States halt use of Johnson & Johnson vaccine; Montana bans development of vaccine passports: Live COVID-19 updates

U.S. intelligence officials warned Tuesday that the coronavirus pandemic will test governments across the globe for years to come, “fueling humanitarian and economic crises, political unrest and geopolitical competition.”

In its annual Worldwide Threat Assessment report, officials outlined a daunting challenge against a backdrop of other persistent threats posed by climate change and mass migration.

“No country has been completely spared, and even when a vaccine is widely distributed globally, the economic and political aftershocks will be felt for years,” the report concluded, referring to the massive virus fallout. “Countries with high debts or that depend on oil exports, tourism or remittances face particularly challenging recoveries, while others will turn inward or be distracted by other challenges.”

Meanwhile, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and Food and Drug Administration are reviewing data involving six reported U.S. cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot — cerebral venous sinus thrombosis — in individuals after receiving the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, the statement said. All six cases were among women 18 to 48, and symptoms occurred six to 13 days after vaccination.

One of the six patients died and another was in critical condition, officials said. FDA chief Janet Woodcock said no definitive cause had been determined, but that it appears to be an extremely rare immune response. Officials said such clots are treated differently from others, and that incorrect treatment could cause death.

The CDC will convene a meeting of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices Wednesday to further review the cases and assess their potential significance. 

Also in the news:

►Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte has issued an executive order banning the development or use of vaccine passports in Montana.

►South Africa has suspended giving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as a “precautionary measure” following the FDA decision in the U.S. to pause the use of the vaccine while rare blood clots are examined.

►Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak announced Tuesday that he plans to drop statewide social distancing protocols by May 1 but that the Silver State’s mask mandate will remain in place at least through the end of next month. “I want to be crystal clear: the mask mandate is a statewide standard,” Sisolak told reporters at a press conference in Carson City.

►The NFL has laid out team guidelines for COVID-19 vaccinations and is strongly urging franchises to have all employees vaccinated. Commissioner Roger Goodell told teams in a memo Tuesday to plan on using stadiums or team headquarters as vaccination centers for their players, employees and family members. Teams must report their vaccination plans to the NFL and update the league weekly on vaccination figures. 

►President Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama are appearing in a TV special airing Sunday to help educate, raise awareness and dispel concerns about COVID-19 vaccines.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 31.34 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 2.95 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: 137.25 million cases and 563,400 million deaths. More than 245.36 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 192.28 million have been administered, according to the CDC. 

📘 What we’re reading: What do I do if I’ve gotten the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 shot? Your questions, answered.

USA TODAY is tracking COVID-19 news. Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates. Want more? Sign up for our Coronavirus Watch newsletter for updates to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

Johnson & Johnson pause risks ‘feeding’ vaccine hesitancy

States began halting use of Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine Tuesday after federal health officials recommended a pause “out of an abundance of caution” because of rare but dangerous blood clots.

California, New York, Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Florida were among more than a dozen states to almost immediately follow the guidance from the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Jeff Zients, White House COVID-19 response coordinator, said the pause would have little impact on vaccine availability. The U.S will have enough Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for 300 million Americans by end of July, he said. More than 6.8 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been administered in the U.S.

“The decision is indicative of vigilance and swiftness of action, which are both necessary for effectively dealing with public health threats,” he told USA TODAY. “At the same time, there is a risk of the decision feeding into the already existing vaccine hesitancy. Nevertheless, this step is in the interest of the public, because it is the duty of the authorities involved to be safe instead of sorry.”

Health officials are urging Americans not to panic over news that federal agencies issued a recommendation Tuesday for states to pause vaccinations with the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine because of blood clots. “This is a really rare event … It’s six out of the 6.85 million doses, which is less than one in a million,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday.

Phoenix aims to vaccinate 500 people who are homeless this week

Circle the City, with support from the Human Services Campus and Maricopa County in Arizona, is hosting a week-long event on the campus to vaccinate people experiencing homelessness. They do not need an appointment. Anyone on the campus can stop by the tents near the Brian Garcia Welcome Center between 8 a.m.-2 p.m. for a free COVID-19 vaccine. 

Dr. Melissa Sandoval of Circle the City said her team has been vaccinating people experiencing homelessness for months at the organization’s clinic, but sees more success at walk-up events.

“If even just calling and making an appointment and walking into our clinic is a barrier, we’d like to lower that barrier,” she said. 

The goal is to vaccinate 500 people this week. 

Circle the City and other homeless services providers have worked to try to keep COVID-19 infections at bay within the population, but the risk of outbreaks persists. 

People experiencing homelessness don’t have homes to isolate themselves in and often have to congregate around others to get meals or other services. 

Sandoval said it has been difficult to enforce mask policies and educate about the risk of asymptomatic COVID-19 infections. 

Sandoval added that there’s also a heightened chance that people experiencing homelessness could die or end up in the hospital if they contract COVID-19 because they often have preexisting medical conditions or substance abuse disorders. 

Read the full story. 

– Jessica Boehm, Arizona Republic

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