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Friday December 3rd, 2021 8:49AM

The Latest: Mississippi to reduce gaps in vaccine access

By The Associated Press
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JACKSON, Miss. — An office within the Mississippi State Department of Health that works to reduce gaps in access to health care is looking for organizations to host coronavirus vaccination events.

The Office of Health Equity is partnering with Federally Qualified Health Centers to increase vaccination efforts around the state. The focus of these events will be on Hispanic, Black, Vietnamese residents and people who live in rural areas. These partners can be cities, community organizations and businesses.

The partners will help identify individuals who need vaccinations, and the health department will schedule the event.

“What we need now are new local partners to help us bring vaccinations into communities that have not had the access that other Mississippians have had so far,” said Director of the Office of Health Equity Dr. Chigozie Udemgba.

As of Friday, 61% of all vaccinations against the coronavirus in Mississippi had been given to white residents, according to data provided by the state Department of Health. Just over 30% of vaccinations have been given to Black residents and 2% to Asian residents.

Mississippi has the highest population of African American residents at just under 40%.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

VACCINES: More than 104.2 million people, or 31.4% of the U.S. population, have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some 59.8 million people, or 18% of the population, have completed their vaccination.

CASES: The seven-day rolling average for daily new cases in the U.S. increased over the past two weeks from 54,471 on March 19 to 64,616 on Friday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

DEATHS: The seven-day rolling average for daily new deaths in the U.S. decreased over the past two weeks decreased from 1,160 on March 19 to 847 on Friday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

— Italy enters 3-day Easter lockdown amid vaccination snags

— French hospitals boost Easter staff to fight virus surge

— California targets critical farmworkers for vaccinations

— From child care to COVID-19, rising US job market faces obstacles

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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:

BOSTON — The number of coronavirus infections in Massachusetts schools is increasing but a school official insists schools are “very safe.”

A report shows 801 new coronavirus cases among students and 244 among school staffers for the week that ended Wednesday. Together that’s the largest number this academic year, and it comes just days before elementary schools return to full-time, in-person learning on Monday.

Russell Johnston, senior associate commissioner at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, told the Boston Globe that coronavirus transmission among public school children is largely happening outside classrooms, at family events, after-school activities and sports games.

“The school numbers going up does not mean that schools are not safe. In fact, schools are very safe,” he said.

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AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas health department says it will receive another 2.5 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine next week.

The Texas Department of State Health Services says more than 1 million first doses will be sent to vaccination sites in 200 counties. About 900,000 first and second doses will go to pharmacies and to health and dialysis centers. The remaining doses are for people awaiting a second dose. All Texans 16 and older are now eligible to receive the vaccine.

The health department says the state has administered more than 11.8 million doses of the vaccine. The Center for Disease Control reports 27% of the state’s population has received at least one dose. That ranks ninth worst in the nation. Alabama has the lowest one-shot vaccination rate at 24.7% and New Mexico has the best at 39.5%.

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BEIRUT — Syria’s government says that primary schools will close indefinitely next week amid a severe increase of coronavirus cases.

Universities will suspend classes for only two weeks and high schools will remain open. The announcement by government ministries on Saturday says closures will go into effect Monday. Final exams for grades five up to high school will be held over four days starting April 25.

Syria is experiencing a spike in coronavirus cases, with state media reporting last month the intensive care units in state hospitals in the capital of Damascus were full.

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ATHENS, Greece — Greece reported 3,232 new coronavirus cases and 70 confirmed deaths in the past day.

Most of the coronavirus cases are in the Athens area, but have stabilized. The government plan is to open retail shops with restrictions on Monday in Athens but not in Greece’s second-largest city, Thessaloniki, and two other cities.

On Saturday, Thessaloniki shop owners declared they’ll defy the government’s orders and reopen their shops. The government is considering opening high schools soon, but restaurants, cafes and bars will remain closed for at least another month.

Greece has vaccinated 1.7 million people with one shot and about 608,000 are fully vaccinated. The nation of 11 million has registered 273,459 confirmed cases and 8,302 confirmed deaths since the start of the pandemic.

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ROME — Italy has entered a three-day strict nationwide lockdown to deter Easter travel and help prevent new surges of the coronavirus.

Even though the Health Ministry says the rate of infections is coming down, all regions were placed into the strictest “red zone” lockdown through Monday as a precaution. The lockdown, announced last month, means restrictions on personal movement, with limited travel and visits to relatives. Non-essential shops are closed and restaurants and bars are only open for take-out.

Police set up road checks to ensure people were staying close to home. Extra patrols were ordered up to break up large gatherings in squares and parks, which over Easter weekend are usually packed with picnic goers.

Italy, where the European outbreak began, has recorded 3.6 million cases and more than 110,000 deaths from the coronavirus, more deaths than any other European country but Britain.

It has administered 10.8 million vaccines, though only 3.3 million of the country’s 60 million people have received both doses.

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Volunteers in California are working to ensure thousands of farmworkers who daily toil in the fields are receiving coronavirus vaccinations.

Farmworkers are particularly vulnerable because they live in crowded housing and travel to farms in packed vehicles. Officials say most farmworkers are eager to get the vaccinations but may not have the ability to sign up online.

California was the first state to make agricultural workers eligible for vaccinations, followed by others including Washington, Michigan and Georgia. Arizona hasn’t prioritized farmworkers, but some private growers have offered vaccinations.

California is the nation’s top producer of fruits and vegetables, and its growers rely on the labor of as many as 800,000 farmworkers. Some arrive under the H2A visa program that allows employers to hire them legally, but many are hired regardless.

Researchers at Purdue University estimate about 9,000 agricultural workers in the U.S. have died of the coronavirus and nearly a half million have been infected.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine recorded a new daily high of more than 20,000 coronavirus cases.

Health Minister Maxim Stepanov says 20,341 new infections were registered in the previous day, nearly 500 more than the record on Friday.

Ukraine began vaccinations late February, but only about 230,000 people have received the shots because of widespread reluctance. The sharply rising numbers prompted the mayor of the capital Kyiv to order schools and public transportation closed for two weeks starting Monday.

Overall, more than 1.7 million infections and 34,000 confirmed deaths have been recorded during the pandemic.

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HARRISBURG, Pa. — Vaccine passports developed to verify COVID-19 immunization status have become the latest flash point for some U.S. politicians.

Supporters say the passports would allow inoculated people to more freely travel, shop and dine. But Republicans portray them as a heavy-handed intrusion into personal freedom and private health choices.

Vaccine passports currently exist in only one state -- a limited government partnership in New York with a private company.

Vaccine passports are typically an app with a code that verifies whether someone has been vaccinated or recently tested negative for the coronavirus. They are used in Israel and under development in parts of Europe, considered a way to safely help rebuild the pandemic-devastated travel industry.

They are intended to allow businesses to safely open as the vaccine drive gains momentum. They mirror measures already in place for schools and overseas travel that require proof of immunization against various diseases.

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistan federal authorities will start coronavirus vaccinations for residents over 80 on Monday.

The country received 60,000 doses of the CanSino vaccine from China early in the week. Pakistan is already using the Sinopharm vaccine, donated by Beijing last month.

The National Command and Control Center says the vaccine administration will begin in all the four provinces for people over age 80.

Pakistan reported 4,723 new coronavirus cases and 84 confirmed deaths in the last 24 hours. The country is facing a virus surge, which the government says is worse than last year’s outbreak when a nationwide lockdown was imposed.

Pakistan has reported a total of 68,288 cases and 14,697 confirmed deaths.

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DHAKA, Bangladesh — Bangladesh authorities are imposing a one-week nationwide lockdown on Monday to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Cabinet Minister Obaidul Quader announced the plan on Saturday. The government says 5,683 new infections and 58 deaths were recorded in the last 24 hours.

Forhad Hossain, the country’s junior minister for public administration, says organizations providing emergency services will be available during the lockdown. He says industries will remain open and employees must work in shifts, following health guidelines.

The government has already banned travel from all European countries, except the United Kingdom, and 12 other countries for three weeks.

Bangladesh has registered a total of 630,277 cases and 9,213 confirmed deaths. Health experts say the actual number is likely higher.

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PARIS — French hospitals brought in extra staff for the Easter holiday weekend to cope with more coronavirus patients.

With a new virus variant spreading fast and French intensive care units as full as they were last April, the government closed all schools and imposed new rules taking effect nationwide on Sunday.

In Paris, police say they’re deploying 6,600 officers to enforce the new restrictions, which include a ban on traveling more than 10 kilometers (6 miles), a ban on outdoor gatherings of six people or more and a continued nationwide 7 p.m. curfew. On the Mediterranean shores of Marseille, police patrolled amid sunbathers and fined people drinking in public or not wearing masks.

Crowds filled Paris-area train stations on Friday night to head to the countryside. The SNCF national rail authority says its expecting 600,000 people to travel over the weekend.

France has registered 4.8 million coronavirus cases, the most in Europe and fourth globally. It’s confirmed more than 96,000 deaths, eighth highest in the world. The U.S. leads with 30.6 million cases and more than 554,000 confirmed deaths.

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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Argentine President Alberto Fernández says he had an initial positive test for coronavirus, despite having been vaccinated in January.

Fernández sent a tweet early Saturday saying he took a quick antigen test for the virus after feeling a headache and fever. He says other than light symptoms, he is “physically well” and isolating. He adds he’s awaiting a confirmation of the result using a more rigorous PCR test.

The president received a dose of the Sputnik V vaccine on Jan. 21 and a second dose a few days later. The Russian Gamaleya Institute, which produced the vaccine, tweeted the shot has a 91.6% rate of effectiveness against infection and 100% against critical cases.

“If the infection is confirmed and occurred, the vaccination assures a rapid recovery without severe symptoms,” it said.

Argentina recently tightened border restrictions following a surge in cases. It has administered more than 4 million doses of vaccine. The nation of 45 million has registered nearly 2.4 million infections and 56,000 confirmed deaths.

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LONDON — Britain’s medicines regulator is urging people to continue taking the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, despite revealing seven people in the U.K. have died from rare blood clots after getting the shot.

The Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency, or MHRA, says it isn’t clear if the shots are causing the clots. It says its “rigorous review into the U.K. reports of rare and specific types of blood clots is ongoing.”

Though the agency said late Friday that seven people had died as a result of developing blood clots, it didn’t disclose any information about their ages or health conditions. In total, MHRA says it's identified 30 cases of rare blood clot events out of 18.1 million AstraZeneca doses administered through March 24.

Concerns over the AstraZeneca vaccine prompted some countries to restrict its use to older people. The World Health Organization has urged countries to continue using the shot.

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NAIROBI, Kenya — Kenya has ordered a suspension on private importations of vaccines.

The National Emergency Response Committee says the move is meant to ensure transparency and accountability in the process of vaccinations. Private health facilities have been charging about $80 for the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, while the governments institutions are giving free AstraZeneca vaccines received from the global COVAX initiative.

In recent weeks, the Kenyan government has been on a sensitization campaign to reduce the reluctance of frontline workers to take the AstraZeneca vaccine. About 160,000 people have been vaccinated in more than a month since 1 million doses were received.

President Uhuru Kenyatta on March 26 led his cabinet in getting vaccinated publicly after announcing stricter restrictions on movement and assembly due to a surge of coronavirus cases and deaths.

Kenya’s government says the country’s positivity rate increased from 2.6% at the end of January to 19.1% on April 2.

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