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Sunday February 28th, 2021 5:07AM

The Latest: WH: Texas to open 3 new mass vaccination sites

By The Associated Press
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WASHINGTON — The White House is announcing three new mass vaccination sites in Texas, capable of delivering 10,000 shots per day among them.

The federally supported sites at stadiums in Dallas, Arlington and Houston will pair federal troops with local health officials to expand COVID-19 vaccinations in Texas.

White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients announced the new facilities on Wednesday, saying they will be operational on Feb. 22.

Zients adds the Biden administration has plans to open similar sites in more states in the coming weeks.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

AP poll: Some US adults skeptical of vaccine, but 67% say they'll take it. South Africa to offer 1-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. EXPLAINER: What the WHO coronavirus experts learned in Wuhan. Israel’s ultra-Orthodox reject criticism of their virus defiance, say they're defending their way of life. What quarantine is like in Japan and what it might look like for the Tokyo Olympics.

— Follow AP’s pandemic 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 — A group of experts on immunization working with the World Health Organization is recommending the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine against the coronavirus even in countries that have variants.

It comes after the South African government announced it wouldn’t deploy the AstraZeneca vaccine as widely as first planned out of concerns about its effectiveness against a variant that first emerged in the country.

The U.N.-backed COVAX Facility, which aims to deploy coronavirus vaccines to people in need around the world, hopes to start shipping hundreds of millions of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine later this month.

Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, the WHO’s chief scientist, noted the AstraZeneca vaccine requires storage at refrigerator temperatures -- not the far colder temperatures required of the Pfizer vaccines.

So far, only Pfizer’s vaccine has received the emergency use authorization from WHO, though other countries and regions have individually authorized other vaccines.

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MADRID — Spain will begin using the AstraZeneca vaccine for essential workers such as police, fire fighters and the military.

Vaccine guidelines were published Wednesday by Spanish health authorities. They are expected to be approved later in the day by regional health officials for the AstraZeneca shots and the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. The latter two already have been given to vulnerable groups, including the elderly and infirm.

The guidance says the AstraZeneca vaccine shouldn’t be given to people over 55 years or people with serious illness, because there is no data to show it works on them.

In line for the AstraZeneca vaccine are teachers and staff at nursery, primary and secondary schools, pharmacies, day centers for the elderly and those who provide home help for the elderly.

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BRUSSELS — The chief of the European Union’s executive commission says the 27-nation bloc’s criticized coronavirus vaccine rollout can be partly blamed on the EU being overly optimistic the doses would be delivered on time.

As the EU’s reported COVID-19 death toll surpassed 500,000 on Wednesday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen defended the overall approach of the bloc’s 27 nations working together to fight the pandemic. But von der Leyen acknowledged mistakes in the strategy to quickly obtain sufficient vaccine doses for the bloc’s 447 million citizens.

She promised action to speed up the vaccine authorization process following earlier approvals that put the EU three weeks behind Britain in starting its mass vaccination campaign.

The United States, with a population of 330 million, has the world’s highest national death toll in the pandemic with more than 468,000 deaths.

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LISBON, Portugal — Portugal says COVID-19 hospitalizations, deaths and cases are continuing their downward trend after a January surge.

The Health Ministry says the number pandemic patients in hospital fell below 6,000 for the first time since Jan. 23.

The 161 deaths in the previous 24 hours were the fewest since Jan. 17. The nearly 4,400 new infections were fewer than half the number a week ago.

The country went into lockdown on Jan. 15 and schools closed a week later.

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TIRANA, Albania — Albanian authorities toughened virus preventive measures to cope with a recent surge of the daily infections.

In the next two weeks, the curfew will take effect from 8 p.m. until 6 a.m., two hours earlier. All bars and restaurants should close, except for delivery. High schools will turn to remote learning.

Albania has seen a significant rise in the daily infections, reaching 1,239 new cases and 16 deaths on Tuesday. Four virus-related hospitals are reaching their capacities.

The health ministry registered 87,528 total confirmed cases and 1,488 confirmed deaths.

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s minister for planning and development says vaccinations will next month for people 65 and over.

Asad Umar took to twitter saying the registration of people in this category will start next week.

The announcement comes hours after Pakistan reported additional 62 deaths from coronavirus and 1,072 new cases in the past 24 hours, amid steady decline in confirmed cases.

The development comes less than two weeks after Pakistan started vaccinating frontline health workers after it received 500,000 doses of China’s Sinopharm vaccine.

Pakistan has reported 12,128 confirmed deaths among 557,591 cases of the coronavirus in the past year.

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NEW YORK — About 1 in 3 Americans say they definitely or probably won’t get the COVID-19 vaccine.

The poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that while 67% of Americans plan to get vaccinated or have already done so, 15% are certain they won’t and 17% say probably not.

Many expressed doubts about the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness, even though few if any serious side effects have turned up more than a month and a half into the vaccination drive.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s leading infectious-disease scientist, has estimated that somewhere between 70% and 85% of the U.S. population needs to get inoculated to stop the coronavirus, which has killed nearly 470,000 Americans. More recently, he says the spread of more contagious variants of the virus increases the need for more people to get their shots — and quickly.

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JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s health minister says the country will begin administering the unapproved Johnson & Johnson vaccine to its front-line health workers next week.

The workers will be monitored to see what protection the J&J shot provides from COVID-19, particularly against the variant dominant in the country.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said Wednesday that South Africa scrapped its plans to use the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine because it “does not prevent mild to moderate disease” of the variant dominant in South Africa.

Mkhize asserts that the J&J vaccine, which is still being tested internationally, is safe.

He says those shots will be followed by a campaign to vaccinate an estimated 40 million people in South Africa by the end of the year. The minister said the country will be using the Pfizer vaccine and others, possibly including the Russian Sputnik V, Chinese Sinopharm and Moderna vaccines.

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BRUSSELS — European lawmakers have approved a 672.5 billion euro ($815 billion) recovery package of loans and grants to help member states bounce back faster from the coronavirus pandemic.

The regulation for the Recovery and Resilience Facility was adopted Wednesday with 582 votes in favor, 40 against and 69 abstentions.

The RRF is the central pillar of the the bloc’s 750 billion-euro ($910 billion) recovery plan that was adopted by EU leaders last year.

To receive their share of the money, which is linked to respecting the rule of law, the EU’s 27 nations must submit their plans for the funds by the end of April. The funding will be available for three years and EU countries can request up to 13% pre-financing for their recovery and resilience plans.

Each plan has to dedicate at least 37% of its budget to fighting climate change and at least 20% to improving digital access and other actions.

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ACCRA, Ghana — Ghana’s parliament has been suspended for at least three weeks following a surge in coronavirus cases among parliament members and staff.

Speaker Alban Bagbin announced the suspension late Tuesday, saying that at least 17 members of parliament and 151 staffers have tested positive for the virus. He has urged lawmakers and other parliament staffers to get tested.

Meetings, however, will continue of the parliament appointments committee to nominate ministry posts for the administration of President Nana Akufo-Addo, who was re-elected in December.

Ghana’s Health Services confirmed that there have been 73,003 cases and 482 deaths in the West African nation since the outbreak began last year.

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BRUSSELS — The European Union’s top official expressed regret for creating a row with Britain last month when the bloc briefly considered applying an emergency restriction on exports of COVID-19 vaccines also to the U.K.’s Northern Ireland.

Amid a dispute with Anglo-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca, the EU introduced tighter rules on exports of COVID-19 vaccines that could hit shipments to nations like the United Kingdom. To implement its plan, EU officials thought about also introducing controls on exports to Northern Ireland from Ireland, which is part of the EU.

That would have created a hard border. And since the Brexit deal guarantees that goods flow freely between the EU and Northern Ireland to protect the Irish peace process, the plans sparked concerns and outrage in Britain, Northern Ireland and Ireland.

Speaking at the European Parliament on Wednesday, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said she was sorry for the confusion.

“The bottom line is that mistakes were made in the process leading up to the decision,” von der Leyen said. “And I deeply regret that. But in the end we got it right.”

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LONDON — Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

The prince’s Clarence House office says the 72-year-old heir to the throne and his wife, Camilla, 73, received the inoculations as part of the government’s drive to offer a first dose of the vaccine to the most vulnerable people in the population, including everyone over 70, by Feb. 15.

Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip, received their shots last month.

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PRAGUE — The Czech Republic’s prime minister says his country is not ready to administer the Russia-made Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine before it is approved by the European Union’s drug regulator.

Prime Minister Andrej Babis has been seeking vaccines outside the EU’s common program after deliveries from approved Western drug companies were delayed.

With a team of experts, Babis visited Hungary on Friday to discuss their experience with the vaccine. Hungary is the first EU country to give a green light to the Russian vaccine.

Babis was talking to reporters on Wednesday before he departed for a similar fact-finding trip to Serbia. The Balkan country has been administering China’s Sinopharm vaccines and Russia’s Sputnik V along with the Pfizer shots that are also used in the EU.

He says that according to his information, the European Medicines Agency has already received a request from Russia to approve Sputnik V. It is not clear when a decision might be made.

The Czech Health Ministry has announced that a Moderna vaccine delivery scheduled for Monday will be delayed by one week and that only half of the expected dozes, 44,000, will arrive.

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BERLIN — BioNTech says it has starting manufacturing its COVID-19 vaccine at a new site in Germany, an important step toward increasing global supplies of one of the main vaccines against the coronavirus.

BioNTech, a German company that partnered with Pfizer to produce the first vaccine approved for use in Europe and the U.S., said Wednesday that it has started the manufacturing process at Marburg in central Germany by producing mRNA, the active pharmaceutical ingredient of the product.

The company said that quality tests will be performed internally and externally before the vaccine is released, and the new facility’s production processes will need approval from the European Medicines Agency so that the vaccine can be shipped. The first vaccines manufactured in Marburg are scheduled for distribution in early April.

The site, which BioNTech purchased from Switzerland’s Novartis, will be able to produce up to 750 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine per year once fully operational.

An initial shortage of production capacity has been a key bottleneck in the rollout of vaccines, particularly in the European Union.

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TOKYO — Japan will begin administering the COVID-19 vaccine next week, with medical experts at the pandemic’s frontlines the first recipients.

“We will make every effort to prepare for everything,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said at a meeting of ruling party officials Wednesday where he confirmed the timing of the first inoculations.

He called for cooperation by doctors, nurses and local municipalities to smoothly carry out the massive inoculations.

A health ministry panel is expected to give its first greenlight for a COVID-19 vaccine — one developed by Pfizer Inc. — within days.

Japan has also signed agreements with AstraZeneca of Britain and Moderna Inc. of the United States to provide a total of more than 310 million vaccine doses, or enough to cover the country’s entire population, this year. Pfizer is to provide 144 million of them.

Japanese officials have raised concerns about supply uncertainties of vaccines coming from Europe.

Vaccines are considered key to holding the postponed Tokyo Olympics this summer.

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PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Three sons of Cambodian leader Hun Sen were inoculated against COVID-19 as the country began distributing vaccines donated from its closest ally, China.

Hun Manet, the head of the army and Hun Sen’s eldest son, urged all Cambodians to be vaccinated and thanked China for the donation.

“I trust this vaccine and that is why I have been vaccinated with it,” Hun Manet said.

China is donating 1 million doses of the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine, enough for half a million people, and the first shipment of 600,000 doses arrived in Cambodia on Sunday.

Hun Sen’s two sons-in-law, government ministers and other officials also were vaccinated at a state-run hospital Wednesday. Hun Sen backtracked on receiving the vaccine because he is 68.

In China, the Sinopharm vaccine was approved only for people ages 18-59 because that is the population studied in clinical trials. While there is not yet data on its effectiveness for other age groups, other countries have discretion to use it in older people.

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