The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday the vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson appears safe in inoculating against the coronavirus-borne illness COVID-19, raising hopes the one-shot jab will receive emergency use authorization quickly and bolster the effort to contain the deadly pandemic.
An FDA advisory committee composed of independent experts is due to meet Friday to discuss the data from a Phase 3 trial and then vote on whether they believe the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks. The FDA is not required to follow the committee’s recommendation but often does, and did so in the case of the BioNTech SE /Pfizer Inc.
There are high hopes for the J&J vaccine, as in addition to requiring just one shot, it does not come with the refrigeration requirements that make some of the others tricky to administer.
The news comes as the World Health Organization reported a sixth straight week of declining cases around the world. The WHO counted 2.4 million new cases last week, an 11% decline from the previous week.
“The number of new deaths also continues to fall for the previous three weeks, with nearly 66 000 new deaths reported last week, a 20% decline as compared to the previous week.” the agency said in its latest update.
The U.S. added 71,737 new cases on Tuesday, according to a New York Times tracker, and at least 2,315 people died. The U.S. has averaged 68,029 cases a day for the past week, down 37% from the average two weeks ago.
Hospitalizations are also falling steadily. There were 55,058 COVID patients in U.S. hospitals on Tuesday, according to the COVID Tracking Project, down from 55,403 a day earlier and the lowest level since Nov. 6 and about 58% below the January peak.
The vaccine program is stepping back into gear too after last week’s severe winter storm weather created delays in many states. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker is showing that as of 6.00 a.m. ET Tuesday, 82.1 million doses had been delivered to states, 65 million doses had been administered and 44.5 million people had received one or more doses, equal to 13.4% of the population.
President Joe Biden’s administration will increase the number of doses distributed to states to 14.5 million a week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday. The number of doses to be sent to pharmacies will increase by about 100,000 this week, according to White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients on a call with governors.
On Wednesday, the administration said it would send more than 25 million masks to more than 1,300 community health centers across the U.S., as well as 60,000 food pantries and soup kitchens, in an effort to reach some of the country’s most vulnerable populations.
Many low-income Americans still lack access to masks to protect themselves from COVID-19, the White House noted in a statement. The masks will be available into May, the White House said, estimating that up to 15 million Americans would get them.
In the meantime, experts continue to urge Americans to continue to comply with public safety measures recommended to contain the pandemic, namely frequent hand washing, social distancing and wearing a face mask in public.
In other news:
• An AstraZeneca PLC
company executive testified before Congress that the drug maker expects to deliver 50 million of its experimental COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S. in April if it’s authorized before then, MarketWatch’s Jaimy Lee reported. That would be enough to vaccinate 25 million people. AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine has been authorized for use in some other countries, including the U.K.; however, it is currently in Phase 3 clinical studies in the U.S. “Based on current projections, assuming [emergency use authorization], we expect to deliver up to 50 million doses by the end of April,” Ruud Dobber, president of North America business for AstraZeneca, told members of the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations on Tuesday, according to a spokesperson. The trial finished enrollment in January but the company has not yet released any clinical data for the U.S. arm of the study.
• Separately, AstraZeneca said it is still aiming to supply 180 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine to the European Union in the second quarter of the year, despite media reports to the contrary, MarketWatch’s Lina Saigol and Callum Keown reported. The Anglo-Swedish drug company made the comment after a Reuters report quoted an EU official saying that the drug company would deliver less than half of the COVID-19 vaccines it was contracted to supply to the 27-member bloc in the second quarter. AstraZeneca agreed in August 2020 to supply up to 400 million doses to the EU. Based on the revised delivery schedule, that included 90 million in the first quarter of 2021 and 180 million in the second quarter, as the company said earlier this month. It is also delivering 17 million doses of the shot to the EU in February.
• CVS Health Corp.
will be administering the COVID-19 vaccination in select locations in Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, MarketWatch’s Tonya Garcia reported. The pharmacy retailer has already signed on to administer the vaccine in 11 states, including California, Maryland and New York. CVS said during its most recent earnings report that COVID-19 testing and vaccinations will put it in contact with millions of new customers. The company has already administered four million doses of the vaccine to long-term care residents and staff. It has completed vaccine administration at skilled nursing facilities, and should complete administration at assisted living and other facilities, with certain exceptions, by mid-March.
• Class-action lawsuits were filed in Nevada against 10 major auto insurance companies, contending that the companies charged excessive insurance premiums during the pandemic by failing to account for a drop in driving and crashes, the Associated Press reported. The lawsuits acknowledge that some insurers provided discounts over the emptier roads and drop in accidents and claims, but the discounts did not offer “any meaningful relief that actually reflects the reduction in cars on the road and reduced driving during the pandemic,” according to the court filings. The rates that were charged violate state law against excessive premiums, the lawsuits contend. The lawsuits were filed on behalf of Nevada insurance customers against State Farm, USAA, Geico, Acuity, Liberty Mutual, Farmers, Progressive, Travelers
Nationwide and Allstate
• The House Budget Committee approved on Monday a $1.92 trillion bill to carry out President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief plan, the first step toward likely House passage by the end of the week, MarketWatch’s Jonathan Nicholson reported. The vote was 19-16. Texas Democrat Rep. Lloyd Doggett voted with Republicans in opposition to the bill but a spokeswoman for him later said he had cast his vote in error and supported the legislation. The bill will go next to the House Rules Committee, where it could be changed, before hitting the House floor late in the week.
• The WHO said the first vaccines from its Covax vaccine-sharing program have been delivered to Ghana, the Guardian reported. The African country will receive 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca PLC vaccine developed with Oxford University and produced by the Serum Institute of India, the world’s biggest vaccine manufacturer.
The global tally for confirmed cases of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 climbed above 112.2 million on Wednesday, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, while the death toll rose above 2.48 million.
At least 63 million people have recovered from COVID, the data show.
The U.S. continues to lead the world by cases at 28.3 million, and deaths, at 502,698.
Brazil has the second highest death toll at 248,529 and is third by cases at 10.3 million.
India is second worldwide in cases with 11 million, and now fourth in deaths at 156,567.
Mexico has the third highest death toll at 181,809 and 13th highest case tally at 2 million.
The U.K. has 4.1 million cases and 121,536 deaths, the highest in Europe and fifth highest in the world.
China, where the virus was first discovered late last year, has had 100,825 confirmed cases and 4,833 deaths, according to its official numbers.
Additional reporting by Robert Schroeder and Lina Saigol