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Thursday September 23rd, 2021 7:01PM

The Latest: Pfizer study suggests vaccine fights variant

By The Associated Press
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NEW YORK — New research suggests the COVID-19 vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech can still work against a mutated coronavirus.

Two variants -- one discovered in Britain, the other in South Africa -- share a common mutation that’s believed to be the reason they are more contagious. Called N501Y, it is a slight alteration on one spot of the spike protein that coats the virus.

Most of the vaccines rolled out around the world train the body to recognize that spike protein and fight it. Pfizer teamed with researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston for laboratory tests to see if the mutation affected its vaccine’s ability to do so.

They used blood samples from 20 people who received the vaccine. Antibodies from those vaccine recipients successfully fended off the virus in lab dishes. That's according to the study posted late Thursday on an online site for researchers. It hasn’t been reviewed by other experts.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

U.S. vaccine rollout hits snag as health workers balk at shots; US tops 4,000 daily deaths from coronavirus. UK regulators OK use of a third vaccine against coronavirus. WHO approves delaying time between virus shots up to six weeks. A Pfizer study suggests vaccine works against virus variant.

Meanwhile, Brazil’s pandemic deaths reach 200,000. Britain’s National Health Service next week will use a little-used field hospital built at an exhibition center in east London last spring.

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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:

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Holland America and Princess Cruises have announced pauses on planned sailings in Alaskan waters in response to health guidelines.

The trips scheduled have been postponed at least through the late spring.

Princess canceled six Alaska trips scheduled through May 15. Holland America canceled sailings of three Alaska-bound ships through the first week of June and of three others through mid-May.

Princess and Holland America say health rules imposed by the federal CDC and uncertainty around travel restrictions prompted the cancellations.

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LISBON, Portugal — Portugal reported more than 30,000 new cases in the past three days, nearly equaling the number over three months last summer.

The Health Ministry says 118 people died in the previous 24 hours -- the first time deaths have surpassed 100 -- and a record 10,176 cases were reported.

The number of people admitted to hospital reached a high of 3,451, with 536 in intensive care.

The strain being placed on the public health service has prompted the government to consult with opposition parties on the possibility of a full lockdown starting next week.

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NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus is returning to lockdown for the remainder of the month with daytime restrictions on movement and closing of schools.

Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou says intensive care units treating COVID-19 patients have reached their limits and restrictions are needed to prevent “people dying helpless because we don’t have available beds.”

The measures take effect Sunday. Although civil servants must work from home, private employees can work at offices, with a maximum of 20 workers.

Ioannou says infections have multiplied faster in the last few months, partly because of the new coronavirus variant detected on Cyprus. There have been 5,455 coronavirus cases between Dec. 20 - Jan. 2, a significant number for the island nation of 900,000 people.

Ioannou admitted the vaccination program needs to pick up the pace.

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NEW YORK — The U.S. has topped 4,000 daily deaths from the coronavirus for the first time, breaking a record set just one day earlier.

The tally from Johns Hopkins University shows the U.S. had 4,085 deaths Thursday. The U.S. had nearly 275,000 new coronavirus cases as well.

The numbers are another reminder of the worsening situation following travel for holidays and family gatherings, along with more time indoors during the winter months. There’s been a surge of cases and deaths in California, Arizona, Texas and Florida.

More than 365,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus.

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LONDON — Britain has authorized a coronavirus vaccine developed by Moderna, the third to be licensed for use in the country.

The Department of Health says the vaccine meets the regulator’s “strict standards of safety, efficacy and quality.” Britain has ordered 10 million doses of the vaccine, although they are not expected to be delivered to the U.K. until spring.

So far Britain has inoculated 1.5 million people with the Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccines. England is currently under a national lockdown, with hospitals overwhelmed by patients and medical personnel under unprecedented strain.

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — New data from the CDC shows Florida has nearly half the known cases in the U.S. of a mutated and likely more contagious strain of the coronavirus.

The news comes as Florida broke its single-day record of new cases again, reporting nearly 20,000 in a single day.

A CDC map shows that Florida had 22 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant that emerged in Britain. California has reported 26 cases, Colorado has two, and New York and Georgia have each reported one case.

The Florida Department of Health on Thursday reported 19,816 cases — surpassing the previous record set the day before of 17,783. On Friday, 7,329 people in Florida were hospitalized with the virus.

The state has registered 1.4 million cases, with a confirmed death toll of 22,400.

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GENEVA — World Health Organization experts have issued recommendations saying the interval between administration of two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine can be extended to up to six weeks.

WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on immunization, known as SAGE, formally published guidance Friday. It says an interval of 21 to 28 days between the first and second doses is recommended.

But the U.N. health agency also noted “a number of countries face exceptional circumstances of vaccine supply constraints combined with a high disease burden,” and some have considered postponing the administration of second doses as a way to expand the number of people initially immunized.

WHO says this “pragmatic approach” is based on “currently available clinical trial data” and could be considered as a response to “exceptional epidemiological circumstances.” It says countries seeking to extend the interval should make sure vaccinated patients still have access to a second dose.

WHO says no data is available yet on the interchangeability of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine with other COVID-19 vaccines. It also cited a lack of evidence about whether vaccination reduces the risk of transmission of the virus to other people.

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ATHENS, Greece — Greece’s Civil Aviation Authority has announced a new compulsory 7-day quarantine period for any passenger flying into the country from abroad, a requirement intended to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

According to Friday’s announcement, any passenger arriving in Greece through Jan. 21, including those traveling from European Union member countries, will be subject to the quarantine.

They also are still required to provide proof of a negative coronavirus test taken a maximum of 72 hours before arrival.

Passengers arriving from the United Kingdom will receive rapid tests for the virus on arrival and will only be able to leave their quarantines if they test negative for COVID-19 at the end of the 7-day period, the announcement said.

The Civil Aviation Authority also announced an extension to a flight ban from Turkey and Spain’s Catalonia region until Jan. 21, as well as a ban on arrivals for non-EU citizens except those from the U.K., Singapore, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Rwanda, South Korea, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates.

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SINGAPORE —- Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong received a vaccine against the COVID-19 virus on Friday as the island nation started immunizing its small population.

Singapore took delivery of its first vaccines, manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech, on Dec. 23 and hopes to cover its entire population of about 4.5 million as well as foreign residents. The vaccine will be given out for free.

The government has not said how many it has purchased but has said it hopes to inoculate everyone by the third quarter of 2021.

Health care workers and the elderly will be among the first to receive the vaccine.

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BRUSSELS — The European Union’s executive branch has secured 300 million extra doses of the coronavirus Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen says the agreement will double the number of doses ordered by the 27-nation bloc. The EU commission later said in a statement that the Commission has proposed to member states to purchase an additional 200 million doses of the vaccine, with the option to acquire another 100 million doses.

“This would enable the EU to purchase up to 600 million doses of this vaccine, which is already being used across the EU. The additional doses will be delivered starting in the second quarter of 2021,” the EU said.

Combined with the contract finalized with Moderna — the second vaccine authorized so far in the region — Von der Leyen says the EU has the capacity to vaccinate 380 million people, more than 80 percent of the EU population.

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BANGKOK — Thailand reported 205 new virus cases, a slight dip from previous days as it tightened controls on domestic travel.

Taweesilp Visanuyothin, a spokesperson for the COVID-19 coordinating center, said Friday that 131 of the additional cases were local transmissions, 58 were migrant workers and 16 international arrivals.

That brought the country’s confirmed total to 9,841 including 67 deaths. Of that, 5,367 cases were found from the start of the new surge on Dec. 15 until Friday.

The capital, with a metropolitan area population of about 15 million, recorded 327 cases in that period. Thailand has about 70 million people.

The government has tightened controls on domestic travel and ordered a partial lockdown around Thailand. Schools, bars, gambling parlors and other public gathering places have been closed, although malls, department stores and restaurants remain open with curtailed hours.

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JERUSALEM — Israel has entered a tightened lockdown as coronavirus cases surge despite an early and rapid vaccination campaign.

Most schools and businesses were closed starting Friday, with people required to remain within 1,000 meters (yards) from home except for essential needs. Public gatherings are heavily restricted and public transportation is limited. The restrictions are to last for at least two weeks.

Thousands of police will be deployed to enforce the restrictions, with roadblocks set up on major thoroughfares. Israel was already in its third national lockdown since the start of the pandemic.

Deputy Police Commissioner Ziv Sagiv called on people to stay home, saying police would operate in “every possible way” to enforce the restrictions.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced late Thursday that Israel is on track to vaccinate all citizens over the age of 16 by March. He called on Israelis to make “one last big effort” to combat the pandemic by adhering to the lockdown.

Israel has already vaccinated nearly 20% of its population of 9 million and is on track to be one of the first countries to emerge from the coronavirus crisis. It has reported 474,000 cases since the start of the pandemic, including 3,565 deaths.

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BERLIN— Teachers and parents in Berlin are expressing anger at plans to partially resume in-school teaching next week even as Germany remains in lockdown.

An online petition launched this week has gathered over 20,000 signatures against the Berlin state government’s plan to start teaching some classes in school again from Monday.

Petitioners argue that it undermines other measures imposed to curb infections, including a ban on meeting more than other person from another household.

The country’s disease control agency said Friday that Germany recorded 31,849 newly confirmed cases and 1,188 deaths from COVID-19, the biggest single-day toll since the pandemic began, though figures tend to skew higher toward the end of the week.

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BEIJING — A city in northern China is offering rewards of 500 yuan ($77) for anyone who reports on a resident who has not taken a recent coronavirus test.

The offer from the government of Nangong comes as millions in the city and its surrounding province of Hebei are being tested as part of efforts to control China’s most serious recent outbreak of COVID-19.

The offering of cash or other rewards for information on political or social nonconformists has a long history in China, but the pandemic is putting a new face on the practice. Those found noncompliant will be forced to undergo testing and a two-week quarantine at their own expense.

China has largely controlled local transmission through the use of measures considered by some to be extreme and highly intrusive, including lockdowns of entire cities and close electronic monitoring of bans on traveling to and from parts of the country.

With next month’s Lunar New Year travel rush looming, the government is telling people to stay put as much as possible and not travel to or from the capital Beijing, disrupting the country’s most important time for family gatherings. Schools are also being let out a week early, although many, including those in Hebei, have already reverted to online learning.

China on Friday reported 53 new cases, including 33 in Hebei. Of those, 31 were in the provincial capital of Shijiazhuang, host to some events for next year’s Winter Olympics.

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Facing a massive surge in coronavirus cases, California has been issuing waivers allowing hospitals to temporarily bypass the nation’s only strict nurse-to-patient ratios.

Nurses say that being forced to take on more patients is pushing them to the brink of burnout and affecting patient care.

At least 250 of about 400 hospitals in California have been granted 60-day waivers. They allow ICU nurses to care for three instead of two people and emergency room nurses to oversee six patients instead of three.

Nurses in other states have demanded law-mandated ratios like those in California but so far have failed to get them.

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