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Thursday September 23rd, 2021 7:03PM

The Latest: Biden plans to speed release of virus vaccines

By The Associated Press
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WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden says he’ll speed release of coronavirus vaccines when he takes office Jan. 20.

His office says Biden will curtail the current practice of holding back vaccine doses to guarantee that people who get their first shot can also get a required second shot three weeks later.

Under the Trump administration’s approach, the government has been holding back a supply of vaccines to guarantee that people get the booster shot.

After an initial glow of hope when vaccines were approved last month, the nation’s vaccination campaign has gotten off to a slow start. Only 5.9 million of 29.4 million available doses have been distributed (27%), according to the CDC.

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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:

GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization has appealed to manufacturers of COVID-19 vaccines and the wealthier countries to make them available to everyone in need.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says 42 countries are rolling out coronavirus vaccines -- mostly high-income and a few “middle-income” countries. He appealed to countries with more vaccine than needed to make them available to the COVAX facility, the U.N.-backed project to get vaccines deployed widely.

He’s urging “countries and manufacturers to stop making bilateral deals at the expense of COVAX.”

Tedros also asks manufacturers to make data about their vaccines available, which is needed for WHO to provide “emergency use listings” that can expedite their deployment.

The lack of such data “blocks the whole system of procurement and delivery,” he says.

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NEW YORK — New York City’s police commissioner has tested positive for the coronavirus.

The department’s top spokesperson says Commissioner Dermot Shea is feeling well and running the department remotely from home. Spokesperson Richard Esposito says Shea has remained in regular contact with the department’s senior staff.

The 51-year-old commissioner is among thousands of NYPD personnel to test positive for the virus since the pandemic hit New York. Six detectives, a police officer, a chief and 40 civilian employees have died from the coronavirus.

Shea’s diagnosis comes as de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo wrangle over the city’s plan to vaccinate 25,000 of the department’s 35,000 officers.

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LANSING, Mich. — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will encourage all K-12 schools in Michigan to reopen for in-person instruction by March 1 as the state starts offering the coronavirus vaccine to teachers, The Associated Press has learned.

Two education officials briefed on the governor’s planned announcement disclosed it to the AP. They spoke on the condition of anonymity ahead of an afternoon news conference.

Many schools have been fully remote during the pandemic. The governor won’t seek to require in-person classes — her unilateral emergency powers were curbed by a court ruling — but wants face-to-face instruction to be offered.

Whitmer recently lifted her administration’s ban on in-person learning in high schools after a surge in cases waned.

Under a 2020 law, Michigan schools that deem it safe to provide in-person classes during the virus outbreak must prioritize the option for K-5 students.

— By David Eggert

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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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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 seven-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 can leave their quarantines if they test negative for COVID-19 at the end of the seven-day period, the announcement said.

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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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