COVID-19 vaccine news roundup: what happened this week with COVID-19 vaccines

Hesitancy seems to be waning, Merck extends helping hand to J&J, US bishops say J&J is "morally acceptable," and Biden promises large enough supply for all adults by May

85,008,094 and counting

According to the CDC’s COVID-19 vaccine tracker, 85,008,094 doses had been administered in the U.S. as of a count that was updated at 6 a.m. Eastern Time on Friday (March 5). The Bloomberg vaccine tracker says today that 74% of the shots delivered to the states have been administered.

Vaccine hesitancy waning

Pew Research Center pollsterssaid on Friday (March 5) that results of a recent Pew survey

show that 19% of adults in the U.S. say they have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine and that another 50% say they definitely or probably plan to get vaccinated. That 19% + 50% exceeds the 60% in November who said they planned to get vaccinated before any vaccines were available. Vaccine hesitancy among Black American has been high because of institutional racism and other factors, but the Pew survey results show that a solid majority (61%) of Black Americans say they intend to get vaccinated, a major increase from the 42% in November who said they plan to get vaccinated.

Cooperation is breaking out all over

Novartis announced Thursday (March 4) that will it help German biotech CureVac manufacture its vaccine, supplying 50 million doses by the end of this year and 200 million in 2022. The RNA vaccine is in late-stage trials.

That helping-hand announcement came two days after Merck announced that it will help Johnson & Johnson produce its single-doss vaccine, which received an emergency use authorization (EUA) from the FDA last Saturday (Feb. 27). Merck announcement says that Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) is giving the company $268.8 million to adapt existing manufacturing facilities to make COVID-19 vaccines and medications.

The pandemic’s billionaires

Great science, great need and some idealism have fueled the successful race to develop COVID-19 vaccines. But there's also not-minor amounts of money at stake. Today’s (March 6) Guardian looks at how the vaccines are going to affect the developers’ revenues and profits. “Whether the market remains a money-spinner in the future depends on whether the vaccines become the type that need just a one-off shot – as for measles – or if regular vaccinations will be required, such as for flu,” said the newspaper.

Some people involved in COVID-19 vaccine development have already made a fortune.

The two founders of BioNTech, the husband and wife team Ugur Sahin and Özlem Türeci, became multibillionaires last year, reported the British newspaper. Moderna’s stock prices has almost quadrupled, and the CEO, Stéphane Bancel, owns 9% of the shares, which are now worth nearly $5 billion.

Delayed reactions to the Moderna vaccine

Some pain and soreness are common at the injection site of many vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccines. In a letter published in the March 3 (Wednesday) issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, doctors at Harvard and Baylor report on 12 cases of a delayed reaction to the vaccine that occurred 8-11 days after the injection. The symptoms included pain, swellingand pruritis. Five of the reactions were grade 3 plaques. Treatment included ice, antihistamines and glucocorticoids (topical and oral). One received antibiotics for “presumptive cellulitis. All the patients received their second dose.

The physicians said they hope the information in their letter “might allay the concerns of patients, encourage completion of vaccination, and minimize the unnecessary use of antibiotics.”

U.S. Bishops say the J & J vaccine is “morally acceptable” but express preference for Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech

Because J & J vaccine is produced using a fetal cell line, some religious leaders who are opposed to abortion have advised their followers to get the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines instead.

On Tuesday (March 2) two leaders in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement saying that although it was “morally acceptable” to get vaccinated with the vaccine produced in cells lines from aborted fetuses but advised getting the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine possible.

“Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines raised concerns because an abortion-derived cell line was used for testing them, but not in their production. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, however, was developed, tested and is produced with abortion-derived cell lines raising additional moral concerns,” said the statement from Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, who is chair of the conference’s committee on doctrine and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, who is the chair of the conference’s committee on pro-life activities.

Their statement continued, “The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has judged that ‘when ethically irreproachable Covid-19 vaccines are not available … it is morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process.’ However, if one can choose among equally safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, the vaccine with the least connection to abortion-derived cell lines should be chosen. Therefore, if one has the ability to choose a vaccine, Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccines should be chosen over Johnson & Johnson’s.

Biden: Enough supply for all adults by the end of May

President Joe Biden announced on Tuesday that the administration was invoking the Defense Production Act to equip two Merck facilities to make the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and that the company itself had geared up to operate its manufacturing facilities around the clock.

“Here’s what all this means: We’re now on track to have enough vaccine supply for every adult in America by the end of May,” Biden said, according to a transcript posted on the White House website.

Biden continued: “Let me say that again: When I came into office, the prior administration had contracted for not nearly enough vaccine to cover adults in America. We rectified that. About three weeks ago, we were able to say that we’ll have enough vaccine supply for adults by the end of July.

And I’m pleased to announce today, as a consequence of the stepped-up process that I’ve ordered and just outlined, this country will have enough vaccine supply — I’ll say it again — for every adult in America by the end of May. By the end of May. That’s progress — important progress.”

AMA, others call for better collection of race, ethnicity data

In an open letter on Tuesday (March 2), the American Medical Association, American Nurses Association and the American Pharmacists Association joined forced to called for improved data collection about those who have been vaccinated. According to the letter, almost half of the vaccination records during the first month the vaccines were available were missing race and ethnic information.