The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines

By Jessie Yeung, CNN

Updated 8:00 p.m. ET, April 15, 2021
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2:44 p.m. ET, April 15, 2021

Third vaccine dose likely needed within 6 to 12 months, Pfizer CEO says 

From CNN's Naomi Thomas and Amanda Sealy

Albert Bourla, chief executive officer of Pfizer pharmaceutical company, is seen at the New York Stock Exchange on January 17, 2019, in New York City.
Albert Bourla, chief executive officer of Pfizer pharmaceutical company, is seen at the New York Stock Exchange on January 17, 2019, in New York City. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

People are likely to need a booster dose of vaccine six to 12 months after their first round, Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer, said.

Real-world data shows the Pfizer vaccine is effective against a worrying variant of coronavirus first seen in South Africa, called B.1.351, Bourla said during a CVS Health Live event posted to Facebook Thursday. “Protection goes down by time but still in six months it’s still extremely, extremely high,” he said.

“If you ask me, I think that there will be a need, based on these data, for revaccinations,” Bourla added. 

Bourla said it remains to be seen how often this would have to happen, but “a likely scenario is that there will be likely a need for a third dose somewhere between six and 12 months and then from there, there will be an annual re-vaccination. But all this needs to be confirmed.”

“In pandemics, you are as protected as your neighbor,” Bourla said. He said that’s why it’s important that all countries get their citizens vaccinated.

2:40 p.m. ET, April 15, 2021

Global governments and partners pledge $400 million to COVAX vaccine program

From CNN’s Will Godley and Chris Liakos

Airport employees push a cart carrying a shipment of AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccines at the Pristina International Airport on March 28.
Airport employees push a cart carrying a shipment of AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccines at the Pristina International Airport on March 28. AFP/Getty Images

A new campaign to raise $2 billion for the global fight against Covid-19 was launched today at an event hosted by the United States and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

Gavi have set a deadline of June for this additional round of funding, which would enable them to finance a total of 1.8 billion doses of COVAX Covid-19 vaccines for 92 lower-income countries by the end of the year.

COVAX is a program is co-led by Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the World Health Organization. Its aim is to accelerate the development and manufacture of coronavirus vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world.

At the event, governments and private sector partners made early pledges worth nearly $400 million and committed to donate millions of Covid-19 vaccine doses to COVAX to benefit the most vulnerable, according to the news release.

It includes commitments by Sweden, Denmark, Portugal, the Netherlands, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Visa Foundation among others. Google also announced a commitment to donate $2.5 million to COVAX and $15 million in Ad credits to Gavi. New Zealand said it would donate 1.6 million vaccine doses to COVAX, with a focus on the Pacific region.

Speaking at the event, Gavi CEO Seth Berkley warned that the global supply of Covid-19 vaccines is “ incredibly tight right now.” He said it is unlikely COVAX will be able to secure “more supply in 2021 beyond the doses that we have reserved,” calling on countries with excess supply to share spare vaccine doses with COVAX.

At the same event, AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot admitted the company has had bumps in the road. “It’s been not only an R&D challenge but also a manufacturing challenge,” he said adding that “manufacturing is ramping up very quickly now.”

1:41 p.m. ET, April 15, 2021

Fauci: "Hopefully, we'll get a decision quite soon" on J&J Covid-19 vaccine

From CNN's Jen Christensen

Amr Alfiky/Pool/AFP via Getty Images
Amr Alfiky/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Dr. Anthony Fauci said Thursday he hopes there will be a quick decision about when, and if, the country should proceed with the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine.

“Hopefully, we’ll get a decision quite soon as to whether or not we can get back on track with this very effective vaccine,” Fauci, who is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told a Congressional hearing.

Fauci said the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the US Food and Drug Administration recommended the pause in the administration of the vaccine after what he called a “really quite devastating complication” in a “relatively small number” of people.

There have been six reported US cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot among more than 6.8 million Americans who got the shot. A day later, advisers to the CDC put off making any decision about recommendations for the vaccine, with members of the group saying they need more information.

“Even though it is a very low level, when you look at it, the number as of now, would be like less than one per million,” Fauci told the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis. “They did it out of an abundance of caution.”

The pause in the J&J vaccine, he said, gives public health officials a chance to make sure there are no other unreported cases and it will alert doctors to be on the lookout for these cases.

1:25 p.m. ET, April 15, 2021

Breakthrough infections after vaccination are "very rare," experts say

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

The first US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention accounting of breakthrough coronavirus infections among fully vaccinated people shows such infections are very rare, Dr. Kawsar Talaat, an infectious disease physician and assistant professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told CNN on Thursday. She said it actually underscores the urgency to vaccinate more people against Covid-19.

The likelihood of these “very rare” infections depends on how much virus is circulating within a community, Talaat said. As more people become fully vaccinated, there will be less virus circulating, and less opportunity for anyone to be exposed.

“That's the whole point of getting to herd immunity,” she said. “Because once we get to a point where enough people in the community are vaccinated, then if somebody develops Covid in that community, the people around them are protected and it's much harder for that person to spread the virus to somebody else, and therefore the transmission stops.”

About 77 million people in the United States have been fully vaccinated. In data released to CNN on Wednesday, the CDC said 5,800 breakthrough cases have been reported so far, although there is a delay in reporting. Among the reported cases, 396 were hospitalized, 74 died. The CDC also said 29% were asymptomatic. 

The CDC said it’s monitoring reported cases “for clustering by patient demographics, geographic location, time since vaccination, vaccine type or lot number, and SARS-CoV-2 lineage,” and so far, no unexpected patterns have been identified.

Talaat said that, overall, the breakthrough infections tend to be much milder than the cases seen among unvaccinated people.

"It's important to realize how many lives have already been saved by the number of people that we vaccinated so far," she said. "The more people we vaccinate the more lives that we can save."

Hypothetically, "you have a population where there's 20,000 people. Half are vaccinated and half are unvaccinated. In the unvaccinated group, if 1% of those people have Covid – that's 100 people in the unvaccinated group of 10,000 – then you would have maybe 10 in the vaccinated group," Talaat said. "But then if at any given time the percent of people infected is .1% in the population, then those numbers go down to 10 and one."

Some breakthrough infections are expected with these and other vaccines. No vaccine is 100% effective. 

In clinical trials of the vaccines, there were a few breakthrough infections among vaccinated people, Dr. Carlos del Rio, executive associate dean at Emory University School of Medicine, wrote in an email on Thursday. Del Rio is an investigator on clinical trials for Moderna and Novovax Covid-19 vaccines.

"There is currently a lot of transmission in many parts of the country. Vaccines will help decrease that," del Rio said in the email. "Get vaccinated as soon as you can and help control this pandemic."

Del Rio added that in the meantime, the public needs to continue masking and social distancing to also help drive the numbers down.

12:35 p.m. ET, April 15, 2021

France Covid-19 death toll surpasses 100,000

From CNN’s Saskya Vandoorne

France marked a grim milestone Thursday as its Covid-19 death toll exceeded 100,000, according to the French health ministry’s Geodes website.

France has registered 100,077 total deaths, and currently has the eighth highest global death toll, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

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

Fauci: UK study on blood clots, vaccines and Covid-19, has some "procedural gaps"

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

Susan Walsh/AP
Susan Walsh/AP

There remains some confusion around new research from the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom that compares the risk of a rare type of blood clot among people who have had Covid-19 with people who received the AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, Dr. Anthony Fauci said.

Fauci who is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases made the comments during a hearing with the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis Thursday.

"They were trying to find out the difference in the incidence of thromboses, particularly cerebral venous thromboses, following the disease Covid-19 compared to various vaccinations, including influenza as well as the mRNA vaccines of Pfizer as well as Moderna," Fauci said. "They found that – as you might expect – following the disease, you get a very marked increase in the incidence of this adverse situation of cerebral venous thrombosis."

However, Fauci added that when the researchers calculated what the incidence of these thromboses may be following Covid-19 vaccination to compare incidents following different types of vaccines, some concerns in the methodology emerged. 

"It is impossible, the way this study was designed and conducted to make that determination. So, I believe when this paper, which is in a pre-print server, gets submitted to the classical scientific journals and undergoes peer review that that confusion will be straightened out," Fauci said. 

"It will be clear that you cannot make any statement, the way this is designed, about the adverse events following the vaccination with the mRNA comparing to anything else," Fauci said.

"There were many, many, I would say, procedural gaps in here regarding the way the study was done. It was a well-meaning attempt to show that Covid-19 disease is followed by this complication, but they led to some suggestions that I think are not called for in the paper."

1:07 p.m. ET, April 15, 2021

Norway postpones introduction of J&J Covid-19 vaccine pending investigation

From CNN's Arnaud Siad

Norway is postponing the introduction of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine pending “ongoing investigations,” the Norwegian Institute of Public Health announced on Thursday.

“Use of [Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19] Janssen vaccine in Norway is postponed until more information is available from the ongoing investigations,” Geir Bukholm, director of infection control at the Institute of Public Health, said on Thursday.

Some background: The US Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday that they were recommending a pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine. The agencies cited the cases of six women between the ages of 18 and 48 who had developed a rare and severe condition called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST), a brain blood clot, combined with thrombocytopenia, or low platelet counts, after their Johnson & Johnson vaccination.

On Tuesday, Johnson & Johnson unilaterally announced that it was pausing deliveries of its single-dose vaccines to the European Union that had started on Monday. A delivery of 200 million doses to the EU has been scheduled for the second quarter of this year

In a news release on Wednesday, the European Medicines Agency said it “remains of the view that the benefits of the [Johnson & Johnson] vaccine in preventing COVID-19 outweigh the risks of side effects.”

The agency in charge of verifying the safety of vaccines for the EU also said they are still assessing the “very rare cases of unusual blood clots with low platelets” with that vaccine and the “EMA is expediting this evaluation and currently expects to issue a recommendation next week.”

12:03 p.m. ET, April 15, 2021

CDC director vows to keep public informed about J&J pause

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, testifies in Washington, DC, on April 15.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, testifies in Washington, DC, on April 15. Amr Alfiky/Pool/Getty Images

As the pause of administering Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccines in the United States continues, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration will keep the public informed about new developments, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Thursday.

She made the comments to the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis during a hearing.

"We take all reports of adverse events following Covid-19 vaccinations seriously. As announced earlier this week, CDC and FDA recommended a pause in administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine while we review data and assess significance around adverse events reported in six people," Walensky said.

"CDC and FDA are committed to remaining transparent through this process and will provide updates as they are available," Walensky said. "CDC is working in coordination with national, state, tribal and local governmental and non-governmental partners to build trust in the vaccines, the vaccinator and the vaccination system." 
11:59 a.m. ET, April 15, 2021

Risk of rare blood clots is higher after Covid-19 infection than after vaccination, UK study says

From CNN's Lindsay Isaac

A National Health Service staff member prepares to administer the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine in London on March 21.
A National Health Service staff member prepares to administer the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine in London on March 21. Dinendra Haria/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images

Researchers at Oxford University have found the risk of a rare type of blood clot is low overall, but higher for people who have been infected with Covid-19 than among people who’ve had the three vaccines authorized in the UK – those made by AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer.

The study, made available in pre-print on Thursday on the Oxford website ahead of publication in a scientific journal, says the risk of cerebral venous thrombosis or CVT – also known as cerebral venous sinus thrombosis or CVST – following Covid-19 infection is around “100 times greater than normal and several times higher than it is post vaccination or following influenza,” across all age groups.  

“Covid-19 markedly increases the risk of CVT, adding to the list of blood clotting problems this infection causes,” Paul Harrison, professor of psychiatry and head of the Translational Neurobiology Group at the University of Oxford said. 

Oxford University, which developed the AstraZeneca vaccine, said the research is from a separate part of the university and is not connected to the vaccine team. The data used was obtained from external sources, specifically the European Medicines Agency.

When compared to the risk of clots from the three vaccines, the risk from infection is “between 8-10 times higher, and compared to the baseline, approximately 100 times higher for infection,” Oxford said in a news release. According to the research, when compared with the mRNA vaccines – Pfizer and Moderna – the risk of CVT from Covid-19 infection is about 10 times greater. When compared with AstraZeneca, the risk of a CVT from Covid-19 is about eight times greater. The Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine was not included in the analysis.

Using an electronic health records network of over 500,000 Covid-19 positive cases, 489,871 vaccinated cases and 172,724 cases of influenza, the study found 30% of CVT cases occurred in the under-30 age group, the most at-risk for blood clots.

“Considering the balances between risks and COVID-19 risk is higher than see with the current vaccines, even for those under 30; something that should be taken into account when considering the balances between risks and benefits for vaccination,” Harrison added. 

Dr. Maxime Taquet from Oxford’s Translational Neurobiology Group and a co-author of the study cautioned that data is still accruing. Researchers also are still to determine if Covid-19 and vaccines lead to CVT in the same way, she said. 

Experts noted that CVT is so rare, there is limited data even from before the pandemic, and the data and data sources around the Covid-19 vaccines are inconsistent and limited.

“Overall the main finding is that these CVT events are very rare – a few in every million people involved – in Covid-19 patients and in people who had one of the vaccines – but they were very much rarer in the people who had a vaccine than in people who had Covid-19,” said Kevin McConway, emeritus professor of applied statistics at the Open University, in a comment to the Science Media Centre in the UK. “The researchers are not claiming that vaccines do not increase the risk at all compared to the risk in people who have not been vaccinated and have also not had Covid-19 – but they say the CVT risk in people who have had Covid-19 is about 100 times the risk in the general population.”

Some background: European and British medicines regulators last week 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. Other countries have followed suit and are either only offering to people above a certain age or are like Denmark and Norway, scrapping the vaccine entirely. While advising the public to look out for the signs of clots, the regulators said the benefits of the shot were still worth the risk. The AstraZeneca vaccine has not been authorized for use in the United States.

Six reports of similar clotting events following vaccination with the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine prompted the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the US Food and Drug Administration to recommend a pause on administering the vaccine to allow for further investigation.  

Six women between the ages of 18 and 48 had developed a cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, a clot in the area of the brain that collects and drains oxygen-depleted blood. Blood thinners, the typical treatment for clots, should not be used in such cases.  The six reported cases were among more than 6.8 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine administered in the United States. 

The EU, which is heavily relying on the J&J vaccine to bolster its lagging vaccination rollout, has also paused use of the shot. The European Medicines Agency is expected to announce a decision on administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine next week.

The WHO on Thursday said "for now the risk of suffering blood clots, is much higher for someone with COVID-19 than for someone who has taken the AstraZeneca vaccine." WHO Regional Director for Europe Hans Kluge reiterated its recommendation of the AstraZeneca vaccine for all eligible adults, calling it "effective in reducing COVID-19 hospitalization and preventing deaths.”