The US has received requests from “around the world” for doses of Covid-19 vaccine but so far has not fulfilled any of them, the White House says.
That is because President Biden’s “priority and focus is on ensuring the American people are vaccinated” before delivering vaccines to other countries, according to press secretary Jen Psaki.
She was answering a question about why the US is sitting on tens of millions of doses of a vaccine made by AstraZeneca, which isn’t yet authorized by the US Food and Drug Administration but is approved for use in dozens of other countries.
The situation has caused concern in places struggling to secure enough vaccine supply, principally in Europe.
Even as the US buys up millions of doses of the three vaccines granted emergency use authorization — Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — it has also maintained an inventory of AstraZeneca that cannot be distributed as it proceeds through the FDA process.
“We want to make sure we have maximal flexibility, that we are oversupplied and over prepared and that we have the ability to provide vaccines — whatever the most effective ones are — to the American public,” Psaki said. “There are still 1,400 people who are dying in our country everyday.”
“At this time there have been requests from around the world — of course — a number of countries who have requested doses from the US and we have not provided doses from the US government to anyone. This is not about Europe, this is about our focus and priority,” she said.
She said while US companies have contract obligations to deliver doses to the US government, they were still free to make deals with other countries.
Asked if Biden felt he had a moral obligation to deliver vaccines to other countries, she said his focus was on containing the US crisis.
“He wants to have, as a leader of this country, to have maximum flexibility,” she said, adding he still wanted to signal the US wants to be “collaborative and cooperative” with the global community.
The World Health Organization is continuing with administration of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine while the organization’s Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety reviews reports of adverse events post-vaccine, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a news conference Friday.
Several countries have halted the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine following reports of blood clots in people who had received the vaccination.
“It is important to note that the European Medicines Agency has said there is no indication of a link between the vaccine and blood clots, and that the vaccine can continue to be used while its investigation is ongoing,” said Tedros.
“WHO is very much aligned with the position that we should continue the immunization until we have clarified the causal relationship,” said Dr. Mariangela Simao, WHO assistant director-general. Simao added that WHO’s COVAX program for vaccine distribution sources its AstraZeneca vaccines from India and South Korea, facilities which have not been linked to the adverse events.
“People die every day. We have more than 300 million people who have been immunized globally,” said Simao. “There will be people who have been immunized who will die but of course you know in this system, so far the preliminary data we have seen doesn’t lead to a causal relationship.”
Currently, WHO’s position maintains that vaccination at all is valuable in preventing deaths.
“Covid has killed over 2.6 million people so far globally, just the known and documented deaths, and we believe that there must be more than that. And after 330 million vaccine doses that have been deployed, we are not aware of any one confirmed Covid vaccine related death. There have been deaths following vaccination in people, but people die of diseases every day, it hasn’t been a single confirmed,” said WHO Chief Scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminathan.
“It’s very important to reassure people, especially in the countries that the vaccines have just been rolled out. This is the time, and we want people to take the vaccines that are available, because all the vaccines approved to date to prevent severe disease and hospitalization and they are definitely preventing people from dying of Covid-19. And that’s what we want,” she said.
Starting Monday, any Californian with certain health conditions and disabilities will be eligible to receive a Covid-19 vaccination, according to guidance from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH).
Categories include cancer, chronic kidney disease, pulmonary disease, Down Syndrome, organ transplant, pregnancy, sickle cell disease, heart conditions, obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Also eligible are those with a developmental or high-risk disability.
To protect confidentiality, vaccine seekers will not have to present proof of a health condition or disability but will sign a “self-attestation” that they meet the criteria as high-risk, according to the CPDH.
The state warns that the national vaccine supply is limited, “so appointments for the 4.4 million Californians with these conditions or disabilities will not be immediately available to all who are eligible,” and slots will open as more vaccine is available.
The state boasts 10.9 million vaccines administered. The CDPH says nearly 3.6 million Californians are fully vaccinated.
The White House provided some clarity on the vaccine supply needed to meet the goal of having enough vaccines for all 300 million American adults by the end of May.
There will be 200 million doses each of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, per the White House, but they expect an increase in Johnson & Johnson vaccine availability due to its partnership with Merck.
That additional amount, White House Covid coordinator Jeff Zients said, “Is the figure that Johnson & Johnson has talked about in terms of their cumulative doses by the end of this month.”
“The work that we did, working with Johnson & Johnson and Merck to accelerate their manufacturing process, particularly the fill-finish piece, which is relevant in this timeframe, has it so that Johnson & Johnson is now, delivering at or near its 100 million by the end of May,” Zients explained.
He continued, “So if you take the 200 million doses by the end of May of Moderna, plus the 200 million doses of Pfizer, plus the at or near 100 million completions of the Johnson & Johnson first contract, that is more than enough vaccine supplies to vaccinate all adult Americans by the end of May,” adding that the next step is to ramp up vaccinators and vaccination sites to accelerate the process.
The US adult population is approximately 255 million people, according to Census data. The US will have enough vaccine supply to fully vaccinated 300 million people by the end of May, according to the Biden administration and projections provided by Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson.
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Rochelle Walensky declined to provide a number for how many Americans the administration would like to see vaccinated when Americans begin to gather again around the Fourth of July, as President Biden outlined in his address Friday.
Walensky instead suggested it will be dependent on the conditions of the pandemic at the time.
“Maybe I’ll just address the second, the first question and that is, we’re not looking at a single metric of a fraction of people vaccinated in a vacuum. We’re looking at it in the context of what’s going on with the pandemic as well, so I don’t think we can put a single metric on that, as well as what’s happening in what science has emerged with regard to vaccinated people, so it’s hard to put a metric on a single number,” Walensky said.
While monoclonal antibodies are a “very fluid area of research,” many of these Covid-19 treatments show “really dramatic” results that help fight the disease, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Friday at the White House Covid-19 Response Team briefing.
Fauci referenced a number of recent studies that showed how much help these treatments offer Covid-19 patients early in the course of their disease. They are some of the only treatments authorized by the US Food and Drug Administration to treat non-hospitalized Covid-19 patients, and they are still underutilized.
“The reason why I point this out is that, recently, there has been a considerable amount of information regarding some of the monoclonal antibodies that are used in the prevention and treatment of Covid-19,” Fauci said.
Fauci pointed to recent studies that showed bamlanivimab and etesevimab, in combination, showed a 70% reduction in hospitalization and death in Covid-19 patients, according to a non-published study presented in at a conference this week.
Another study, conducted by Vir Biotechnology and GlaxoSmithKline, showed patients who got that monoclonal therapy treatment had an 83% reduction in hospitalization or death. That treatment is still in clinical trials and has not yet been authorized.
Eli Lilly’s monoclonal therapy, which has been authorized by the FDA, showed an 80% reduction in moderate or severe disease at eight weeks in nursing home patients.
Regeneron’s antibody cocktail was 100% protective against symptomatic infection in the household setting, compared to placebo, and patients had a much lower viral load.
Fauci added that the treatments work for now. There is some concern that the variants may make the treatments less effective, but the companies continue to work on several updated cocktail approaches that scientists believe will work against the variants.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday updated its guidance for childcare programs during the pandemic, emphasizing the importance of mask-wearing for everyone 2 years of age and older, as well as air ventilation and other strategies.
“Early last year, CDC released initial guidance for childcare programs during Covid-19. As we learn more about the virus, CDC experts updated that guidance several times throughout 2020,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a White House briefing on Friday.
“Today, CDC is again releasing updated guidance based on the most recent science,” Walensky said. “That science includes additional evidence showing that, when used consistently and correctly, prevention strategies such as mask-wearing, staying home when sick, and good hand hygiene can allow childcare programs to operate safely and reduce the spread of Covid-19.”
The guidance, updated on the CDC’s website on Friday, notes that “even after childcare providers and staff are vaccinated, there will be a need to continue prevention measures for the foreseeable future, including wearing masks, physical distancing and other important prevention strategies outlined in this guidance document.”
Here are key things recommended in the guidance:
- The guidance recommends that everyone in a childcare setting 2 years of age and older should wear a mask, except when eating or sleeping. Masks should not be a substitute for physical distancing, and CDC does not recommend face shields or goggles as a substitute for masks.
- The guidance “also highlights strategies such as cohorting, where groups of children are kept together with the same peers and staff to reduce the risk of spread throughout the program,” Walensky said.
- The guidance also recommends increasing air ventilation by opening doors and windows when safe to do so, and it provides recommendations on how to adapt settings for children with disabilities and special needs, and ways to make communal spaces, eating areas and play areas safer during the pandemic.
- “The guidance includes strategies that childcare programs can use to maintain healthy environments and operations, to lower the risk of Covid-19 clusters in their programs, to prepare for when someone is sick with Covid-19, and to support coping and resilience for their staff and children and parents they serve,” Walensky said.
She continued: “This updated guidance is intended for all types of childcare providers including childcare centers, family childcare homes, Head Start programs and pre-kindergarten programs – and is meant to supplement, not to replace, other laws, rules or regulations that childcare programs must follow,” Walensky said. “Recognizing that guidance can sometimes be complex, we are also releasing a suite of complimentary resources, infographics and toolkits to help programs with implementation.”
The updated guidance and those resources are all now available online.
The Biden administration has announced a new FEMA-supported vaccination site in Detroit, Michigan.
“I’m pleased to announce the addition of a new FEMA- supported site in Detroit. The site, located at Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions, has the ability to administer 6,000 shots per day,” White House Covid-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said Friday, part of the administration’s efforts to quickly ramp up vaccinations and also promote equity in vaccine distribution to at-risk populations.
The additional site brings the total of FEMA-supported sites to 19.
The World Health Organization announced Friday it has listed the Covid-19 vaccine from Johnson & Johnson for emergency use worldwide and for use in its COVAX program.
COVAX, the WHO program coordinating global access to Covid-19 vaccines, has already booked 500 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, in preparation for further WHO guidelines on rollout.
“The COVAX facility has booked 500 million doses of the J&J vaccine,” WHO director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Friday. “We look forward to receiving them as soon as possible. Health care workers and older people all around the world need this vaccine, and COVAX is ready to deliver it.”
This is the first single-dose vaccine to receive WHO emergency use listing and the fourth vaccine to receive this designation overall.
Brazil is in crisis as a deadly wave of coronavirus takes hold, pushing hospitals and intensive care units toward collapse.
More than 270,000 people have died in the country due to Covid-19, making Brazil’s the second-highest national death toll after the United States.
CNN international correspondent Matt Rivers took viewers’ questions from Sao Paulo.