Johnson & Johnson vaccine set for FDA advisory committee review; Joe Biden urges unity with state governors. Latest COVID-19 updates

A Food and Drug Administration advisory committee will hold an all-day meeting meeting Friday to review the data on Johnson & Johnson’s candidate vaccine and is likely to give the vaccine a thumbs-up, leading to an expected FDA authorization for the shot in adults within the next few days. An FDA report released early Wednesday deemed it safe and effective.

Johnson & Johnson has agreed to provide 100 million doses of its vaccine in the USA by June, including 20 million by the end of March. Those doses will add to the 300 million doses Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna each have promised to deliver by the end of July.

The vaccine was shown to be 72% effective in a U.S. trial in which all ethnic, racial and age groups benefited about the same, and was shown to be 85% effective in preventing the most severe disease .

Meanwhile, Pfizer-BioNTech will begin testing a booster shot to combat COVID-19 variants, the companies announced Thursday. The announcement came one day after new research published in the New England Journal of Medicine confirmed that two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine cut symptomatic COVID-19 cases across all age groups by 94%.

And Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease expert, warned people not to hold off on getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine if it soon becomes available while waiting for the slightly more effective Pfizer or Moderna shots. Fauci also told NBC News a third vaccine becoming available “is nothing but good news.”

Also in the news:

►The Food and Drug Administration will allow Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to be shipped and stored at freezers commonly found in pharmacies rather than the ultra-frigid ones initially required after data from the company showed the vaccine remains stable for up to two weeks in standard freezer temperatures. Thursday’s decision will make it easier to distribute and administer the vaccine.

►Gov. Kate Brown on Thursday extended Oregon’s declaration of a state of emergency until May 2 as confirmed COVID-19 cases continue to drop across the state but still number in the hundreds each day.

►After six straight weeks of declines in new COVID-19 infections across the U.S., daily cases have started to plateau in many states, but hospitalizations and deaths continue to drop, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

►The World Health Organization reported Thursday that case rates across Europe have been cut in half from their winter peak.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 28.4 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 508,100 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 112.9 million cases and 2.5 million deaths. More than 91.6 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and about 68.2 million have been administered, according to the CDC.

📘 What we’re reading: Surgery for a child, paying a loan, electric bills: We asked Americans how they would spend $1,400 stimulus checks. This is what they said.

USA TODAY is tracking COVID-19 news. Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates. Want more? Sign up for our Coronavirus Watch newsletter for updates to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

Megan Turgeon of the New Hampshire National Guard fills a syringe with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday at a mass vaccination clinic in the parking lot of Exeter High School.

‘We have to fight this together as one,’ Joe Biden tells state governors

When Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee butted heads with Donald Trump last year over the prior administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the then-president called Inslee a snake.

“I may still be one,” the governor said on Thursday with a chuckle when asked how things have changed under President Joe Biden. “But I’m a well-cared-for snake.”

During the National Governors Association’s winter meeting, held virtually Thursday, Biden called states the “laboratories of democracy” in a nod to their independence. But he emphasized that a national approach is needed on the pandemic and other issues because “so many of our challenges don’t stop at our border of our states.”

“We have to fight this together as one,” Biden told the governors.

– Maureen Groppe and Courtney Subramanian

‘Massive pandemic of mentally ill adolescents’ blamed on COVID-19

Dr. Brian Alverson, director of the Division of Pediatric Hospital Medicine at Rhode Island’s Hasbro Children’s Hospital, says he has witnessed what he described to The Providence Journal, part of the USA TODAY Network, as “a massive pandemic of mentally ill adolescents,” many of them admitted to Hasbro Children’s.

The Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry has published articles on the nationwide phenomenon stemming in part from social isolation and loneliness.

“And when I say massive, I don’t want to understate this,” Alverson said. On a recent Friday, “when I looked at the census of the hospital, three-quarters of the hospital was adolescents who wanted to hurt themselves because of mental illness.”

– G. Wayne Miller, The Providence Journal

Dr. Anthony Fauci aims to answer questions about ‘COVID long-haulers’

The U.S. government is launching a nationwide initiative to study COVID-19 patients who suffer from residual symptoms months after recovery, commonly known as “COVID long-haulers,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said in a White House briefing Wednesday. 

The nation’s leading infectious diseases expert also revealed a scientific name for the new syndrome – Post Acute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 (PASC) –  further legitimizing the suffering population. 

“(There are) a lot of important questions that are now unanswered that we hope with this series of initiatives we will ultimately answer,” Fauci said.

The announcement comes after a study published last week in JAMA Network Open found about 30% of COVID-19 patients reported persistent symptoms as long as 9 months after illness.

– Adrianna Rodriguez

Contributing: Karen Weintraub, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

Continue reading at USA Today