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Friday June 18th, 2021 1:44PM

The Latest: Georgia to open vaccinations for most adults

By The Associated Press
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ATLANTA — Georgia threw open the doors for COVID-19 vaccination to a majority of adults Monday, as the state seeks to improve its worst-in-the-nation share of the population that has been inoculated against the respiratory illness.

Monday was the first day that people aged 55 to 64 could get shots, as well as people with serious health conditions and those who are overweight and obese.

Officials with Gov. Brian Kemp’s office say that, overall, another 3.3 million people are eligible, meaning more than 5 million Georgians overall can now seek vaccination.

At the Macon State Farmers Market mass vaccination site, cars full of people waiting their turn for a shot formed a long but orderly line that stretched down the block and out onto a highway, partially blocking a lane of traffic. A few appointments remained available Monday morning at state and local public health mass vaccination sites, but some feared that older people will be crowded out in a new rush for appointments.

The state will open five new mass vaccination sites on Wednesday, including Columbus, Emerson, Sandersville, Savannah and Waycross. The federal government will take over a Fulton County site at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta.

Georgia has only given 20.8% of its adult population at least one dose, the worst in the nation, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The same data show Georgia has administered the second-lowest share of doses delivered among states, with more than one-third of doses still awaiting injection.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Why countries are halting the AstraZeneca vaccine, though there is no evidence the shot is responsible for reported blood clots

—- Extent of COVID-19 vaccine waste due to mishandling, poor recording keeping and other reasons, remains largely unknown

— Former cruise ship passengers recall deaths, frustration and quarantine last year

— An alarming number of US prison guards are refusing vaccines despite COVID-19 outbreaks

— 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:

LISBON, Portugal — Portugal is following other European Union countries and temporarily halting use of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine while experts review its safety.

The General Director for Health, Graça Freitas, told a Monday evening news conference that Portugal has so far seen none of the cases of dangerous blood clots in some recipients recorded elsewhere in Europe.

Officials said they hoped a scientific review of the jab can be completed by the end of the week.

Freitas urged people who have had the AstraZeneca vaccine to remain calm.

Portugal is postponing the mass vaccination of educational workers scheduled for next weekend because of the AstraZeneca suspension.

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NEW YORK — Two new studies add evidence that a virus variant first detected in Britain is more deadly than the previous dominant form.

Other research had already demonstrated the strain is more transmissible, but a new paper published Monday in the journal Nature suggests the U.K. variant may also be associated with an increased risk of death.

Comparing cases in more than 1 million people infected in England, researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine estimated the risk of death was about 55% higher for those with the new variant versus the previous one.

For men in their 50s or 60s, that meant the risk of death went from 0.06% to 0.09% with the new strain.

In a University of Exeter study published in the British journal BMJ last week, researchers followed about 100,000 positive COVID-19 cases, matching pairs of participants on age, sex and other factors. They also found those with the U.K. variant were at higher risk of death during the study.

The variant has been found in all but a few states in the U.S. and is expected to become the dominant strain later this spring.

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FORT COLLINS, Colorado — A powerful late winter snowstorm that dumped over 3 feet of heavy, wet snow in parts of Colorado and Wyoming interfered with COVID-19 vaccinations as well as closing Denver’s airport, state legislatures in both states and roads.

Federal officials shut down vaccine shipments to the region as the storm neared so the vials packed in dry ice wouldn’t spoil during mail delays, Wyoming Department of Health spokeswoman Kim Deti said.

“We think they’ll be at least a couple days,” Deti said. “Nobody is quite sure when things will be cleared and reopened.”

The storm also was keeping many people from getting to vaccine locations, Deti noted.

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JACKSON, Miss. — All Mississippi residents will be eligible for the coronavirus vaccine starting Tuesday. Gov. Tate Reeves made the announcement Monday.

“Starting tomorrow, ALL new appointments will be open to ALL Mississippians,” Reeves tweeted Monday. “Get your shot friends - and let’s get back to normal!”

Vaccinations in Mississippi are currently available for anyone ages 50 or over, staff at K-12 schools, first responders, health care workers and those who are at least 16 and have health conditions that might make them more vulnerable to the virus.

Reeves urged those in the 50 and up age group to make appointments Monday before eligibility expands to the entire state. People can get vaccinated at state-run drive-thru sites in counties across the state, at private clinics and community health centers and some pharmacies, like Walmart and Walgreens.

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginians aged 16 and older with underlying medical conditions are now eligible for a coronavirus vaccine, along with all essential workers of any age, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced on Monday.

The list of eligible conditions include asthma, heart disease, high blood pressure, intellectual disabilities, autoimmune disorders and more. Pregnant residents are also eligible as are the caretakers of those with some diseases.

All residents 50 and over have already been eligible for a vaccine. Last week, Justice said the state “will absolutely step up” to meet President Joe Biden’s goal that all Americans be eligible for vaccinations by May 1. He and other governors, though, stressed the need for the vaccine supply to increase.

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HARTFORD, Conn. — Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont announced plans Monday to speed up the next age-based phase of the COVID-19 vaccination rollout by a few days.

Ultimately, the new timeline will allow everyone else, age 16 and older, to begin making their appointments for a shot tentatively on April 5.

Meanwhile, the state plans to work with health care providers and the Department of Developmental Services to accelerate access for the most medically high-risk individuals under age 45 during April.

The Biden administration has informed Connecticut that it should be receiving a “significant” increase in vaccine doses over the next several weeks. Currently, the state is receiving roughly 139,000 to 150,000 doses a week, and that will climb to about 200,000 doses a week by early April.

Currently, everyone age 55 and older, health care personnel, medical first responders, residents and staff at long-term care facilities and select congregate settings, and pre-K-12 school staff and professional childcare providers are allowed to get the shot.

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LJUBLJANA, Slovenia — Slovenia has decided to temporarily halt the use of AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine pending a decision by the European Medicines Agency.

Health Minister Janez Poklukar said Monday the Slovenian expert group for vaccines proposed the vaccination be suspended “as a matter of precaution.”

Those scheduled to receive the vaccine will be rescheduled, while vaccinations with Moderna and Pfizer vaccines will continue as planned, he said.

The decision comes after several European countries, including Germany, France and Italy, have decided to halt the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine amidst reports of blood clots in some who have received it.

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GENEVA — The chief scientist of the World Health Organization is recommending that countries continue to use the AstraZeneca vaccine for now despite concerns about blood clots in some people who have received it.

Dr. Soumya Swaminathan says officials at the U.N. health agency “don’t want people to panic” even as close monitoring of the vaccine’s use continues. She said a review is under way that could produce updated recommendations as early as Tuesday.

Swaminathan noted that some 300 million doses of a variety of coronavirus vaccines have been given to people around the world, and “there is no documented death that has been linked to a COVID vaccine.”

She said the rates at which blood clots have occurred in people who received the AstraZeneca vaccine “are in fact less than what you would expect in the general population.”

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ROME — Italy on Monday temporarily halted administering the AstraZeneca vaccine only days after its government vowed to significantly step up the national vaccination program by tripling the number of shots given daily.

Italy joined several other European Union nations who have temporarily suspended AstraZeneca's vaccine out of precaution following the deaths of several persons who received it. Autopsies and other procedures were underway in Italy to determine if the vaccine was related to the deaths.

Some 2.2 million of the 8.6 million vaccine doses of various brands delivered to Italy are AstraZeneca vaccines, so the temporary stoppage is likely to significantly hamper Italy’s current vaccine rollout.

The temporary suspension comes as admissions to hospitals of COVID-19 patients, including to ICUs, have been steadily rising, and Italy sees some of its highest new daily caseloads in weeks. In the nation of 60 million people, about 5.7 million have received at least one injection of a COVID-19 vaccine.

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GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization says it is “routine practice” to investigate concerns like those over the AstraZeneca vaccine against the coronavirus amid reports of blood clots among some people who received it.

As a growing number of countries temporarily suspend the use of the vaccine, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the reported blood clots may not be linked to the vaccine.

The main problem facing most countries is a lack of access to vaccines, he said, particularly at a time when some rich countries have been “buying enough vaccines to immunize their populations several times over.”

He said a WHO advisory committee on vaccine safety was reviewing the data about blood clots among people who had received the AstraZeneca vaccine, and it would meet on Tuesday.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is a pillar of a U.N.-backed project known as COVAX that aims to get COVID-19 vaccines to people in need around the world, especially in poorer countries.

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O’FALLON, Mo. — Missouri teachers and other school workers are now eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, even as the leader of the state’s largest jurisdiction said Missouri’s “fumbled vaccine rollout” continues to frustrate urban residents.

The state made educators and school staff along with transportation and infrastructure workers eligible for shots on Monday. Missouri officials estimate the new group includes about 550,000 people.

But Democratic St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said the St. Louis region is still a long way from vaccinating those in earlier groups. He declined to estimate how long it will be before doses can go to all teachers who want them in the county of 1 million residents, but stressed the importance of vaccinating them so schools can return to in-person learning.

“The fumbled vaccine rollout has added frustration to a process,” Page said during a news conference. “Seeing our residents drive several hours to snag an appointment or wait in hopes that there are surplus shots at the end of a vaccination event is no way to provide a service critical to ending a pandemic.”

A message left with Republican Gov. Mike Parson’s spokesperson was not immediately returned. Parson has repeatedly said the vaccine distribution is equitable and based on population.

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PHOENIX — Arizona health officials are reporting no new COVID-19 deaths and 638 more confirmed cases, one of the lowest figures in months.

The state Department of Health Services released the latest numbers Monday, bringing the state totals since the pandemic started to 833,381 cases and 16,553 deaths.

The number of COVID-19 patients occupying hospital beds in the state also continues to drop. As of Sunday, 716 people were hospitalized due to the virus. Of those, 210 were in ICU beds.

Meanwhile, many Arizona schools reopened for full-time in-person instruction Monday as mandated by Gov. Doug Ducey’s executive order. He cited teachers getting vaccinated as a main factor for reopening.

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WASHINGTON — The Biden administration says Medicare will significantly boost what it pays for COVID-19 shots to help get more Americans vaccinated, particularly those in hard-to-reach areas.

White House coronavirus special adviser Andy Slavitt said Monday that Medicare will now pay $40 per shot. That’s an increase over the average of nearly $23 per shot the program has been paying.

For a vaccine requiring two shots, it would work out to $80, nearly double the $45 Medicare now pays.

As the government’s flagship health insurance program, Medicare covers more than 60 million people, including those 65 and older and younger individuals who are disabled.

The payment increase will make it easier for more health care providers to get out into communities and give shots to those most in need, Slavitt said. Hard-to-reach areas can include rural communities but also urban neighborhoods in which a long bus ride is the only way to reach a vaccination center.

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PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron said that France is suspending the use of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine use out of precaution.

Macron told a news conference Monday that French authorities have decided to suspend shots at least until Tuesday afternoon, when the European Medicines Agency (EMA) will issue its recommendation over the vaccine. He didn’t elaborate on the reasons for the decision.

He said France hopes to be able to vaccine again with AstraZeneca shots “soon,” depending on the EMA’s assessment.

AstraZeneca, the European Medicines Agency and the World Health Organization have also said that the data does not suggest the vaccine caused the clots and that people should continue to be immunized.

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