The Latest: Health panel urges restarting J&J vaccinations

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People rest in the observation area, at right, after receiving COVID-19 vaccinations under the 94-foot-long, 21,000-pound model of a blue whale, in the Milstein Family Hall of Ocean Life, at the American Museum of Natural History, in New York, Friday, April 23, 2021. Appointments are no longer necessary at any of the coronavirus vaccination sites run by New York City. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Friday that anyone eligible for the vaccine could walk up to any of the city's mass vaccination sites and get a shot. The change comes as supplies of the vaccine have increased. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

A U.S. health panel says it’s time to resume use of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, despite a very rare risk of blood clots. Out of nearly 8 million people vaccinated before the U.S. suspended J&J’s shot, health officials uncovered 15 cases of a highly unusual kind of blood clot, three of them fatal. All were women, most younger than 50.

But advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday the vaccine’s benefits outweigh that serious but small risk -- especially against a virus that’s still infecting tens of thousands of Americans every day. The government will rapidly weigh that recommendation in deciding next steps.

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PORTLAND, Ore. — As COVID-19 cases continue to surge in Oregon, officials warned Friday that one-third of the state’s counties are at risk of increased restrictions, including limiting restaurants to outdoor dining only and closing gyms.

“A few weeks ago I came before you to say we are concerned that we would have a fourth surge of COVID-19 in Oregon. Unfortunately today that surge is here,” Gov. Kate Brown said at a news conference. Dean Sidelinger, the state health officer, said new modelling shows “the rate of transmission surpassed the most pessimistic scenario of three weeks ago.” “And if that spread continues unabated – our hospitals risk being swamped by virus-stricken patients,” he said.

In early March, the state’s COVID-19 positivity rate was 3.9%. As of Thursday, it was 5.7%. In addition, Oregon’s COVID-19 hospitalizations increased by 39% over the past week and has increased by 109% since the beginning of March. As a result, a couple hospitals are already starting to scale back on elective surgeries.


BUCHAREST, Romania — A “vaccination marathon” was launched Friday afternoon in Romania’s western city of Timisoara where anyone can turn up without an appointment to receive a vaccine against COVID-19.

Around 10,000 Pfizer vaccine shots have been made available for the three-day, round-the-clock event at Timisoara’s Regional Business Center, and will be administered by volunteers from the medical sector.

“As doctors in intensive care units … we fight every day to save as many lives as possible. But now, compared to this time last year, we have the power to get out of the pandemic together — through vaccination,” intensive care doctor Dorel Sandesc told local media.

Anyone over the age of 16 who can present a national identity card will be able to receive a vaccine, whereas minors will need written consent from a guardian. Booster jabs will be administered in the same “marathon” format in 21 days.

Since the pandemic started, Romania has recorded 1,042,521 positive COVID-19 infections, 27,113 have died, and more than 4.5 million vaccine shots have been administered to its population of more than 19 million.


WASHINGTON — The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that pregnant people receive COVID-19 vaccinations. Agency Director Rochelle Walensky announced the recommendation during an update on the pandemic at a White House briefing. She noted that a CDC study published this week found no safety concerns with Moderna and Pfizer vaccinations given during the third trimester of pregnancy.

‘’We know that this is a deeply personal decision, and I encourage people to talk to their doctors or primary care providers to determine what is best for them and for their baby,’’ Walensky said.

Her recommendation seems to go farther than advice on CDC’s website, which says the vaccines are unlikely to pose a safety risk during pregnancy but doesn’t flat-out recommend the shots.

The new study is based on reports from pregnant women who got shots soon after the vaccines became available. The researchers called for more data, including from vaccination earlier in pregnancy.

COVID-19 can be dangerous in pregnancy, raising risks for complications and even death.

Pregnant women were excluded from COVID-19 vaccination studies although there is limited safety data on some who became pregnant after enrolling.


PHOENIX -- Arizona administered the last COVID-19 vaccination injections at the state’s first and largest COVID-19 mass-vaccination site, which is closing as the state transitions to indoor venues.

The drive-through site outside State Farm Stadium is being replaced by a facility inside Gila River Arena in Glendale. There are additional large state-run sites in metro Phoenix, Flagstaff, Tucson and Yuma.

The state on Friday reported 896 additional coronavirus cases -- the largest daily increase in two weeks -- and 17 more deaths. Nearly 2.1 million people, 29% of the state’s population, were fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the state dashboard.

Arizona has registered 857,347 total confirmed cases and 17,238 confirmed deaths.


OTTAWA, Ontario — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is getting vaccinated at an Ottawa pharmacy on Friday. Trudeau and his wife Sophie will be getting the AstraZeneca vaccine that some have been reluctant to get because of reports of rare blood clots.

The province of Ontario recently lowered eligibility for AstraZeneca to ages 40 and above. The prime minister says 30% of eligible adults in Canada have received at least one vaccine.

Also, Trudeau says Canada has reached an agreement with Pfizer for 35 million booster doses for next year, and 30 million in the year after. He says the deal includes options to add 30 million doses in both 2022 and 2023, and an option for 60 million doses in 2024.

He says the government is in ongoing discussions with other vaccine manufacturers about their plans for booster shots, too.


KARACHI, Pakistan — A prominent Pakistani charity offered medical help to archrival neighboring India in managing the COVID-19 pandemic.

Faisal Edhi, the head of Edhi Foundation, made the offer in a letter to the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi. Edhi’s offer comes after India reported another global record in daily infections for a second straight day, adding 332,730 new cases.

In his letter, Edhi sought permission from Modi to travel to India with volunteers and 50 ambulances to assist Indian health workers. Edhi says he’ll lead his medical team, which will pay for the accommodation and food for his volunteers during the stay in India.

India’s response to the offer was not yet known. Edhi Foundation is known for humanitarian relief work in Pakistan, where is also runs the country’s largest ambulance service.

Pakistan and India have a history of bitter relations. They’ve fought two of the three wars on the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir since gaining independence from Britain in 1947.


NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus will return to lockdown mode for two weeks, shutting down retail stores, restaurants and gyms while expanding a night-time curfew.

The lockdown from April 26 to May 9 will extend the curfew to eight hours and outings from home are restricted to once a day.

Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou says the increase in infections has put the country’s health system under heavy strain, despite a ramped-up vaccination program that has reduced the number of COVID-19 patients over 70 who require hospitalization.

Ioannou says the lockdown will include a ban on all public gatherings and youth sports activities. Church services during Orthodox Easter all next week will take place without worshippers except during midnight mass on Holy Saturday when people will be permitted to follow the service outside the church.


BERLIN — Austria plans to reopen restaurants, bars and hotels on May 19 after several months of restrictions and closures.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced the plans on Friday. He says people wanting to use the venues that are reopening must be tested, vaccinated or recovered from a COVID-19 infection.

He says some other restrictions will remain in place: a maximum 10 people per table will be allowed outside and four adults per table inside. And there will be limits on how many people can use gyms.

Kurz pointed to Austria’s accelerating vaccination campaign, adding authorities aim to loosen restrictions further on July 1. He says foreign tourists will be welcome from mid-May.


WASHINGTON — Officials say the U.S. is trying to help India deal with its coronavirus surge, which is straining that country’s health care system amid a record number of infections.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Biden administration’s top medical adviser on the pandemic, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working with its counterpart agency in India to provide technical support and assistance.

India set another global record of daily infections for a second straight day with 332,730 cases. Hospitals officials are using social media, pleading with the Indian government to replenish their oxygen supplies.

“It is a dire situation that we’re trying to help in any way we can,” Fauci said at the White House coronavirus briefing. “They have a situation there where there are variants that have arisen. We have not yet fully characterized the variants and the relationship between the ability of the vaccines to protect. But we’re assuming, clearly, that they need vaccines.”

White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients says the U.S. is “committed to sharing vaccine supply” and “as our confidence around our supply increases, we will explore those options.”


LONDON — The European Medicines Agency says people who have received a first dose of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine should get the second one, too.

In guidance issued on Friday, the EU drug regulator says people should continue to get a second AstraZeneca dose four to 12 weeks after their first shot despite the rare risk of blood clots linked to the shot.

The Amsterdam-based drug regulator for the 27-nation European Union said earlier this month there was a “possible link” between the AstraZeneca vaccine and rare blood clotting disorders. But it said the benefits of getting the shots outweighed the risks.

The EMA previously described the clots as “very rare” side effects and said the vaccine labels should be modified so doctors and patients are aware. According to data from Britain, which has administered more AstraZeneca vaccines than any other country, there were 30 such cases among 18 million inoculations by late March.


MADRID — Spain’s foreign minister says that the country has sent 5 tons of medical supplies to Brazil responding to a request for foreign aid by authorities in the Latin American country.

Arancha González-Laya says the shipment included material for intubating COVID-19 patients in extreme need of respiratory aid.

“We are doing this because we understand that the fight against COVID has to take a priority,” the minister says.

The coronavirus is taking a rising toll in Brazil as less than 9 million of Brazil’s 210 million residents have been fully vaccinated against the disease. Brazil is second behind the United States with 383,502 confirmed deaths. It’s third globally in cases with 14.1 million.


BRUSSELS — The European Union’s chief executive says the 27-nation bloc is on track to vaccinate most of its adult population against the coronavirus by July, about two months ahead of schedule.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Friday that the EU, home to around 450 million people, has “already passed 123 million vaccinations.”

She says this total ranks the bloc third in the world after the United States and China. The EU has been widely criticized for the slow rollout of vaccines.

Von der Leyen also announced a new contract will be finalized in coming days with Pfizer for 1.8 billion doses for the 2021-23 period. She says the deal will ensure doses for booster shots, vaccines adapted to new variants and possible vaccines for children and teenagers.


GENEVA — French President Emmanuel Macron says the country has donated AstraZeneca doses to West Africa through the U.N.-backed program.

The U.N.-backed COVAX program sends COVID-19 vaccines to low- and middle-income countries. The French leader didn’t specify how many doses were deployed or where they would go through the U.N.-backed COVAX program.

But Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which helps run COVAX, hailed the “first batch,” saying it was 105,600 doses and will go to Mauritania. It has a population of 4.5 million people.

Macron says France planned to donate at least 500,000 doses through mid-June to the program.

Gavi says France will “ramp up its commitment to at least 5 percent of its total doses by the end of 2021.”

The agency says it follows a transfer of 1.6 million doses from New Zealand to low-income countries and a pledge by Spain to donate doses to COVAX.


PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Cambodia’s Health Ministry announced a record daily 655 coronavirus cases, bringing the country’s total confirmed total to 8,848.

Two new deaths from the disease were also reported, raising the total to 61.

The authorities have linked 8,301, or almost 94%, of the total number of cases to one community outbreak in February, when a foreigner sneaked out of quarantine from a hotel in Phnom Penh to go to a nightclub.

Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered a strict stay-at-home two-week lockdown in the capital Phnom Penh starting April 15, barring residents from venturing out except for food and other necessities at locations authorized by the government. There is also an 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew in the city.

“We are facing an impending disaster and we will die unless we act responsibly and be united,” Hun Sen said in an audio posted last week on social media.

Security forces have been tightly enforcing the restrictions. Police this week had equipped themselves with wooden rods with which they beat violators but discarded them after Interior Minister Sar Kheng told them to use persuasion rather than force.

The army is helping distribute food to poor families whose livelihoods have been disrupted by the lockdown.


LONDON — The European Medicines Agency says it has approved new measures to boost production of coronavirus vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna.

In a statement on Friday, the EU drug regulator says it had authorized an increase in batch size and manufacturing scale-up at a factory in Puurs, Belgium, where the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is made.

The EMA says the approval was “expected to have a significant impact” on the supply of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine.

The EMA also says it had given the green light to Moderna’s manufacturing site in Rovi, Spain. The new production line should speed up the production of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine for use in the EU.

In recent months, the EU has faced numerous delays in vaccine deliveries and the continent has struggled to vaccinate as high a percentage of its population against COVID-19.


MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin supported the idea to extend public holidays in May to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Anna Popova, head of Russia’s public health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, asked Putin during a meeting Friday to extend public holidays to May 1-10 instead of two separate holidays weekends on May 1-3 and May 8-10.

Popova said Russians traditionally travel to the countryside for May holidays and commuting back for the working days of May 4-7 may contribute to the spread of the coronavirus.

“If you think this is necessary, fine, we will do it,” Putin responded and promised to sign a relevant decree shortly. His spokesman Dmitry Peskov clarified there will not be a lockdown during the holidays.

Russia, which has reported the world’s fifth largest coronavirus caseload of 4.7 million, has few coronavirus restrictions in place. The country’s health officials have been reporting 8,000-9,000 daily confirmed cases for the past month. Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova told Putin on Friday the situation with the virus in Russian is “more or less stable.”

According to Golikova, more than 11.1 million Russians have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 6.8 million have gotten both shots. Russia started vaccinating its population against COVID-19 in December. But with less than 8% of the population getting at least one shot, Russia lags behind many countries in vaccination rate.


NEW DELHI — India set another global record in daily infections for a second straight day with 332,730 cases.

The situation was worsening by the day with hospitals taking to social media pleading with the government to replenish their oxygen supplies and threatening to stop new admissions of patients. India has recorded 2,263 deaths in the past 24 hours for a confirmed total of 186,920.

The government is putting oxygen tankers on special express trains to help save COVID-19 patients who are struggling to breathe. More than a dozen people died when an oxygen-fed fire ripped through a coronavirus ward in a populous western state.

India, a country of nearly 1.4 billion people, has confirmed 16 million coronavirus cases. That’s second only to the United States.


TOKYO — Japan has issued a third state of emergency for Tokyo and three western prefectures to curb a surge in the coronavirus just three months ahead of the Olympics.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced the emergency for Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo from April 25 through May 11.

Japan’s third emergency since the pandemic comes only a month after an earlier weaker emergency ended in the Tokyo area. This time, after a law stipulating virus measures was toughened in February, authorities can issue binding orders for businesses to shorten their hours or close, with compensation for those who comply and penalties for violators.

Suga says the step is intended to stop people from traveling during upcoming holidays.


KATHMANDU, Nepal — A Norwegian climber became the first to be tested for COVID-19 in the Mount Everest base camp and was flown by helicopter to Kathmandu, where he was hospitalized.

Erlend Ness told The Associated Press in a message Friday that he tested positive on April 15. He said another test on Thursday was negative and he was now staying with a local family in Nepal.

Mountain guide Lukas Furtenbach, warned that if safety measures are not taken, the virus could spread among the hundreds of other climbers, guides and helpers who are now camped on the base of Everest.

Furtenbach, leading a team of 18 climbers to Mount Everest and its sister peak Mount Lhotse, said there could be more than just one case on the mountain as the Norwegian had lived with several others for weeks.

Any outbreak could prematurely end the climbing season, just ahead of a window of good weather in May, he said.