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By Jeffrey Kluger
Staff Writer
Thursday, April 1, 2021
BY JEFFREY KLUGER

How J&J’s Vaccine Error Will Affect the Rollout

The Janssen vaccine, produced by Johnson & Johnson, may have been the third authorized for emergency use in the U.S., but it’s the first that requires only a single dose—a one-and-done simplicity that was expected to streamline the business of achieving herd immunity. But J&J is today left doing some fast explaining, after 15 million of its doses had to be discarded after, as the New York Times reports, factory employees mixed up an ingredient with a different one intended for use in the AstraZeneca vaccine (which has yet to be authorized in the U.S.).

The factory where the error took place—Emergent Biosolutions, Inc., in Baltimore—is one of 10 with which J&J contracted to speed up its vaccine production, and, as the Associated Press reports, it has a rocky history. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has called out Emergent numerous times in the recent past for lapses including cracked vials and mold around one of its facilities. J&J began working with Emergent in April 2020—the same month the latter was cited for inadequately training employees working on its experimental anthrax treatment.

In a statement, J&J sought to downplay the error, stressing that the vaccines had yet to proceed to the fill-and-finish stage—the final step before vaccine vials are shipped. The company insists it’s still ahead of the game, having beaten its March delivery target of 20 million doses; it also said it expects to deliver 24 million more doses in April. Its goal continues to be 100 million doses delivered by the end of May, and the company does not believe this setback will put that target at risk.

In addition, based on J&J’s public statements, this setback also does not put in jeopardy President Joe Biden’s goal of having enough shots available to vaccinate every adult American by the end of May. The White House was expecting a surge of 11 million J&J doses this week and that shipment may indeed be held up. But the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is shipping ahead of schedule, and Moderna, the third authorized vaccine maker, is expected soon get clearance to to deliver vials that will hold 15 doses of vaccine instead of the current 10, which will accelerate getting shots into arms by vaccinating more people from a single shipped vial.

As for J&J, it has indeed met its March promises and as long as more manufacturing problems don’t turn up, the company may succeed in doing so in April. To ensure that those further problems don’t occur, J&J is cracking down on Emergent, dispatching inspectors and supervisors to the Baltimore plant.

Given the relatively small share that these 15 million J&J doses represent out of the nearly 200 million total that have been shipped in the U.S., the Administration’s vaccination targets are on track.

Read more here.


VACCINE TRACKER

More than 200 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been shipped to various U.S. states as of this morning, of which 153.6 million doses have been administered thus far, according to TIME's vaccine tracker. Nearly 29.5% of the overall U.S. population has received at least one dose, and about 17% of Americans have been completely vaccinated.

There’s good news today from Pfizer-BioNTech: new data suggest that their shot is 91.3% effective in protecting people from COVID-19 for up to six months, as my colleague Alice Park reports. These are the first long-term study results for COVID-19 vaccines to be reported.

India announced today that it is expanding its vaccination program, Reuters reports, lowering the eligibility for shots from 60 years old to 45. The move comes as 72,330 new cases were reported today (the highest daily count since October), further evidence that India is experiencing a significant COVID-19 surge. Policymakers have faced criticism for the country’s aggressive vaccine export policies, shipping domestically manufactured doses overseas as a gesture of soft power, while the Indian population suffers. The goal of the new vaccination program is to inoculate 400 million people, which is still just 29% of the country’s 1.36 billion population—well short of herd immunity.

Even after Italy prioritized health care workers for COVID-19 vaccines, many did not step forward for the shots. After outbreaks within some hospitals, the government put its foot down today, the Washington Post reports, making vaccines mandatory for doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other medical personnel. Those who don’t comply with the new requirements can be reassigned or suspended without pay for the rest of the year.


TODAY'S CORONAVIRUS OUTLOOK

The Global Situation

Nearly 129 million people around the world had been diagnosed with COVID-19 as of 1 a.m. E.T. today, and more than 2.8 million people have died. On March 31, there were 609,856 new cases and 11,769 new deaths confirmed globally.

Here's how the world as a whole is currently trending:

Here's where daily cases have risen or fallen over the last 14 days, shown in confirmed cases per 100,000 residents:

And here is every country with over 2 million confirmed cases:

Brazil is the second hardest-hit country in the world, after the U.S., with more than 12.7 million COVID-19 cases and more than 321,000 deaths—and those stark facts are at last appearing to catch up with President Jair Bolsonaro, according to CNN. The president has already reshuffled his cabinet, and yesterday, the three commanders of the Brazilian Armed Forces were pushed out—a move the Brazilian newspaper Folha de S. Paolo called the "biggest military crisis since 1977," when there was similar tension between the civilian government and the military. The development is fueling speculation in local media that Bolsonaro might be losing his support among the military over his handling of the pandemic.

With case counts climbing and hospital wards filling up again, France is imposing a new lockdown, shuttering schools and non-essential businesses for up to four weeks, reports the Wall Street Journal. Similar restrictions already apply to Paris and some other hard-hit areas, but now they’re expanding nationwide. “It would be false to say that things will get better on their own,” French President Emmanuel Macron said in a nationally televised address.

The Situation in the U.S.

The U.S. had recorded more than 30.4 million coronavirus cases as of 1 a.m. E.T. today. More than 552,000 people have died. On March 31, there were 66,173 new cases and 1,042 new deaths confirmed in the U.S.

Here's how the country as a whole is currently trending:

Here's where daily cases have risen or fallen over the last 14 days, shown in confirmed cases per 100,000 residents:

With Major League Baseball beginning its season today, the Texas Rangers are already taking heat from the White House over their plans to allow 100% seating capacity during the home opener on April 5, reports ESPN. Speaking to ESPN reporter Alden Gonzalez, President Joe Biden termed the decision “a mistake,” adding, "They should listen to Dr. [Anthony] Fauci, the scientists and the experts. But I think it's not responsible."

Florida officials are rushing to vaccinate farmworkers, who were not part of the early priority group to receive shots—and who now are traveling to other states including Georgia, Tennessee and New Jersey for seasonal work, and risk carrying COVID-19 with them, reports the AP. To date, one of the complications has been the fact that many of the formworkers are in the country illegally and do not have the ID required to get vaccinated. But on Wednesday, officials in Miami-Dade County have told farmworkers and activist groups that ID requirements will be waived.

With case counts falling in California, about half of the state’s 40 million residents are seeing an easing of restrictions, reports the AP. Eight counties—including populous Orange County—moved from red to orange, the second-least restrictive of the states four-tier lockdown system, according to a weekly state update issued Tuesday. Los Angeles County, also among the eight, is free to move to a lower tier but is waiting until next Monday out of an abundance of caution. Under the new rules, restaurants, theaters, museums, and houses of worship can open at 50% capacity, and bars can operate outdoors without having to serve food.

All numbers unless otherwise specified are from the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering, and are accurate as of April 1, 1 a.m. E.T. To see larger, interactive versions of these maps and charts, click here.


WHAT ELSE YOU SHOULD KNOW

Overlooked Holocaust Survivors

Just over 40% of New York City residents 85 and older have been vaccinated, with many homebound and unable to get out. Jewish organizations are, the New York Times reports, mobilizing to get shots to the 20,000 Holocaust survivors living in the city’s five buroughs included in this population. Read more here.

Hong Kong at the Brink?

Thanks to a swift government response, the pandemic seemed almost to pass Hong Kong by, with the city of 7 million suffering fewer than 12,000 cases and 205 deaths. But that success might be threatened now, reports the Atlantic, as deep distrust of the government and a historically unpopular leader combine to create high rates of vaccine hesitancy and refusal. Read more here.

Technology Problems Hamper Rollout

The U.S. federal government is very good at tracing the whereabouts of vaccines from the time they leave the factory until they are delivered to a hospital or clinic. But after that? It’s often anyone’s guess. Read more here.

More Woes for Cuomo

A New York Times investigation reports that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, once a pandemic hero, was involved in negotiating a $4 million book deal—telling the tale of his early pandemic successes—even as his administration was allegedly undertaking a coverup of the number of nursing home deaths in the state. Read more here.


Thanks for reading. We hope you find the Coronavirus Brief newsletter to be a helpful tool to navigate this very complex situation, and welcome feedback at coronavirus.brief@time.com. If you have specific questions you'd like us to answer, please send them to covidquestions@time.com.

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Today's newsletter was written by Jeffrey Kluger and edited by Elijah Wolfson.

 
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