COVID-19 vaccines
May 10, 2021

The U.S. halted use of Johnson & Johnson's one-dose COVID-19 vaccine on April 13 to study extremely rare cases of serious blood clots in a handful of vaccinated Americans, mostly women under 50, then lifted the stay 10 days later. The U.S. had built up to more than 3.3. million shots per day by April 13, but those numbers started dropping during the Johnson & Johnson pause for all three approved vaccines. The seven-day average is now 2.02 million shots a day, The Washington Post reports.

White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients said on CNN Sunday that it was "not at all" a mistake for the Food and Drug Administration to suspend Johnson & Johnson vaccinations, and in fact it helped build confidence in oversight of the vaccines. "Doing the pause was the right thing," he argued.

While most of the world is struggling to get enough vaccine to meet demand, in the U.S., "states asked the federal government this week to withhold staggering amounts of COVID-19 vaccine amid plummeting demand for the shots, contributing to a growing U.S. stockpile of doses," The Associated Press reports. The slowing vaccination rate in the U.S., combined with more contagious variants, has led public health experts to conclude that vanquishing the coronavirus through herd immunity is now unlikely, in the U.S. — where vaccine hesitancy is high — or the world.

Popular vectors of vaccine misinformation may be feeding hesitancy in some groups, and, The Wall Street Journal notes, "more than four months into the vaccination campaign, many of the people willing to get vaccinated have done so." But there is anecdotal evidence that the Johnson & Johnson halt was "the straw that broke the camel's back" for people already leery of getting vaccinated, as Paul Shelton at health-tech company AdhereHealth told the Journal. On the other hand, some officials involved in the U.S. vaccination effort also say there are groups that will only agree to getting Johnson & Johnson's one-and-done shot.

And there are lots of people still on the fence. "We can sometimes underestimate how thoughtful people can be about their decisions and what can look reactionary can sometimes just be people taking their time and thinking," Kimberly Hood, assistant secretary for the Louisiana Department of Health's office of public health, told the Journal. Peter Weber

May 3, 2021

CVS and Walgreens are behind most of the wasted COVID-19 vaccine doses in the United States, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows.

As of late March, three months after the vaccination rollout began, 182,874 wasted COVID-19 vaccine doses were reported in the U.S., Kaiser Health News reports. Combined, CVS and Walgreens — companies that were part of the early efforts to get residents of long-term care facilities vaccinated with either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines — wasted almost 128,500 doses.

Both of the vaccines have to be stored at extremely cold temperatures, with Pfizer having a shelf life of six hours and Moderna a shelf life of 11 hours. Many of the doses were wasted due to storage errors, like freezer malfunctions, or because they were left out too long.

CVS reported almost half of all wasted vaccines, and spokesperson Michael DeAngelis told Kaiser Health News that there were "issues with transportation restrictions, limitation on redirecting unused doses, and other factors. Despite the inherent challenges, our teams were able to limit waste to approximately one dose per onsite vaccination clinic."

Many experts criticized CVS and Walgreens for their slow approach to vaccinating long-term care residents and staffers, and Dr. Michael Wasserman, immediate past president of the California Association of Long Term Care Medicine, told Kaiser Health News the wasted doses "ultimately correlates with just poor planning. CVS and Walgreens didn't have a clue when it came to interacting with nursing homes. Missed opportunities for vaccination in long-term care invariably results in deaths."

The CDC did not collect data from 15 states or the District of Columbia, meaning the true number of wasted doses might be much higher, Kaiser Health News notes. Catherine Garcia

April 14, 2021

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory panel decided in an emergency meeting on Wednesday that members need more data before voting on how to proceed with Johnson & Johnson's one-dose COVID-19 vaccine.

On Tuesday, the CDC and Federal Drug Administration recommended a pause in using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after six women who received it developed rare brain blood clots. One of the women died. The panel is seeking more information on the clots, including the risk factors and frequency, and will reconvene in the next seven to 10 days.

Dr. Lynn Batha, an epidemiologist at the Minnesota Department of Health and a member of the CDC advisory panel, said she supported extending the pause because "by having more robust information, I think we can be more confident about how we talk about the safety of this vaccine."

Johnson & Johnson's vaccine is one of three authorized for use in the U.S., and because only one shot is needed and doses can be stored at normal refrigerator temperatures, it is considered the best option for people who are vulnerable, like those who are incarcerated or homeless. Catherine Garcia

April 5, 2021

The Navajo Nation, which had the highest rate of COVID-19 infections anywhere in the U.S. last May, recently recorded zero cases and zero deaths in a 24-hour period, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez noted Sunday on CBS's Face the Nation. The Navajo Nation has also vaccinated more of its population than any U.S. state — more than half the 170,000 residents of the tribal lands spanning New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah are fully vaccinated, The New York Times reports, and the nation of 300,000 enrolled members is averaging 11 infections a day, down from 250 a day in late November.

Nez said the Navajo Nation was able to tamp down COVID-19 through a strict lockdown, a year-old mask mandate, and a communal culture that convinced people to wear masks and get vaccinated. "It wasn't about restricting people's freedoms when we told people to wear a mask or to stay home," he said on Face the Nation. "It was looking at the greater good."

Tribal leaders also held town halls where experts could answer questions and address concerns about the vaccines, and the nation's decision to coordinate closely with the chronically underfunded federal Indian Health Service for vaccines proved fortuitous, the Times reports. Tribes that partnered with the Indian Health Service for vaccines are faring much better than those who used state systems, a recent NPR analysis found.

Wisconsin has also gone from an immunization laggard in January to among the fastest and most efficient vaccination efforts in the country, The Washington Post reports. If the Navajo Nation turned its efforts around through unity, Wisconsin managed despite frequent sniping between the Republican-run state legislature and Gov. Tony Evers (D) and Andrea Palm, the acting state health secretary — acting, because the GOP Senate refused to confirm her since 2019.

Palm and her deputies focused Wisconsin's efforts on maximizing the number of public and private health care providers to deliver the vaccine, rather than using a few large vaccination centers. That was a labor-intensive process that slowed things down at first, the Post reports, but it prepared Wisconsin for a quick ramp-up without the urban-rural disparity seen in other states, and the reliance on smaller local providers should give the state a leg up as supply surpasses demand. You can read more about Wisconsin's turnaround, and how it might affect Palm's nomination to be President Biden's deputy Health and Human Services secretary, at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

March 31, 2021

About 15 million doses of Johnson & Johnson's one-dose COVID-19 vaccine were spoiled when workers at a Baltimore plant accidentally mixed up ingredients, The New York Times reported on Wednesday, delaying future shipments of the vaccine.

The error took place several weeks ago, the Times said, at a plant run by Emergent BioSolutions, which is a manufacturing partner to Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca. The Food and Drug Administration is now investigating the matter.

The Johnson & Johnson doses that are now being used to vaccinate Americans were manufactured in the Netherlands, but all future doses were slated to come from Baltimore, the Times reports. People with knowledge of the matter said those shipments are now in question, but with Pfizer and Moderna still delivering their vaccines, federal officials think there will be enough doses available to vaccinate every American adult by the end of May. Catherine Garcia

March 31, 2021

The number of Americans who say they won't or are reluctant to get vaccinated against COVID-19 continues to shrink while the share who say they are excited to get the vaccine is rising, new surveys from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the U.S. Census Bureau show. In KFF's latest monthly poll, about 61 percent of U.S. adults said they have either gotten their first dose already or are eager to get the shot, up from 47 percent in January. An estimated 70-90 percent of the U.S. population will need to be immune for the pandemic to be under control.

There was an especially sharp rise in the percentage of Black Americans who said they want to get vaccinated, now 55 percent, versus 61 percent of Latinos and 64 percent of white people, KFF found. Overall, 20 percent of respondents said they won't get vaccinated at all or only if required by work or school, and Republicans (29 percent) and white evangelical Christians (28 percent) were still overrepresented in that group. Another 46 percent of Republicans said they have or will get vaccinated, versus 79 percent of Democrats.


(Kaiser Family Foundation)

The large survey from the Census Bureau, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and National Center for Health Statistics found 17 percent of adults opposed or hesitant to get vaccinated, from 22 percent in January, but the decline was entirely among people formerly on the fence shifting to the pro-vaccination camp, The Wall Street Journal notes. That survey found Black Americans the most likely to say they probably or definitely won't get vaccinated, but the hesitation has shrunk from 13 percentage points more likely than white Americans to eschew vaccinations in January to just 5 points in March.

The Census survey is based responses from 80,000 adults from March 3 and March 15. Kaiser Family Foundation interviewed 1,862 adults from March 15 to March 22 for its survey, and the margin of sampling error for the entire sample is ± 3 percentage points. Peter Weber

Opinion
March 25, 2021

Franklin Graham, son of the late evangelist Billy Graham and a prominent evangelical himself, published a Facebook post Wednesday on the COVID-19 vaccines. He's "been asked if Jesus were physically walking on earth now, would He be an advocate for vaccines," Graham wrote. His answer was "yes." Graham said he and his wife have been vaccinated and advised followers to consult their doctor about the best plan for their health.

Graham's fans mostly weren't having it. Top comments with thousands of likes told Graham, who runs a charitable organization that operated pandemic field hospitals to relieve strain on medical facilities, he should do more research. One reply chastised Graham, 68, for saying he wants to continue living. It doesn't matter "how many shots you get," the commenter said, "when its [sic] your time no vaccine will save you." Others questioned his faith.

It's not surprising to find vaccine skepticism among Graham's fan base; polling shows white evangelicals are unusually hesitant about the vaccines. Hesitancy is also high among Republicans, and Graham has been a reliable booster of former President Donald Trump. What's interesting here isn't that Graham's followers rejected his pro-vaccine message; it's that he issued it at all, and perhaps did so with an expectation of more positive reception.

On that note, here's an interesting tidbit for Graham or anyone attempting to overcome unwarranted vaccine hesitancy: A contributing factor may be the overwhelming negativity of U.S. national news coverage of all pandemic stories, including positive developments like the vaccines. As The New York Times reported Wednesday, a recent study found our national media is more negative than "scientific journals, major international publications, and regional U.S. media." (The Week is a notable exception.) That negativity persists across ideological lines, and though it may well be a response to news consumers' demand, it must also shape their perspective in turn.

Did it shape the response Graham got? It certainly seems plausible. Wherever his followers are getting their views, it obviously outranks the counsel of a voice they once trusted. Bonnie Kristian

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