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Global tally of COVID-19 cases tops 138 million as CDC committee opts to extend pause on J&J vaccine

The global tally of confirmed cases of the coronavirus-borne illness COVID-19 climbed above 138 million on Thursday and the death toll headed closer to 3 million, a day after an advisory committee voted to extend the ‘pause’ on Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine to further explore cases of blood clots in six people who received the shot.

The much-heralded rollout of J&J’s
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single-dose vaccine hit a wall this week when federal health officials said six cases of severe blood clots had been reported among the nearly 7 million individuals who have received the J&J shot in the U.S. Members of the Biden administration have sought to reassure the public that vaccine safety is a priority and the nation’s immunization program remains well supplied.

The severity of the cases — one woman died, and all six were hospitalized in intensive care units — prompted the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration to recommend a “pause” in immunizations with this vaccine on Tuesday.

See also: An Israeli study says a COVID-19 variant can still infect vaccinated people — here’s what Fauci says the research means

The blood clots occurred as a result of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis in combination with thrombocytopenia, a condition that causes low levels of blood platelets.

“While causality has not been fully established between these very rare events and our vaccine, we recognize these events could represent an important potential risk with the Janssen vaccine,” Dr. Aran Maree, chief medical officer for J&J’s drugs business, said during the meeting.

The committee will reconvene at a date expected to be revealed on Friday.

In other vaccine news, the CDC has identified just 5,800 cases of people who were fully vaccinated against the coronavirus-borne illness COVID-19 but got infected anyway, CNN reported. That’s a tiny number compared with the almost 124 million who have received at least one dose. Some became seriously ill and 74 people died, the CDC told CNN by email. 

“To date, no unexpected patterns have been identified in case demographics or vaccine characteristics,” the CDC said.

It is not unexpected to have these “breakthrough” cases, as the vaccines are not 100% effective in preventing infections, making it important that people continue to wear face masks and socially distance, even after being vaccinated.

The agency said it will be looking for clues about who is most prone to become infected despite having been vaccinated. “Vaccine breakthrough infections were reported among all people of all ages eligible for vaccination. However, a little over 40% of the infections were in people 60 or more years of age,” the CDC said.

The U.S. vaccine program, meanwhile, continues to show good progress. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker is showing that as of 6.00 a.m. ET Wednesday, almost 251 million doses had been delivered to states, 194.8 million doses had been administered, and 123.9 million people had received at least one shot, equal to 37.3% of the population.

Don’t miss: Johnson & Johnson vaccine pause: What to know if you got or scheduled the shot

A full 76.7 million people, or 23.1% of the population, are fully vaccinated, meaning they have received two shots of the two-dose vaccines developed by Pfizer Inc.
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and German partner BioNTech SE
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and Moderna Inc.
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,
or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson
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one-shot vaccine. The AstraZeneca vaccine has not been authorized for use in the U.S.

Among Americans 65 years-and -older, 34.5 million people are fully vaccinated, equal to 63% of that group. Almost 44 million people in that age bracket have received a first jab, covering 79.6% of that population.

The U.S. added at least 75,267 new cases on Wednesday, according to a New York Times tracker, and at least 932 people died. The U.S. has averaged 71,511 new cases a day over the past week, up 11% from the average two weeks ago.

Michigan remains a hot spot and currently accounts for about 10% of the nation’s daily cases. The state accounts for 16 of the 17 metro areas with the worst recent case rates in the U.S., the tracker shows.

Read now: Biden administration sending tests and vaccinators to Michigan, where COVID transmission rate is nation’s worst

In other news

•  Merck & Co.
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said the oral antiviral COVID-19 treatment it is developing with Ridgeback Therapeutics did not help hospitalized patients in a mid-stage clinical trial. The companies now plan to test molnupiravir in non-hospitalized COVID-19 patients in a Phase 3 trial, with plans to file for emergency authorization in the second half of the year. They are also planning to see if the experimental therapy works for post-exposure prophylaxis. In a separate news release, Merck said it is discontinuing MK-7110 as a treatment for patients hospitalized with COVID-19, saying that the Food and Drug Administration’s request for additional clinical information would push the launch into 2022.

• Curevac
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said its COVID vaccine is in the final stage of clinical development and believed to be well on track to provide data for conditional approval based on a European Medicines Agency rolling submission, MarketWatch’s Rupert Steiner reported. The German company, which went public last August, struck an agreement with the U.K. last month to produce 50 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine aimed at targeting different variants of coronavirus. Earlier this month, CureVac reached an agreement with Novartis
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that will see the Swiss drug company manufacture some of its German rival’s COVID-19 vaccines.

• Nearly every airline is allowing travelers to book the middle seats on flights, despite a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggesting that blocking the middle seat reduces passengers’ exposure to virus particles, MarketWatch’s Jacob Passy reported. A laboratory-based study predicted that keeping the middle seat vacant would lead to a 23% to 57% reduction in flight passengers being exposed to viable virus particles, according to the CDC. In recent weeks, the number of people traveling by air has increased substantially, to the highest level since the onset of the pandemic in the U.S. Recently, the CDC released new travel guidance for people who are vaccinated, though the agency declined to recommend traveling at this time. The CDC continues to advise against travel for anyone who has not yet been fully inoculated to COVID-19.

The coronavirus pandemic disrupted the global economy in ways that may affect your 2020 taxes. WSJ tax reporter Richard Rubin shares his tips for this unusual tax season. Photo illustration:Laura Kammermann

• A Florida-based company called Oclo Nanotechnology Science, is peddling chlorine dioxide, a bleaching agent used in textile and paper manufacturing, as a treatment for the latest variants of COVID-19, the Guardian reported. The company is claiming its bleach products are effective in dealing with the B117 variant, that first emerged in the U.K. and is far more infectious than the original virus, the paper said. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned that such products are dangerous and even potentially life-threatening and has been clamping down on companies that promote them.

• India recorded a record of 200,000 new cases of COVID on Thursday, and hospitals are becoming overwhelmed and running low on oxygen, Reuters reported. Experts blamed everything from official complacency to aggressive variants. The government blamed a widespread failure to practice physical distancing and wear face masks. India this week replaced Brazil as the country with the second highest number of cases at 14 million, and is fourth globally by deaths at 173,123, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

Latest tallies

The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness rose above 138.4 million on Thursday, as the death toll climbed above 2.97 million, the Johns Hopkins data shows.

Almost 79 million people have recovered from COVID-19, the data show.

The U.S. leads the world in cases and deaths by wide margins, with 31.4 million cases, or about 23% of the global total, while the 564,387 death toll make of about 19% of the global toll. 

Brazil is third by cases after India, at 13.7 million and second with a death toll of 361,884.

Mexico is third by deaths at 210,812 and 14th highest by cases at 2.3 million.

The U.K. has 4.4 million cases and 127,407 deaths, the highest in Europe and fifth highest in the world.

China, where the virus was first discovered late last year, has had 102,124 confirmed cases and 4,845 deaths, according to its official numbers.

What’s the economy saying?

Sales at U.S. retailers leaped almost 10% in March thanks to $1,400 stimulus checks for consumers from the federal government and an accelerating economy that’s likely to stay in the fast lane through the spring and summer, MarketWatch’s Jeffry Bartash reported.

Receipts climbed 9.8% last month, the government said Thursday. Economists polled by Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal had forecast a 6.1% increase.

The sales gain was the second largest on record, exceeded only by a 18% spike last May when a U.S. lockdown was lifted.

The snapback in sales was widely expected after Washington approved a massive $1.9 trillion stimulus in early March.

Sales won’t keep up the same pace in the months ahead after the stimulus fades, but a rebounding U.S. economy is expected to help retailers stay plenty busy.

Read: Unemployment claims sink by 193,000 to pandemic low of 576,000

 Separately, U.S. unemployment claims sank by 193,000 in early April to a fresh pandemic low, an unusually large decline that reflects an improving economy but also ongoing problems in processing applications for jobless benefits.

Initial jobless claims filed traditionally through the states fell to a seasonally adjusted 576,000 from 769,000 in the prior week, the government said Thursday. That’s the largest decline since August.

The number of new claims dropped below 600,000 for the first time since the pandemic began 13 months ago and touched a new low.

Economists surveyed by Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal had forecast new claims would fall to 710,000 in the seven days ended April 10, partly because of the Good Friday holiday. Claims usually decline around Easter.

Read: Used-car prices soar and the sticker shock may get worse

Other highlights from a busy ecomonic calendar:

• Two U.S. regional gauges of manufacturing sentiment showed strength in April, according to data released Thursday.

The Philadelphia Federal Reserve manufacturing index jumped to a reading of 50.2 in April from a revised 44.5 in the prior month. This is highest level in almost 50 years. Economists had expected a reading of 42 after the initial reading for March of 51.8, according to a Wall Street Journal survey of economists.

The New York Federal Reserve’s Empire State Index, meanwhile rose to a reading of 26.3 in April from 17.4 in March, the New York Fed said. That’s the highest reading since October 2017. Economists had expected a reading of 20, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Any reading above zero indicates improving conditions.

• U.S. industrial production rose 1.4% in March, after a revised 2.6% fall in the prior month that was caused by severe winter weather, the Federal Reserve said Thursday.

The gain in March was below Wall Street expectations of a 2.7% gain, according to a survey by the Wall Street Journal. Production was held down by a steep decline in output from power utilities, as weather switched from unseasonably cold to unseasonably warm.

• The construction industry’s confidence rebounded in April, according to research from a trade group released Thursday.

The National Association of Home Builders’ monthly confidence index increased by a point to a reading of 83 in April, the trade group said.

See: Stagflationary forces are building, Roubini warns

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