Public Health and the Norwegian Medicines Agency confirmed that three people vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine had been admitted to (the) Rikshospitalet (hospital) with severe cases of blood clots, bleeding and low platelet count,” the agency said. “Rikshospitalet has now confirmed that one of the three has unfortunately now died.”

The cases “present a rare disease picture,” the agency said: “They have a very unusual combination of low platelet counts, blood clots in small and large vessels and bleeding.”

The agency said Norway had not seen similar combinations of symptoms with other vaccines. 

Norway is among several European countries that have suspended the use of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine while the European Union's medicines regulator investigates whether the shot could be linked to a number of reports of blood clots.

12:13 p.m. ET, March 15, 2021

These are the European countries suspending use of the AstraZeneca vaccine

From CNN's Melissa Mahtani

A growing list of European countries have suspended use of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine as a precuationary measure pending review from Europe's health regulator.

France became the latest country to do so, following Italy and Germany earlier today, while they await a ruling by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) Tuesday afternoon.

Previous guidance from the EMA has said the benefits of the shot outweigh any potential risks.

Here's a look at the European countries that have suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine so far:

  • Denmark: On Thursday, Denmark suspended AstraZeneca vaccinations for 14 days as a “precautionary measure” as it investigates “signs of a possible serious side effect in the form of fatal blood clots” after one Danish person died following vaccination, according to Danish health officials.
  • Norway: On Thursday, Norway chose to “pause” vaccinations following reports of the death in Denmark. The Norwegian Institute of Public Health said similar cases had been reported in Norway, but “mainly in the elderly where there is often another underlying disease as well.” 
  • Iceland: On Thursday, Iceland suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. There have been no reports of patients developing blood clots in the country. 
  • Bulgaria: On Friday, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov ordered a halt to all AstraZeneca vaccinations until the EMA “rejects all doubts” about the vaccine's safety.
  • Ireland: On Sunday, Ireland decided to temporarily suspend the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine to "maintain confidence" in its vaccine program, according to the Chair of its National Immunization Advisory Committee.
  • Netherlands: On Sunday, the Dutch government said it would pause AstraZeneca vaccinations for two weeks “as a precautionary measure and pending further investigation.”
  • Germany: On Monday, German Health Minister Jens Spahn said the country was “precautiously” halting vaccinations with the AstraZeneca vaccine following similar moves by other European countries.
  • Italy: On Monday, Italy’s medicines agency banned the use of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine "as a precaution and temporarily," pending a meeting of the European Medicines Agency.
  • France: On Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron said they were suspending use of the vaccine until a definitive ruling from Europe's health regulator on Tuesday afternoon. “We have one principle: be guided by science and competent health authorities, and do so within a coordinated European approach,” Macron said. 

Meanwhile, the UK continues to use the AstraZeneca vaccine and maintains that it is safe. Earlier Monday, the deputy head of the United Kingdom’s Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunizations said there is no indication of a link between blood clots and the AstraZeneca vaccine and is encouraging people to continue to get the shot.

“The UK has administered 11 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and there has been no demonstrable difference in the number of blood clots since the vaccine was introduced,” Anthony Harnden said in a tweet posted by Public Health England. “The vaccine has been rigorously tested for safety and approved by the European Medicines Agency, MHRA and WHO, so people should continue to take it.”
11:49 a.m. ET, March 15, 2021

Italy joins growing list of countries suspending AstraZeneca vaccine

From CNN’s Valentina DiDonato in Rome

A healthcare worker of the Italian Army prepares doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine on March 5 in Rome.
A healthcare worker of the Italian Army prepares doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine on March 5 in Rome. Antonio Masiello/Getty Images

Italy’s medicines agency is banning the use of the AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine "as a precaution and temporarily," pending a meeting of the European Medicines Agency, the Italian agency AIFA announced Monday.

“AIFA has decided to extend the ban on the use of the AstraZeneca Covid19 vaccine throughout the country as a precaution and temporarily, pending the rulings of the EMA. This decision was taken in line with similar measures adopted by other European countries,” the agency said in a statement.

France and Germany announced similar suspensions on Monday, while the UK said it would continue using the vaccine.

11:49 a.m. ET, March 15, 2021

France suspends use of AstraZeneca vaccine pending review from Europe's health regulator

From CNN’s Barbara Wojazer

Doctor Marie Msika Razon prepares doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine before vaccinating patients aged over 50 and suffering from a comorbidity, at her medical office in Paris, on February 25.
Doctor Marie Msika Razon prepares doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine before vaccinating patients aged over 50 and suffering from a comorbidity, at her medical office in Paris, on February 25. Christophe Archambault/AFP/Getty Images

France has suspended use of the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford pending review by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) on Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron said. 

“We have decided to suspend the use of AstraZeneca as a precautionary measure and are hoping to resume it quickly if the EMA’s advice allows it,” Macron said during a news conference Monday. 

“The EMA will give its assessment tomorrow afternoon on the use of this vaccine,” he added.

The decision follows a number of other European countries who have suspended use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine pending further assessment, despite assertions from the United Kingdom’s Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunizations  (JCVI) that the vaccine has been “rigorously tested for safety.”

“We have one principle: be guided by science and competent health authorities, and do so within a coordinated European approach,” Macron concluded. 

11:38 a.m. ET, March 15, 2021

No evidence of blood clots linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine, says Public Health England

From CNN’s Sarah Dean and James Frater

There is no indication of a link between blood clots and the AstraZeneca vaccine, the deputy head of the United Kingdom’s Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunizations said Monday, as more European countries suspended its use.

“The UK has administered 11 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and there has been no demonstrable difference in the number of blood clots since the vaccine was introduced,” Anthony Harnden said in a tweet posted by Public Health England. “The vaccine has been rigorously tested for safety and approved by the European Medicines Agency, MHRA and WHO, so people should continue to take it.”

The UK has administered nearly twice as many doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine as the entire European Union plus European Economic Area, which have distributed 6.9 million doses as of Sunday, according to the ECDC.

11:52 a.m. ET, March 15, 2021

Go There: CNN answers your questions about traveling in the pandemic as more Americans head to airports

A traveler walks through LaGuardia Airport in New York, on March 6.
A traveler walks through LaGuardia Airport in New York, on March 6. Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

More people have traveled by air in the last four days than any four-day period of the pandemic. The Transportation Security Administration says it screened 1,357,111 people at airports on Friday — a pandemic record and a number not seen since March 15, 2020.

CNN correspondent Pete Muntean answered viewers' questions from Dulles International Airport in Virginia where passengers can now get coronavirus tests before they fly.

Watch:

11:35 a.m. ET, March 15, 2021

UK variant of Covid-19 will be dominant in US by end of March or early April, CDC director says

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

The B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant, first identified in the United Kingdom, is still projected to become the dominant variant in the United States by the end of this month or early April, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a White House briefing on Monday.

"Our current models still project that by end of March, early April, B.1.1.7 will be the dominant variant," Walensky said.

At least 4,858 cases of coronavirus variants first spotted in the UK, South Africa and Brazil have been reported in the United States, according to data updated Sunday by the CDC.

Most of these cases, 4,690, are the more contagious variant known as B.1.1.7. This variant has been found in 48 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, DC. Walensky said on Monday that "in some states, Florida and California, it's up to 25%, and in other states it's lower."

CDC says this does not represent the total number of such cases circulating in the US, but rather just those that have been found by analyzing positive samples. The agency cautions that its numbers may not immediately match those of state and local health departments.

11:32 a.m. ET, March 15, 2021

CDC considering guidelines that could change physical distancing at schools from 6 feet to 3 feet

From CNN’s Elizabeth Cohen

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reviewing new data to see if physical distancing rules in schools should be changed to advise people to stay at least 3 feet apart instead of at least 6 feet apart, according to a federal official.

The official pointed to a study published last week that showed “no significant difference” in rates of Covid-19 at Massachusetts public schools that had implemented social distancing rules of more than 3 feet apart compared to those with rules to stay more than 6 feet apart.

“CDC has reviewed the data from this study and is completing additional studies looking at Covid transmission in schools, and when those studies are complete and CDC has done additional analysis, if necessary the agency will update its guidance to reflect the most up to date science regarding Covid and schools,” the official said.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, was asked about the study by CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” Sunday.

“The CDC is very well aware that data are accumulating making it look more like 3 feet are okay, under certain circumstances. They're analyzing that and I can assure you within a reasonable period of time – quite reasonable – they will be giving guidelines according to the data that they have. It won't be very long,” Fauci said.

More on the study: In the study, published Wednesday in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, researchers at Harvard Medical School and Boston University School of Medicine and their colleagues looked at data from 537,336 students in 251 Massachusetts school districts and did not find a difference in Covid-19 rates between schools that mandated at least 3 feet of physical distance compared to 6 feet – as long as everyone wore masks.

The study notes that while the CDC recommends 6 feet or more between students, the World Health Organization recommends 1 meter, which is 3.3 feet, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 3-6 feet.

“Lower physical distancing policies can be adopted in school settings with masking mandates without negatively impacting student or staff safety,” the authors concluded.

12:14 p.m. ET, March 15, 2021

CDC director urges Americans to continue Covid-19 mitigation practices

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky is urging the public to continue wearing masks, physical distancing and other Covid-19 safety measures

During a White House Covid-19 Response Team briefing Monday, Walensky warned that some European countries have seen a resurgence of Covid-19 cases after relaxing mitigation measures. These countries have had "strikingly similar" Covid-19 trends and surges during the pandemic as the United States, Walensky said.

With clocks springing ahead over the weekend, a recent surge in travel and the beginning of spring break, Walensky said she now worries that the United States could see a spike in Covid-19 cases as well.

"We have seen footage of people enjoying spring break festivities, maskless. This is all in the context of still 50,000 cases per day," Walensky said on Monday.

"I'm pleading with you for the sake of our nation's health," Walensky said. "These should be warning signs for all of us – cases climbed last spring, they climbed again in the summer, they will climb now if we stop taking precautions when we get more and more people vaccinated," she added.

CDC director: We still have much work to do