J&J vaccine to remain in limbo while officials seek evidence; more state shutdowns unlikely

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Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine will remain in limbo a while longer after U.S. health advisers told the government Wednesday that they need more evidence to decide if a handful of unusual blood clots were linked to the shot — and if so, how big the potential risk really is.

The reports are exceedingly rare — six cases out of more than 7 million U.S. inoculations with the one-dose vaccine. But the government recommended a pause in J&J vaccinations this week, not long after European regulators declared that such clots are a rare but possible risk with the AstraZeneca vaccine, a shot made in a similar way but not yet approved for use in the U.S.

At an emergency meeting, advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wrestled with the fact that the U.S. has enough vaccine alternatives to do without the J&J vaccine for a time, but other countries anxiously awaiting the one-and-done shot may not.

One committee member, Dr. Grace Lee, was among those who advocated tabling a vote. She echoed concerns about getting more data to better understand the size of the risk and whether it was greater for any particular group of people.

“I continue to feel like we’re in a race against time and the variants, but we need to (move forward) in the safest possible way,” said Lee, of Stanford University.

More COVID state shutdowns unlikely, despite CDC suggestion

When one of the nation’s top health officials this week suggested states dealing with a spring spike of coronavirus cases should “shut things down,” the remark landed with a thud.

Even Democratic governors and lawmakers who supported tough stay-at-home orders and business closures to stem previous COVID-19 outbreaks say they’re done with that approach. It’s a remarkable turnaround for governors who have said from the beginning of the pandemic that they will follow the science in their decision-making, but it’s also a nod to reality: Another round of lockdown orders would likely just be ignored by a pandemic-weary public.

The political dynamics have changed markedly in recent weeks as vaccination rates have grown, warmer weather has returned, and the public and business owners have become increasingly vocal about reopening schools and loosening restrictions around social gatherings.

In other developments:

  • With coronavirus shots now in the arms of nearly half of American adults, the parts of the U.S. that are excelling and those that are struggling with vaccinations are starting to look like the nation’s political map: deeply divided between red and blue states.
  • The Treasury Department has created a new office to supervise the disbursement of the billions of dollars in relief money authorized by Congress to combat the coronavirus-related recession. Officials said the goal is to streamline the process and ensure all eligible groups have access to the aid.
  • A Federal Reserve survey has found that the economy was rebounding in late February through early April, helped by billions of dollars in a new round of stimulus payments and the stepped-up rollout of coronavirus vaccines.
  • Mexico’s unwillingness to spend money, do more testing, change course or react to new scientific evidence contributed to the country being one of the worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report released this week by the University of California, San Francisco.
  • European countries are diverging on whether to push ahead with giving residents Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine after reports of very rare blood clots in a handful of recipients in the United States.
  • The pandemic has made loneliness inescapable around the globe and the health care community says it’s time to seek solutions. Evidence suggests loneliness can damage health as much as obesity and smoking.