March 2nd, 2021

The Latest: Mexico receives shipment of Sputnik V vaccine

By The Associated Press on February 22, 2021.

MEXICO CITY – Mexico has received its first shipment of Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine.

Some 200,000 doses arrived to Mexico City’s international airport late Monday night aboard a British Airways flight from Moscow. Officials plan to use the doses to begin vaccinating seniors in the capital’s most marginalized boroughs on Wednesday. Mexico Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard confirmed their arrival via Twitter.

Mexico received its first shipment of vaccines from Pfizer in mid-December, but turned to Sputnik V in January when other expected vaccine shipments were delayed. Sputnik too arrives later than initially expected. Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador spoke with Russia President Vladimir Putin in late January.

In early February, Mexican regulators gave Sputnik V emergency approval and the government signed a contract to bring 400,000 doses to Mexico in February. It was unclear when the next shipment of Sputnik would arrive.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

– Researchers in Scotland say its COVID-19 vaccination program has caused hospitalizations to plummet

– British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to lay out plan to ease coronavirus restrictions but pubs, gyms and hairdressers to stay closed for weeks

– Russia’s vaccine rollout picks up speed but experts say the campaign is still moving slowly

– Elementary schools and kindergartens reopen in over half of Germany’s 16 states

– Every Democratic vote is needed on $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, but minimum wage and other issues will force choices

– Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine president will reject recommendations to further ease coronavirus quarantine restrictions across the country until a delayed vaccination campaign kicks off, his spokesman said.

President Rodrigo Duterte also rejected a plan to resume face-to-face school classes in some pilot areas until vaccinations, which have been set back by delays in the arrival of initial batches of COVID-19 vaccine, have been launched, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.

The scheduled delivery on Tuesday of 600,000 doses from Sinovac Biotech Ltd. was postponed anew after the China-based company failed to immediately secure an emergency-use permit from Manila’s Food and Drug Administration. Sinovac got the authorization Monday.

Top economic officials have asked Duterte to consider further easing quarantine restrictions in the country starting in March to bolster the economy, which has suffered one of the worst recessions in the region, and stave off hunger. But Duterte rejected the recommendations.

“The chief executive recognizes the importance of re-opening the economy and its impact on people’s livelihoods,” Roque said but added that the president “gives higher premium to public health and safety.”

The Philippines has reported more than 563,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 infections and more than 12,000 deaths, the second highest in Southeast Asia. The government has faced criticisms for failing to immediately launch a massive vaccine campaign for about 70 million Filipinos.

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California lawmakers on Monday cleared the way for 5.7 million people to get at least $600 in one-time payments, part of a state-sized coronavirus relief package aimed at helping lower-income people weather what they hope is the last legs of the pandemic.

The state Legislature passed the bill by a wide margin on Monday, moving faster than their counterparts in Congress who are also considering another round of stimulus checks for the nation.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said he will sign it into law on Tuesday. People who are eligible for the money should get it at between 45 days and 60 days after receiving their state tax refunds, according to the Franchise Tax Board.

People with low to moderate incomes will be eligible to get the money. That includes people who claim the California earned income tax credit on their tax returns and, in general, people making $30,000 or less per year.

Immigrants who pay taxes using an individual taxpayer identification number and make $75,000 a year or less after deductions would also get the money. People who receive assistance from state programs benefiting low-income families and people who are blind and disabled are also eligible.

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Gov. Gavin Newsom says more vaccines are headed to California’s vast Central Valley, an agricultural region that’s been hit hard by coronavirus.

In the small farming city of Arvin on Monday, Newsom said that 11 mobile clinics will open in the region later this week. The facilities are designed to vaccinate people, mostly farmworkers, who don’t have transportation to larger vaccination sites or can’t navigate the state’s online signup portal.

He says the state is also sending 34,000 extra vaccine doses there from a pharmacy that wasn’t using them quickly enough.

The shift in allocations comes as California moves beyond inoculating health care workers to include food and farm workers and teachers.

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SEATTLE – Seattle Public Schools is delaying a return to the classroom for its youngest students during the coronavirus pandemic by at least a week because it has yet to reach an agreement with the teachers’ union.

In a statement Monday the district said it had not yet negotiated new working conditions with the Seattle Education Association. Previously the district had hoped to begin some in-person learning on March 8. That is now delayed until at least March 8.

Last week Gov. Jay Inslee urged more schools to open up to in-person instruction, saying the online classroom experience wasn’t adequate for many.

Seattle is the state’s largest district, with about 50,000 students. The district had hoped to give parents the option to have preschool, kindergarten, first grade and special education students return for some classroom instruction.

The Seattle teachers’ union said it wants specific language on COVID-19 safety protocols put in writing. The union said it was working to reach an agreement quickly, “but we’re unwilling to cut corners on safety precautions in order to meet arbitrary deadlines.”

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JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi saw a steep decline in COVID-19 vaccinations last week as several drive-thru vaccination sites were closed because of freezing temperatures and icy roads.

The state Department of Health said Monday that 32,540 vaccinations were given in the state during the week that ended Saturday. That is down from 106,691 the previous week, which was Mississippi’s busiest week for the vaccinations so far.

The department said it is automatically rescheduling appointments that had to be cancelled at 21 drive-thru sites, and people are being notified by text or email.

More people than usual are being scheduled for COVID-19 vaccinations in the state this week, and some appointments will be during the weekend. The Health Department is asking people to arrive at least 15 minutes before their scheduled time and to be patient.

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WASHINGTON __ President Joe Biden called the U.S. topping of the threshold of 500,000 deaths blamed on the coronavirus a “truly grim, heartbreaking milestone.”

Biden is urging Americans to resist becoming “numb to the sorrow” and “viewing each life as a statistic.” He says the people lost were “extraordinary.”

Biden also touched on the personal tragedy he’s experienced in losing his first wife and baby daughter in a car collision, and later losing an adult son to brain cancer.

Biden tells the nation’s he knows it’s hard but that “to heal, we must remember.”

He spoke before holding a moment of silence in the White House and inviting the public to join.

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HOUSTON – Authorities in Houston are opening a giant vaccination centre that will serve an estimated 126,000 people over the next three weeks.

The federally funded site will fully open Wednesday at Houston’s NRG Park, near the home stadium of the NFL’s Houston Texans. Staff will distribute first doses seven days a week for three weeks, then transition to second doses.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the county’s chief elected official, says authorities will prioritize people who live in areas hardest hit by the coronavirus. Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner say their staffs have identified ZIP codes where people have been most affected and lack the same access as other places to medical care.

The site opens as Texans recover from a devastating winter storm that killed at least 35 people and left millions without power and water. While Houston and other cities have lifted boil orders on drinking water, many people are still affected by broken pipes and shutoffs of systems.

Says Hidalgo, “It’s been trauma after trauma, and people deserve some good news, some hope.”

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WASHINGTON– Drugmaker Johnson & Johnson says it will be able to provide 20 million U.S. doses of its single-shot COVID-19 vaccine by the end of March, assuming it gets the greenlight from federal regulators.

J&J disclosed the figure in written testimony ahead of a Congressional hearing on Tuesday looking at the country’s vaccine supply. White House officials cautioned last week that initial supplies of J&J’s vaccine would be limited.

The company reiterated that it will have capacity to provide 100 million vaccine doses to the U.S. by the end of June. That supply will help government officials reach the goal of having enough injections to vaccinate most adult Americans later this year. On a global scale the company aims to produce 1 billion doses this year.

U.S. health regulators are still reviewing the safety and effectiveness of the shot and a decision to allow its emergency use is expected later this week. J&J’s vaccine would be the first in the U.S. that requires only a single shot.

Currently available vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna require two doses spaced several weeks apart. Executives from both companies and two other vaccine makers will also testify at Tuesday’s hearing.

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WASHINGTON – The Food and Drug Administration said Monday that it won’t require huge, months-long studies if COVID-19 vaccines eventually need tweaking to better match a mutating virus — small, short studies will suffice.

The vaccines now being rolled out do still protect against different variants of the virus, the FDA stressed. But viruses mutate constantly, and some new versions are starting to raise concerns. So FDA issued new guidelines for vaccines — as well as for virus tests and treatments — on steps that companies can start taking to get ready.

“We’re trying to be prepared in advance,” said Dr. Peter Marks, the FDA’s vaccines chief.

Already major manufacturers have started updating their vaccine recipes if regulators eventually decide that’s necessary.

Marks said the needed tests would include a few hundred people rather than thousands, and could take just two or three months. Volunteers would receive experimental doses of the tweaked vaccine and then have their blood checked to see if it revved up the immune system about as well as the original vaccines do.

Marks said the hope is that if vaccines have to be updated, they would work broadly enough to cover both the original virus and a new mutant version — rather than requiring a combination shot like flu vaccines. Having to make multiple kinds of vaccine and then combine them would put a greater strain on already stretched production capabilities.

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WASHINGTON – The White House now says it expects to catch up by mid-week on deliveries of coronavirus vaccine doses that were delayed by severe weather.

Officials had said on Friday that they anticipated catching up by the end of this week. Some 6 million doses were delayed by snow and icy conditions.

But White House coronavirus response co-ordinator Andy Slavitt is attributing the improved timeline to an “all-out, round-the-clock” effort.

Slavitt says pharmaceutical distributor McKesson ran extended shifts over the weekend to pack vaccines with employees volunteering to work in the middle of the night to prepare shipments. UPS also participated.

Slavitt says 7 million doses — a combination of those delayed by weather and the regular distribution — were being delivered Monday as a result of those and other efforts.

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BISMARCK, N.D. – North Dakota’s Republican-led House endorsed a measure Monday that would prohibit state or local governments from mandating face coverings.

Representatives approved the measure 50-44. The bill also prohibits “making use of a face mask, shield, or covering a condition for entry for education, employment, or services.”

The bill now goes to the Senate.

Bill sponsor GOP Rep. Jeff Hoverson and others argued there was no proof that masks work to slow the spread of the coronavirus and they questioned the government’s role in mandating them.

The state health officer, backed by Gov. Doug Burgum, imposed a mask mandate in November after months of refraining from such an order, hoping to stem a coronavirus surge that had been among the worst in the U.S. and threatened to overwhelm the state’s hospitals.

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HARTFORD, Conn. – A major change to Connecticut’s vaccination schedule was announced Monday, with the state continuing with a mostly age-based system to make the rollout less complicated after seeing the challenges other states have faced in vaccinating essential workers and people with underlying health conditions.

“The lesson learned here from all these other states is, complexity is the enemy of equity and speed, which makes it the enemy of public health,” Max Reiss, spokesman for Gov. Ned Lamont, told The Associated Press.

Beginning March 1, anyone aged 55 to 64 will be allowed to get a COVID-19 vaccine. That group will be followed by people 45-54 on March 22; 35-44 years on April 12; and everyone else 34 years and younger on May 3.

Lamont previously said he would release details this week about which essential workers and people with underlying medical conditions could soon begin signing up for vaccinations.

Currently, only people ages 65 and older and medical workers are eligible. The previous group eligible for the vaccine included people 75 years and older.

Lamont said Friday he would release a list on Monday of the particular medical conditions that would make people eligible.

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OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma opened its second phase of coronavirus vaccinations on Monday, providing inoculations to public school teachers and staff and to adults of any age with illnesses that make them susceptible to the virus.

“Our goal is to make sure that every Oklahoma teacher and staff member who wants the COVID-19 vaccine can get it by spring break” in mid-March, said health commissioner Dr. Lance Frye at a vaccination clinic in Norman.

More than 681,000 Oklahomans had been vaccinated as of Friday, according to the state health department, and an estimated 60,000 more vaccinations were administered during the weekend, said deputy health commissioner Keith Reed.

State schools superintendent Joy Hofmeister said she expects a high percentage of public school staff to accept the vaccine.

“Teachers have been clamouring for the prioritization of having the vaccine,” Hofmeister said.

There have been 419,853 coronavirus cases and 4,203 deaths due to COVID-19 in Oklahoma since the pandemic began, the state health department reported.

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