Contamination of Some J&J Vaccines Won’t Affect U.S. Immunization Goals, Officials Say



MONDAY, April 5, 2021 — Despite the recent contamination of 15 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine at a Baltimore plant, the Biden administration on Sunday reassured Americans that there will still be enough doses to vaccinate every American adult by the end of May.

Johnson & Johnson will take over responsibility for manufacturing at the plant, U.S. health officials announced late Saturday. The company developed one of the two coronavirus vaccines that were being made at the Baltimore facility where the cross-contamination occurred.

At the same time, federal officials worked over the weekend to find another U.S. site where the other vaccine produced at the facility — developed by AstraZeneca — could be manufactured and have already identified potential locations, the Washington Post reported.

Last week, it was reported that a large batch of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine had spoiled at the Baltimore plant after being contaminated with ingredients for the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The error was caught, and no contaminated vaccine left the plant, according to the companies involved. No doses had shipped yet because the plant has not yet been certified for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Post reported.

No matter what happens with the Baltimore plant or the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is not yet authorized for U.S. use, “there is enough vaccine for all adult Americans who want it by May 31,” a senior administration official told the Post on the condition of anonymity.

Federal rules specify that no more than one “live vector” vaccine should be made in the same plant, but the official told the Post it had been ambiguous whether the rule applies to the type of vaccines developed by Johnson & Johnson and by AstraZeneca.

That official, and two other administration officials who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, told the newspaper that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services chose to keep the manufacture of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the Baltimore plant because those shots have already been approved for emergency use in the United States.

AstraZeneca said in a statement that it is working with the federal government “to support agreed-upon plans for the development, production and full delivery of the vaccine,” the Post reported. The company did not say how much its departure from the Baltimore plant could set back its manufacturing timeline in the United States.

AstraZeneca has already been beset by problems with its clinical trials, controversy over reporting of its data, and concerns in Europe about blood clots as a rare side effect.

Biden kicks off outreach campaign to combat vaccine hesitancy

In a push to overcome vaccine hesitancy, the Biden administration has launched a public outreach effort that will focus on communities that have been hit hardest by the pandemic.

Called the “We Can Do This” campaign, the project features television and social media ads and creates a “community corps” of public health, athletic, faith and other groups to spread the word about the safety and efficacy of the country’s three approved vaccines, the Associated Press reported.

President Joe Biden encouraged more than 1,000 faith leaders last Thursday to continue their efforts to promote vaccinations in their communities. “They’re going to listen to your words more than they are to me as president of the United States,” Biden said.

Meanwhile, Vice President Kamala Harris and U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy held a virtual meeting with over 275 inaugural members of the community corps to kick off the campaign, the AP reported.

“You are the people that folks on the ground know and rely on and have a history with,” Harris said. “And when people are then making the decision to get vaccinated, they’re going to look to you.”

The focus on trusted community leaders came after internal and public surveys showed those skeptical of the vaccines are most likely to be influenced by local, community and medical encouragement to get vaccinated, rather than messages from politicians, the AP said.

The Biden coalition includes health groups like the American Medical Association and the National Council of Urban Indian Health, sports leagues like the NFL, NASCAR and MLB, rural groups, unions and Latino, Black, Asian American Pacific Islander and Native American organizations, as well as coalitions of faith, business and veterans leaders, the AP said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had announced last week that it will devote $3 billion to support outreach by community leaders and groups to boost vaccine confidence, the AP said.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also launched its first national ad campaign promoting vaccinations, aimed at senior, Latino and Black Americans. And in a partnership with Facebook, social media profile frames will be created so that ordinary Americans can share their intent to get vaccinated and their experience with the shots to their peers.

As of Friday, nearly 4 in 10 American adults have received at least one COVID-19 shot and almost one-fifth have gotten their second shot, CDC statistics show.

COVID becomes third leading cause of death in US

In a finding that illustrates the heavy toll the pandemic has taken on America, a new government report confirms that COVID-19 became the third leading cause of death in 2020.

Eclipsed only by heart disease and cancer, COVID-19 has caused more than 547,000 deaths since the pandemic began last spring.

In 2020 alone, COVID-19 was the cause or a contributing factor in the deaths of 377,883 people in the United States, or just over 11% of the estimated 3.3 million people who passed away last year, CBS News reported. Meanwhile, heart disease caused 690,882 deaths and cancer caused 598,932 deaths.

The highest death rates from COVID-19 were recorded among those over 85, Native Americans, Hispanics and men, CBS News reported, with Hispanics being hit the hardest. The pandemic claimed nearly double the number of lives as “unintentional injuries,” which was the third leading cause of death in 2019.

“The data should serve again as a catalyst for each of us [to] continue to do our part to drive down cases and reduce the spread of COVID-19, and get people vaccinated as soon as possible,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a media briefing last week, NPR reported.

2020 was already the deadliest year in U.S. history. The CDC had recently estimated that average life expectancy plummeted an entire year during the first half of 2020, CBS News reported.

Some have questioned the CDC’s death toll tally, which relies largely on state and local officials determining the cause of death, CBS News reported. But in a second report published in the CDC publication Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report on Wednesday, the CDC concluded that the tally of COVID-19 deaths was likely accurate. Examining the death certificate data, the agency found 97% of the cases had documented other details consistent with the disease, CBS News reported.

The reports come as the CDC has warned that a months-long decline in the rate of coronavirus deaths has stalled.

A global scourge

By Monday, the U.S. coronavirus case count passed 30.7 million while the death toll passed 554,000, according to a New York Times tally. On Monday, the top five states for coronavirus infections were: California with over 3.6 million cases; Texas with nearly 2.8 million cases; Florida with over 2 million cases; New York with more than 1.9 million cases; and Illinois with over 1.2 million cases.

Curbing the spread of the coronavirus in the rest of the world remains challenging.

In Brazil, the coronavirus case count was nearly 13 million by Monday, with more than 331,000 deaths, a Johns Hopkins University tally showed. India had nearly 12.6 million cases and over 165,000 deaths as of Monday, the Hopkins tally showed.

Worldwide, the number of reported infections neared 131.4 million on Monday, with over 2.8 million deaths recorded, according to the Hopkins tally.

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