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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Johnson & Johnson Shots Administered, States Reopen Prematurely, and More Coronavirus News

The first Johnson & Johnson shots are administered, some states begin opening prematurely, and new variants demand vigilance. Here’s what you should know:

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US vaccinations increase as the first Johnson & Johnson shots are administered

It was a good week in vaccine news. Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine was approved for use, and the first doses were administered shortly thereafter. Johnson & Johnson has had some difficulty ramping up manufacturing, but on Tuesday, President Biden announced that a competing drugmaker, Merck, would help manufacture the shots at its factories. With this boost, the White House projects that there will be enough vaccines for every American adult by the end of May.

Because the Johnson & Johnson shot requires just one dose and can be stored at regular refrigerator temperatures, some have touted it as a good option to send to harder-to-reach, more rural communities. While the vaccine has proven highly effective, some lawmakers have expressed concern that this could create the feeling that there’s a two-tiered distribution system. That said, so far ruralness has actually proven to be a vaccine distribution asset in states like North Dakota, which has administered more than 90 percent of its doses week after week.

States try to navigate the many unknowns of reopening

As of Thursday, more than 20 percent of American adults have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. As increasing numbers of people are inoculated, the country is entering a strange gray zone, where individuals and states are disputing how much, if at all, it’s OK to return to pre-pandemic living. It seems pretty clear that all of the approved vaccines stop some infection and transmission, but we don’t know exactly how much. Regardless, experts agree: It’s too soon to declare victory.

Even so, this week saw several states rolling back key pandemic restrictions. In Texas and Mississippi, governors Abbott and Reeves rescinded key provisions, including their statewide mask mandates, decisions that President Biden blasted as “Neanderthal thinking.” Alabama’s governor announced Thursday that her state will follow suit and lift its mask mandate in early April. And Connecticut will do away with many of its Covid-19 restrictions later this month, though mask wearing will still be mandatory.

Experts call for vigilance as we work to understand new virus variants

To fully end this pandemic, we’ll need to understand how this virus changes and evolves within and among people. Recent months have thrown this into relief, as more variants or Sars-CoV-2 have been identified and made headlines. Many of these aren’t necessarily cause for alarm. In a recent interview with WIRED, for example, Anthony Fauci said that a new variant first identified in New York City is unlikely to cause major issues.

But that’s not to say that we shouldn’t be watching some of these mutations closely. Brazil, where a new variant appears to be spreading rapidly, recorded its highest single-day death toll on Tuesday. Experts have affirmed that this is all the more reason to stay vigilant, even post-vaccination. “Please hear me clearly,” CDC director Rochelle Walensky said earlier this week, “At this level of cases with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained.”

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