THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
VACCINES: More than 72.1 million people, or 21.7% of the U.S. population, have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some 39 million people, or 11.8% of the population, have completed their vaccination.
CASES: The seven-day rolling average for daily new cases in the U.S. decreased over the past two weeks from 67,570 on March 1 to 55,332 on Monday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
DEATHS: The seven-day rolling average for daily new deaths in the U.S. decreased over the past two weeks from 1,991 on March 1 to 1,356 on Monday, according to Johns Hopkins University.
STATE VACCINATION RATES: The percentage of population that received at least one dose of vaccine, according to the CDC: New Mexico (29.3%); Alaska (28.1%); South Dakota (27.6). States with the lowest rates: District of Columbia (17.9%); Alabama (17.4%); Georgia (15.9%).
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
ROME — Italy registered 502 coronavirus deaths on Tuesday, its highest daily number since late January.
The health ministry says that increased the known toll to 103,001 deaths, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain.
Admissions continue to rise at Italy’s intensive care units and other hospital departments for patients with COVID-19. Italy is struggling to tamp down a surge of cases, including among young people. Health experts say it is fueled in part by variants of the coronavirus.
With nearly 20,400 new cases in the last 24 hours, Italy has totaled 3.2 million confirmed infections. A slowdown in delivery of vaccines by manufacturers and other logistics problems had bogged down Italy’s vaccine rollout, but the pace of injections has improved in recent days.
On Monday, Italy joined several other European nations in temporarily suspending use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
QUEBEC CITY — A Canadian company is moving its plant-derived COVID-19 vaccine candidate into final-stage testing.
Medicago announced Tuesday it will enroll up to 30,000 volunteers in a study in Canada and the U.S., and potentially expanding to several other countries.
Medicago uses plants as living factories to grow virus-like particles, which mimic the spike protein that coats the coronavirus. British partner GlaxoSmithKline contributes an immune-boosting chemical called an adjuvant to the vaccine.
While numerous COVID-19 vaccines are being rolled out around the world, global health authorities are looking to additional candidates in the pipeline in hopes of eventually increasing the supply.
ZAGREB, Croatia — Croatia’s drug agency says it is “unlikely” an AstraZeneca shot was the cause of death of a 91-year-old woman who died three days after receiving it.
Croatia’s medicine agency says an investigation has revealed the lung blood clotting she suffered is unrelated to her receiving the shot.
The AstraZeneca vaccine is the main shot used in Croatia’s vaccination campaign, which has been suffering from a general shortage of shots.
GENEVA — A World Health Organization spokesman says a widely expected report by a team of experts who travelled to China to look into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic is “likely” to be pushed back until next week.
Spokesman Christian Lindmeier says the report was “simply not ready” and the team members who have been working with Chinese officials to draft it “want to get it right.”
“What we hear from the technical experts — from the mission members — is that the report mostly likely now will come out next week,” Lindmeier told a U.N. briefing on Tuesday.
The U.N. health agency previously revised its plans to first publish a summary report, then a longer version, opting instead to issue a single full report. The team leader, WHO’s Peter Ben Embarek, said this month the plans were to release the report in the week of March 15.
PARIS — France’s health minister is praising the AstraZeneca vaccine as a “precious tool” against the coronavirus and hopes the government will quickly rescind its decision to suspend its use.
France is among European countries waiting for the European regulator to clear up any doubts about reported side effects. France suspended shots of the vaccine on Monday, while the European Medicines Agency investigates reports of blood clots.
The agency said Tuesday it remains convinced that the benefits of the AstraZeneca shot outweigh the risks, and it expects to issue a recommendation about its use on Thursday.
Veran also reiterated complaints voiced by France about delays in deliveries of the AstraZeneca vaccine. He says deliveries expected in the coming three weeks are “infinitesimal — I weigh the word — compared to the promises that were made.”
NEW DELHI, India — India pharmaceutical company Gland Pharma has agreed to make 252 million doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine in India.
Gland Pharma is a subsidiary of Chinese pharmaceutical company Fosun Pharma. This is the second deal for manufacturing between Russia’s sovereign fund and an Indian company. Earlier, it had said that Indian company Hetero Biopharma would make 100 million doses of the vaccine annually. India has been pledged 125 million doses.
According to this agreement, Gland Pharma will make the vaccines in its facilities and then fill it into vials. The company is likely to start production between July and September, while deliveries are estimated to take place between October and December.
In November, Russia’s sovereign fund had announced a pact with another Indian drugmaker, Dr. Reddy’s, to conduct trials and distribute the doses.
BOSTON — U.S. guidelines for students kept 6 feet apart in schools are receiving new scrutiny from federal health experts.
State governments and education officials working to return as many children as possible to the classroom. The distancing guidelines have remained a major hurdle for schools as they aim to open with limited space.
As more teachers receive vaccinations, the distancing guidelines have remained a major hurdle for schools as they aim to open with limited space.
Amid new evidence that it may be safe to seat students closer together, states including Illinois and Massachusetts are allowing 3 feet of distance, and others including Oregon are considering it. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Monday the agency is exploring whether children can be seated closer together than previously recommended. The CDC said in February that schools could safely operate during the pandemic with masks and suggested 6 feet and physical distancing “should be maximized to the greatest extent possible.”
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The coronavirus vaccine will be available to anyone in Ohio 16 years and older by the end of the month, Gov. Mike DeWine announced Tuesday.
A significant increase in vaccine supplies expected in the state warrants the eligibility expansion, the governor said. Currently, Ohioans 50 and older are eligible, along with a variety of others such as nursing home residents, front line medical workers, and people with certain congenital health issues.
Beginning Friday, people 40 and older and those suffering from heart disease, cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and obesity will be eligible. All those over the age of 16 will be eligible beginning March 29.
More than 2.3 million people have received at least one dose of the vaccine in Ohio as of Monday, or about 20% of the population, according to the state Health Department. About 1.4 million people have completed the vaccination process, or about 12%.
TOKYO — Organizers plan to exercise extreme caution when the Olympic torch relay starts next week. They know any stumble could imperil the opening of the Tokyo Games in just four months.
The relay is scheduled to begin on March 25 from northeastern Fukushima prefecture. It will crisscross Japan for months, with 10,000 runners carrying the torch. It’s also a symbolic curtain raiser for the postponed Olympics. Organizers say they will stop or reroute the torch if needed.
Japan has registered about 8,600 deaths from the coronavirus, far fewer than most countries its size of 126 million people. But there is strong opposition to the Olympics, and much of it is due to the fear of large crowds spreading the virus. Fans along the roadsides watching the torch relay will be asked to social distance, wear masks and quietly cheer.
Organizers are expected to announce soon if fans from abroad can attend the Olympics. Athletes will operate in a bubble, be tested regularly and some already will be vaccinated.
The Olympics are scheduled to open on July 23 and feature 11,000 athletes. The Paralympics follow on Aug. 24 with 4,400 athletes.
TORONTO — Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization is changing the recommendation on the AstraZeneca vaccine so seniors can get it.
Canadian health authorities continue to say AstraZeneca remains safe a day after several European countries — including Germany, France, Italy and Spain — suspended use its over reports of dangerous blood clots in some recipients. The company and international regulators say there is no evidence the shot is to blame.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization initially recommended people 65 and over be prioritized for the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna because more evidence from trials was available regarding their efficacy on seniors, compared with AstraZeneca’s vaccine.
But National Advisory Committee on Immunization chair Dr. Caroline Quach-Thanh now says two studies from Britain are why they changed the recommendation to allow Canadians 65-plus to get the AstraZeneca vaccine.
BELGRADE, Serbia — Authorities in Serbia have announced a nationwide lockdown for the rest of the week, closing bars, restaurants and non-essential shops and businesses.
Serbia’s Prime Minister Ana Brnabic says the measures will be reviewed on Monday. Serbia is experiencing a surge in coronavirus infections despite a mass vaccination effort with shots from Sinopharm, Pfizer, Sputnik V and AstraZeneca.
The country has vaccinated more than 1.2 million people with at least one dose. Authorities have launched a campaign to boost the process, including opening more vaccination sites throughout the country.
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Bosnia has reported significant increases in daily new cases and deaths from the coronavirus.
Authorities say 1,606 cases have been confirmed compared to several hundred reported in the past days. The data in the past 24 hours confirmed 53 deaths.
A key hospital in the capital of Sarajevo has declared an emergency situation and requested staff return from vacations. Doctors have warned that the Sarajevo University Hospital has been rapidly filling up. A parliament session dedicated to the health crisis will be held on Thursday.
Bosnian Serbs have received Russia’s Sputnik V vaccines and crossed over to neighboring Serbia for shots. The entity run by the Bosniaks and Croats have used several thousand AstraZeneca vaccines donated by Serbia while waiting for shipments from the international COVAX program.
BRUSSELS — Virologist Yves Van Laethem says Belgium’s decision to keep using AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine is based on scientific advice.
Speaking Tuesday, Van Laethem says, “we wanted to remain as scientific as possible,” referring to the decision by a growing number of European countries to suspend the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine after some recipients had blood clots.
Van Laethem says AstraZeneca shots have been massively used in the EU, with about 5.5 million doses injected.
“There are no signal that we are exceeding the expected normal rate of thromboembolic pathologies in the general population,” he says.
Van Laethem adds AstraZeneca’s vaccine has proved its “extreme efficiency,” prompting the Belgian authorities’ decision to continue using it in people over 65.
BRUSSELS — The European Commission says it has sealed a deal with Pfizer to speed up the dispatching of 10 million doses of its coronavirus vaccine over the next three months.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen says speeding up the pace of deliveries across the 27-nation bloc would bring the total number of Pfizer doses in the second quarter to over 200 million.
“This is very good news,” Von der Leyen says. “It gives member states room to maneuver and possibly fill gaps in deliveries.”
The announcement comes amid a shortage of vaccine supplies in Europe and as a growing number of European countries — including now Sweden, Germany, France, Italy and Spain — have suspended the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine after some recipients had blood clots. The company and international regulators say there is no evidence the shot is to blame for the blood clots.
TAIPEI, Taiwan — China has approved another COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, adding a fifth shot to its arsenal.
The announcement came from the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Microbiology. The vaccine was approved for use in Uzbekistan on March 1. The last phase of clinical trials is ongoing. No peer-reviewed data is publicly available about the vaccine’s safety or efficacy.
It’s a three-dose shot, with one month each between shots, a company spokesperson says. Like other vaccines China has developed, it can be stored at normal refrigeration temperatures.
China has been slow in vaccinating its population of 1.4 billion people, despite having four vaccines approved for general use. The latest numbers, according to government officials at a press briefing Monday in Beijing, is 64.9 million doses of vaccines have been administered. They’ve mostly been given to health care workers, those working at the border or customs, and specific industries.
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Moderna announced Tuesday it is beginning a study of its COVID-19 vaccine in children younger than 12 — one that will include babies as young as 6 months.
The announcement comes exactly a year after the first adult received a test dose of the shot, created at the National Institutes of Health. It’s now being used across the U.S. and in multiple other countries.
Moderna also has tested the vaccine in 12- to 17-year-olds but hasn’t yet released the findings. The study in younger children will be more complex, because researcher need to determine whether to us smaller doses than in adults and adolescents.
The study aims to eventually enroll about 6,750 children in the U.S. and Canada. That’s after a phase-in portion to determine the best dose to test in children age 2 and older and the right dose in those younger than 2.