March 19 coronavirus news

By Nectar Gan and Rob Picheta, CNN

Updated 0644 GMT (1444 HKT) March 22, 2021
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1:21 p.m. ET, March 19, 2021

Biden administration surpasses goal of 100 million vaccine doses, Covid response team announces

From CNN's DJ Judd

The Biden administration officially hit 100 million Covid-19 vaccine doses administered Friday under their watch, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients announced.

“I want to start with the important announcement the President made yesterday —we reached our 100 million shots goal in just 58 days, weeks ahead of schedule,” Zients announced Friday during a virtual briefing from the Ryan Health Center in New York. “Achieving this goal is a direct result of deliberate aggressive actions guided by the President's whole of government national strategy to end the pandemic. Now, thanks to the American Rescue Plan, we will have the resources to fully implement the strategy and put the pandemic behind us.”

According to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 115,730,008 total vaccine doses have been administered to date — 75,495,716 Americans have received at least one dose, while 40,981,464 have been fully vaccinated.

2:12 p.m. ET, March 19, 2021

US will send around 4 million of its AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine doses to Canada and Mexico

From CNN's Betsy Klein

White House Covid coordinator Jeff Zients
White House Covid coordinator Jeff Zients White House

The US will loan a portion of its releasable AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines to Mexico and Canada, White House Covid coordinator Jeff Zients officially announced on Friday.

The US will be loaning around 4 million doses to the two countries as the US waits for official usage approval of the vaccine in the US, Zients said. CNN has previously reported Mexico will be receiving approximately 2.5 million doses, with 1.5 million going to Canada.

“Right now we have three effective vaccines that went through a rigorous review process authorized by the FDA. We have other vaccines going through that process now, including one from AstraZeneca. As we await the results of these trials here in the US, many countries have already approved AstraZeneca, but need more supply. That includes Canada and Mexico,” Zients said during Friday’s Covid briefing. 

He continued, “So balancing the need to let the approval process of the AstraZeneca vaccine take place here in the US, with the importance of helping to stop the spread in other countries, we will loan a portion of our releasable AstraZeneca vaccine to Mexico and Canada.”

The loan, Zients said, will allow US neighbors “to meet a critical vaccination need in their countries, providing more protection immediately across the North American continent.”

Zients clarified that those doses will not be taken from Americans since this vaccine is still not authorized for emergency use in the US. 

“No American will be without a vaccine because of this action,” he said of the move. 

Zients was pressed by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins to clarify how the loan process would work. He suggested it would follow “the structure of a loan” and the doses would be returned through AstraZeneca later in 2021.

“The structure of a loan, that's what makes most sense. And given what we're balancing here, which is helping our global partners while they have a critical need, and we await the results of the clinical trials here in the US and FDA action on AstraZeneca in the next several weeks,” Zients said.

He continued, “So this arrangement helps Canada and Mexico, in the moment, meet that critical need while ensuring that they return those doses through the company — through AstraZeneca — later in the year.”

12:31 p.m. ET, March 19, 2021

WHO committee says there is no evidence AstraZeneca vaccine causes blood clots

From CNN’s Virginia Langmaid

A medical worker prepares an AstraZeneca vaccine in Turin, Italy, on March 19.
A medical worker prepares an AstraZeneca vaccine in Turin, Italy, on March 19. Marco Bertorello/AFP via Getty Images

Current available data does not indicate that recent reported blood clots following the administration of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine are connected to the vaccine, the World Health Organization’s Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety said Friday.

The committee concluded that data “do not suggest any overall increase in clotting conditions such as deep venous thrombosis or pulmonary embolism following administration of Covid-19 vaccines.”

The committee noted that people naturally develop blood clots, and Covid-19 infection can also cause them. It said observed rates of these events have actually been lower than expected. Just because someone suffers a blood clot and was also recently vaccinated does not mean the vaccine caused the clot, the committee said.

“A causal relationship between these rare events has not been established at this time,” said the committee.

The committee says it will continue to review vaccination data and update guidance as necessary. It said health authorities should continue to keep careful watch.

12:25 p.m. ET, March 19, 2021

Biden says administration is on pace to administer 200 million Covid-19 vaccines by his 100th day in office

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez

Andrew Harnik/AP
Andrew Harnik/AP

President Biden said on Friday that his administration may be able to double its previous goal of getting 100 million Covid-19 vaccine doses into the arms of Americans by his 100th day in office, a day after he announced that his administration had reached the 100 million goal less than 60 days since being sworn in.

“We hope we can keep the pace, about 2 and a half million a day, which would mean that you may be able to get to – may be able to double it,” Biden said on the South Lawn of the White House. “But we’ve met the goal and we’re continuing to move forward.”

The US seven-day average crossed the 2.5 million mark yesterday, which would get the country to more than 205 million Covid-19 vaccine doses by day 100 of Biden's presidency.

12:24 p.m. ET, March 19, 2021

Finland pauses AstraZeneca vaccinations for a week

From CNN's Chloe Adams

Finland has suspended use of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for at least one week, a spokesperson for the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare told CNN Friday, despite assertions from the European Union's medicines regulator that the vaccine is safe. 

According to the spokesperson, administration of the vaccine — developed by AstraZeneca in conjunction with the University of Oxford — will be paused in order to allow for further investigations to be carried out into potential side effects of the vaccine.

The decision comes just a day after the European Medicines Agency [EMA] announced its conclusion on an emergency investigation into the risks associated with the vaccine, recommending Thursday that the vaccine is “safe and effective” in preventing coronavirus and “not associated with an increase in the overall risk of thromboembolic events, or blood clots.” 

Following a series of temporary suspensions across Europe, several countries have now announced plans to resume AstraZeneca vaccinations in light of the EMA’s conclusion, including France, Spain, Italy and Germany.

12:08 p.m. ET, March 19, 2021

CDC updates physical distancing guidelines for students in schools from 6 feet to 3  

From CNN's Lauren Mascarenhas

First grade students practice social distancing at the Green Mountain School in Woodland, Washington, on February 18.
First grade students practice social distancing at the Green Mountain School in Woodland, Washington, on February 18. Nathan Howard/Getty Images

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is updating its physical distancing guidelines for children in schools from six feet to three feet.

The CDC has previously said schools should try to maintain at least six feet of distance between children, but in light of new data, the agency is now recommending students generally maintain at least three feet of distance.

On Friday, the agency is releasing three new studies it says support distancing of three feet between students, so long as everyone is wearing a mask and other prevention measures are in place.

Another study recently published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases found there was no difference in Covid-19 rates between Massachusetts schools that mandated three feet of physical distance compared to six feet, as long as everyone wore masks.

At times when it’s not possible to accommodate masks, such as when eating, the CDC said six feet of distance should be maintained. 

The agency recommends keeping student and teachers in distinct groups, or cohorts, throughout the day and maintaining six feet of distance between those groups, when possible. In middle schools and high schools where community transmission is high, CDC advises students to stay six feet apart, if cohorting is not possible. 

The CDC also recommends six feet of distance in common areas, like lobbies and auditoriums, and during activities like singing, shouting, band or sport practices. They say it’s better to move those kinds of activities, where increased exhalation occurs, outdoors or to well-ventilated spaces. 

In classrooms, the CDC says layout changes, like removing nonessential furniture and facing desks in the same direction, can help maximize distance between students. On school buses, the agency recommends seating students one child per row, skipping rows and opening windows to increase ventilation. 

What about adults? When it comes to adults, including teachers and staff, the agency says it's better to stick to six feet of distance, both with other adults and with children.

“Several studies have found that transmission between staff is more common than transmission between students and staff, and among students, in schools,” the agency notes. CDC advises limiting interaction among teachers and staff during meetings and breaks. 

The CDC says screening testing can provide additional protection for sports and in schools that use less than six feet of distancing between students in classrooms. 

12:05 p.m. ET, March 19, 2021

Denmark says it will provide update on AstraZeneca vaccine pause next week

From CNN’s Antonia Mortensen and Duarte Mendonca

Citizens wait in line for a Covid-19 vaccination in Copenhagen, Denmark, on March 18.
Citizens wait in line for a Covid-19 vaccination in Copenhagen, Denmark, on March 18. Ole Jensen/Getty Images

The Danish National Board of Health announced Friday it will give an update on the pause to the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the country next week, while a wide range of Danish experts in blood clots, immune diseases, hormonal diseases and the like will further analyze it.

The Director of the National Board of Health, Søren Brostrøm, shared the same views of the Danish Medicines Agency and insisted that Denmark would continue its suspension based on a “precautionary principle”, despite “kind of” agreeing with the EMA assessment.

“It is important for me to say that we do not dismiss the AstraZeneca vaccine,” said Brostrøm.

According to Brostrøm, the doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine already delivered will be stored at hospital pharmacies, where they can then be used later if approved.

Brostrøm went on to add that it was the very unusual cases of possible side effects that caused the National Board of Health to react.

 “It was different blood clots that we saw. These were unusual conditions in younger and healthy people”, Brostrøm said, adding later they were a “very rare condition.” 

The Director of the National Board of Health is adamant that the latest decision by the Danish health authorities give the country more leeway to make further decisions to be on the “safe side”.

“It may be that we resume AstraZeneca without worries. We may resume it with some changes to audiences or precautions. It could be that we extend the break, and it could theoretically also be that we say we will not continue to use it at all”, Brostrøm said.

10:41 a.m. ET, March 19, 2021

US Chamber of Commerce praises Biden’s Covid-19 response and warns against tax hikes

From CNN’s Matt Egan

The US Chamber of Commerce applauded the Biden administration’s efforts to end the pandemic by accelerating the rollout of vaccines.

“President Biden and his team deserve high marks for really focusing on defeating the pandemic and getting vaccines to the American people so that we can fully reopen the economy,” Neil Bradley, the US Chamber of Commerce’s executive vice president and chief policy officer, told CNN Business on Friday. 

Bradley added that the Chamber of Commerce is pleased with the White House’s efforts to reform the immigration system and rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure.

“The president’s focus on infrastructure is right on target. Our economy is being held back by a deteriorating infrastructure system. That has been laid bare by the pandemic,” he said, pointing to the need for broadband. 

However, the Chamber of Commerce expressed worry about how to pay for Biden’s multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure program. The White House is laying the groundwork for the first major business tax hike since 1993.  

 “Coming out of the pandemic, raising taxes – especially to the degree the Biden administration is proposing – would hobble any economic recovery,” Bradley said. “If you add [tax hikes] to an infrastructure bill, all you’ve done is defeat the infrastructure bill.”

10:55 a.m. ET, March 19, 2021

Italy says AstraZeneca pause was a "setback" in its vaccination rollout

From CNN’s Valentina DiDonato, Hada Messia and Duarte Mendonca

People queue to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine in Rome, Italy, on March 19.
People queue to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine in Rome, Italy, on March 19. Gregorio Borgia/AP

Italy hopes to pick up pace in vaccinating its population after the country’s temporary pause in administering the AstraZeneca vaccine, the Italian Health Institute said on Friday. 

“We were vaccinating about 200,000 people in Italy per day, and so this has been a setback,” Giovanni Rezza, director general of Prevention at Italy's Ministry of Health, said.

“We know we will have to recuperate that number of vaccinations per day, but we may have to double that rhythm,” Rezza added, referencing the 500,000 vaccinations Italy lost due to the suspension of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Italy, like many other European countries, decided to take a cautious approach in regards to the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine — after it raised some concerns— which has been promptly reviewed.

“The benefits of the vaccine AstraZeneca far outweigh the risks, and the vaccine is safe and efficient for any age group. It is not associated with an increase of thromboembolic risks neither are there problems related to any batches,” the director of Italy’s medicines regulator, AIFA, Nicola Magrini, said on Friday – revoking the ban on its use.

Magrini went on to add that there is no need to take blood-thinners, which have been described on several reports as potential medication that could help prevent cases of blood-clouting.

Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi is expected to make further updates at 12.30 p.m. ET.