WASHINGTON — Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar says the government will begin allowing more drugstores to start giving shots to speed coronavirus vaccinations.
Pharmacies from 19 chains had been on standby until vaccine supplies increased. Azar says allowing them to help with vaccinations would ease pressure on hospitals that have been the main vaccine providers.
Pharmacies would need to follow state plans for who gets in line first, and governors would decide how to divide supplies between the drugstores and other vaccination sites.
Azar says if health workers aren’t lining up fast enough, it’s OK to mix in other priority groups, and urged governors to make that clear.
The drugstore program is in addition to work by CVS and Walgreens to vaccinate nursing home residents and staff. Azar says eventually more than 40,000 pharmacy locations will be involved
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
U.S. governors and other politicians are turning up the pressure after a slow rollout of the coronavirus vaccines. They're improvising and seeking to bend the rules to get shots in arms more quickly. Dr. Fauci believes the U.S. could soon give 1 million vaccinations a day.
The European Union has given approval to the Moderna vaccine. The decision gives the 27-nation bloc a second vaccine to use against the coronavirus. The U.K. says it has vaccinated 1.3 million people and plans to have almost 1,000 vaccination centers operating by the end of this week.
— Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
ROME — Italy’s coronavirus infections are creeping up with 20,331 new cases recorded and 548 deaths added to the official death toll.
The government is weighing revised measures after the current restrictions expire mid-month.
Within Europe, Italy currently trails only Germany in its coronavirus vaccination campaign, with 260,000 people inoculated. But officials say its capacity to administer shots must increase exponentially over the coming weeks as more vaccines become available.
Europe’s onetime virus epicenter has had more than 95,000 health care workers infected and 280 doctors died after testing positive.
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Teachers and other school employees, people older than 65, and individuals with severe medical disorders will be included in the second phase of coronavirus vaccine distribution in the state, to start in about two weeks, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine says.
About 2.2 million people are in this second group, and the state expects about 100,000 vaccines for the first week of what’s known as Phase 1B.
The governor says the goals are to save lives and allow children to return to school by March 1.
Vaccines will have been administered at four of every five nursing homes by the end of the week, DeWine says. He says he’s concerned only about 40% of nursing home workers are opting for the shot.
TUCSON, Ariz. — Catholic churches across metro Tucson are canceling indoor Mass for four weeks because of the rising number of coronavirus cases in Pima County.
Diocese of Tucson officials announced indoor mass celebrations and baptisms will be suspended starting Friday until Feb. 5. They say masses can be held outdoors and pastors may request permission from the bishop to hold an indoor mass.
Diocese officials say funerals and weddings can be held indoors, but they will be limited to 25 people while baptisms will be limited to 10 people. Gatherings before or after ceremonies will not be allowed on Diocese property.
LONDON — U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged his government would use “every available second” to shield the elderly and the vulnerable from the coronavirus rampaging across Britain.
Johnson told Parliament why the country needed to return to a third lockdown, saying “the number of patients in hospitals in England is now 40% higher than the first peak in April, it is inescapable that the facts are changing, and we must change our response.” There are more than 26,000 coronavirus patients hospitalized in England.
The U.K. is also experiencing a surge in infections and deaths. Britain reported more than 60,000 daily cases for the first time on Tuesday. More than 391,000 people have tested positive in the past seven days, up 44% from the previous week.
The U.K. registered 1,041 deaths on Wednesday, increasing the total confirmed deaths to 76,428, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
DAKAR, Senegal — Senegalese President Macky Sall has put the country’s capital and surrounding region on curfew as coronavirus cases surge.
Sall says a state of emergency will go into effect for the regions of Dakar and Thies. A curfew will be in effect from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. About 90 percent of Senegal’s coronavirus cases are concentrated in the two affected regions. Sall urged people to wear masks.
While Senegal has been commended for its handling of the pandemic, the country experienced a December surge with some 3,200 confirmed cases. The president says the number of deaths increased six-fold between November and December.
BEIRUT — Lebanon has shattered its single-day record of coronavirus infections on the eve of the country’s third full lockdown, with 4,166 cases reported on Wednesday.
It was the second consecutive record-breaking tally announced amid a post-holiday infection surge that’s overwhelming the nation’s battered health care sector. Lebanon will begin a 25-day nationwide lockdown Thursday, with a daily curfew from 6 p.m. until 5 a.m.
First responders say they have been transporting nearly 100 patients a day to hospitals that are reporting near-full occupancy in beds and ICUs.
Lebanon reported 21 deaths on Wednesday. That brings the total coronavirus cases to 199,925 and 1,537 confirmed deaths.
GENEVA — Swiss authorities plan to shut restaurants, bars, sports facilities and cultural institutions through the end of February.
The order is expected to take effect on Saturday. It lifts the exemptions for some of the 26 regions with a “favorable evolution” against the coronavirus — making the restrictive measures effective nationwide. Ski resorts plan to remain open.
The country of about 8.5 million people tallied more than 4,808 cases in the last 24 hours -- a rate of 522 cases per 100,000 people.
Overall, there’s been more than 470,000 confirmed cases and 7,434 deaths in connection with COVID-19.
PARIS — France’s government spokesman says vaccines will be made available to people over 75 by the end of January.
Gabriel Atta says up to 600 centers will be set up in France later this month to allow people over 75, wherever they are living, to get the vaccine.
That’s in response to criticism about the slow start of the country’s vaccination campaign. Only 7,000 people have been vaccinated in 10 days since the campaign started on Dec. 26, according to government figures.
The French government had first chosen to reserve the vaccines for residents of nursing homes. Vaccination this week been opened to health care workers over 50.
With the European Union giving the OK for Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, Attal expects the nation to receive 200,000 doses by the end of January and 500,000 every month. Also, France receives 500,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines each week.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The United Arab Emirates broke its daily record of coronavirus infections with 2,067 cases.
The record figure comes after the UAE drew tens of thousands of foreign tourists for the holidays and mass New Year’s Eve celebrations in downtown Dubai. The country has also detected an unspecified number of cases of the possibly fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus in people arriving from abroad.
With an economy that runs on aviation and hospitality, the UAE has remained open for tourism and business despite surging case numbers in the past few months.
Health authorities have recorded a total of 218,766 confirmed cases and 689 confirmed deaths.
SOFIA, BULGARIA — Thousands of Orthodox Christian worshippers ignored coronavirus-related warnings issued by health authorities to abstain from mass gatherings to attend centuries-old Epiphany traditions.
Young men plunged into the icy waters of rivers and lakes across Bulgaria to retrieve crucifixes tossed by priests in ceremonies commemorating the baptism of Jesus Christ.
The legend goes that the person who retrieves the wooden cross will be freed from evil spirits and will be healthy throughout the year. After the cross is fished out, the priest sprinkles believers with water using a bunch of basil.
In the small mountain city of Kalofer in central Bulgaria, dozens of men dressed in traditional white embroidered shirts waded into the Tundzha River with national flags and sang folk songs.
Few local police officers attempted to prevent people from entering the river, threatening them with fines, but their calls were widely ignored.
Epiphany marks the end of the 12 days of Christmas, but not all Orthodox Christian churches celebrate it on the same day.
AMSTERDAM — The European Union’s medicines agency has given approval for the Moderna coronavirus 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.
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.
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 says 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, another 2 million doses of that shot is expected during the first quarter.
Spahn says 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 population. More orders have been placed with other suppliers whose vaccines have yet to be approved in the European Union.
Spahn added Germany is working with BioNTech to open a newly production site in Marburg as early as next month, which would boost global supplies of that vaccine this year.
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 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.
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.
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 is 788,402 confirmed cases and 23,296 confirmed 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.
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. ”
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.
Officials at Thailand’s COVID-19 coordinating center say 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 confirmed 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.
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.