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:
► Residents in more than a dozen California counties will wake up Sunday morning with lifted business restrictions. State officials loosened the requirements necessary to move out of the most restrictive tiers in California's reopening system due to increased vaccinations hard-hit communities up and down the state.
► 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.
►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 29.3 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 532,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 118.8 million cases and 2.63 million deaths. More than 133 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 101 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.
The federal government will focus on ramping up the number of vaccinators and the number of locations where vaccines are available after President Joe Biden's announcement that all Americans will be eligible for a vaccine by May 1, White House officials said Friday.
The White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said Friday that the government over the coming weeks will increase the number of community health centers in the federal vaccine program to 950, double the number of pharmacies to 20,000 and double the number of federal mass vaccination sites, with a new site in Detroit at Ford Field available to administer 6,000 doses a day.
Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, who is overseeing the equity of vaccine distribution for the White House, also said Friday that the pool of people available to administer vaccines will expand to include dentists, optometrists, paramedics, physician assistants and trained medical and health students
The government will also launch a federal website to show where available vaccine is and deploy tech teams to support city- and state-run systems for making appointments, Zients said.
Biden's May 1 deadline for eligibility "does not mean everyone will get a shot immediately," Zients cautioned, but he said there will be enough supply by the end of May for every adult American.
When states began to announce body mass index, known as BMI, would be a factor in determining early eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines, some who meet the requirement has expressed feelings of guilt.
"As someone who does have a high BMI and is considered by the medical field as obese, I felt a lot of complicated feelings about being a part of this group and once again being told that because of my weight, I'm unhealthy," Sydney Greene, a 24-year-old living in Austin, Texas, said.
Nirit Pisano, a licensed clinical psychologist and chief psychology officer at Cognovi Labs, said she is seeing an increase in "fat talk" that is wreaking havoc on self-esteem.
Still, Pisano advises people who are eligible but feeling apprehensive to "keep in mind the big picture" and "go out and get vaccinated."
"Realize (BMI) is just one piece ... that gives you access to this vaccine, which is an important part of protecting yourself," she said. "This is just one small item that happens to give you access here, but doesn't define the full picture of who you are."
– Sara M. Moniuszko
America’s families and small restaurants and bars are among the biggest winners of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package signed into law Thursday by President Joe Biden. The law grants $28.6 billion in relief for family-owned restaurants, and $1.25 billion was added to a grant program for live stage venues.
The restaurant industry was decimated in 2020, with nearly 2.5 million jobs lost and as many as 8 million chefs, servers and other restaurant workers laid off or furloughed, according to the National Restaurant Association. "Today, the heartbreak starts to heal," said Erika Polmar, executive director of the Independent Restaurant Coalition.
Meanwhile, the package serves as a large windfall for families, beyond the expanded child tax credit which has received much praise. The measure provides $39 billion for child care, $125 billion for reopening schools, $7.2 billion for remote learning and $350 million for community-based child abuse prevention programs.
– Ledyard King and Paul Davidson
Florida is already seeing the first throngs of college students on spring break, crowding beaches and bars. That's worrying public health experts around the country who see the weeks of partying as a potential for another spike in COVID-19 cases.
The primary concern, experts say, is that partying is occurring at a crucial moment in the fight against the coronavirus: More and more vaccines are being administered each day, yet more and more cases of variants – which are highly transmissible – are being reported. Making matters worse, they say, is that students will be enjoying their break as more states continue to relax restrictions they had in place, such as mask mandates.
“I knew the spring breakers would show up,” said Lauren Tedeschi, 53, who was visiting Fort Lauderdale with her niece. "Just look at the beach. They’re out in full force. And this is the start of spring break. It’s only going to get more crazy."
– Christal Hayes
Another COVID-19 candidate vaccine appears to be 96.4% effective against mild, moderate and severe disease caused by the original COVID-19 strain in a United Kingdom trial.
On Thursday, Novavax, a Gaithersburg, Maryland-based biotechnology firm, reported in a final analysis of more than 15,000 patients in the U.K. that the overall vaccine efficacy was 89.7%, lowered slightly because of the B.1.1.7. strain first discovered in the country. The company also released results from the smaller South African trial, which exposed participants to the variant discovered and circulating there, that showed roughly 55.4% efficacy among 2,665 participants.
But in both trials, the vaccine was 100% effective in preventing serious illness and death.
A third trial, in the United States, announced it had recruited its 30,000 planned participants in late February, but won't release results for several more months.
The U.S. on Thursday reported a record increase of 437 cases of coronavirus variants since the previous report just two days earlier, a USA TODAY analysis of CDC data shows. Variant cases are increasing quickly even as regular coronavirus infections have been falling across most of the country.
South Dakota reported its first two cases of the B.1.1.7 variant first seen in the United Kingdom, leaving Vermont as the only state to not have a known variant case.
The U.S. now has 3,701 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, by far the most common in the country. The number has doubled since Feb. 24, with Florida at the forefront with 690.
— Mike Stucka
A day after Target announced CVS pharmacies in more than 600 of its stores were administering vaccinations, the drugstore chain said it is continuing to increase the number of pharmacies offering vaccinations and to expand access to additional states.
CVS said appointments in the “newly activated states” will start to become available for booking on Saturday, March 13.
The new states are: Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nevada, Oklahoma, Utah and Vermont. After previously expanding to New York and Pennsylvania, CVS said it also will administer vaccines in New York City and Philadelphia.
CVS Health President and CEO Karen Lynch said in a statement Thursday that the company is "increasing the number of active stores and expanding to additional states as fast as supply allows." She said the company has the capacity to administer 20 million to 25 million shots per month.
CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, Kroger and other major retailers with pharmacies started administering their first COVID-19 vaccine doses in February as part of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is administering the program.
— Kelly Tyko
Contributing: The Associated Press