The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines

By Julia Hollingsworth, Melissa Macaya, Melissa Mahtani, Veronica Rocha and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 7:59 p.m. ET, April 9, 2021
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9:50 a.m. ET, April 9, 2021

European regulator investigating possible links between J&J’s Covid-19 vaccine and blood clots

From CNN’s Jen Christensen

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) is reviewing possible links between Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine and blood clots. 

EMA said there were reports of four serious cases of people who had developed blood clots after they got the vaccine. It is unclear if the clots are connected to the vaccine or related to some other medical issue.

One case involved a person in a clinical trial, and the three others happened during the US roll out of the vaccine. In one of the cases, the person died, the release said.

The J&J Covid-19 vaccine was authorized for use in the European Union on March 11, but the vaccines have not yet been rolled out there. The EU rollout is supposed to start in the next few weeks. Only the US is currently seeing a supply of J&J vaccines.  

The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee is reviewing the blood clot cases and will announce what it has found once the investigation is complete.

9:34 a.m. ET, April 9, 2021

WHO: Risks from Covid-19 much higher than AstraZeneca vaccine related risks

From CNN’s Naomi Thomas

World Health Organization
World Health Organization

The World Health Organization continues to believe that the benefits of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine outweigh the risk of rare side effects, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a news briefing in Geneva on Friday. 

“Even as we work to expand access to vaccines, we’re continuing to keep a close eye on vaccine safety,” Tedros said. 

All vaccines and medicines carry a risk of side effects, he said, adding that:

“In this case, the risks of severe disease and death from Covid-19 are many times higher than the very small risks related to the vaccine.” 

Earlier this week European and British medicines regulators announced a “possible link” between the AstraZeneca vaccine and rare cases of blood clots, with the UK announcing it would offer people under 30 an alternative vaccine. Later on Wednesday, WHO released a statement saying that “a causal relationship between the vaccine and the occurrence of blood clots with low platelets is considered plausible but is not confirmed.”

Tedros reiterated this point Friday. 

“The Covid-19 subcommittee of the WHO Global Advisory Committee on vaccine safety has reviewed available information from Europe and other regions and has said that a causal relationship between the vaccine and the occurrence of blood clots with low platelets is plausible, but more investigation is required,” he said. 

“WHO, EMA and MHRA continue to recommend that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risk of this very rare side effect.” 
9:40 a.m. ET, April 9, 2021

Creating a pill to treat Covid-19 would be a "dream," US health official says

From CNN's Virginia Langmaid 

National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins in Bethesda, Maryland, on January 26.
National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins in Bethesda, Maryland, on January 26. Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins told STAT News that developing a pill to treat Covid-19 as soon as someone is diagnosed is his “dream.”

“It’s just a damn long pathway,” Collins said.

Collins said “this is an extremely high priority,�� for himself and his colleague Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical advisor to President Biden.

It’s also important for “the Biden administration, to work with these companies to try to make sure that we speed this up,” he said. “This pandemic is going to be with us — even with great vaccines — and people are going to get sick.”

Collins told STAT that a pill like this could have further applications beyond Covid-19.

“What we might end up doing here is curing the common cold,” Collins said. “Then I wouldn’t have to listen to those jokes anymore.”

9:20 a.m. ET, April 9, 2021

Government vaccine advisers say they don’t foresee AstraZeneca vaccine being used in the US. Here's why.

From CNN’s Elizabeth Cohen

A pharmacist holds a vial of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine in Nantes, France, on March 25.
A pharmacist holds a vial of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine in Nantes, France, on March 25. Loic Venance/AFP/Getty Images

Vaccine advisers to the federal government tell CNN they don’t foresee AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine being used in the United States, and even if it were offered, they personally wouldn’t take it, given that other options are available.

European drug regulators said Wednesday there was a possible link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and rare blood clots. Some countries – more than 70 have authorized the shot – have now limited its use.

One adviser told CNN that federal health officials have privately expressed concern that offering AstraZeneca could increase vaccine hesitancy in the US, which is already a problem among some groups.

“I think they’re crossing their fingers that AstraZeneca won’t apply for emergency use authorization,” the adviser said. “This vaccine has a checkered past. There’s baggage. Why go down that road if we don’t have to?”

Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson’s vaccines have excellent safety records, with tens of millions of shots without any reported serious side effects.

“Everyone would raise questions. ‘You’re not giving me that new blood clotting vaccine, are you?’ ” another adviser said, referring to AstraZeneca’s vaccine. “Why muddy the waters with a vaccine that comes with a somewhat checkered reputation?”

In an email, an AstraZeneca spokesperson declined to respond specifically to the advisers’ concerns, but pointed CNN to AstraZeneca’s Phase 3 results in its US trial, which showed that the vaccine was 76% effective at preventing symptomatic Covid-19 and 100% effective at preventing severe or critical disease and hospitalization.

According to a company statement, the blood clots are an “extremely rare potential side effect.”

Wednesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN that even if the US Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization to AstraZeneca’s vaccine, there’s no need for it right now in the United States.

“It’s not any indictment against the product. We just have a lot of vaccines,” he said.

7:03 a.m. ET, April 9, 2021

Japanese doctors perform world's first living donor lung transplant to a Covid-19 patient

From CNN's Julia Hollingsworth and Emiko Jozuka

A Japanese woman whose lungs were severely damaged by Covid-19 has received what doctors say is the world's first lung transplant from living donors to a recovered coronavirus patient.

Kyoto University Hospital said the woman underwent an 11-hour operation by a 30-strong medical team on Wednesday to transplant lung tissue from her husband and son.

Covid-19 is known to cause severe lung damage in some patients, and people around the world -- including the United States -- have received lung transplants as part of their recovery from the disease.

But the Kyoto hospital said this case was the first in which lung tissue had been transplanted from living donors to a Covid-19 patient.

Dr. Hiroshi Date, a thoracic surgeon at the hospital who led the operation, said it gave hope to patients suffering from severe lung damage from Covid-19.

"We demonstrated that we now have an option of lung transplants (from living donors)," he said at a Thursday news conference.

The patient, identified only as a woman from Japan's western region of Kansai, contracted Covid-19 late last year, and spent months on a life support machine that worked as an artificial lung, according to Kyoto University Hospital.

Covid-19 caused so much damage to her lungs they were no longer functional, and she required a lung transplant to live.

Read more:

6:39 a.m. ET, April 9, 2021

More than half of rural Americans have received a Covid-19 vaccine or plan to, but hesitancy remains high, analysis finds 

From CNN Health’s Lauren Mascarenhas

A nurse speaks to a vaccine recipient at the Martinsville speedway Covid-19 vaccination site in place for residents in the rural area around Ridgeway, Virginia, on March 12.
A nurse speaks to a vaccine recipient at the Martinsville speedway Covid-19 vaccination site in place for residents in the rural area around Ridgeway, Virginia, on March 12. Andrew Cabellero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

More than half of rural residents in the United States have received a Covid-19 vaccine or plan to, but one in five still say they will definitely not get vaccinated, according to analysis released by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) Friday.

KFF researchers surveyed 1,001 adults living in rural America and found that 54% said they have received a Covid-19 vaccine or plan to. 

One in five rural residents said they definitely won’t get vaccinated. About 73% of these respondents lean Republican and 41% identify as White Evangelical Christians.

“There’s nothing inherently unique about living in a rural area that makes people balk at getting vaccinated,” KFF President and CEO Drew Altman said in a statement. “It’s just that rural areas have a larger share of people in the most vaccine-resistant groups: Republicans and White Evangelical Christians.” 

The report suggests that access to vaccines is not the major problem for rural communities. About 11% of the rural residents surveyed who have yet to receive a vaccine said they have tried to get an appointment, compared to 21% of those in urban areas and 22% in suburban areas. About 68% of rural residents said there are enough vaccine sites in their area, compared to 52% of urban and 55% of suburban residents.

The KFF team did note a gap in access among Black rural residents. Black respondents were less likely than their White or Hispanic counterparts to report adequate supply of vaccine or vaccine sites in their communities.

While the KFF researchers say there was no message that was effective across the board at swaying those who say they will definitely not get vaccinated, those who plan to “wait and see” whether they want to get the shot appear to be more open to messaging and education. 

About 64% said that hearing the vaccines are 100% effective at preventing hospitalization and death would make them more likely to get vaccinated. Over half said that hearing that scientists have been working on this vaccine technology for 20 years would make them more likely to get vaccinated. 

The researchers expressed concern that the large number of rural residents who say they are set on not getting vaccinated could mean that eventually rural communities will lag behind the rest of the population in vaccination coverage.

6:39 a.m. ET, April 9, 2021

Backlash after mayors marked homes with Covid-19 warning signs in Venezuela

From CNN's Stefano Pozzebon

Two Venezuelan mayors are in hot water after marking the houses of potential Covid-19 patients with warning signs -- a measure that has been harshly criticized by civil rights NGOs and has prompted an investigation by Venezuela's attorney general.

In a video posted on his official Instagram account on Tuesday, Mayor Luis Adrian Duque of Guama, a small village in the central Venezuelan state of Yaracuy, announced the measure as part of the town lockdown policy.

"We are protecting our people, [this sign] indicates a positive case or a potential case, so that people are aware," Duque says in the video, pointing to a red prohibition sign placed on the window of a local house.

People caught removing the Covid-19 signs on their homes would be fined 10 million bolivars, a sum out of reach for many in Venezuela, where the minimum monthly salary is less than a US dollar. Those who were not able to pay the fine would be required to serve days of "voluntary" community services, Duque said.

A photo posted by mayor's office in the neighboring city of San Felipe also showed local officers standing next to a similar "quarantine" sign. The photo, which touted Mayor Rogger Daza's campaign against the coronavirus, has since been removed from social media.

Some users on social media commended Mayor Duque for taking a strong stance against the pandemic, which has piled stress on a health sector already damaged by seven years of economic crisis.

Read more:

5:38 a.m. ET, April 9, 2021

Brazil's top court orders investigation into Bolsonaro's handling of pandemic

From Rodrigo Pedroso in Sao Paulo and Eliza Mackintosh in London

President of Brazil Jair Bolsonaro speaks at the Planalto Palace, in Brasilia, Brazil, on March 31.
President of Brazil Jair Bolsonaro speaks at the Planalto Palace, in Brasilia, Brazil, on March 31. Mateus Bononi/Getty Images

The Brazilian Senate will open an inquiry into the government's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, as President Jair Bolsonaro continues to avoid lockdown measures despite the country's mounting death toll.

Earlier this week, Bolsonaro shrugged off criticisms that he is "genocidal" in his opposition to Covid-19 restrictions, as the nation recorded its deadliest 24 hours of the pandemic. Bolsonaro has downplayed the threat of the virus while claiming that the economic impact of shutdowns would hurt Brazilians more than Covid-19.

Brazilian Supreme Court judge Luis Roberto Barroso ordered the Senate to set up a commission for the investigation on Thursday, after requests from 32 of Brazil's 81 senators. Announcing the ruling, Barroso said that Brazil is "at its worst, breaking regrettable records of daily deaths and cases of infection."

On Thursday, Brazil recorded over 4,200 new Covid-19 deaths in 24 hours, raising its total toll to more than 345,000 -- second only to the United States.

The president of the Senate, Rodrigo Pacheco, said he would comply with the order but that the investigation could sabotage efforts to fight the pandemic and become a "political theater aiming at the 2022” general elections.

The probe will look at the actions of former health ministers Luiz Henrique Mandetta, Nelson Teich, army general Eduardo Pazuello, and the current minister of health Marcelo Queiroga.

Barroso has called for the inquiry to focus on "the actions and omissions" of the federal government, particularly in the state of Amazonas. Several Covid-19 patients reportedly died in Manaus, the state's capital, when hospitals ran out of oxygen earlier this year.

The Supreme Court also ruled Thursday that states and municipalities have the power to prohibit in-person religious gatherings, a move that Bolsonaro had fiercely opposed.

3:29 a.m. ET, April 9, 2021

Indonesia's President warns against vaccine nationalism

From CNN's Akanksha Sharma

Joko Widodo, Indonesia's President, speaks during an interview at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta, Indonesia, on April 7.
Joko Widodo, Indonesia's President, speaks during an interview at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta, Indonesia, on April 7. Dimas Ardian/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Indonesian President Joko Widodo warned against vaccine nationalism and called for support on “vaccine multilateralism” on Thursday in a summit held online between the leaders of the Developing Eight Group (D-8), according to state-run Antara news agency.

“D-8 must continue to promote equitable access to vaccines," Widodo said. “Vaccine affordability and availability is key to exit the pandemic.”

The Developing Eight Group (D-8) includes Iran, Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Turkey, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

Addressing the group via video conference Thursday, Widodo warned: “We are witnessing an increase in vaccine nationalism and we must reject this.”

He called on the D-8 leaders to be open to future cooperation in vaccine development and production.

“We must support vaccine multilateralism,” he said, according to the Antara report.

Read more about vaccine nationalism: