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Friday June 18th, 2021 1:50PM

The Latest: US officials extend expiration date on J&J shots

By The Associated Press
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WASHINGTON — Johnson & Johnson says U.S. health officials have extended the expiration date for millions of doses of its COVID-19 vaccine by an extra six weeks.

The drug maker says the Food and Drug Administration approved a longer shelf-life for the one-dose shots. State officials recently warned that many unused doses would reach their original three-month expiration by the end of June.

The extension comes as the rate of new U.S. vaccinations continues to slip. Expiration dates for vaccines are determined based on data manufacturers submit to the FDA proving how long the shots stay at the right strength. But regulators have been reviewing those dates based on new samples and data from J&J and other drug makers.

The U.S. averaged about 800,000 new injections per day last week. That’s down from a high of nearly 2 million per day two months ago.

President Joe Biden’s goal is 70% of American adults partially vaccinated by July 4. About 64% of Americans 18 and above have received at least one dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— World Health Organization warns delta variant taking hold in Europe

— Biden will unveil plans for U.S. to donate 500 million doses and will ask his fellow G-7 leaders to do the same

— Asia welcomes US vaccine donations, but Pfizer's cold-storage requirements leave some worried

— Europe is opening up to visitors after more than a year of restrictions, but the rules vary

— Germany rolling out digital European Union vaccination pass

— Follow more of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California’s workplace regulators have withdrawn a controversial mask regulation.

Their second such reversal in a week gives them time to consider a rule that more closely aligns with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s promise that the state will fully reopen from the pandemic on Tuesday.

But some business leaders on Wednesday kept up their pressure on Newsom to override the board. The California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board’s rule would have allowed workers to forego masks only if every employee in a room is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.

That contrasts with the state’s broader plan to do away with nearly all masking requirements for vaccinated people.

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NEW DELHI — India is asking China to facilitate essential two-way travel between the countries and grant visas to Indian nationals working and studying there.

India’s External Affairs Ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi says people from China, including the Chinese nationals, have been able to travel to India despite the absence of direct air connectivity. However, he says “for Indian nationals, travel to China has not been possible since last November as the Chinese side has suspended existing visas.”

The Chinese embassy in India in March issued a notification about facilitating visas for those who have taken Chinese-made vaccines. Bagchi says several Indian nationals have applied for Chinese visas after getting vaccinated in that manner, but they are yet to be issued visas. There was no immediate comment by Chinese officials.

Nearly 23,000 Indian students are studying in China, mostly medicine, according to Indian media reports. A stand-off between the militaries of the two countries since May 2020 in eastern Ladakh has dramatically changed the relationship between India and China.

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LONDON -- British Health Secretary Matt Hancock is defended his handling of the coronavirus pandemic following a series of damaging allegations from a former top adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Facing questioning from lawmakers, Hancock says he has “no idea” why Dominic Cummings had a dispute with him.

Two weeks ago, Cummings told the same lawmakers investigating the coronavirus outbreak in the U.K. that Hancock “should have been fired” for a series of alleged lies and litany of errors during the pandemic.

After a devastating winter surge of infections, deaths have recently fallen sharply after months of strict lockdown and the rapid rollout of vaccines. However, government figures on Wednesday indicated the U.K. recorded 7,540 new infections, the biggest daily increase since Feb. 26.

There are concerns the next planned easing of measures on June 21, where social distancing restrictions will be lifted, may be delayed because of the recent spike in infections largely due to the delta variant first identified in India.

The U.K. has recorded nearly 128,000 confirmed coronavirus-related deaths, more than any other nation in Europe.

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BERLIN — Germany has started rolling out a digital vaccination pass that can be used across Europe as the continent gears up for the key summer travel season.

The country’s health minister says starting this week vaccination centers, doctors practices and pharmacies will give out digital passes to fully vaccinated people.

The CovPass will allow users to download a proof of their coronavirus vaccination on an app to their smart phones, which will allow them to easily enter restaurants, museums or other venues that require proof of vaccination.

Health Minister Jens Spahn says the vaccination passport should be available to everyone in Germany who is fully vaccinated by the end of this month.

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CAPE TOWN, South Africa — Health officials and experts around the world are welcoming a U.S. plan to donate 500 million more COVID-19 vaccines to developing countries.

Two hundred million doses — enough to fully protect 100 million people — will be provided this year, with the balance donated in the first half of 2022, according to the White House.

The U.S. will work with the U.N.-backed COVAX alliance to deliver the shots. Some have noted that since the Pfizer vaccines require extremely cold storage, they present an extra logistical challenge for countries with struggling health systems and poor infrastructure.

U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to talk about the plan later Thursday in a speech on the eve of the Group of Seven summit in Britain.

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The World Health Organization’s Europe director warned that the highly transmissible COVID-19 variant first identified in India is “poised to take hold in the region,” as many countries prepare to ease restrictions and allow more social gatherings and travel across borders.

During a press briefing on Thursday, WHO’s Dr. Hans Kluge said the variant also known as the delta variant, has shown signs of being able to evade some vaccines and warned that many vulnerable populations, particularly those over age 60, remain unprotected.

“We have been here before,” warned Kluge, WHO’s European regional director. “Over the course of last summer, cases gradually rose in younger age groups and then moved into older age groups, contributing to a devastating resurgence,” he said. Kluge said that spike in COVID-19 ultimately led to more lockdowns and deaths in the fall and winter of 2020. “Let’s not make that mistake again.”

Kluge didn’t say people shouldn’t travel, but urged any travelers to do so wisely. He also called for vaccination and other public health measures to be stepped up across the continent, saying even immunization coverage “is far from sufficient to protect the region.”

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BERLIN — Germany is sticking to its opposition to easing patent protection on COVID-19 vaccines as it goes into the Group of Seven summit.

While many developed countries with strong pharmaceutical industries hesitated or were outright opposed to the idea, the debate received a jolt last month when the Biden administration announced support for granting waivers for vaccines.

But a senior German official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity in line with department rules, said Thursday: “We don’t think a waiver is helpful or is actually the problem, and nothing has changed about that.”

The official noted that talks are ongoing at the World Trade Organization in Geneva and said they may achieve “improvements within the system.”

Asked whether Germany plans to announce to give more vaccine to poorer countries after the U.S. unveils plans to donate 500 million doses around the globe, the official said Germany has done “a great deal” on three tracks: sharing doses, financing purchases via the COVAX program, and exports.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said last month that Germany is prepared to donate 30 million doses by the year’s end to poorer countries “assuming, of course, that the vaccines we have ordered actually arrive.” That would be part of a broader donation of 100 million doses by the European Union.

Germany hasn’t said when the donations will start.

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MOSCOW — The Russian authorities reported a spike in coronavirus infections on Thursday, with new confirmed cases exceeding 11,000 for the first time since March.

Nearly half of Thursday’s 11,699 new infections -- 5,245, the highest since January -- have been recorded in Moscow, which has seen a steep increase in contagions in recent days. Russia has reported over 5.1 million confirmed coronavirus cases in the pandemic and more than 125,000 deaths.

After lifting most virus-related restrictions last summer, Russian authorities have refused to re-impose a lockdown or other tough measures to curb the spread of the virus, arguing that the country is able to cope with the outbreak without shutting down the economy.

Russia’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign has been lagging behind many countries, with just over 18 million people — or 12% of the country’s 146-million population — receiving at least one shot as of last week.

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GENEVA — The World Health Organization’s Europe director welcomed U.S. President Joe Biden’s announcement that the country will buy 500 million vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech for global distribution through the initiative known as COVAX, calling it “hopeful” news.

“It’s a very important announcement indeed,” said Dr. Hans Kluge during a press briefing on Thursday. He noted WHO has previously called for the most at-risk 10% of every country’s population to be immunized by September and for 30% to be protected by the end of the year.

“We welcome (Biden’s donation) very much,” he said, calling for more rich countries to follow the U.S.’ lead.

Kluge said vaccine doses are needed now, saying “it’s not only a matter of money.” He said WHO was looking forward to more vaccine announcements from the upcoming G7 summit this week.

“But at the same time, we need to look for long-term sustainable solutions ... and to really drastically scale up vaccine production,” he said.

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LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the Group of Seven leaders meeting this weekend will commit to vaccinating the world by the end of 2022.

The British leader wrote in The Times of London that it was time for wealthy countries to “shoulder their responsibilities and to vaccinate the world.”

But he faces criticism because the U.K. has yet to send any doses abroad and has cut its international aid budget, citing the economic blow of the pandemic.

He said Thursday that Britain would donate “millions” of doses from surplus stocks — though he didn’t say when. Johnson also noted that the British government helped to fund the development at Oxford University of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which accounts for 1 in 3 vaccine doses around the world.

President Joe Biden is announcing Thursday that the U.S. will buy 500 million more doses of the Pfizer vaccine to share with poorer countries over the next year.

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MAWGAN PORTH, England — One year ago, the U.S. was the deadliest hotspot of the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing the cancellation of the Group of Seven summit it was due to host. Now, the U.S. is a model for how to successfully emerge from more than 15 months of global crisis.

For President Joe Biden, who is meeting with leaders of the wealthy G-7 democracies on his first overseas trip since taking office, it’s a personal vindication of his pledge to turn around the U.S. outbreak but also a call to action to enlist other countries in the global fight.

In a speech on the eve of the summit, Biden on Thursday will unveil plans for the U.S. to donate 500 million vaccine doses around the globe over the next year, on top of 80 million he has already pledged by the end of the month. U.S. officials say Biden will also include a direct request to his fellow G-7 leaders to do the same.

“We have to end COVID-19, not just at home — which we’re doing — but everywhere,” Biden told American servicemembers Wednesday on the first stop of his three-country, eight-day trip, adding that the effort “requires coordinated, multilateral action.”

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