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Wednesday September 22nd, 2021 11:34PM

The Latest: Pence, McConnell urge confidence in vaccine

By The Associated Press
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WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence says he looks forward in the days ahead to receiving a vaccine for COVID-19 and will do so without hesitation.

Pence is speaking Tuesday at a Catalent Biologics plant in his home state of Indiana. The plant is producing a vaccine developed by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health.

He is trying to inject confidence in the vaccine a day after the rollout of Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus shots and as the Food and Drug Administration says in a preliminary report that the Moderna vaccine is also safe and effective.

Pence declared, “we have come to the beginning of the end of the coronavirus pandemic.”

Pence is also stressing the need for Americans to stay focused on limiting the spread of the virus before a vaccine is in widespread use. He says cases and hospitalizations are continuing to rise in many parts of the country. The death toll from the coronavirus topped 300,000 Monday.

“It’s been a marathon this year. It’s been a marathon of heartbreak for many American families,” he said.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Poor countries face long wait for vaccines despite promises

— Over-the-counter home test for COVID-19 gets U.S. green light

— French theater, cinema workers protest against virus closure

— Pandemic backlash jeopardizes public health powers, leaders

— Sweden’s prime minister says health officials misjudged new infection wave

— U.S. COVID-19 deaths top 300,000 just as vaccinations begin

___

Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is urging elected officials to “step up” and encourage wary Americans to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Republican leader said that as a childhood polio survivor, he’s a “huge supporter” of being vaccinated.

“Whenever my turn comes, I’m going to be anxious to take the vaccine and do my part to reassure those who are doubtful about this,” McConnell said at a press conference in Washington, D.C.

For those who say they will resist the vaccine, he said it’s “not good news.”

“We really need to get the country vaccinated,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do for yourself, for your family and for the country.”

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NORFOLK, Va. — Healthcare workers in Virginia started receiving the state’s first doses of a coronavirus vaccine on Tuesday, kicking off what is likely to be a months long process of inoculating people from the potentially deadly disease.

The Ballad Health system broadcast live video of registered nurse Emily Boucher, who works in the hospital’s COVID-19 intensive care unit, getting her first shot of the vaccine.

“I will never stop trying to convince everyone about the reality of COVID-19,” Boucher said before pulling up her left sleeve at Johnston Memorial Hospital in Abingdon, an area in southwestern Virginia.

Several health care workers at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital in the eastern part of the state also received injections.

Healthcare workers are a priority as vaccines are distributed. And supplies will be limited for months to come. There likely won’t be enough for the average person to get a shot until spring.

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BOISE, Idaho — Idaho Gov. Brad Little will wait his turn in line to get a coronavirus vaccination.

A spokesperson for the 66-year-old Republican governor said Tuesday that the state’s limited supply of the vaccine is prioritized for frontline healthcare workers and the most vulnerable citizens. Marissa Morrison says the governor has never tested positive for the virus, and he intends to receive his vaccination when he’s eligible.

Healthcare officials say the virus has been surging in Idaho and fear delayed or no treatment for some if the system is overwhelmed with patients. State officials say the virus has infected more than 120,000 residents and killed nearly 1,200.

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ATLANTA — U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk has tested positive for COVID-19. That makes him the fourth Republican representative from Georgia to contract the virus.

Loudermilk said in a statement Tuesday that he’s quarantining at home and experiencing mild symptoms, but hopes to resume legislative duties soon.

He represents Georgia’s 11th District northwest of Atlanta. Georgia Republican Reps. Austin Scott, Rick Allen and Drew Ferguson previously tested positive for the virus.

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler briefly isolated after she tested positive for COVID-19 in November. But she later received two negative tests and quickly returned to in-person campaigning ahead of her Jan. 5 runoff against Democrat Raphael Warnock. Early in-person voting the runoff elections for Georgia’s two U.S. Senate seats began Monday.

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Health care workers began receiving the first vaccinations against the new coronavirus in Alabama on Tuesday as cases of the illness caused by the virus soared.

Cullman Regional Medical Center said a longtime nurse, Donna Snow, had received an initial dose of the two-step vaccine a day after the hospital, located north of Birmingham, received its first shipment.

“I’m hopeful that more people are able to take the vaccine so we can begin to see a decline in the number of critically ill patients and families impacted by this disease,” Snow, who works in critical care, said in a statement released by the hospital.

More than 300,000 people in Alabama have contracted the virus, and COVID-19 has killed more than 4,120 people statewide.

The Alabama Department of Corrections, which has one of the nation’s highest rates of inmate deaths from COVID-19, said three more elderly inmates had died of the illness caused by the coronavirus. All three men had serious health problems before contracting the virus, the agency said in a statement.

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WASHINGTON — Some senior U.S. officials will be administered the coronavirus vaccine in the coming days “to instill confidence” in the shot.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany did not reveal which officials would immediately receive the COVID-19 vaccine, but said it would be announced in the coming days and that, “They will be taking it publicly to instill confidence.”

That is in addition to officials who will receive the shot under federal continuity of government plans.

McEnany said President Donald Trump has no plans to take it immediately, because he still has antibody protections from his bout with the coronavirus back in October.

“The president wants to send a parallel message which is, you know, our long term care facility residents and our frontline workers are paramount in importance,” she said.

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BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana’s education superintendent is asking Gov. John Bel Edwards and state health leaders to prioritize childcare workers and school teachers, staff and bus drivers when divvying up future vaccine shipments.

Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley told Louisiana’s education board Tuesday that’s an estimated 166,000 employees at daycare centers, pre-K programs and K-12 schools.

Louisiana started coronavirus immunizations Monday for hospital workers. Next up are people who live and work at nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

Edwards has said he largely intends to follow the recommendations of scientific experts that advise the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That advisory group hasn’t set its second phase guidance yet.

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MADRID — One in ten residents in Spain had been infected by the coronavirus by mid-November and almost half that contagion occurred during the summer resurgence of outbreaks. That’s according to preliminary results of an official survey on the presence of antibodies.

The fourth and latest round of a national seroprevalence study found that 9.9% of the more than 51,400 people tested had developed antibodies at some point since the onset of the pandemic, officials from Spain’s main epidemiological study center, the Carlos III Health Institute, and the Health Ministry said Tuesday.

The study suggests that at least 4.7 million people have contracted the virus so far, although official Health Ministry figures have logged 1.75 million infections from laboratory tests as of Monday.

Spain has also confirmed 48,000 deaths for COVID-19, although excess mortality registries suggest a much higher real death toll.

Marina Pollán, director of the National Epidemiological Center, said that health workers and women taking care of the elderly, working as cleaners and in nursing homes showed the highest prevalence of antibodies.

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TORONTO — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada is now contracted to receive up to 168,000 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine before the end of December, pending approval by Canada’s health regulator.

Trudeau says deliveries could begin within 48 hours of regulatory approval. Officials say they expect to approve use of the second vaccine soon.

Canadians have already started to receive vaccine shots developed by Pfizer and BioNTech. Trudeau says Canada expects to receive about 200,000 doses from Pfizer next week.

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ROME — Italian health authorities on Tuesday lamented the still dramatically high daily number of deaths as the country struggles through a second surge of coronavirus infections.

Italy registered 846 deaths since Monday, increasing the known number of dead in the pandemic to 65,857, the highest in Europe.

Gianni Rezza, the Health Ministry’s director general for protection, said it was difficult to strike a balance between restrictive measures and easing them.

“When we put more restrictive measures in place, behavior becomes more prudent, the virus slows down,” he told reporters. “As we ease the measures, the cases go up. As we restrict them, in a few weeks, they (the data) improve.”

There were just under 15,000 new confirmed COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, raising Italy’s overall count to more than 1,870,000.

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CHICAGO — The first COVID-19 vaccinations in Chicago were administered Tuesday at a hospital on the city’s West Side.

Five health care workers, including emergency room nurses, rolled up their sleeves and received shots at Loretto Hospital. The hospital is located in the city’s Austin neighborhood, a largely Black enclave that has been hit hard by COVID-19.

There was applause after each shot was administered at the event attended by Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

“You can see and feel the buzz of excitement because of this historic day,” Lightfoot said.

Despite the hopeful news, the mayor said widespread availability of a vaccine is still months away, and the public must remain vigilant. She cited an uptick in cases following Thanksgiving as people gathered with friends and family.

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PHOENIX — Arizona on Tuesday reported more than 60 additional known deaths as the current COVID-19 surge saw hospitalizations set another record and rolling seven-day averages of cases and deaths more than double over the past two weeks.

The state Department of Health Services on Tuesday reported 4,134 additional known cases and 64 deaths, increasing the state’s totals to more than 424,000 cases and 7,422 deaths.

The rolling average of daily new cases rose from almost 3,500 on Nov. 30 to over 7,700 on Monday.

Meanwhile, the rolling average of the daily positivity rate from COVID-19 testing nearly doubled during the same period, jumping from more than 10% to 19.5%.

The number of COVID-19-related hospitalizations reached 3,702 on Monday, up from 3,157 a week earlier. That includes 579 patients on ventilators and 863 in intensive care unit beds, according to the state’s coronavirus dashboard.

Arizona on Friday exceeded the summer surge’s peak of 3,517 COVID-19-related hospitalizations recorded on July 13.

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RAPID CITY, S.D. — The South Dakota Wing of the Civil Air Patrol is assisting the state Department of Health in delivering the first allocation of coronavirus vaccines.

The Civil Air Patrol said it’s flying the Pfizer vaccine to smaller communities in South Dakota with its fleet of single-engine Cessna aircraft, flown by its volunteer pilots and crews. Other volunteer members will assist with mission planning and logistical support, the patrol said.

“We are proud that the State of South Dakota asked us to help them with this life-saving mission,” said Col. Nick Gengler, SDWG commander. “Since the early days of World War II, the South Dakota Civil Air Patrol has helped the state and nation with missions important to our safety and security.”

The patrol has planes and air crews in Sioux Falls, Pierre, Rapid City, and Spearfish, Pierre, and Brookings. The Civil Air Patrol is the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force.

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A respiratory therapist who treated the first two COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Puerto Rico became the first person in the U.S. territory to be vaccinated against the virus on Tuesday.

Yahaira Alicea had treated an Italian couple who visited the island aboard a cruise ship in March. The woman later died. Alicea said it was a fearful moment for her that wore her down physically and emotionally as she urged everyone to get vaccinated.

“This is what we want, for this pandemic to end,” Alicea said. “Don’t be afraid.”

The event was cheered by many on the island of 3.2 million people that recently imposed more severe measures to fight an increase in coronavirus cases and deaths. Puerto Rico has reported more than 107,000 confirmed and probable coronavirus cases and more than 1,280 deaths.

Alicea was immunized a day after FedEx planes carrying more than 16,500 Pfizer vaccine doses landed in Puerto Rico, with another more than 13,600 expected later this week. The vaccine will be distributed to 65 hospitals around the island, according to Gov. Wanda Vázquez.

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CAIRO — Sudan on Tuesday said an international initiative would provide 8.4 million shots of vaccine against the coronavirus, without providing details on the type of vaccine the country would receive.

Amal al-Fateh, senior health official, told a news conference that the shots through COVAX are expected to arrive in the first quarter of 2021.

She said the first stage of vaccination would cover 20% of Sudanese, and that health workers at the forefront of the fight against the virus and elder people would be prioritized when the shots arrive.

She did not elaborate what kind of vaccine Sudan would receive.

Sudan, a country of more than 42 million people, has reported around 21,600 confirmed cases of coronavirus, including 1,355 fatalities. The actual COVID-19 tally, however, is believed to be higher given the country’s limited testing.

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BERLIN — After days of pressuring the European Union’s medical regulator, Germany’s health minister said Tuesday that he has received assurances that the European Medicines Agency will approve a coronavirus vaccine by Dec. 23.

Health Minister Jens Spahn told reporters in Berlin on Tuesday he “welcomed” German media reports that said EMA would finalize its approval process of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine by Dec. 23, instead of at a Dec. 29 meeting.

“Our goal is an approval before Christmas,” Spahn said. “We want to still start vaccinating this year.”

Spahn would not say from whom he had received the confirmation and the EMA could not immediately be reached for comment on exactly when it would release its findings on the approval process.

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MOSCOW — Vaccination against COVID-19 with the Russian-developed Sputnik V vaccine has started in all Russian regions, Russian authorities said Tuesday.

President Vladimir Putin ordered the government to start “large-scale” vaccination in Russia two weeks ago, even though the Sputnik V vaccine is still undergoing advanced studies needed to ensure its safety and effectiveness. The shots have been offered to medical workers for several months even though the vaccine was still in the middle of late-stage trials, and over 150,000 people in Russia have already been vaccinated, according to its developers.

Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said Tuesday the vaccine has been delivered to all Russian regions, and the shots are being administered in over 1,200 medical facilities across the country. Medical workers, teachers and social workers are the first in line to get the shots.

Russia’s state coronavirus task force has reported over 2.7 million confirmed cases in the pandemic and nearly 48,000 deaths. The Russian Sputnik V vaccine received regulatory approval in August in a move that drew international criticism, as by that time the shots had only been tested on a few dozen people.

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PARIS — As the holiday season approaches, French Prime Minister Jean Castex is encouraging the French to self-confine for 8 days before Christmas, rather than taking an automated coronavirus test.

Speaking on Europe-1 radio on Tuesday, Castex said such an approach prevents laboratories and pharmacies from becoming clogged. He also indicated that children can choose to skip school on Thursday and Friday so that they can begin self containment.

France on Tuesday is lifting a lockdown imposed on Oct. 28, but strict measures are still in place as infections are still high. There will be a nationwide curfew from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., which will be lifted on Christmas Eve but not on New Year’s Eve. Theaters and cinemas will remain shut as will bars and restaurants.

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This story has been corrected to show that the French prime minister encouraged his nation to self-isolate for 8 days before Christmas, not 10 days.

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