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Monday December 6th, 2021 10:09AM

The Latest: Deal to get 1.1B vaccines to over 190 nations

By The Associated Press
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GAITHERSBURG, Md. — Vaccine developer Novavax has agreed to provide 1.1 billion doses of its experimental COVID-19 vaccine for use in more than 190 low- and middle-income countries.

The company said Thursday it has reached agreement with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to provide the doses to the COVAX Facility, a project led by Gavi, the World Health Organization and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

They’re working with groups including UNICEF, the World Bank and charities to guarantee equitable access to vaccines against the coronavirus to all countries.

Novavax Inc., of Gaithersburg, and the Serum Institute of India, a top maker of vaccines for poor countries, will manufacture and distribute the Novavax vaccine. It’s still in two late-stage studies, one in the U.S. and Mexico and the other in the UK.

Novavax said testing has found the shot works against the original COVID-19 strain and two variants first identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa and now circulating widely.

The company is expected to supply doses mainly to wealthy countries, with the Serum Institute providing most supply for poor and middle-income countries, under a tiered-pricing arrangement.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— U.S. life expectancy drops by a year in pandemic, the most since World War II

— Crippling winter weather in U.S. hampers vaccine deliveries, distribution

— New York's governor faces mounting pressure over COVID deaths at nursing homes

— One Good Thing: When coronavirus lockdowns shut down classes in a youth prison, a Greek math teacher created a DIY TV channel that broadcasts lessons 24 hours a day

— Follow all of 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:

BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana will expand coronavirus vaccine access next week to another half-million people.

Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Thursday that he’s allowing teachers, child care workers and older people with certain medical conditions to get the shots.

The full list of who will be newly eligible starting includes K-12 school teachers, administrators and support staff; employees at day care centers, early learning facilities and other sites that provide child care; pregnant women; and people age 55 to 64 who have one of a dozen preexisting conditions.

With those additions, more than 1.6 million of Louisiana’s 4.6 million residents will have access to the vaccine if they can get appointments.

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RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia's health department says the commonwealth is seeing delays in this week’s COVID-19 vaccine shipments because of severe winter weather.

Multiple vaccination events scheduled in the coming days have been postponed due to weather conditions in Virginia, parts of which were covered in sleet, ice and snow Thursday.

The department said that if additional events are canceled due to weather or shipment delays, providers will contact individuals about updated appointments.

It warned that additional delays could be possible for vaccine orders placed this week, also due to weather.

Virginia had been expecting about 120,000 doses this week.

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NEW YORK — Drugmaker Pfizer and German partner BioNTech have begun a nine-country study of the safety and effectiveness of their COVID-19 vaccine in pregnant women.

The companies said Thursday that the first volunteers have received shots in the study, which is to enroll about 4,000 healthy pregnant women aged 18 and older.

Women in the United States, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mozambique, South Africa, Spain and the UK will be included.

Dr. William Gruber, Pfizer’s head of vaccine clinical research and development, said in a statement that “pregnant women have an increased risk of complications and developing severe COVID-19,” and “it is critical that we develop a vaccine that is safe and effective” for them.

The study will assess effects on the infants for about six months, checking for safety and whether they received potentially protective antibodies from their mothers.

Women known to be pregnant were excluded from prior studies of the vaccine, which has emergency use authorization in the U.S., the European Union and other countries.

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CARSON CITY, Nevada — Health officials have confirmed the first known case in Nevada of a coronavirus variant that was first identified in South Africa.

The Nevada State Public Health Laboratory said Thursday that the mutated version of the virus was confirmed a day earlier in a sample traced to a person who traveled from South Africa and began showing symptoms of COVID-19 after arriving in Reno.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said the variant has been detected in 10 states thus far, not including Nevada’s case.

Dr. Mark Pandori, the director of Nevada’s public health lab, says COVID-19 vaccines may be less effective on the new strain. He said it is not yet known if the strain causes a more severe illness and that it’s not believed to be more lethal than the original COVID-19 strain.

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BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia’s government has failed to agree on a plan to acquire Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine to speed up the vaccination program in one of the hardest-hit European Union nations.

Prime Minister Igor Matovic says one of the four partners in his coalition government, the center-right For People party, vetoed such a move on Thursday.

Matovic says the plan called for Slovakia to receive 160,000 doses of Sputnik V next week.

Slovakia has become the country with most COVID-19 deaths by population in the world, amid a surge of a highly contagious coronavirus variant originally found in Britain. The government wanted to turn to the Russian vaccine due to the EU’s slow vaccine rollout.

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MADRID — Spanish health authorities say they expect the curve of coronavirus contagion to continue flattening after the two-week incidence rate dropped Thursday to 320 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, from a peak of nearly 900 at the end of January.

Spain has logged 3.1 million confirmed virus cases overall and more than 66,000 deaths, including 14,515 new cases and 388 new fatalities in the previous 24 hours.

Fernando Simón, who heads the country's pandemic response, says authorities estimate that a new variant first detected in Britain makes up 20% to 25% of all new cases.

He says “that reflects the expected progression according to what we are seeing in other countries.”

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PARIS — France's health minister says the coronavirus variant dominant in Britain accounts for about 36% of infections in his country and a majority of cases in some areas, and other variants account for 5% of new cases.

Olivier Veran tells reporters that as a result, the government will extend its recommended quarantine period for people who test positive from seven days to 10 days.

He said Thursday that the growing proportion of more contagious variants may be why France’s 12-hour-a-day curfew and other restrictions aren’t bringing overall infections and hospitalizations down.

“We need to hang on together. We need to get out of the danger zone,” Veran said. “It’s not the time to relax our efforts, it’s not over.”

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NEW YORK — Carnegie Hall will miss an entire season for the first time in its 130-year history.

The storied Manhattan concert venue has canceled performances from April 6 through July, extending a closure that started last March 13 due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Carnegie hopes to reopen in October for its 2021-22 season.

The pandemic also caused the Metropolitan Opera to miss a season for the first time, and Broadway theaters have been closed since March. The arts shutdowns have contributed to a major hit to New York City’s economy.

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ROME — Officials have postponed a main event commemorating the first anniversary of the start of Italy’s coronavirus outbreak after clusters of new infections traced to the variant first detected in Britain forced localized lockdowns in hardest-hit Lombardy and around the country.

Brescia’s public hospital, which was overwhelmed during the initial outbreak, had planned a daylong conference Saturday on lessons learned from the pandemic. It was to feature the intensive care doctor who diagnosed Italy’s first locally transmitted case, as well as the opening of a commemorative art exhibit dedicated to health care workers worldwide.

But the hospital announced Thursday that it was postponing the event “considering the rapid evolution of the epidemiological situation.”

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BOSTON — With delivery of COVID-19 vaccines earmarked for Massachusetts being disrupted by winter storms, Gov. Charlie Baker says he would consider sending the National Guard to southern states to collect shipments.

The Republican governor says the state “may have some real issues with supply delivery this week,” and “we have been told it would be a few days late, based on some of the issues around weather in other parts of the country.”

Baker says he needs to make sure the federal government would allow Guard troops to be used this way.

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LONDON — A major study suggests coronavirus infection rates in London have plunged by 80% in the past month as lockdown measures curb the spread of the virus.

Imperial College London researchers tested 85,000 people across England Feb. 4-13. The study found that about 1 in 200 people were infected, a drop of two-thirds from the month before.

The decline varied across the country and was steepest in London, where a new and more contagious strain of the virus was identified late last year. In January an estimated 1 in 30 people in London had the virus. That has now fallen to about 1 in 185.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock says the decline is “encouraging … but we must not drop our guard.”

Britain has recorded more than 118,000 deaths from the coronavirus and is in lockdown as a mass vaccination program pushes ahead at the fastest rate in Europe. So far some 16 million people have received a first dose, about a quarter of the population.

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ROME — The Vatican is taking Pope Francis’ pro-vaccine stance very seriously: Any employee of the Holy See who refuses to get a coronavirus shot without a valid medical reason risks being fired.

A Feb. 8 decree signed by the governor of the Vatican City State sparked heated debate Thursday, since its provisions go well beyond the generally voluntary nature of COVID-19 vaccinations in Italy and much of the rest of the world.

The decree cited the need to protect employees, as well as guidelines by Francis’ own COVID-19 commission of advisers who said there is a moral obligation since “refusing a vaccine can constitute a risk for others.”

The decree says Vatican employees who opt out without a proven medical need may face sanctions up to and including “the interruption of the relationship of employment.”

The Vatican is an absolute monarchy in the heart of Rome that operates independently of Italian law and Italian labor protections. It has around 5,000 employees.

Francis has received the vaccine.

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PHOENIX — Arizona has reported 1,143 new COVID-19 cases and 213 deaths, as bad weather delays vaccination deliveries in some areas causing cancellations and rescheduling of some appointments.

The latest figures released by the Department of Health Services on Thursday increased Arizona’s pandemic totals to 802,198 cases and 15,276 deaths.

Arizona continues to see declines in hospitalizations and seven-day rolling averages of confirmed cases and deaths.

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WASHINGTON — The number of Americans applying for unemployment aid rose last week to 861,000, evidence that layoffs remain painfully high despite a steady drop in confirmed viral infections.

Applications from laid-off workers rose 13,000 from the previous week, which was revised sharply higher, the Labor Department said Thursday.

Before the virus erupted in the United States last March, weekly applications for unemployment benefits had never topped 700,000, even during the Great Recession of 2008-2009.

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GENEVA — The prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago is calling on the World Health Organization to convene an “international convention of the world’s people’s representatives” to commit to the fair sharing of coronavirus vaccines.

Keith Rowley said Thursday that small nations in the Caribbean and elsewhere have made “huge sacrifices in an endeavor to protect our populations from the worst ravages of the virus” and global leaders should make vaccines available to people everywhere, “not just the privileged, well-heeled few.”

To date, 75% of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in just 10 countries and nearly 130 countries have yet to receive a single dose.

___

BERLIN — Germany’s top security official says about a fifth of the people checked at the Czech and Austrian borders since the introduction of strict controls have been turned back.

Germany implemented the border restrictions in a bid to reduce the spread of more contagious coronavirus variants.

It is limiting entry to citizens and residents of Germany, truck drivers, transport and health service workers and a few others including cross-border commuters working in “systemically relevant sectors.” All have to show a negative coronavirus test.

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said during a visit to the Czech border Thursday that 50,000 checks have been conducted so far and 10,000 of them resulted in people being turned back.

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