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Thursday April 15th, 2021 7:43PM

The Latest: European Union gives OK to Moderna vaccine

By The Associated Press
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AMSTERDAM — The European Union’s medicines agency has given approval to Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine.

The decision Wednesday gives the 27-nation bloc a second vaccine to use against the coronavirus rampaging across the continent. The approval recommendation by the European Medicines Agency’s human medicines committee, which must be OK’d by the EU’s executive commission, comes amid high rates of infections in many EU countries.

There’s also been strong criticism of the slow pace of vaccinations across the region of some 450 million people.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

Germany’s health minister is defending the slow start of the country’s vaccine campaign, saying he understands the desire for a faster rollout. The Dutch kick off virus vaccination program, the last of the European Union's 27 nations to do so. Meanwhile, the Balkan nations feel abandoned as EU vaccinates its own people first.

Dr. Fauci believes the U.S. could soon give 1 million vaccinations a day. California orders surgery delays as virus continues to swamp hospitals.

— Follow AP’s 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:

ROME — Italy’s health minister says coronavirus vaccinations are ramping up to the needed levels following the New Year’s holiday.

Roberto Speranza made the comments with Italy’s regional leaders, who are responsible for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine rollout. He says: “The needed acceleration in the vaccine campaign is under way. The vast majority of regions have reached significant percentages. The country is ready.”

Italy has administered some 260,000 doses of the vaccine, the majority to health care workers. Overall, the shots administered represent 54% of the 479,700 doses that have been delivered to Italy’s regions, a sign that the rate isn’t terribly out of line with the number of doses Italy ordered.

Italy’s rollout was at least initially slow because of the earlier-than-anticipated delivery of the first batches and the Christmas holiday, which in Italy runs through Wednesday. Local authorities have said they expect inoculations to ramp up significantly in the coming days.

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BERLIN — Germany’s health minister is defending the slow start of the country’s vaccine campaign, saying he understands the desire for a faster rollout but that people should keep in mind that there is a global shortage of doses.

Health Minister Jens Spahn told reporters in Berlin on Wednesday that Germany expects to receive more than 5.3 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by mid-February. If European regulators approve the Moderna vaccine, which they were considering in a meeting Wednesday, a further 2 million doses of that shot are expected to be delivered during the first quarter.

“The problem is the shortage of production capacity with global demand,” he said.

Spahn said Germany would get a total of 130 million doses of vaccine from the two suppliers by the end of the year. Since each person needs two shots, that’s enough to vaccinate about three-quarters of the coutry’s population. Further orders have been placed with other suppliers whose vaccines have yet to be approved in the European Union.

Spahn added that Germany is working with BioNTech to open a newly production site in Marburg as early as next month, which would also boost global supplies of that vaccine this year.

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BELGRADE, Serbia - Two Serbian politicians known for their staunch pro-Russian stance have received Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine in an apparent effort to show that the Russian-made shots are safe.

Parliament speaker Ivica Dacic and Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin were the first ones to receive the vaccine in Serbia. Sputnik V is not formally approved in the European Union after facing widespread criticism for a fast-track approval by Russia’s health authorities.

Serbia has received some 25,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and some 2,400 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine.

Serbia’s vaccination program began on Dec. 24 when Prime Minister Ana Brnabic received a Pfizer shot to increase public trust in the COVID-19 vaccines, as health authorities struggle to counter a strong anti-vaccination movement in the Balkan country.

Officials in Serbia say they will try to import all types of vaccines, including those made in the West, Russia and China, and will let people choose which to take.

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JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia logged yet another record in daily coronavirus infections on Wednesday as the government confirmed 8,854 new cases shortly after President Joko Widodo announced the vaccination program will kick off next week.

Widodo said in a televised address that he will receive the shots along with regional leaders on Jan. 13 to build confidence in the vaccine.

“Next week, I will be the first to be inoculated with the vaccine to show that it is safe and halal as the vaccination program to start nationwide,” Widodo said.

Indonesia’s state-owned pharmaceutical company Bio Farma have began distributing 3 million doses of the vaccine, developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech, to 34 provinces across the archipelago nation, home to more than 270 million people.

Indonesia's overall tally now is 788,402 cases and 23,296 confirmed virus deaths.

Widodo’s government seeks to vaccinate 70% of the population — at least 182 million people — by next year, with health workers given the top priority. The government has ordered millions of vaccine doses from Sinovac, Novavax, COVAX, AstraZeneca and Pfizer.

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THE HAGUE — Nearly two weeks after most other European Union nations, the Netherlands on Wednesday began its COVID-19 vaccination program, with nursing home staff and frontline workers in hospitals first in line for the shot.

Sanna Elkadiri, a nurse at a nursing home for people with dementia, was the first to receive a shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at a mass vaccination center in Veghel, 120 kilometers (75 miles) southeast of the capital, Amsterdam.

The Dutch government has come under fierce criticism for its late start to vaccinations. Prime Minister Mark Rutte told lawmakers in a debate Tuesday that authorities had focused preparations on the easy-to-handle vaccine made by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, which has not yet been cleared for use in the EU, and not the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Dutch Health Minister Hugo de Jonge did not comment on the criticism as he spoke before Elkadiri rolled up the sleeve of her purple nurse’s uniform to receive the first shot. Instead, he looked forward to a future with the virus under control.

“Finally, after 10 months of crisis, today we are starting to end this crisis,” De Jonge said. But he warned that, “it will take a while before we have all the misery behind us. ”

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BANGKOK — Authorities in Thailand say they plan to expand coronavirus testing to thousands of factories in a province near Bangkok as they reported 365 new cases around the country and one new death.

Authorities have focused their efforts on migrant workers in Samut Sakhon, a province next to the capital that has been the epicenter of a new outbreak and where thousands work in its mainly seafood processing factories and markets.

They have has also focused on trying to trace itinerant gamblers who travel widely around the country and are blamed for a second major hotspot outside Bangkok.

Thailand’s COVID-19 coordinating center said Wednesday that of the 365 new cases, 250 were local transmissions among Thais, 99 were migrant workers and 16 were arrivals to the country isolated in quarantine centers.

That brought the total since the pandemic began to 9,331, including 66 deaths.

Taweesilp Visanuyothin, a spokesperson for the COVID-19 coordinating center, said there were plans to test workers at more than 10,000 factories in Samut Sakhon, 100 of which have more than 500 employees each.

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PRAGUE — Coronavirus infections in the Czech Republic are continuing to surge, hitting a new all-time high.

The Health Ministry says the day-to-day increase reached 17,278 cases on Tuesday. The previous record of 17,045 was set on Dec 30.

New infections started to surge again this week after slowing down during the New Year holidays.

A total of 7,001 COVID-19 patients are currently hospitalized, with 1,004 in serious condition, putting the heath system under pressure. Hospitals are banned from providing any non-vital care to be able to focus on those infected.

A lockdown imposed by the government to contain the surge will be in place at least until Jan 10.

The country of 10.7 million has 776,967 confirmed cases, including 12,436 deaths.

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SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — When thousands of people across the European Union began rolling up their sleeves last month to get a coronavirus vaccination shot, one corner of the continent was left behind, feeling isolated and abandoned: the Balkans.

Balkan nations have struggled to get access to COVID-19 vaccines from multiple companies and programs, but most of the nations on Europe’s southeastern periphery are still waiting for their first vaccines to arrive, with no firm timeline for the start of their national inoculation drives.

What is already clear is that Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia — home to some 20 million people — will lag far behind the EU’s 27 nations and Britain in efforts to reach herd immunity by quickly vaccinating a large number of their people.

North Macedonian epidemiologist Dragan Danilovski compared the current vaccine situation to the inequalities seen during the 1911 sinking of the Titanic.

“The rich have grabbed all the available lifeboats, leaving the less fortunate behind,” Danilovski told broadcaster TV 24.

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TOKYO — The U.S. Navy in the Pacific has started administering COVID-19 vaccinations to thousands of sailors.

It comes a week after medical personnel and strategic forces were given their initial shots at Naval Hospital in Yokosuka, Japan, the 7th Fleet said.

The fleet includes about 20,000 sailors operating 50-70 ships and submarines and 140 aircraft. The vaccinations are part of a “prioritized, phased approach” adopted by the Department of Defense to “protect our people, maintain readiness, and support the national COVID-19 response,” the fleet said.

Vaccinations are being provided on a voluntary basis. Among those vaccinated were sailors aboard the USS Ronald Reagan, the fleet’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier.

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TOKYO — Tokyo has reported a daily record of 1,591 coronavirus cases as the national government prepares to declare a state of emergency this week to cope with a new wave of infections.

Those needing critical care in the capital also reached a record 113 people, according to the metropolitan government.

Toshio Nakagawa, head of the Japan Medical Association, called the situation “extremely serious” but stopped short of criticizing Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga for acting too slow to contain the latest outbreak, as some have suggested.

Japan has confirmed more than 250,000 cases, including over 3,700 deaths.

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BEIJING — China’s Hebei province is enforcing stricter control measures following a further rise in coronavirus cases in the province, which is adjacent to the capital Beijing and is due to host events for next year’s Winter Olympics.

The National Health Commission on Wednesday reported 20 more cases had been detected in Hebei, bringing the province’s total to 39 since Sunday.

The province’s top official said Tuesday that residents of areas classified as medium or high risk, primarily neighborhoods in the cities of Shijiazhuang and Xingtai, were being tested and barred from going out.

People in neighborhoods ranked as medium risk can leave only if they show a negative virus test. Classes are shifting to online learning and school dormitories placed on lockdown.

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ATLANTA — Georgia officials say they have confirmed the state’s first case of the coronavirus variant that was first seen in the United Kingdom.

The Georgia Department of Health said Tuesday that lab tests found an 18-year-old Georgia man is infected with the variant. It says he man had no travel history and is in isolation at his home.

Cases of the United Kingdom variant have also been reported in Colorado, California, Florida and New York.

Georgia health officials say preliminary information suggests the variant is significantly more contagious. State health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey urged residents to continue wearing masks, practicing social distancing and washing their hands frequently.

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HONOLULU -- Hawaii officials plan to have people make online reservations to receive the coronavirus vaccine in order to avoid crowding and long lines at distribution centers.

Health care officials are currently vaccinating health care workers, first responders and those living in long-term care facilities —all people in the highest-priority groups for getting doses.

Next up will be those over age 75, a group estimated to number 109,000 people. The state’s health director says she wants to avoid scenes witnessed in Florida where older adults waited in long lines to receive the vaccine on a first come, first serve basis.

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SALEM, Ore. — Oregon health officials had a goal of administering 100,000 doses of coronavirus vaccine by the end of 2020, but as of Tuesday had only administered 51,283.

Gov. Kate Brown has now set a new goal of 12,000 vaccinations per day within the next two weeks. Health officials said Tuesday they are confident they can reach the new target if they expand the number of administration sites and adjust prioritization requirements.

In the first phase, priority was given to health care workers and residents and staff at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Effective this week, state officials will offer vaccinations to hospice programs, mobile crisis care, outpatient settings serving specific high-risk groups, in-home care services, non-emergency medical transport workers and public health workers.

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OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Washington Gov. Jay Inslee says some pandemic restrictions will be eased next week and the state will change its reopening plan to move from a county-based oversight system to one focused on regions.

Inslee said Tuesday that the new guidelines will include “a small resumption of some activities statewide.” He says some live entertainment with very tight capacity restrictions and some fitness programs will be allowed.

Also, instead of having each of Washington’s 39 counties treated separately, the state will be divided into eight geographic regions based on health system resources when considering virus oversight.

Since the beginning of the pandemic there have been more than 256,000 confirmed coronavirus infections in Washington and more than 3,480 deaths related to COVID-19.

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan says the state is taking steps to speed up coronavirus vaccinations.

Some 270,150 doses were distributed to frontline vaccinators over the last three weeks, but as of Tuesday, only 76,916 people had been vaccinated. That is about 1.3% of the state’s population.

The governor says that starting Wednesday, the National Guard will begin sending support teams across the state to help local health departments expand vaccination capacity.

Hogan also is ordering all providers to report data to the state within 24 hours after vaccines have been administered so officials can determine better where help is needed. He says any facility that has not administered at least 75% of its initial vaccine supply may have future allocations reduced until they can speed up vaccinations.

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SAN FRANCISCO — A hospital in Northern California quickly vaccinated 850 people after a freezer that was holding doses of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine failed, prompting officials to do an emergency distribution before the shots spoiled.

The Adventist Health Ukiah Valley Medical Center in Mendocino County told the Ukiah Daily Journal that it sent 200 doses to the country that were dispensed to county workers, including sheriff’s deputies and jail staff. Jail inmates also received shots.

Eighty doses were sent to nursing homes.

Hospital spokeswoman Cici Winiger says the rest were distributed at four makeshift clinics on a first-come, first-serve basis after the hospital sent out a social media blast alerting people that vaccinations were available.

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