The Latest: WHO grants emergency use of J&J vaccine

GENEVA — The World Health Organization granted an emergency use listing for the coronavirus vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson, meaning the one-dose shot can be used as part of the international COVAX effort to distribute vaccines globally, including to developing countries with no supplies.

In a statement on Friday, the U.N. health agency said “the ample data from large clinical trials” shows the J&J vaccine is effective in adult populations. The emergency use listing comes a day after the European Medicines Agency recommended the shot be given the green light across the 27-country European Union. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted the J&J vaccine an emergency authorization last month.

A massive study that spanned three continents found the J&J vaccine was 85% effective in protecting against severe illness, hospitalization and death. That protection remained strong even in countries such as South Africa with variants.

The U.N.-backed COVAX effort previously announced it had an initial agreement with J&J to provide 500 million doses, but it’s not legally binding.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— WHO grants emergency use of J&J vaccine

— White House says it will direct states to allow shots for May 1

— AP-NORC Poll: People of color bear burnt of virus economic toll

— The pandemic has taken a huge toll on children’s mental health.

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Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

ATLANTA — U.S. health officials have posted more specific COVID-19 guidance for preschools and other childcare programs.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending very young children and childcare workers are placed in groups that stay together throughout an entire day. It is similar guidance applied to schools with older students.

The guidance is more emphatic about wearing masks, calls on all childcare workers to get vaccinated and issues more information about the importance of ventilation.

The guidance was issued Friday, replacing advisory documents the CDC posted last summer.

It’s meant for programs that care for children before they start kindergarten. That includes preschool programs and home-based family childcare programs.

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GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization called on countries not to limit the exportation of critical vaccine ingredients, calling it “one of the major challenges we need to solve” amid a finite supply of COVID-19 vaccines.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says the U.N. health agency met this week with its partners, industry representatives and others to identify potential solutions to the shortages. Tedros says there were shortages in materials including glass vials, plastic filters and other elements.

“The sudden increase in demand for vaccine production has led to a shortage of these and other supplies,” Tedros says.

He says limiting the production of COVID-19 vaccines was restricting the available supply and could possibly jeopardize the production of routine vaccines for childhood diseases.

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ROME — Italy’s new premier has pledged to triple the number of daily vaccinations administered daily throughout the country as coronavirus cases rise.

Mario Draghi inspected a vaccination center at Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport on Friday and noted the pace, now running 170,000 shots daily, had picked up this month.

Italy’s medicines agency blocked use of one batch of AstraZeneca vaccines, after “several grave adverse events” were reported, Draghi says, describing it as a “precautional decision” in line with other European nations.

Meanwhile, Italy is tightening COVID-19 restrictions for Easter weekend as many hospitals warn they’re running out of ICU beds for coronavirus patients.

The government decided at a Cabinet meeting the entire nation will be under strict ‘’red zone’’ rules the Easter weekend of April 3-5. The day after Easter, called ‘’Little Easter,’’ is a national holiday when many Italians travel for vacations or gather in parks or at beaches for picnics with friends and families. Travel between regions is already banned under previous restrictions.

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WASHINGTON — The Biden administration says it has the authority to direct states to open up their vaccine supply to all adult Americans by May 1 using the same mechanism it used to order teachers and childcare workers eligible this month.

States are required to distribute the federally provided vaccines in accordance with guidelines set by the Department of Health and Human Services. The department will issue a directive that states allow all adults to be vaccinated under their eligibility criteria by May 1.

The federal government also controls supply directly through the federal retail pharmacy program, federally-run mass vaccination sites and federally qualified community health centers. It could use those mechanisms as well to expand eligibility

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PRAGUE — The health authorities in the Czech Republic have administered over 1 million coronavirus vaccine shots.

Health Minister Jan Blatny says the vaccination program is picking up speed. So far, almost 288,000 people in the nation of 10.7 million received both shots.

The number of shots surpassed 44,000 in the previous two days, a record. Blatny says the country will receive 1.13 million vaccines of Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca in March. The country expects another 2.1 million in April when the first batch of the newly authorized Johnson & Johnson is scheduled to arrive.

The minister says unlike some other countries, the Czech Republic will continue administering AstraZeneca vaccines.

There were 11,083 new cases reported on Thursday. The country has 22,865 confirmed deaths.

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s minister for planning and development says a third wave of coronavirus is under way.

Asad Umar says the virus detected Britain was found among new cases in Pakistan. Officials say scores of people returned home from Britain in recent months.

Deaths and confirmed cases from the coronavirus have increased steadily since March 1, when Pakistan resumed regular classes at schools. Pakistan reported 54 deaths and 2,701 new cases on Friday. The country has registered 600,198 cases and 13,430 confirmed deaths.

The latest spike in cases comes days after Pakistan started vaccinating people who are 60 or above. Pakistan is currently using China’s Sinopharm vaccine, which was donated by Beijing last month.

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NEW YORK — A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds that Black and Hispanic Americans are more likely than white Americans to have experienced job and other income losses due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Those who have lost income are more likely to be in a deep financial hole. The poll finds that 62% of Hispanic Americans and 54% of Black Americans have lost some form of household income during the pandemic, including job losses, pay cuts, fewer hours and unpaid leave. That compares with 45% of white Americans.

Black and Hispanic Americans being more likely than white Americans to say they are close to someone who has died from COVID-19 and less likely to have received a vaccination. The pandemic has killed Black and Hispanic Americans at rates disproportionate to their population in the U.S., according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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AMSTERDAM — The European Medicines Agency says product information for the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine should be updated to note that cases of severe allergic reactions have been reported.

The suggested update is based on a review of 41 reported cases of anaphylaxis, or severe allergic reactions, that were identified among 5 million people who received the AstraZeneca vaccine. In a statement on Friday, the Amsterdam-based EU regulator said it concluded that “a link to the vaccine was likely in at least some of these cases.”

Such allergic reactions are a recognized rare side effect to numerous vaccines and have been reported for other COVID-19 vaccines, including the one made by Pfizer and BioNTech. The EMA authorized the AstraZeneca vaccine for use in all adults across its 27 member countries in late January.

The agency also says it is reviewing whether COVID-19 shots made by Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca might be causing low levels of blood platelets in some patients, a condition that could lead to bruising and bleeding.

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BERLIN — Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is calling for more transparency in how coronavirus vaccines are being distributed to European Union member nations, saying numbers indicate some countries are receiving more than their fair share.

Kurz spoke in Vienna on Friday, saying when he and other European leaders had received the latest numbers, “many couldn’t believe their ears.”

He said even though the EU had agreed upon even distribution of the vaccines on a per capita basis, as of the end of June the Netherlands had received double the number per person than Croatia, for example.

Austria, he said without giving any figures, was somewhere in the middle of the group.

He cited Bulgaria and Latvia as two other countries where deliveries had been low, and Malta as another country that had received far more.

“This is a clear contradiction of the political goal of the European Union that every member nation gets the same number of vaccine doses per person,” he said.

He said that discrepancies had to be rectified, so that it doesn’t turn out that some countries have completed vaccination programs while others still have months to go while waiting on doses.

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BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbia will close down all nonessential shops, bars and restaurants this weekend as the Balkan country faces a surge in coronavirus infections.

The government-appointed crisis body said Friday said the measures will take effect on Friday evening and last until Monday. Authorities will decide on Monday how to proceed, officials said.

The decision is expected to be formally endorsed by the government later Friday.

Serbia has recorded more than 4,000 new infections daily in the past week as doctors have warned that hospitals are rapidly filling up and that medical staff are exhausted after a year of the pandemic.

Senior health official Zoran Gojkovic says the government hopes that it vaccination program will also get infections under control in the coming weeks. He says new measures also include children in higher primary school grades switching to remote classes next week.

A wave of new infections is sweeping across the countries of Eastern and Central Europe, driven mainly by new virus variants that are more contagious.

Serbia has vaccinated more than 1.5 million of its 7 million people with at least one shot from China’s Sinopharm, Pfizer-BioNTech, Russia’s Sputnik V or AstraZeneca, which is among the highest rates of inoculations in Europe.

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BERLIN — The German government said it was in contact with U.S. officials about the question of vaccine supplies, but stressed that the European Commission had the lead when it came to procuring shots for member states.

Government spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters in Berlin on Friday that the “this topic is raised again and again by the chancellor and other members of the federal government” in talks with non-EU countries.

Seibert added that the EU “has funded to a large degree the research development and production of vaccines” and that the 27-nation bloc is an important production site.

“This benefits not just people in Europe, but the whole world,” he said, adding that the EU has said the bloc has approved the export of more than 34 million doses of vaccines to over 30 countries in the past six weeks.

“We support this. On the other hand we note that while we have exported to many countries around the world, nothing or almost nothing has been exported from the U.S. or Great Britain.”

“And this is of course a topic that the European Commission, representing its member states, takes up with the companies concerned but also with the governments of other countries.”

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SOFIA, Bulgaria — Bulgaria has temporarily suspended inoculations with the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine and demanded safety guarantees from the European Union.

Prime Minister Boyko Borissov told a cabinet meeting that the immunization with this vaccine will be suspended, until the European Medicines Agency issues a written statement that it is safe.

“Until all doubts are dispelled and experts guarantee that it holds no risk for people, we are stopping immunization using that vaccine,” Borissov said.

Bulgaria becomes the latest European country to suspend vaccination using the AstraZeneca-Oxford jab following reports of blood clots in some people.

Bulgaria has so far administered some 320,000 doses of the EU’s three allowed vaccines. Due to a shortage of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, most people have received an AstraZeneca-Oxford jab.

The nation of 7 million has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases in the past weeks. Bulgaria on Tuesday reported 3,121 new confirmed cases, bringing their total number to 272,700 with 11,094 deaths.

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HONG KONG — Hong Kong reported 60 new coronavirus infections on Friday, the highest number of infections in the city since late January, prompting fears of a fifth wave of the virus.

Of the new infections, 47 were linked to an outbreak at a gym in the Sai Ying Pun neighborhood that is popular among expatriates. Health authorities have ordered all employees of gyms in Hong Kong to be screened for the virus. The gym cluster has so far infected 64 people

Authorities have also ordered gyms to step up safety measures, including requiring members to wear masks while working out.

The city has so far reported 11,211 cases of the coronavirus, with 203 deaths.

As of Thursday, 145,800 people in Hong Kong have received the first COVID-19 vaccine dose.

Since the vaccination program began, four people have died days after receiving a Sinovac shot, although experts have concluded that the first two cases had no direct links to the vaccine. Experts are still investigating the other cases.

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BERLIN — Germany’s health minister says the country should prepare for “several very challenging weeks” amid a rise in coronavirus cases.

Health Minister Jens Spahn told reporters in Berlin on Friday that “the situation remains tense,” as the country’s disease control center reported 12,834 newly confirmed cases in the past day, and 252 new COVID-related deaths.

The head of the agency, Lothar Wieler, said Germany is “at the beginning of the third wave” of infections following surges in cases last spring and in the fall.

Spahn noted there has been a drop in serious illnesses and deaths among the elderly, as most people over 80 in Germany have now received a virus vaccine.

He said Germany has managed to administer more than 200,000 first shots daily this week. As more supplies arrive, shots will be administered not just in special vaccine centers but, from mid-April, also in doctors’ practices, said Spahn.

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GENEVA — 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.

The U.N. health agency noted the decision of a few European Union countries to suspend use of the vaccine based on reports of the rare disorder in people who received the vaccines from a particular batch.

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.

A WHO advisory committee on vaccine safety is “carefully assessing” the reports and will communicate its findings and any changes in its recommendations to the public.

“Deaths from other causes will continue to occur, including after vaccination, but causally unrelated,” WHO said.

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