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CDC says now-dominant variant poses risk even with nearly 20% of U.S. fully vaccinated

The U.S. COVID-19 vaccine push continued to gain ground on Wednesday with 19% of the population now fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, though experts remain concerned about stubbornly high case numbers that continue to rise.

The CDC’s vaccine tracker is showing that as of 6.00 a.m. ET Tuesday, 219 million doses had been delivered to states, 168.6 million doses had been administered and 108.3 million Americans had received at least one dose, equal to 32.6% of the overall population.

At least 63 million people are fully vaccinated, meaning they have received two doses of the vaccines developed by Pfizer Inc.
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and German partner BioNTech SE
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or Moderna Inc.
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or one dose of the single-dose vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson
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In the 65 years-and-older group, 30.9 million people are fully vaccinated, equal to more than half—56.6%–of that group.

The U.S. added at least 62,004 new cases on Tuesday, according to a New York Times tracker, and at least 907 people died. The seven-day average stands at 64,847 cases a day, up 19% from the 14-day average.

Minnesota and Illinois are recording rapid case growth, while the six metro areas with the highest rates of new cases are all located in Michigan, the tracker shows. But all states in the Northeast corridor are currently seeing cases rise and remain high, including New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.

The B.1.1.7 variant, which was first identified in the U.K., is now the most dominant form of the coronavirus circulating in the U.S., according to comments made Wednesday by Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC. Research indicates that this strain of the virus is more infectious and more deadly.

“The virus still has a hold on us,” she said during a White House briefing. “We need to remain vigilant.”

The CDC said in January that it expected B.1.1.7 to be the most common form of the virus by the end of March.

Walensky said that communities with high rates of community transmission should no longer allow youth sports that take place indoors or don’t allow six feet of spacing. She also said large events in those communities should be deferred.

Don’t miss: How 6 feet became 3: Meet an ER doctor behind the research showing kids are still safe in school with new social-distancing standard

The European Medicines Agency weighed in on the blood-clotting issue that has been reported among a small number of mostly Europeans who received the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca PLC
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and Oxford University, saying clots should be listed as a “very rare” side effect. The EMA says the benefits of the vaccine still outweigh the risks, MarketWatch’s Lina Saigol and Callum Keown reported.

The regulator conducted an investigation of a possible link between the vaccine and the clotting incidents after a number of countries halted use of the vaccine or restricted it in certain age groups.

On Tuesday, Oxford stopped administering doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in a small U.K. study seeking to evaluate its safety and effectiveness in children and teenagers to await more information on the clotting issue, the Wall Street Journal reported. The trial was started in mid-February and involves more than 200 young people aged 6 to 17 years old.

But the U.K. government’s vaccination advisory board said adults under 30 should be offered an alternative to the AstraZeneca vaccine, if one is available, and they are healthy and not at risk of contracting the virus.

See also: White House rules out requiring federal vaccine passport

Meanwhile, the U.K. began to administer the first doses of the Moderna vaccine in Wales. The U.K. has bought enough Moderna shots for 8.5 million people, or 17 million doses of the vaccine that was shown to be 100% effective against a severe form of the virus in late-stage trials.

See now: Will you vaccinate your kids against COVID-19 once they’re eligible? Only half of U.S. parents say yes

In other news:

• Anthem Inc. ANTM will pay a $50 incentive to any of its employees who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, MarketWatch’s Tomi Kilgore reported. The health insurer said the incentive will be in the form of a one-time credit toward medical premiums or a donation to the Anthem Cares Fund that helps support fellow employees in need, at the employees choice. “Anthem is committed to empowering our associates to live a healthy lifestyle, therefore it was important that we provided an incentive to those who receive the COVID-19 vaccination. I am impressed and grateful for everything our associates have done and continue to do for the customers and communities we serve,” said Chief Human Resources Officer Leah Stark. 

See now: CDC offers travel advice to vaccinated Americans—but stops short of saying it’s OK to get on a plane

• The National Institutes of Health has started a clinical study assessing allergic reactions to the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines developed by Moderna Inc. and BioNTech SE /Pfizer Inc., MarketWatch’s Jaimy Lee reported. The aim is to understand who is at increased risk, including people with a history of allergic reactions or those who have been diagnosed with a mast cell disorder. (Mast cells are part of the body’s immune system. When those cells mutate, it can cause one of several rare disorders.) The Phase 2 clinical trial, which is being funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, will enroll 3,400 adults who fit one of three categories: people who have previously reported a severe allergic reaction to food, insects, or a medication; people who have been diagnosed with a mast cell disorder; or individuals without a history of either.

President Biden announced Tuesday that he’s pushing up the deadline from May 1 to April 19 for states to make all adults in the U.S. eligible for Covid-19 vaccines. Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

• Bad news from Brazil where the death toll surpassed 4,000 a day for the first time, the Guardian reported. At least 4,195 Brazilians died on Tuesday, taking the overall death toll to nearly 337,000, the second highest in the world after the U.S. Brazil also reported 86,979 new infections. Experts fear a record 100,000 Brazilians could lose their lives this month alone if nothing is done.

• A third of COVID-19 patients suffered from psychiatric or brain problems within six months of their diagnosis, in a study published Tuesday in the Lancet Psychiatry journal, the New York Post reported. Researchers analyzed the health records of 236,379 COVID patients, mostly from the US, and found that 34 percent had been diagnosed with neurological or psychiatric disorders six months on. About one in eight of the patients, or 12.8 percent, were diagnosed for the first time with such an illness, the study showed. Anxiety, at 17 percent, and depression or mood disorders, at 14 percent, were the most common diagnoses, according to the research.

• The pandemic has had a severe impact on the human rights of millions of people, Amnesty International said in its annual report, exacerbating inequality and hurting welfare and health systems in some of the poorest countries on earth. “Whatever will be proven to be its precise genesis, the coronavirus (COVID-19) and its mass casualties flourished in part thanks to our global milieu of deeper, broader inequalities within and between countries. It has been made far worse by austerity policies that weakened public infrastructure and public health systems; by international architecture enfeebled in form, function and leadership,” said the human rights group.

Latest tallies

The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness rose above 132.6 million on Wednesday, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, while the death toll rose above 2.87 million.

About 75 million people have recovered from COVID, the data show.

The U.S. continues to lead the world by cases, at 30.8 million, or about a quarter of the global tally, and fatalities, at 556,715.

After Brazil, India is third worldwide in cases with 12.8 million and fourth in deaths at 166,177.

Mexico is third by deaths at 204,985 and 14th highest by cases at 2.3 million.

The U.K. has 4.4 million cases and 127,171, the highest in Europe and fifth highest in the world.

China, where the virus was first discovered late last year, has had 101,928 confirmed cases and 4,841 deaths, according to its official numbers.

What’s the economy saying?

Massive federal stimulus payments, rising vaccinations and a steep drop in coronavirus cases have eased the angst of Americans, but most still don’t feel secure about their financial well-being, MarketWatch’s Jeffry Bartash reported.

The way people feel about their finances is still about 12% below pre-pandemic levels, according to year-long polling by Morning Consult. The anxiety is worst in the South and West and in states such as Nevada and Hawaii whose economies rely heavily on tourism.

Read: U.S. gains 916,000 new jobs in another clear sign of strengthening economy

Morning Consult’s daily poll of consumer confidence has been one of the best surveys to gauge how Americans have reacted to the coronavirus over the past year. The poll results are included in MarketWatch’s Coronavirus Recovery Tracker.

The latest findings, drawn from some 2.6 million interviews in the past year, showed that people in the Northeast feel the most upbeat about their finances.

See also: U.S. economy will boom into 2023, but inequality must be addressed: Jamie Dimon in his latest letter to JPMorgan shareholders

Even though the Northeast has been of the nation’s biggest coronavirus hotspots, states in the region provide bigger unemployment benefits than most of the rest of the country.

“The generosity of unemployment benefits likely explains some of these regional divergences,” Morning Consult said.

Separately, the U.S. trade deficit with other countries jumped almost 5% in February to a record $71.1 billion, as a rapidly recovering economy enabled Americans to buy more imported goods.

he trade gap widened from a revised $67.8 billion in January, the government said Wednesday. Economists polled by Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal had forecast the deficit to total $70.5 billion.

The previous record deficit on record occurred last November, when it topped $69 billion.

While higher deficits can point to a less productive economy, that’s not the case right now. The U.S. has recovered from the coronavirus pandemic faster than most other countries and Washington provided massive financial stimulus, allowing Americans to spend more than citizens in Europe and elsewhere.

The markets were weak Wednesday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average
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down 0.2% and the S&P 500
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down 0.04%.

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