March 23 coronavirus news

By Julia Hollingsworth, Mohammed Tawfeeq and Lauren Said-Moorhouse, CNN

Updated 1511 GMT (2311 HKT) March 24, 2021
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9:52 a.m. ET, March 23, 2021

As more people are vaccinated against Covid-19, Americans are going out more, poll finds 

From CNN’s Naomi Thomas

People gather in Washington Square Park on Sunday, March 21, in New York City. 
People gather in Washington Square Park on Sunday, March 21, in New York City.  Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

As more Americans get vaccinated against Covid-19, the number of people who are going out is increasing, according to new poll results from Axios-Ipsos published Tuesday.    

Compared to a month ago, the number of people who have gone out to eat or visit friends and family are up 12 and 9 percentage points respectively, according to the poll which was conducted March 19 to 22 and made up of 995 American adults age 18 and over.  

The number of Americans who have dined out at a restaurant — 45% — is the highest since the first wave of the Axios-Ipsos poll. At the same time, the number of people who believe that dining out poses a large risk to health and well-being has gone down to 23% compared to 33% a month ago. 

Those who have visited friends or relatives — 48% — is the highest since October. 

The highest number of Americans since last May have visited a non-grocery retail store —54%.  

The number of Americans who said they were staying home and avoiding others as much as possible is at 67% — down 7 points from one month ago and at the lowest point in 11 months. Forty-four percent are saying they’re maintaining 6 feet of distance whenever they do leave the house, down from 54% a month ago. 

Also going down is the number of Americans who believe that returning to their normal pre-coronavirus life poses a large or moderate risk — 59%. This is down seven points from a month ago and 11 points from the end of 2020. 

In some cases, the unvaccinated are driving the shift in behavior. For example, 52% of unvaccinated respondents say they’ve visited with friends or relatives in the last week, compared with 41% of people who have gotten the vaccine. 

Safety measures aren’t being completely abandoned, more than 7 in 10 still wear a mask whenever they leave the house and 80% said that they will continue to do so even after being vaccinated. Sixty-three percent will also continue to social distance after vaccination.

This is happening as more Americans are being vaccinated. Thirty-six percent of respondents now say they’ve had the vaccine, up 11 percentage points from two weeks ago. Nine out of 10 respondents said that they knew someone who had been vaccinated.  

The number of Americans saying that they are “not at all likely” to get a first generation Covid-19 vaccine — around 1 in 5 — remains steady. When asked why, most of the responses were centered around wanting more research or information, a lack of trust in the vaccine and the government and/or feeling that they were healthy, and it isn’t needed.

 

10:47 a.m. ET, March 23, 2021

AstraZeneca stands by its US trial results following expert group's concern

From CNN's Jo Shelley and CNN Health’s Michael Nedelman

Piroschka van de Wouw/ANP/AFP/Getty Images
Piroschka van de Wouw/ANP/AFP/Getty Images

Pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca stood by the results of its US-based clinical trial on Tuesday, a day after the Data and Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) expressed concern that the data from the trial may have been "outdated" and "incomplete."

"The numbers published yesterday were based on a pre-specified interim analysis with a data cut-off of 17 February," the company said in a statement.

"We have reviewed the preliminary assessment of the primary analysis and the results were consistent with the interim analysis. We are now completing the validation of the statistical analysis," it added.

"We will immediately engage with the independent data safety monitoring board (DSMB) to share our primary analysis with the most up to date efficacy data. We intend to issue results of the primary analysis within 48 hours," the statement concluded.

The DSMB is an independent expert group that sees trial data before the pharmaceutical companies, the doctors running the trials, or even the US Food and Drug Administration. They have the power to advise a company of positive interim findings or to halt a trial over safety concerns. That's what happened to the AstraZeneca trial in September after a study participant developed neurological symptoms, for example.

More context: The DSMB had expressed concern over AstraZeneca's announcements on its latest findings, according to a statement posted early Tuesday by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

"Late Monday, the Data and Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) notified NIAID, BARDA, and AstraZeneca that it was concerned by information released by AstraZeneca on initial data from its COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial," the statement said. 

"The DSMB expressed concern that AstraZeneca may have included outdated information from that trial, which may have provided an incomplete view of the efficacy data.
"We urge the company to work with the DSMB to review the efficacy data and ensure the most accurate, up-to-date efficacy data be made public as quickly as possible."

Early Monday, AstraZeneca issued a press release saying its Covid-19 vaccine showed 79% efficacy against symptomatic disease and 100% efficacy against severe disease and hospitalization, citing long-awaited US trial data. The latter figure was based on five events in the placebo arm, NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci said during a coronavirus briefing Monday.

Last year, the National Institutes of Health appointed a common DSMB to monitor Covid-19 vaccine clinical trials that were being funded by the federal government — including AstraZeneca, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. This DSMB has 10 to 15 members with specialties, including vaccine development, statistics and ethics.

5:06 p.m. ET, March 23, 2021

Fauci says “unforced error” on AstraZeneca data could create doubt about Covid-19 vaccine

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

Dr. Anthony Fauci testifies during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on March 18, in Washington, DC.
Dr. Anthony Fauci testifies during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on March 18, in Washington, DC. Susan Walsh/Pool/Getty Images

Dr. Anthony Fauci said an AstraZeneca news release may have contained misleading information about its Covid-19 vaccine efficacy — “an unforced error” that may create doubt about what is likely a good vaccine.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases posted a statement early Tuesday saying that the Data and Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) for the trial expressed concern over AstraZeneca’s announcements on its latest findings for its Covid-19 vaccine. 

Early Monday, AstraZeneca had issued a news release saying its Covid-19 vaccine showed 79% efficacy against symptomatic disease and 100% efficacy against severe disease and hospitalization, citing long-awaited US trial data. 

When the DSMB saw the press release, “they got concerned and wrote a rather harsh note to them – and with a copy to me – saying that in fact they felt that the data that was in the press release were somewhat outdated and might in fact be misleading a bit, and wanted them to straighten it out,” Fauci told ABC’s Robin Roberts on Tuesday. “On the basis of that, we put out the release that you just showed that essentially told the company, they better get back with the DSMB and make sure the correct data get put into a press release.” 

The fact is, he said, the AstraZeneca vaccine “is very likely a very good vaccine,” and this situation does nothing but cast doubt about the vaccines and maybe contribute to vaccine hesitancy.

Fauci said this was not necessary and that the data are “really quite good, but when they put it into the press release, it wasn’t completely accurate.” 

The fact that the DSMB picked up on this discrepancy was an example of a safeguard around vaccines, Fauci said.

AstraZeneca said in a statement Tuesday it will “immediately engage with the independent data safety monitoring board (DSMB) to share our primary analysis with the most up to date efficacy data. We intend to issue results of the primary analysis within 48 hours.”

Watch Dr. Fauci respond to AstraZeneca's news release:

8:38 a.m. ET, March 23, 2021

It's been a year since the UK's first Covid-19 lockdown. Here's how the country is remembering the victims.

Tuesday marks one year since UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the country's first lockdown.

Johnson took to Twitter to reflect on the anniversary, expressing his condolences to the pandemic's victims and conveying how the year has "taken a huge toll on us all."

He added that everyone in the country had played a part in battling the virus as the nation looks to the easing of restriction in the coming months.

Many across the UK observed a minute of silence at midday (8 a.m. ET) as part of a day of reflection. People are also being encourage to light their doorsteps at 8 p.m. (4 p.m. ET) to mark the anniversary.

Prince Charles said the country has been "inspired," "humbled" and "moved beyond words by the sacrifices" of the last 12 months.

“Ladies and gentleman, over the past year our country has been through a trial which has tested our resolve and our resilience in countless ways," the heir to the throne said in a video message posted on his official Clarence House twitter feed on Tuesday. "We have all been inspired by the resourcefulness we have witnessed, humbled by the dedication shown by so many, and moved beyond words by the sacrifices we have seen."

"We are emerging from this time with a renewed confidence in one another and with a strengthened faith in our society richly diverse in its many communities and cultures but united in its commitment to the common good and the welfare of others, particularly those most vulnerable. As we do as, it is right that we pause to remember those whose lives have been so tragically cut short," he added.
8:32 a.m. ET, March 23, 2021

Biden administration not confident Johnson & Johnson will meet 20 million vaccine goal by end of month

From Kaitlan Collins and Jen Christensen

A nurse administers a Johnson & Jonson Covid-19 vaccine on March 15, in Louisville, Kentucky.
A nurse administers a Johnson & Jonson Covid-19 vaccine on March 15, in Louisville, Kentucky. Jon Cherry/Getty Images

Officials in President Biden's administration are not confident that Johnson & Johnson will meet its self-imposed deadline to deliver 20 million coronavirus vaccines by the end of March, despite optimistic statements from the company.

Administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to comment on internal discussions, said they aren't willing to guarantee those millions will be ready within the next week.

They're hopeful, but not positive, because the delivery schedule has not accelerated in the way officials had hoped, one told CNN.

The US Food and Drug Administration granted Johnson & Johnson's single-dose coronavirus vaccine emergency use authorization nearly a month ago, but the company has struggled to ramp up production, been slow to submit paperwork and failed to meet production timelines laid out in the company's contract with the federal government. 

Despite efforts by the federal government to compress production timelines, Johnson & Johnson only had four million doses ready to ship when it was authorized by the FDA at the end of February. An additional 1.2 million doses have gone out since, meaning the company must have another 14.8 million ready in the next week to meet its goal.

With only days left to deliver, administration officials are hedging their bets on whether Johnson & Johnson will deliver based on past behavior.

"At this point in time, I don't want to commit to what's going to happen over the course of the coming week. We'll leave that to the company," Andy Slavitt, the White House's Covid-19 senior adviser, told reporters Monday.

Johnson & Johnson told CNN Monday that it is still on track to meet its March deadline. In February, the company promised at a congressional oversight subcommittee hearing to "deliver enough single-doses by the end of March to vaccinate more than 20 million Americans.”

After the federal government provided $450 million to support Research and Development, the government announced in August it would pay Johnson & Johnson another $1 billion for 100 million doses of its potential coronavirus vaccine.

Under that contract, Johnson & Johnson was scheduled to have 37 million doses ready by the end of March and 100 million by the end of June.��

8:20 a.m. ET, March 23, 2021

India to open Covid-19 vaccinations for all individuals over age 45

From CNN’s Swati Gupta

A medic prepares a dose of the Covishield vaccine at Hindu Rao Hospital, on March 22, in New Delhi, India.
A medic prepares a dose of the Covishield vaccine at Hindu Rao Hospital, on March 22, in New Delhi, India. Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times/Getty Images

India announced it would once again widen the eligibility for Covid-19 vaccine recipients.

People above the age of 45 will be allowed to register and receive the vaccination from April 1, according to senior cabinet minister Prakash Javadekar.

“As we have already achieved speedy and good vaccination campaign. Till today, we have provided vaccination to the tune of 48.5 million…Today after discussion and advice from the task force and scientists, it is decided that from April 1, the vaccine will open for everybody above 45 years of age,” Javadekar said during a news conference Tuesday.

Since January, the Indian government has provided Covid-19 vaccinations in phases to healthcare workers, frontline workers and individuals above 60 years of age. 

India has recorded a surge in Covid-19 cases in the past few weeks, forcing Prime Minister Narendra Modi to warn the public of an “emerging second wave” last week.

The health ministry on Tuesday recorded 40,715 new cases in the past 24-hours, bringing the country’s total caseload to 11.6 million cases since the start of the pandemic. 

8:02 a.m. ET, March 23, 2021

France expands vaccination program to people over 70

From Antonella Francini in Paris

French President Emmanuel Macron visits a pharmacy in Valenciennes, France, on March 23. 
French President Emmanuel Macron visits a pharmacy in Valenciennes, France, on March 23.  Yoan Valat/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

Speeding up France's vaccination campaign is the “national priority” in the fight against Covid-19, the country's president said Tuesday.

“There are no weekends, there are no holidays in the vaccination campaign,” Emmanuel Macron told journalists while visiting a pharmacy in Valenciennes in Northern France. Many vaccination centers have been closed on Sundays.

“Starting this Saturday, we will open appointments for people over 70,” Macron said, explaining that “we’ve seen that many centers had difficulties finding people over 75” for vaccinations.

Until now, only people over 75 years of age without underlying health conditions were allowed to receive the vaccine, along with younger patients with underlying conditions. 

Some background: More than 8,836,000 people have so far received at least one dose of the vaccine in France. About 2,400,000 people have been fully vaccinated — which is 3.7% of the total population, according to the national health agency.

France reintroduced partial lockdowns over the weekend in 16 regions, including the greater Paris and Nice areas amid a spike in Covid-19 across the country.

The new measures went into effect Friday at midnight and will last at least four weeks but are less restrictive than measures imposed in March and November of last year.

7:35 a.m. ET, March 23, 2021

New study probes Covid-19 long-haulers

From CNN Health’s Nadia Kounang

A majority of Covid-19 “long haulers” – Covid-19 patients with persistent symptoms – experience four or more neurologic symptoms lasting for at least six weeks or more, according to a study published on Tuesday in the journal Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology.

The small study from researchers at Northwestern Medicine evaluated just 100 non-hospitalized “long hauler” patients across 21 states who had symptoms consistent with Covid-19 such as sore throat, cough, or mild fever and were being treated at the Northwestern Neuro-Covid-19 clinic. 

The most commonly reported neurologic symptom among the 100 patients was brain fog (81%), followed by headache (68%), numbness or tingling (60%), loss or altered taste (59%), loss of smell (55%). Dizziness, pain, and blurred vision were also reported symptoms. Among study participants, 85% reported having four or more neurologic symptoms. 

The most frequent non-neurologic symptoms reported by the group included fatigue (85%), depression/anxiety (47%); shortness of breath (46%); chest pain (37%); and insomnia (33%).

Putting the data into context: There are a number of limitations of the study. First, only half of the 100 patients had any positive PCR or coronavirus antibody tests to confirm their infection. The other half of the patients did not have any laboratory-confirmed results of coronavirus infection but had symptoms consistent with Covid. The researchers noted that the initial generations of antibody tests were developed based on a hospitalized patients and were not sensitive enough to detect antibodies in non-hospitalized long haulers.

The researchers were able to evaluate 48 of the patients in person, but the other 52 patients were evaluated via telehealth visits, which did not allow for complete neurologic exams. 

They also noted that 16 of the patients had a pre-existing autoimmune disorder including multiple sclerosis, lupus, and Hashimoto’s disease, and 42 of the patients evaluated had reported having a history of depression or anxiety. 

Aside from the limited sample size, the researchers noted that a majority of the patients were white, and therefore the results may not be generalized to minority populations.

Read more on what's being called 'long covid':

7:53 a.m. ET, March 23, 2021

Regeneron says its treatment for Covid-19 reduces hospitalizations by 70%

From CNN Health’s Jen Christensen

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc headquarters in Tarrytown, New York.
Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc headquarters in Tarrytown, New York. Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket/Getty Images

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc said Tuesday its dual antibody treatment for Covid-19 reduced symptomatic illness by four days at any level of dose tried in its clinical trial. 

The treatment also seemed to reduce hospitalizations and death by about 70% compared to placebo, the company said.

At any dose given, the treatment significantly reduced the patient’s viral load.

Monoclonal antibodies are lab-made immune system proteins that are infused to boost a patient’s immune response to fight disease. The Covid-19 treatments seem to work best early in the course of an infection. The treatments are also being tested to see if they can prevent infection.

Regeneron's treatment has already been authorized for use at a higher dose by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) treatment. It was used to treat former President Donald Trump when he developed Covid-19 last year.

The pharmaceutical company said it would now seek FDA emergency use authorization for its antibody cocktail at a lower dose in light of the latest trial data. The move could essentially double manufacturing capacity.

“We will rapidly discuss the new data with regulatory authorities and request that the 1,200 mg dose be added to the US emergency use authorization, in order for the anticipated REGEN-COV supply to be available to treat even more patients,” said Dr. George Yancopoulos, Regeneron’s President and Chief Scientific Officer.

This late-stage trial involved nearly 5,000 non-hospitalized patients. Each had at least one underlying condition that would make them more vulnerable to severe Covid-19. The trial also had a diverse patient population. About 35% of the patients were Latino/Hispanic, and 5% were Black.

The results are not published in a journal, nor are they peer-reviewed, but the company said it plans to submit the results for peer review as soon as possible.

On Thursday, the FDA said that Regeneron’s antibody treatment seemed to work to protect people against all of the coronavirus variants most worrying to scientists.

Regeneron isn't the only company working on an antibody treatment. Drugmaker Eli Lilly has two authorized treatments, but they may not work as well against some of the variants.

The FDA had reviewed research done on the mutations that characterize several of the new variants. None of the experiments involved live, infected patients, but the FDA said the finding were serious enough to warrant a change to the emergency use authorizations that were granted to the products.