Vaccine Roundup

The U.S. Vaccination Rate Has Reached a Record High

A roundup of the most important Covid-19 vaccine news this week

Photo: FG Trade/Getty Images

Around the world, six vaccines have been approved for limited use and six approved for full use. This week, the United States granted emergency use authorization to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Vaccines are being rolled out in many nations, but access to vaccines and vaccination rates vary widely around the world. Israel, with 39.8% of its population fully vaccinated, is the leader in the global rollout, followed by Seychelles and the United States (up from fourth place last week). So far, 16.3% of Americans have received a single dose, and 8.4% are fully vaccinated.

The U.S. vaccine rollout is improving. Globally, more vaccines are being delivered and administered as well, but the limited supply is creating tensions between some countries.

The FDA approves Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine

Last Saturday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the vaccine from Johnson & Johnson for emergency use, bringing the number of vaccines available to Americans up to three. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine was highly anticipated in the United States because it only requires a single shot and doesn’t need special refrigeration. An FDA analysis showed that the vaccine’s efficacy rate in the United States was 72% and 64% in South Africa, where the more transmisible B.1.351 variant first emerged.

Johnson & Johnson teams up with its rival

In an effort to increase the vaccine supply, Johnson & Johnson has partnered with its rival, Merck, to produce and package more doses of its vaccine. The Biden administration announced Tuesday that it had brokered the deal between the two pharmaceutical giants, calling it a “historic partnership” not seen since World War II. Johnson & Johnson, which has cautioned that its supply would initially be limited because of manufacturing delays at its Baltimore plant, has committed to delivering 3.9 million doses immediately and 16 million more by the end of March.

Biden says there will be enough doses for Americans by May

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden announced that the United States would produce enough vaccines for all adult Americans by May, moving up his initial timeline from the end of July. He credited his administration’s efforts to speed up vaccine production, including the use of the Defense Production Act to help produce Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine. Biden will initially focus on vaccinating teachers and other school staff over the next month.

The U.S. vaccination rate has reached a record high

This week, the U.S. vaccination rate reached 2.04 million doses per day: a record high. A month ago, as the New York Times pointed out, the vaccination rate was 1.3 million doses per day. But although vaccines are getting put into arms more quickly, vaccination has a long way to go in terms of efficiency. According to NPR, “there are still millions more doses distributed to states than have been administered to people.”

Italy blocked a shipment of vaccine meant for Australia

On Thursday, Italy’s government said it had blocked a shipment of 250,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine bound for Australia, saying that Australia was not considered a “vulnerable” country. Italy has seen a frightening surge of cases in the last two weeks, with 22,845 on Thursday; Australia, meanwhile, has only 90 active cases. Italy’s move was sanctioned by controversial E.U. rules that allow a member nation to limit exports of a vaccine if the manufacturer hasn’t fulfilled its obligation to that nation. On Friday, Australia asked the E.U. to review the block.

Catholic leaders butt heads over morality of Johnson & Johnson vaccine

On Tuesday, leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement that raised concerns about the “moral permissibility” of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because it was developed using cells from aborted fetuses. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, along with at least four other vaccines, uses cell lines derived from fetuses aborted many decades ago, reported Science last June. Some religious leaders have assured Catholics that the vaccine is morally permissible, citing a Vatican statement saying that receiving such vaccines is permitted if other vaccines are not available. Pope Francis, who has called vaccination “an ethical action,” was vaccinated in January along with his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

Editor, Medium Coronavirus Blog. Senior editor at Future Human by OneZero. Previously: science at Inverse, genetics at NYU.