People should feel comfortable getting the AstraZeneca vaccine, even if health authorities turn up a link to “very rare” blood clots, a top World Health Organization expert said Wednesday.

Dr. Kate O’Brien, who heads WHO’s department of immunizations and vaccines, said the U.N. health agency and the European Medicines Agency are trying to investigate whether the vaccine has anything to do with the clots. The potential side effect has prompted some European countries to temporarily suspend use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. A WHO panel is reviewing the data.

“I think the reassurance to the public is that regardless of whether or not the committee ultimately assesses that there may be an association between these events and the vaccine, that in any event, these are very rare events,” O’Brien said at a news conference.

U.S. experts also have been bullish on the vaccine. Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, warned that the suspensions create a perception that vaccines are dangerous.

“The only way out of this pandemic is by vaccination,” he said.

Also in the news:

►The White House says that more than 22 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines will be distributed in the next seven days, a new high that would send the daily average over 3 million for the first time.

►The first major wave of stimulus checks should become available in bank accounts across the nation – up to $1,400 per person, a family of four could see $5,600.

►More than 15% of U.S. adults are now fully vaccinated and 28% have had at least one dose, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

►Mississippi joined Alaska on Tuesday in opening the vaccine eligibility flood gates. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said the vaccine will be available to anyone in state 16 years and older by the end of March, and Connecticut is preparing to open to people 16 years of age and over starting April 5.

►Former President Donald Trump on Tuesday urged his supporters to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Trump made the pitch during a 20-minute telephone interview with Fox News.

►Just over 1 million Arizona residents are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, state officials announced Tuesday.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has over 29.5 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 536,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 120 million cases and 2.66 million deaths. Nearly 143 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and more than 111 million have been administered, according to the CDC.

📘 What we’re reading: Outdoor seating isn’t always safer than indoor dining. Some structures may be relatively safe, others could be worse, trapping aerosols inside.

USA TODAY is tracking COVID-19 news. Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates. Want more? Sign up for our Coronavirus Watch newsletter for updates to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

St. Patrick’s Day celebrations muted again this year

Muted, virtual celebrations marked St. Patrick’s Day in New York City on Wednesday, including a modest parade minus the floats, oversized balloons and marching bands. Mayor Bill de Blasio joined parade leaders and several dozen National Guard troops in marching up Madison Avenue.

“This morning’s parade may have looked a little different, but the spirit of our Irish community shone through all the brighter,” de Blasio tweeted.

One of the nation’s biggest St. Patrick’s Day parades is held in Savannah almost every year since 1824. But not last year and not this year. Mayor Van Johnson said he saw thousands out celebrating, many flocking downtown. But he said he doesn’t regret allowing businesses to stay open.

“Our economy needed a shot in the arm, but we also needed people to be safe,” he said. “There is a curfew order that is signed waiting for me to date it that I will implement without a moment’s hesitation if things get out of hand.”

A smaller version of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade marches up Madison Avenue Wednesday, March 17, 2021, in New York.

Stimulus checks roll out today; some will buy food, others stocks

The stimulus cash rolling into bank accounts today will put food on the table and pay rent for many Americans struggling financially because of the pandemic.

But many young investors plan to use their relief payments to snatch up stocks, according to a recent survey from Deutsche Bank. Half of respondents between 25 and 34 years old plan to spend 50% of their COVID-19 relief payments on stocks, the study showed, which published the report in February. It surveyed 430 users of online broker platforms between Feb. 5 and 9.

Marlon Watkins, who lost his job last spring, got another one in the fall. “It was a wake-up call,” Watkins said. “Now I’m back on my feet and want to invest so that I’m prepared for the next time something like this happens.”

Jessica Menton

Vatican says J&J vaccine OK – if it’s the only one available

Catholics might be somewhat confused by reports on differing messages about the acceptability of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine due to a cell line from an abortion being used in its production.

The differences have been resolved and Catholic teaching is clear: Catholics have a moral duty to protect themselves and others from COVID-19 by being vaccinated. However, if given the choice, they should avoid the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, according to the Vatican and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Should they choose not to be vaccinated, they have a moral obligation to mask, socially distance and “do their utmost” to avoid becoming infected or infecting others, the Vatican said. Read more here.

Elizabeth Weise

Duke reports highest number of positive cases in a single week

Duke University, already operating under lockdown to combat a rise in coronavirus infections, on Tuesday reported 231 cases from last week, almost as many as the school had the entire fall semester.

“This was the highest number of positive cases reported in a single week,” the school said in a statement. “The individuals who tested positive have been placed in isolation, while those identified as potential contacts have been placed in precautionary quarantine.”

The school issued a “stay in place” order Saturday, requiring students living in Duke-provided housing to remain in their residence hall room or apartment at all times except for essential activities related to food, health or safety. Students living off-campus are required to stay there, with a few exceptions.

Rush events by unaffiliated fraternities appear to be the main culprit for the outbreak.

“This (stay-in-place) action is necessary to contain the rapidly escalating number of COVID cases among Duke undergraduates, which is principally driven by students attending recruitment parties for selective living groups,” the university said.

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID updates: Stimulus checks today; states open vaccine eligibility

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