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Governments around the world are scrambling to sustain already slow-moving vaccination drives amid troublesome news of very rare but severe side effects from two of the most prominent vaccines developed to fight the pandemic.

Multiple countries had already restricted use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot after European regulators flagged the vaccine as having potential links to extremely rare but potentially fatal blood clots.

Now that U.S. federal authorities have recommended pausing administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine due to similar clots, and while regulators investigate, governments in Australia, Europe and South Africa are also halting the shot’s rollout or scrapping plans to purchase more doses.

Here are some significant developments:
  • An abrupt call by federal health officials Tuesday to pause use of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine threatened to slow progress against the pandemic in the United States, as new infections trended upward nationwide.
  • About 7 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been administered, and there have been only six reports of blood clots, a rate of about 1 in 1.1 million vaccinations.
  • President Biden tried to reassure Americans that there will be enough coronavirus vaccine shots for “every single solitary American” when asked about the pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
  • Pfizer has ramped up its vaccine production and will deliver 10 percent more doses to the United States by the end of May than previously agreed, the company’s chief executive Albert Bourla said Tuesday.
  • To date more than 45 percent of the eligible U.S. population has received at least one vaccine dose, though the number of new cases continued to trend upward at an average of 11 percent over the past week. At least 562,000 people have died.
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Women are comparing the potential risk of blood clots from vaccines to birth control. It’s more complicated than that, experts say.

Citing an “abundance of caution,” federal health officials called for a pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine Tuesday, following concerns that the vaccine may be linked to a rare but severe type of blood clotting.

The concerns stem from six reported cases of the blood clot in the United States. All of the cases were reported in women under the age of 50. Nearly 7 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been administered in the United States. That means the blood clotting was reported in about 1 in 1.1 million vaccinations.

Some women quickly noted those rates are far lower than that of some hormonal contraceptives, which also carry risks of blood clotting.

The comparisons were intended to highlight the fact that the risks of blood clotting with the vaccine were significantly lower than with widely used birth control pills.

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German stores find creative ways to get around restrictions

BERLIN — Mannequins modeling toilet paper. Noodles in the sweater aisle. Those are just a few of the tricks that some German clothing stores are using to circumvent the country’s strict lockdown measures.

As Germany restricts nonessential businesses in an attempt to curb its third pandemic wave, some shop owners are adding “essential” items to their inventory, hoping to skirt the rules.

Last month, Modehaus Kuhn, a family-run clothing store in the southwestern German town of Bad Mergentheim, rebranded itself as a “Toilet paper flagship store” and added toilet paper and other toiletry items, as well as food, to its inventory. Johannes Kuhn, a 28-year old manager of the store, said the idea was inspired by a shop in nearby Emmendingen that had implemented a similar plan three days earlier.

“We did it to remain open and generate sales that are basically essential for our survival,” said Kuhn. “On the other hand, it’s satire that’s simply a criticism of the injustices of [government] decisions.”

While essential businesses such as grocery and drugstores have been kept open across Germany with few restrictions, customers of nonessential stores can be required to show a negative coronavirus test, book appointments or place orders online. Kuhn said it’s “absurd” to enforce hygienic measures in some stores but not others. Under the government measures, his revenue dropped by about 30 percent. With the toilet paper gimmick, it has risen “greatly,” Kuhn said.

Clothing stores across Germany have called Kuhn for advice on how to implement the idea. But as more states face increased pressure from the federal government to curb infection numbers, many stores have given in to government restrictions. This week, German leaders pushed for a national law to enforce stricter lockdown measures across the country.

“The air is getting very thin,” said Kuhn, referring to the new federal law. “We’ll probably have to close again, too.”

12:00 p.m.
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The world desperately needs the vaccines now clouded by rare side effects

Concerns about blood clots associated with the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccines are deepening worries that the shots may not soon reach developing nations, which are far behind rich countries in immunizations and lack widespread access to costlier alternatives.

The rollout of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines this year generated a surge of optimism in the United States and helped President Biden reap the political rewards of an accelerating schedule of immunizations.

But the stunning success of those novel mRNA vaccines, which have been delivered mostly to the United States and Europe, has overshadowed the story in the rest of the world: Vaccines developed by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson — which are expected to be mainstays of global supply — remain scarce.

11:15 a.m.
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With post-pandemic normality on the horizon, consumer prices inch upwards

Consumer prices moved 2.6 percent higher in March compared with a year ago, fueled by a strengthening economy and comparisons to last spring when the coronavirus pandemic set off unprecedented upheaval.

The consumer price index, which measures the change in what customers pay for goods and services such as groceries, clothing and gas, climbed 0.6 percent from February to March, the U.S. Labor Department reported Tuesday. The results were slightly higher than the 2.5 percent and 0.5 percent forecast and represented another uptick in prices for the year.

Although inflation is edging upward, federal officials have stressed that the shift will probably be short-lived, as parts of the economy begin to normalize after more than a year of the pandemic.

10:32 a.m.
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China says mRNA vaccine candidate ready for late-stage trials

A Chinese vaccine candidate using mRNA technology could be ready for late-stage clinical trials as early as May, state media reported this week, even as China has ignored calls to release peer-reviewed results for its other coronavirus vaccines already in circulation.

The news that China’s ARCoV mRNA candidate was nearing Phase 3 trials, to be carried out abroad, came just days after the head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention made a remarkable admission that the country’s existing vaccines had lower efficacy rates than other shots.

The two most prominent ones developed by drugmaker Sinovac and state-owned Sinopharm use inactivated virus to stimulate the immune system — but neither company has published peer-reviewed data to pin down the vaccines’ efficacy rates. In Brazil earlier this year, researchers found that Sinovac’s CoronaVac vaccine was just 50.4 percent effective against covid-19.

CDC head George Gao said at a conference over the weekend that China was “formally considering” options to change its vaccines to “solve the problem that the efficacy of the existing vaccines is not high.” He said that one option for China was to mix vaccines made with different technologies, appearing to acknowledge the country’s need to ramp up mRNA development. The technology teaches cells to create proteins that trigger an immune response.

On Tuesday, vaccine maker Suzhou Abogen Biosciences confirmed to state media that ARCoV, which it co-developed with China’s Academy of Military Medical Sciences, was expected to enter Phase 3 trials overseas next month, possibly in South America.

Results from the vaccine’s Phase 2 clinical trials have not yet been published, Reuters reported.

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Oman imposes nighttime curfew during Ramadan due to soaring virus cases

DUBAI — For much of the Muslim world, the holy month of Ramadan — the second during the pandemic — has been marked by a gradual easing of strictures, allowing worshipers back into mosques and larger groups to gather for the sunset fast-breaking meal.

Oman, however, announced Wednesday a strict curfew banning nearly all movement and commercial activities from 9 p.m. until 4 a.m. Exceptions will be made for workers in the oil, health-care, utilities and food sectors. Pharmacies will also be allowed to operate at night.

The ruling comes as the country battles an outbreak. Oman is recording well over 1,000 cases a day, up from just over 100 new daily infections around the new year.

Health officials said Tuesday that the occupancy rate at field hospitals was at 95 percent and the “high dependency units” for respiratory failure were at 100 percent. At the Royal Hospital, 64 percent of patients in intensive care were under the age of 60.

All social, sporting and cultural activities have also been banned for the holy month. Ramadan, which features a daytime fast, nighttime prayers and normally large family dinners, is also traditionally a time for cultural events.

Elsewhere in the region, however, restrictions have been loosened, with the evening Koran recitation known as taraweeh prayers allowed, as well as socially distanced visits to mosques.

In Dubai, newspapers are running articles describing “71 Iftars in Dubai you have to try,” referring to the sunset meal ending the fast, listed by expense. The United Arab Emirates, where Dubai is located, has led the region in vaccinations.

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Rare vaccine side effects hobble immunization drives around the world

Governments around the world are now struggling to preserve already sluggish immunization drives as troubling news mounts of very rare but severe side effects in patients inoculated with two of the most prominent vaccines.

This week, U.S. federal authorities recommended that states pause a rollout of the Johnson & Johnson shot following a handful of reports of rare blood clots in individuals who received the vaccine, including one woman who died.

The move comes as multiple countries had already restricted use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot after European regulators flagged the vaccine as also having potential links to extremely rare but potentially fatal blood clots, particularly in younger women.

Those concerns — and the decisions by some governments to limit the AstraZeneca shot to people older than 50 or 60 years — had significantly slowed vaccination campaigns in Europe and hobbled others in Australia and Southeast Asia.

Now, the blood clot reports tied to Johnson & Johnson have prompted similar suspensions in Europe and South Africa. Johnson & Johnson also said that it had “proactively” made the decision to pause the shot’s rollout across Europe, where batches began arriving this week.

“We have been working closely with medical experts and health authorities, and we strongly support the open communication of this information to health care professionals and the public,” the company said in a statement.

In South Africa, authorities also said they would stop vaccinations as a “precautionary measure” but that no clotting incidents had been reported in the country so far.

The government there has relied on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to immunize health-care workers, after clinical trials showed that the shot was effective against the B.1.351 variant that is now dominant there.

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Analysis: Visualizing the risk-reward calculus of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine

It’s easy to imagine the internal debate at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention upon learning that six cases of a rare, dangerous blood clot have been found in women who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Allowing the vaccine to be distributed while experts reviewed the cases risks exposing more people to the possible problem. Pausing distribution, though, runs a different risk: potentially reducing confidence in vaccines broadly, even the Pfizer and Moderna versions, which use different techniques for building immunity.

It’s a difficult choice, but the government has opted for the second option. The CDC and the Food and Drug Administration are recommending that distribution of the vaccine be paused while its effects are studied and to “ensure that the health care provider community is aware of the potential for these adverse events and can plan for proper recognition and management due to the unique treatment required.”

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Moderna says vaccine still 90 percent effective against covid-19 after six months

U.S. pharmaceutical company Moderna said Tuesday that its two-dose coronavirus vaccine continued to show robust protection against the virus six months after trial participants received their second shot.

The company also said that it was testing vaccine candidates targeting specific variants, including the B.1.351 variant first detected in South Africa. The new preclinical data, Moderna said, “give us confidence that we can proactively address emerging variants.”

The statement came ahead of an update for investors on vaccine progress Wednesday. Moderna said that it would submit its early results on variant-specific vaccines for peer-reviewed publication.

One of the candidates combines the vaccine targeting the B.1.351 variant with Moderna’s original shot, which the company said “provided the broadest level of immunity” when tested on mice.

The B.1.351 variant was shown in some studies to escape the immunity provided by vaccines. Moderna uses messenger RNA technology that teaches cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In its late-stage trial follow-up, Moderna said that its original vaccine continued to provide strong immunity, offering a protection level of 90 percent against all cases of covid-19 and 95 percent against severe cases of the disease.

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NFL Players Association warned members not to attend off-season workouts over virus concerns

The NFL Players Association advised players Tuesday not to attend voluntary in-person workouts with their teams this offseason, citing ongoing concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.

The advisory by the NFLPA came as it continues to negotiate with the league over teams’ offseason workout programs for players. The union is seeking for teams’ offseason programs to be entirely virtual for a second straight year. The league wants teams to be able to return to in-person workouts and offseason practices. Teams are scheduled to begin offseason programs Monday.

“We find ourselves still in the midst of a pandemic with no comprehensive plan to keep players as safe as possible, yet teams are pressuring players to attend voluntary workouts,” the NFLPA said in a statement posted to the Twitter account of its executive director, DeMaurice Smith.

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Vaccine pause threatens to worsen ‘hesitancy’ problem

The pause in distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week threatens to create a significant hurdle to President Biden’s campaign to combat “vaccine hesitancy,” just as the administration approaches a critical point in its efforts to persuade Americans wary of getting vaccinated.

Many of those eager for a coronavirus vaccine have now received one, and officials are increasingly focused on rural and minority communities suspicious of the vaccines’ safety. Officials’ decision to halt distribution of a vaccine, however cautionary, following potentially serious side effects, however rare, could set back those efforts, public health experts said.

Compounding the challenge, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been central to Biden officials’ strategy for inoculating skeptical and hard-to-reach populations. Unlike other authorized vaccines, Johnson & Johnson’s version does not need to be stored at ultracold temperatures and, crucially, it requires only one dose.

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Come October, the Kennedy Center plans to put the pandemic behind it with a vengeance

Theater is coming back to the Kennedy Center — with a vengeance. With masks on and fingers crossed, the performing arts center will begin on Oct. 13 to roll out musicals and plays at a pace breathtaking even in far healthier times.

Twelve Broadway musicals, including Tony winners “Hadestown,” “Hamilton,” “The Band’s Visit” and “Dear Evan Hansen,” are planned for the arts center’s halls between October and August 2022. Two major plays, too: the Washington debut of Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and, from London’s Old Vic Theatre, “A Monster Calls.” A whopping 86 weeks of theater offerings will be staged during the 2021-2022 season — an agenda built on a presumption of inviting full-capacity ticket-buying audiences, with no requirement for social distancing.

If the robust roster sounds as if someone at the Kennedy Center is dreaming, well, many a starved (and covid-19-immunized) theatergoer is liable to think: dream away.

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Universities postpone, cancel Johnson & Johnson vaccine appointments

Several universities halted vaccine distribution efforts Tuesday after federal health officials announced they would review “extremely rare” cases of potentially dangerous blood clots in recipients of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The cases have been reported in just six among the 6.8 million Americans who have received the vaccine. But health authorities called on clinics, hospitals and pharmacies throughout the country to temporarily stop using the drug.

The pause threatened to disrupt the plans of university leaders, many of whom had hoped to vaccinate students before summer break — which begins at some schools in early May. Some campuses turned to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because it could be administered in a single dose.

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