Pfizer vaccine can be stored in a refrigerator for a month, FDA says; nurse union criticizes CDC mask mandate: Live COVID-19 updates

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky testified before the Senate Committee on Appropriations on Wednesday, days after announcing new guidance on mask-wearing for fully vaccinated people.

Walensky was asked repeatedly about the new recommendations and the impact they could have on getting Americans vaccinated. She emphasized that the country is not “homogenous,” and given the disproportionate rates of vaccination — particularly for people of color who are more at risk — said decisions about whether to remove mask mandates must be made at the local level.

“That scientific data was enough for us to move forward,” Walensky said of the decision on the mask guidance. “People said we moved too slow, we moved too fast. We moved at the speed that science gave us.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s leading infectious disease expert, told Axios on Wednesday that the U.S. public did not correctly understand the CDC’s latest announcement.

“I think people are misinterpreting, thinking that this is a removal of a mask mandate for everyone. It’s not,” he said. “It’s an assurance to those who are vaccinated that they can feel safe, be they outdoors or indoors.”

Fauci stressed that the CDC did not advise unvaccinated people to go without masks, though experts say the new guidance will allow unvaccinated people to flout rules without consequences.

Also in the news:

►The British government says about 3,000 people will be given a third dose of a coronavirus vaccine in a clinical trial to determine if booster shots provide additional protection against COVID-19 and its variants.

►Several immigrants’ rights groups filed a complaint against those running a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Mississippi, saying it’s experiencing the largest COVID-19 outbreak at any ICE facility in the country because safety policies aren’t being followed.

►Two-thirds of adults have received at least one dose in California, according to data from the CDC.

►A study of 280 nursing homes in 21 states across the U.S. provides real-world confirmation of the COVID-19 vaccines’ effectiveness: About 1% of residents tested positive for the virus within two weeks of receiving their second dose, and only 0.3% did more than two weeks after being fully vaccinated, researchers reported Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. Most of the cases did not produce any symptoms.

►The European Union on Wednesday announced plans to reopen its borders to fully vaccinated visitors, as well as people coming from a list of countries considered safe, with the United States expected to make the cut.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 33.26 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 587,800 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 164.6 million cases and 3.41 million deaths. More than 349.2 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 277.2 million have been administered, according to the CDC. Nearly 125.4 million Americans have been fully vaccinated — 37.8% of the population.

📘 What we’re reading: Japan continues to struggle with COVID-19 but is still scheduled to open its doors for the Summer Games. Why some are calling it a “ridiculous idea.”

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Pfizer vaccine can now be stored longer at refrigerator temperatures, FDA says

The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine can now be stored at normal refrigerator temperatures for up to a month, according to a Food and Drug Administration announcement Wednesday.

This time period will make it easier to store and ship the vaccine — previous storage time was only five days. The change should make this vaccine more widely available to the American public by allowing vaccine providers to receive, store and administer the vaccine, the FDA said.

“Making COVID-19 vaccines widely available is key to getting people vaccinated and bringing the pandemic to an end,” says Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics and Research.

Largest nurses’ union urges CDC to revert to old masking guidelines for vaccinated Americans

National Nurses United, the nation’s largest union of registered nurses, condemned the CDC’s decision to lift masking recommendations for fully vaccinated people and urged the agency to bring them back.

NNU leaders argued in a news conference Wednesday that the U.S. is still struggling with 35,000 new COVID-19 cases per day and the continued circulation of variants. They also said persisting unanswered questions about the vaccines — like how long protection lasts — highlights the need for masks.

The CDC’s new guidance could potentially harm those who have yet to be vaccinated, such as children under 12 years old and underserved communities, as well as immunocompromised people who don’t respond as robustly to the vaccines, said NNU president Jean Ross.

“As guardians of public health during the worst global pandemic of our lifetimes and as the essential care workers who have held this medical system together through this horrific past year and a half, it is our duty to speak up and advocate for what we know is in the best interest of people’s health,” she said. “The guidance the CDC issued on May 13 is disappointingly not in the best interest of public health.”

– Adrianna Rodriguez

Another potential COVID infection complication: Deep blood clots in the arm

In the first reported case of its kind, a healthy 85-year-old man developed a rare recurrence of deep-vein blood clots, or deep vein thrombosis, in his upper arm as the result of coronavirus infection, according to a Rutgers researchers report.

The unusual case highlights yet another way the virus that causes COVID-19 can affect people. Beyond the more common respiratory symptoms and loss of taste and smell, the virus can trigger coagulation disorders, especially clots.

“This is of concern since in 30% of these patients, the blood clot can travel to the lung and be possibly fatal,” said Dr. Payal Parikh, an assistant professor of medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, who led the study along with Martin Blaser, director of the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine. “Other disabling complications include persistent swelling, pain, and arm fatigue.”

Those who have had deep vein thrombosis previously or have a medical condition that predisposes them to clots may be more vulnerable. Read here for more.

– Lindy Washburn,

Contributing: The Associated Press.

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