US officials plead for caution as variants spread

“We’re concerned that [cases have] plateaued at a high level, an unacceptably high level,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told NBC on Thursday.

“We can’t claim victory prematurely,” he said. “Everybody, including myself, has some degree of Covid-19 fatigue, but the thing we try and emphasize is that this will end.”

“We need to hold out just a bit longer and give vaccines a chance to really get the upper hand in this.”

The B.1.1.7 variant was first spotted in the United Kingdom. It spreads more easily and appears to be deadlier as well. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found more than 11,000 cases of the strain in the country, with the highest tallies in Florida and Michigan. On Thursday, Michigan also reported its first case of a variant that was originally found in Brazil.

The spike is causing tension between the White House and some state governors who are pushing ahead with relaxed restrictions. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Tuesday he was lifting the state’s mask mandate, while Alabama’s Kay Ivey plans to do the same next week. New Orleans city leaders said Wednesday that they were relaxing capacity limit caps on gatherings. Meanwhile, Florida has welcomed crowds of spring breakers — many of whom are unvaccinated and maskless.

Fauci’s comments echoed those of President Joe Biden from earlier this week. Biden said Monday that “now is not the time” to ease social restrictions and that he wanted state governors to pause reopening efforts.

States are also racing to get ahead of the variants by intensifying their vaccine rollouts.

Arkansas announced Tuesday it was expanding vaccine access to anyone 16 and older, joining a dozen other states that have widened eligibility.

But whether the race to immunization can contain the spread of new variants remains in the balance.

YOU ASKED. WE ANSWERED.

Q. Can I celebrate Easter with my loved ones?

People who have had both Covid-19 shots can gather indoors without wearing masks, meaning that the celebration can be held with some semblance of normality.

Those who are not fully vaccinated are advised to stick to their own household for egg hunts or to enjoy Easter traditions outdoors while six feet apart.

The agency said it still advises fully vaccinated people to wear masks outdoors and to take precautions until more is known about how vaccines protect against coronavirus.

Send your questions here. Are you a health care worker fighting Covid-19? Message us on WhatsApp about the challenges you’re facing: +1 347-322-0415.
An Easter Bunny greets children during a Bunny Drive-Thru event outside in Alexandria, Virginia.

WHAT’S IMPORTANT TODAY

Covid-19 vaccine protection likely to last over six months, experts say

The protection offered by the Pfizer and Moderna coronavirus vaccines is likely to last longer than six months, and maybe even years, vaccine experts told CNN, after data was released showing good protection half a year after people were inoculated.

Pfizer/BioNTech said yesterday its ongoing clinical trial showed its vaccine protected volunteers from the virus for at least six months and that the vaccine was shown to be fully effective against the South African variant of the virus referred to as B.1.351.

UK regulator finds 30 blood clots after AstraZeneca shots, but says vaccination should continue

The British medicines watchdog has identified 30 cases of rare blood clots in people who have received the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine — 25 more than previously reported — but none with the Pfizer/BioNTech shot.

The blood clots are extremely rare: the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said it received 22 reports of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis and eight reports of other thrombosis events, out of a total of 18.1 million doses of the vaccine given in the country by March 24.

The MHRA said people should continue to get the AstraZeneca vaccine, because the benefits greatly outweigh the risks. AstraZeneca reiterated in a statement Friday that regulators have concluded that “the benefits of using our vaccine to protect people from this deadly virus significantly outweigh the risks across all adult age groups.” The European Medicines Agency and the World Health Organization also said vaccinations should continue.

Despite the recommendation, Germany has this week limited the AstraZeneca vaccine to people over 60, following reports of a rare blood clot in the brains of 31 people who had received a first dose in the country.

Ontario shuts down as ICU admissions jump

Canada’s most populous province of Ontario announced a new “emergency brake” shutdown beginning this weekend as it struggles to cope with a surge in intensive care admissions caused by the new, more infectious strains of the virus.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the new virus strains are causing the disease to spread faster and do more harm. “This is a new pandemic. We’re fighting a new enemy,” he said.

ON OUR RADAR

  • It’s OK to squeeze more doses out of vials of Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine, the US Food and Drug Administration said yesterday, revising Moderna’s emergency use authorization.
  • Johnson & Johnson said it is still on track to deliver 24 million more doses of its Covid-19 vaccine in the US in April, despite the manufacturing snafu at one of the company’s contract manufacturers.
  • They survived Covid-19. But the feeling that death was only moments away has caused PTSD in millions of people.
  • Florida’s case and death counts are lower than expected despite loose mitigation measures — and that’s drawing new scrutiny of the state’s official Covid-19 data.
  • Panama has authorized emergency use of Russia’s Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine.

TODAY’S TOP TIPS

With millions getting vaccinated every day, some have complained about subsequent fever, fatigue and other ailments they weren’t expecting.

Don’t panic, doctors say. Side effects from Covid-19 vaccines won’t last long. And they’re actually proof that your immune system is working the way it’s supposed to. (But don’t worry if you don’t have any — vaccines are still very effective even without side effects.)

Here are some of the most common side effects from Covid-19 shots, how you can manage them, and why you shouldn’t use them as an excuse to skip vaccination.

And no, you definitely cannot get the coronavirus from the vaccine. It’s just not possible.

TODAY’S PODCAST

To make it work at this scale is absolutely stunning.” — Mike McDermott, President of Pfizer Global Supply

McDermott gives CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta an exclusive look inside Pfizer’s vaccine manufacturing plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan where millions of doses are made each week. Listen now.

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