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Thursday September 23rd, 2021 8:44AM

The Latest: Israel vaccinates vast majority of its soldiers

By The Associated Press
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JERUSALEM — The Israeli military says it has vaccinated the vast majority of its soldiers, allowing the military to resume many of its normal operations.

The army announced Thursday that nearly 80% of its soldiers have either been vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19. It expects that number to increase to 85% in the coming days.

Military officials say they cannot force remaining soldiers to be vaccinated. But Brig. Gen. Alon Glazberg, the army’s chief medical officer, says units in which 90% of the soldiers have been vaccinated or recovered have been branded “green” status. Such units have much more flexibility in terms of training, gathering and operating.

“That will allow us to train and also operate in a more normal way,” he told reporters. “There are still some restrictions, but in general, a green unit can go back and behave as one capsule.”

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— A year after declaring a pandemic, World Health Organization is struggling to fight vaccine nationalism and to keep up with the rapidly evolving science around COVID-19

— Austria targets one hard-hit region with mass vaccinations to fight virus variant first found in South Africa

— Congress has sent President Joe Biden the landmark $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill

— Biden will use his first prime-time address to steer nation toward hope in the midst of the pandemic

— Brazil’s hospitals falter as a highly contagious virus variant tears through the country

— 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:

AMSTERDAM — The European Medicines Agency was meeting Thursday to discuss whether Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose coronavirus vaccine should be authorized, a move that would give the European Union a fourth licensed vaccine to try to curb the pandemic amid a stalled inoculation drive.

The Amsterdam-based EU regulator is scheduled to convene its expert committee in the morning to assess the J&J vaccine data. A decision on whether the agency recommends that the shot be licensed across the 27-nation bloc could come in the afternoon.

The EMA has already approved COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the J&J shot in late February. Health experts hope that having a one-dose vaccine will speed efforts to immunize the world against COVID-19, especially given the arrival of worrying new variants in recent months.

The EU has struggled to quickly roll out shots and immunize its most vulnerable citizens. It ranks far behind countries including Israel, Britain, Chile and the U.S.

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BRUSSELS — European Union figures show that the 27-nation bloc has allowed the export of over 34 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines over the past weeks despite shortages at home as it continues to struggle to get its vaccine drive up to speed.

Several officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the figures said that over 9.1 million doses were exported to the United Kingdom at a time when diplomatic tensions rose over vaccine exports and the implementation of the Brexit divorce agreement. The EU had wanted AstraZeneca vaccines from Britain to make up the shortfall of the company’s commitment to the EU.

The figures show that even if the EU is accused of “vaccine nationalism” major exports continue from the bloc. The exports are almost as high as the roughly 45 million doses that have been distributed within the EU as of last week.

One diplomat said of over 200 authorizations for export granted, only one was refused. Last week, a shipment of more than a quarter million AstraZeneca vaccines destined for Australia was blocked from leaving the EU, in the first use of an export control system by the bloc to make sure big pharma companies respect their contracts.

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ATHENS — Greece’s prime minister has outlined a new 2.5 billion-euro ($3 billion) package of relief measures for businesses and workers affected by the coronavirus pandemic and related lockdowns.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Thursday the new stimulus package would provide relief for more than 500,000 businesses and freelancers, and millions of workers. The country has been under various forms of lockdown restrictions since early November, with retail businesses and restaurants shut and strict limits imposed on movement outside the home.

The new package brings the total funds provided for pandemic relief measures to 11.6 billion euros so far in 2021, Mitsotakis said, adding that 24 billion euros were spent on supporting businesses and workers in 2020.

Greece’s economy saw an estimated 8.2% contraction in 2020, smaller than the initially projected 10.5%.

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BERLIN— Jordan’s foreign minister is calling for more support with coronavirus vaccines as his country tries to ensure its own citizens as well as hundreds of thousands of refugees, primarily from Syria, are inoculated.

Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi told Germany’s Deutsche Welle that Jordan was far short of the number of vaccines it needed, and was trying to procure doses from China and Russia as well as from Western producers.

He says “pretty much we’re knocking on every door that is out there."

Jordan has included its massive refugee population in its virus response and is offering them free vaccines. But he says the onus shouldn’t be on Jordan alone.

Safadi says “refugees cannot be the responsibility of host countries only; it is a global challenge and therefore the solution has to be global.”

He says Jordan does “appreciate the tremendous support that we got from our partners in Europe and the U.S. and others” but that now resources are dwindling for refugees.

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WARSAW -- Poland’s government reported over 21,000 new coronavirus infections on Thursday, the highest daily number since November.

Authorities say Poland is in a third surge caused by the more transmissible virus variant first found in England.

With 375 new deaths also reported, Poland is facing a difficult situation. The numbers of people hospitalized with COVID-19 are also growing amid a shortage of health care workers.

The nation of 38 million has recorded more than 1.8 million infections and more than 46,000 deaths from the coronavirus. More than 4.2 million vaccine doses have been administered amid a slow vaccine rollout in the European Union, to which Poland belongs.

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AMSTERDAM — The European Medicines Agency said it has started an expedited approval process of two experimental antibody treatments for coronavirus developed by Eli Lilly.

In a statement Thursday, the EU regulator said it was considering whether the antibody bamlanivimab should be licensed by itself and in combination with another drug, etesemivab. The two drugs are monoclonal antibodies that are designed to attach to the spike protein of the coronavirus and prevent the virus from invading the body’s cells.

“EMA will evaluate all data on these medicines, including evidence from clinical trials as they become available,” the EMA said, adding that its evaluation of data from animals has already begun.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted an emergency use approval for bamlanivimab in November. It approved the combination treatment for both antibodies in February.

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KAMPALA, Uganda — The director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging “continental capacity” to produce COVID-19 vaccines as Africa tries to vaccine more of its 1.3 billion people.

Dr. John Nkengasong told reporters Thursday that at least five African countries appear to have the capacity to produce vaccines. He mentioned South Africa, Senegal, Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt.

He said a meeting is planned for April 12 between the African Union and outside partners to create a “roadmap” for boosting African capacity to produce COVID-19 vaccines. “It’s so important for us to have that,” he said.

Birgitte Markussen, head of the European Union delegation to the African Union, told the briefing that “efforts will be made to support local production” of vaccines. She said solidary is important “to make sure no one is left behind” in global efforts to stop the pandemic.

At least 22 of Africa’s 54 countries have received COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX program. The continent has set a target of vaccinating at least 60% of its people.

—-

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine capital placed two villages and two hotels on lockdown Thursday and police have renewed warnings against kissing and other “public display of affection” after a new surge in coronavirus infections.

Manila Mayor Isko Moreno said police would not allow people to go in and out of their houses and the two hotels during the three-day lockdown and violators would be forced into 14-day quarantine. Isolated residents would be given food boxes, and medical workers and other authorized personnel would be exempt.

Other cities in the capital reimposed lockdowns in several neighborhoods and longer night curfews after detecting new infections.

National police chief Debold Sinas said a ban on “public display of affection” like holding hands and kissing would be strictly enforced again due to infection spikes.

Authorities have blamed public complacency a year into the pandemic for the surge in COVID-19 cases, specifically in Manila. The country has reported 12,545 deaths.

__

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Organizers say a veteran Iditarod musher was removed from the race after he tested positive for the coronavirus.

The organizers say Gunnar Johnson, 52, of Duluth, Minnesota, was withdrawn from the event at the McGrath, Alaska, checkpoint Wednesday.

Iditarod Race Marshal Mark Nordman, working with epidemiologist Dr. Jodie Guest, made the decision to remove Johnson, who is asymptomatic, based on the rules set in the race’s COVID-19 mitigation plan.

The organizers say Johnson is incredibly disappointed and felt his dog team looked great. Johnson had 14 dogs racing with him. After the positive test, Johnson was removed from the checkpoint area and taken off the trail.

___

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea will vaccinating elders in long-term care settings against the coronavirus this month after authorities approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for adults 65 years old and older.

The decision by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was based on encouraging data from England and Scotland that the vaccine lowered hospitalizations and death rates in the age group.

South Korea delayed approving the AstraZeneca vaccine for people older than 65 when it began its vaccination campaign last month, citing insufficient laboratory data. But health experts accused the government of risking the safety of people who are most vulnerable to COVID-19.

The KCDC says 376,000 workers and residents older than 65 at long-term care hospitals, nursing homes, mental health facilities and rehab centers will begin receiving the shots this month.

About 35% of the country’s COVID-19 deaths in 2020 were linked to long-term care facilities.

___

ATLANTA — Georgia will expand COVID-19 vaccine criteria starting Monday to everyone 55 and older, plus younger adults who are overweight or have serious health conditions, making more than two-thirds of Georgians who are 16 and older eligible for vaccination.

Gov. Brian Kemp made the announcement Wednesday as Georgia continued to post worst-in-the nation vaccination rates, raising questions about the effectiveness of the state’s efforts to put shots in arms.

“We will continue to encourage all eligible Georgians not to wait to get their dose,” Kemp said.

Georgia has only given 17.5% of its overall population at least one dose, the worst in the nation, according the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The same data show Georgia has administered the lowest share of doses delivered among states, with more than one-third of doses still awaiting injection.

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