March 16 coronavirus news

By Nectar Gan, CNN

Updated 0719 GMT (1519 HKT) March 17, 2021
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5:07 p.m. ET, March 16, 2021

AstraZeneca vaccine “did not show protection” against variant found in South Africa, study says

From CNN’s Michael Nedelman

A small study of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine in South Africa said the vaccine “did not show protection against mild-to-moderate Covid-19” due to the variant widely circulating there, according to results published Tuesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The results were announced in early February by the University of Oxford and posted to a preprint server days later. They played a key role in South Africa scaling back its rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine last month.

The study did not show efficacy of the vaccine against the variant — also known as B.1.351 — because the numbers of people infected in the vaccine and placebo groups were not significantly different from each other.

The study included roughly 2,000 HIV-negative people with a median age of 30, evenly split between vaccine and placebo groups. Of the 42 total participants in the study who developed Covid-19 more than two weeks after the second dose, all but three were found to have the B.1.351 variant. 

The study also tested the blood of some vaccinated participants against live and engineered viruses in the lab, demonstrating that their antibodies had a more difficult time neutralizing the variant.

In response to earlier announcements of these results in February, AstraZeneca said it still believed its vaccine may protect against severe disease and hospitalization caused by the variant. However, this study of predominantly young, healthy people was unable to evaluate whether the vaccine would be effective to those ends. 

“There were no cases of hospitalization for severe Covid-19 observed in the study,” the study authors wrote.

In a different preprint last month, the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine showed overall 66.7% efficacy against symptomatic disease starting two weeks after the second shot, based on an analysis of more than 17,000 trial volunteers in the UK, Brazil and South Africa.

5:02 p.m. ET, March 16, 2021

California governor Newsom defends Covid-19 response amid recall effort

From CNN's Josiah Ryan


California's Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom today defended his administration's pandemic-related decisions as efforts to recall him continued to gather steam. 

"It's been a difficult year," acknowledged Newsom, when CNN's Jake Tapper pointed out that many Californians who support his recall believe his lockdown measures were too harsh. 

"In hindsight, you know, we're all experts," continued the governor. "....I think we saved thousands and thousands of lives."

"There's a bright light at the end of the tunnel, but I'm deeply mindful and deeply respectful to all the anxieties that people have felt over the last year," he added.

Nearly 1.5 million verified signatures are required to put the question of recalling Newsom on the ballot, and Wednesday marks the deadline for turning in the necessary signatures.

As of today, all indications pointed to Newsom's opponents reaching that goal, turning this sixth attempt to oust him via recall in two years into a credible threat to his political fortunes. 

Newsom told Tapper he is talking the recall seriously, but characterized its proponents as members of right-wing militia groups, conspiracy theorists and White supremacist groups. 

"All you need is about a quarter of the people that voted for Donald Trump to get this recall petition to the voters this November, so I'm anticipating it goes on (the ballot). We're taking it very seriously," Newsom told Tapper.

4:36 p.m. ET, March 16, 2021

Get caught up. Here's what you need to know about the Covid-19 pandemic today.

It's just after 4:30 p.m. ET in the US. Vaccine doses continue to roll out across the country and President Biden is making his pitch to Americans about his Covid-19 relief bill.

If you're just getting caught up, here's what to know about the pandemic today:

  • Vaccine progress: Nearly 111 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine have been administered in the US, the CDC said. Nearly 22% of the population has received at least one dose of vaccine, and nearly 12% of the population are fully vaccinated, CDC data shows.
  • Variants: France is experiencing “what looks like a kind of third wave” of the coronavirus pandemic, Prime Minister Jean Castex said. He said the country has seen a rise in cases of new coronavirus variants, warning that the third wave has been “characterized by variants, a lot of them.” 
  • Cases: Asymptomatic or undiagnosed Covid-19 infections in US may have been twice the official count, according to a study published Tuesday in the medical journal JAMA. The scientists estimate that 15.9 million asymptomatic or undiagnosed infections had occurred in the US as of September 30.
  • Covid relief: President Biden and Vice President Harris are on the road this week talking to people across the country about the American Rescue Plan. The $1.9 trillion bill also sends billions to state and local governments, expands the child tax credit and delivers direct payments up to $1,400 to individuals.
  • Spring break: Miami Beach is seeing “too many people coming that want to just let loose in ways that are unacceptable,” Mayor Dan Gelber said. Gelber also criticized Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for restricting local and city leaders to enforce mask mandates. The TSA screened 6.4 million people at airports across the country between Thursday and Monday, the biggest five-day period of pandemic air travel.
  • AstraZeneca: At least 15 EU and associated countries have suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine over fears about blood clots. The European Union’s Commissioner for Health Tuesday urged countries to use all their vaccine doses. The agency has repeatedly said the benefits the vaccine outweigh the risks.

4:25 p.m. ET, March 16, 2021

Delaware will open vaccines to anyone with moderate-risk health conditions and people 50 and older

From CNN's Konstantin Toropin

Delaware will allow pharmacies to begin vaccinating anyone in the state who is 50 years or older and doctors and hospitals to vaccinate anyone with a high or moderate-risk medical condition, Public Health Director Dr. Karyl Rattay said in a statement.

Eligible medical conditions include cancer, serious heart conditions, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, according to a state website. Several lifestyle conditions like obesity and being a cigarette smoker are on the list as well.

"We are making a strong push through the end of March to vaccinate the remaining seniors 65+ and frontline essential workers who want a vaccine, and are excited to be able to begin reaching other vulnerable Delawareans,” Rattay said in the statement.

The state also announced that on March 23, it will open its Covid-19 vaccination waiting list to any ​Delawarean 50 or older. Being added to the waiting list means that the state contacts you when an appointment is available rather than having to find one yourself.

4:07 p.m. ET, March 16, 2021

Apple updates its maps to display Covid-19 vaccination sites – just ask Siri

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

Source: Shutterstock
Source: Shutterstock

Apple Maps, an application on iPhones, iMacs and other Apple products, has been updated to include Covid-19 vaccination locations, the tech giant announced on Tuesday. 

To help people find Covid-19 vaccines, Apple updated the app with Covid-19 vaccination location data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Vaccine Finder, a web-based system of vaccination providers.

Apple said in a statement that Apple Maps users can find Covid-19 vaccination locations in their area by searching in the app or asking Siri, "Where can I get a Covid-19 vaccination?"

Apple also noted that Apple Maps includes Covid-19 testing locations as well.

"Last year, Apple updated Apple Maps to display COVID-19 testing sites in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, and the United States," the statement said.

Apple's announcement comes just a day after Facebook rolled out a Covid-19 vaccine locator tool on its social media platform.

3:41 p.m. ET, March 16, 2021

Arkansas opens Covid-19 vaccine eligibility to all groups in next phase

From CNN's Gisela Crespo 

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced starting immediately, the state will allow groups in the next phase of the state's Covid-19 vaccine rollout plan to get vaccinated. 

Speaking during a news conference Tuesday, Hutchinson said about one million Arkansans are eligible to get the vaccine under the next phase, known as Phase 1C, which includes people ages 16 to 64 with some underlying health conditions and essential workers in a range of industries.

People residing in high-risk settings, from those who are incarcerated to those living in crowded housing and student housing, also qualify. 

Hutchinson said the state decided to "accelerate" opening criteria after President Biden's announcement that his administration will direct states to open vaccinations to all adults by May 1. 

"Not everybody in 1-B has been vaccinated, but it is important to move to 1-C so that we can open up more and keep to the demand coming for the vaccine to make sure there's not any gap, and to give everyone the best opportunity to get the vaccine who wants one and who needs it," Hutchinson said. 

The governor added there's been a "slowdown" in vaccine demand, particularly in rural parts of the state. 

 "There is a lower acceptance rate for the vaccine in the rural areas of our state which we have to overcome... We're increasing the opportunity for those all across the state to get vaccinated as well," Hutchinson said. 

All groups eligible under Phase 1C in Arkansas can be found here.

3:41 p.m. ET, March 16, 2021

France and Italy "stand ready" to resume AstraZeneca vaccinations pending positive agency review

From CNN's Nicola Ruotolo and Eva Tapiero

A woman pick up a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine from the box "Tuesday" from a fridge while a box "Monday" is seen at left, in a vaccination center in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, southwestern France, Tuesday, March 16.
A woman pick up a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine from the box "Tuesday" from a fridge while a box "Monday" is seen at left, in a vaccination center in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, southwestern France, Tuesday, March 16. AP Photo/Bob Edme

The governments of France and Italy say they “stand ready” to resume AstraZeneca vaccinations pending a positive review by the European Union's medicines regulator, adding in a joint statement on Tuesday that the decision to halt the vaccine rollout was taken as a “temporary precautionary measure.”

Administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine has been put on hold in more than a dozen European countries in the past week over concerns that a small number of patients had developed blood clots post inoculation.

“The preliminary elements shared by the EMA [European Medicines Agency] today are encouraging,” a joint statement issued by the Italian prime minister’s office said.   

“Emmanuel Macron and Mario Draghi stand ready to resume vaccination campaigns with the AstraZeneca vaccine very quickly if the additional EMA review is positive,” the statement added. 

The statement comes after France’s industry minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher confirmed that the decision to suspend the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine in France, Italy, Spain and Germany was coordinated.

“We spoke with Italy, we spoke with Spain, we spoke with Germany, and it is no coincidence that these four countries announced the same decision on the same day, which once again is a decision of suspension,” Pannier-Runacher told French radio station France info on Tuesday. 

The European Medicines Agency has affirmed that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks, but is conducting an emergency review of the data; conclusions of the review are expected to be announced on Thursday.

3:37 p.m. ET, March 16, 2021

White House says it would welcome GOP support on reducing vaccine hesitancy

From CNN's Jason Hoffman

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said while the administration would welcome support from Republican elected officials to help reduce vaccine hesitancy from portions of the American public, the administration is focused on communicating with Americans through other means. 

“I think that we certainly would welcome support from and engagement from any Republican elected officials and leaders who want to advocate for the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. But I think it's important to note that the biggest issues that we see from our Covid team with getting more vaccines in arms is supply, which we've done a lot of work to address,” Psaki said during a gaggle aboard Air Force One on Tuesday.

She added that while there will be enough vaccine available for all adults to get one before the end of May, the administration remains focused on administration of the vaccine and making sure it is available in all communities. 

Psaki explained that the administration is using resources beyond elected officials to communicate directly with American people including doctors, clergy and local civic leaders. She said those groups have been shown to be “the most trusted sources of information” according to the White House’s data. 

Psaki also spoke about the President’s travel across the country, saying Biden will “certainly be going to some redder states” after early trips to swing states that helped put Biden in the White House, including Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia. 

“I would say stay tuned. We'll be certainly going to some redder states, states he didn’t win or very blue states and states he didn't campaign, so I wouldn't over read into it in that way,” she said.

She said today’s trip to Pennsylvania is to showcase help going to small businesses and the trip to Georgia on Friday is a chance for Biden to show his follow through on a campaign promise of getting $1,400 checks to Americans.  

Asked by CNN later in the gaggle if Biden will be traveling to Ohio next week, Psaki said there is no travel finalized for next week but added that the President will continue to travel as he promotes the passage of the American Rescue Plan. 

“It is certainly one of the many states, many wonderful states in this country that he could travel to, that might be considered a red state,” Psaki said of a possible Ohio trip.

3:39 p.m. ET, March 16, 2021

More than a quarter of Vermont's population has been vaccinated

from CNN's Juliana Battaglia

People wait for their turn to receive a Covid-19 vaccine, right, as public health experts with the Vermont Health Department begin vaccinating people aged 75 and older on Wednesday, January 27, at the Hazen Union High School in Hardwick, Vermont.
People wait for their turn to receive a Covid-19 vaccine, right, as public health experts with the Vermont Health Department begin vaccinating people aged 75 and older on Wednesday, January 27, at the Hazen Union High School in Hardwick, Vermont. Wilson Ring/AP

Vermont has vaccinated more than 26% of its population, over 152,800 people, with at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, Secretary of the Agency of Human Services Mike Smith said on Tuesday.

"70,100 have received their first dose of vaccine and 82,700 have received their first and last doses of the vaccine," Smith said.

“We've made great progress in vaccination so far with more than 26% of Vermonters vaccinated," state Commissioner of Health Dr. Mark Levine said.

The majority of those vaccinated are the state's 75 and older population.

"More than 84 percent of our 75 and older people population has started or completed vaccination," according to Mike Pieciak, Commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation.

State case numbers also remain controlled.

"Today, Vermont passes the 17,000 total case threshold, which still represents the lowest aggregate number of cases in the country, and the second lowest per capita numbers in the country since the start of the pandemic,"Pieciak said.

Vermont is expecting to receive an additional 800 doses of vaccines next week, as Gov. Phil Scott projects the state will increase its eligibility to the state's remaining population by the end of April.