COVID-19 updates: Pfizer vaccine appears effective against asymptomatic cases; feds plan to ramp up vaccinators, sites

New real-world data suggests that COVID-19 vaccines can prevent transmission of the coronavirus, in addition to protecting against symptomatic disease.

The preliminary information from Israel — where more than half the adults have been vaccinated, most with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine — showed those who received the vaccine did not develop symptoms or transmit the disease.

An absence of clear data on transmission has led health authorities to recommend  vaccinated people be careful around unvaccinated people, particularly those at risk for severe COVID-19 infections.

“It looks like 90% reduction in asymptomatic transmission. So that’s really good,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine, at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

The promising news comes after President Joe Biden announced he was ordering all states, territories and tribes to make all adults eligible to “get in line” for their vaccines by May 1. If Americans “do our part” in the coming weeks, he said, friends and families will be able to join together in small groups in time for the Fourth of July.

Biden’s primetime address came hours after signing a massive coronavirus relief bill into law, and the president commemorated the anniversary of the nation’s shutdown over the pandemic Thursday night.

Also in the news: 

► The number of people seeking help to quit smoking plummeted 27% last year as the public grappled with stress during the COVID-19 pandemic, a new report says.

►The World Health Organization says it’s assessing reports of rare blood coagulation problems faced by some people in the European Union who received doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine against COVID-19. It noted that the European Medicines Agency has determined that the vaccine’s benefits outweigh the risks, and said that no cases of death have been found to be caused by any COVID-19 vaccines so far.

►During his primetime address, President Joe Biden denounced violent attacks against Asian Americans, which have risen markedly during the pandemic. “It’s wrong, it’s un-American and it must stop,” Biden said.

►Nearly 1 in 5 Americans say they lost a relative or close friend to COVID-19, a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows. The numbers were considerably higher for Black (30%) and Hispanic (29%) respondents, yet another example of the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on minority groups.

►Starting April 1, domestic travelers to New York will no longer be required to quarantine, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday, though the state still recommends it as “an added precaution.”

►Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said Friday all public schools in the state grades K-5 must return fully in-person or offer universal access to hybrid learning by March 29. Grades 6-12 must do the same by April 19.

►The U.S. is once again reporting less than one COVID-19 death per minute, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows. The U.S. also reported less than 400,000 new infections in the week ending Wednesday, a level not seen since mid-October.

►The few remaining COVID-19 restrictions in Oklahoma were to be rescinded Friday as Gov. Kevin Stitt announced there would be no more limits on public gatherings or indoor sporting events and that a mask mandate in state buildings would be lifted.

►One day after the Duke’s men’s basketball team exited the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament due to a positive COVID-19 test within the program, University of Virginia will also leave the tournament after a positive test.

►The European Medicines Agency has authorized Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose COVID-19 vaccine, giving the European Union’s 27 nations a fourth licensed vaccine to combat the pandemic, along with offerings from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca-Oxford.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has over 29.2 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 530,800 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 118.6 million cases and 2.63 million deaths. More than 131.1 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 98.2 million have been administered, according to the CDC.

📘 What we’re reading: USA TODAY’s panel of experts have different definitions of what the end of the pandemic means. But they agree it’s getting closer.

SOURCE: USA TodayElinor Aspegren, Ryan W. Miller

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