On Friday, a panel of experts to the Food and Drug Administration endorsed the emergency use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine after the FDA confirmed Wednesday that it is safe and effective.
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, the House will vote on a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. The bill would provide millions of people with $1,400 direct payments. It also includes billions for struggling businesses, emergency jobless benefits, coronavirus tests and vaccines, and schools.
The U.S. has reported more than 511,000 deaths and 28 million coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, according to a tally by NBC News.
Here are the latest coronavirus updates from the U.S. and elsewhere:
US Advisers Endorse Single-Shot COVID-19 Vaccine From J&J
U.S. health advisers endorsed a one-dose COVID-19 vaccine from Johnson & Johnson on Friday, putting the nation on the cusp of adding an easier-to-use option to fight the pandemic.
The Food and Drug Administration is expected to quickly follow the recommendation and make J&J’s shot the third vaccine authorized for emergency use in the U.S. Vaccinations are picking up speed, but new supplies are urgently needed to stay ahead of a mutating virus that has killed more than 500,000 Americans.
After daylong discussions, the FDA panelists voted unanimously that the benefits of the vaccine outweighed the risks for adults. If the FDA agrees, shipments of a few million doses could begin as early as Monday.
More than 47 million people in the U.S., or 14% of the population, have received at least one shot of the two-dose vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, which FDA authorized in December. But the pace of vaccinations has been strained by limited supplies and delays due to winter storms.
While early J&J supplies will be small, the company has said it can deliver 20 million doses by the end of March and a total of 100 million by the end of June.
J&J’s vaccine protects against the worst effects of COVID-19 after one shot, and it can be stored up to three months at refrigerator temperatures, making it easier to handle than the previous vaccines, which must be frozen.
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'Concerning Shift in Trajectory': CDC Chief Warns Decline in COVID Cases May Be 'Stalling'
The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is sounding the alarm that recent gains against the coronavirus may be stalling.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky says the CDC is looking at data that COVID-19 cases have been increasing the past three days after weeks of falling, but more time is needed to see if that is a blip or the start of a trend.
"The latest data suggest that these declines may be stalling, potentially leveling off at still a very high number," Walensky said during a White House coronavirus briefing. "We at CDC consider this a very concerning shift in the trajectory."
Walensky also noted virus mutations spreading in the U.S. are among the CDC’s biggest concerns. Along with a more transmissible strain first detected in Britain, scientists here are tracking variants in New York and California, which also appear to spread more easily.
“We may be done with the virus, but clearly the virus is not done with us,” says Walensky, stressing now is not the time to relax protective measures like wearing masks and avoiding gatherings.
Cases and hospitalizations have fallen dramatically since the January peak that followed the winter holidays. Deaths have also declined. But Walensky says those gains could be in jeopardy because the background level of cases is still too high.
2 US Navy Warships in Mideast Affected by Coronavirus
Two U.S. Navy warships operating in the Mideast have been affected by the coronavirus, authorities said Friday, with one already at port in Bahrain and another heading to port now.
A dozen troops aboard the USS San Diego, an amphibious transport dock, tested positive for COVID-19, said Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich, a spokeswoman for the Bahrain-based 5th Fleet. The ship is at port in Bahrain.
“All positive cases have been isolated on board, and the ship remains in a restricted COVID bubble,” Rebarich told The Associated Press. “The port visit and medical support have been coordinated with the host nation government and Bahrain Ministry of Health.”
The second ship, the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea, has “several persons under investigation” for possible coronavirus infections, Rebarich said. The ship is expected to pull into port for further testing at a location she declined to name, citing “operational security.”