BRUSSELS – The European Commission says it has secured an agreement with Pfizer–BioNTech for an extra four million doses of COVID-19 vaccines for its 27 nations to tackle the surge of cases in several coronavirus clusters.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said “this will help member states in their efforts to keep the spread of new variants under control. Through their targeted use where they are most needed, in particular in border regions, these doses will also help ensure or restore the free movement of goods and people.”“
The European Union mentioned Tyrol in Austria, Nice and Moselle in France, Bolzano in Italy and some parts of Bavaria and Saxony in Germany where COVID-19 hospitalizations have been on the rise. The Commission said the new doses will be made available to all member states on a pro-rata basis this month.
EU officials have been dismayed at how virus surges driven by variants have prompted EU nations to put in border restrictions.
Overall, the EU has six contracts for more than 2 billion doses of vaccines to inoculate its 450 million people.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
– After a year of the pandemic, weary world looks back – and forward
– Ukraine’s fight against COVID-19 hampered by widespread resistance to vaccines
– House set to vote on virus relief, President Joe Biden on cusp of triumph
– Los Angeles school district reaches deal to reopen classes
– Restaurants are big beneficiaries of COVID-19 relief bill
– Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
LISBON, Portugal — Portugal is joining other European countries in extending the use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine to people age 65 and over, after initial uncertainty about its effectiveness in that age group.
The General Directorate for Health also announced Wednesday that people with Down syndrome will be added to the Phase 1 priority groups due to their risk of developing serious COVID-19 symptoms.
Teachers, school auxiliary staff and social workers who deal with children are also moving to the front of the queue as authorities prepare to start easing a lockdown that began in January and brought school closures.
Health officials were due later Wednesday to unveil the country’s first mobile vaccination units, part of a drive to accelerate inoculations. Portugal, a country of 10.3 million people, has so far administered just over 1 million vaccine jabs.
AMSTERDAM – An expert group at the European Medicines Agency will meet Thursday to decide whether the one-dose coronavirus vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson should be authorized for use across the European Union.
If the shot is given the green light, it would be the fourth licensed COVID-19 vaccine in the 27-country bloc. The Amsterdam-based EU medicines regulator has already approved vaccines made by Pfizer–BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca – but all of those vaccines require two doses.
Health experts hope having another authorized COVID-19 shot might speed the slow pace of immunization across Europe, which has been struggling to get enough supplies and vaccinate the vulnerable.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted the J&J; vaccine an emergency approval last month; Canada and Bahrain have also licensed the vaccine. A massive study across three continents found the J&J; vaccine was 85% effective in protecting against severe illness, hospitalizations and death. That protection remained strong even in countries like South Africa, where variants have been identified.
STOCKHOLM – The Swedish government says it will spend another 6.5 billion kronor ($1 billion) to buy more vaccines, bringing Sweden’s total vaccine expenditures to 11 billion ($1.8 billion).
Social Affairs Minister Lena Hallengren says “we are talking about a lot of money, but little compared to what COVID-19 has cost society.”
Sweden’s vaccine coordinator, Richard Bergstrom, said the country expected an additional 14 million doses the first half of the year and 30 million doses in the second.
He said he expects Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine to shortly be approved by the European Union’s medical regulator.
LONDON – Relations between the European Union and recently departed Britain took another diplomatic dip on Wednesday when the EU envoy in London was summoned to explain comments that Britain had issued a vaccine export ban.
The United Kingdom was so irate about Tuesday’s comments from EU Council President Charles Michel that Britain had “imposed an outright ban on the export of vaccines,” that it called in the ambassador for a morning meeting.
A British government statement said that it “has not blocked the export of a single COVID-19 vaccine. Any references to a UK export ban or any restrictions on vaccines are completely false.”
The spat comes against a background that the COVID-19 vaccination drive in Britain is seen as a huge success while that in the 27-nation bloc has been a major failure. The United Kingdom has given about 35% of its adults a vaccine shot while the EU is further back with 9.5%.
COPENHAGEN, Demark – Sales of Lego sets surged last year as more children stayed home during global pandemic lockdowns and parents bought the colorful plastic brick toys to keep them entertained through days of isolation.
The privately-held Danish company said its net profit rose 19% to 9.9 billion kroner ($1.6 billion) as sales jumped 21% and it grew its presence in its 12 largest markets.
Lego, which on top of its sets also earns money from video game apps, seems to be one of the businesses – like online retailers and technology companies – that were well placed to earn money from the massive disruptions in society worldwide during the pandemic.
Chief Executive Niels B. Christiansen told The Associated Press that the “super strong results” were thanks to strategic investments made years ago to move more sales online.
GENEVA – On March 11, 2020, when the World Health Organization declared a pandemic, few could foresee the long road ahead or the many ways in which they would suffer — the deaths and agonies of millions, the ruined economies, the disrupted lives and near-universal loneliness and isolation.
A year later, some are dreaming of a return to normal, thanks to vaccines that seemed to materialize as if by magic. Others live in places where the magic seems to be reserved for wealthier worlds.
At the same time, people are looking back at where they were when they first understood how drastically life would change.
On March 11, 2020, confirmed cases of COVID-19 stood at 125,000, and reported deaths stood at fewer than 5,000. Today, 117 million people are confirmed to have been infected, and according to Johns Hopkins, more than 2.6 million people have died.
On that day, Italy closed shops and restaurants after locking down in the face of 10,000 reported infections. The NBA suspended its season, and Tom Hanks, filming a movie in Australia, announced he was infected.
On that evening, President Donald Trump addressed the nation from the Oval Office, announcing restrictions on travel from Europe that set off a trans-Atlantic scramble. Airports flooded with unmasked crowds in the days that followed. Soon, they were empty.
And that, for much of the world, was just the beginning.
ISLAMABAD – Pakistan has started vaccinating people who are 60 years old or above to protect them from COVID-19 amid a steady increase in cases and fatalities from the disease.
Pakistan is currently using China’s Sinopharm vaccine, which was donated to it by Beijing last month.
Pakistan hopes to start receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine this month under the World Health Organization’s COVAX Facility. Authorities say Pakistan will receive 17 million doses of coronavirus vaccines under the scheme from March to June.
Fatalities and confirmed cases from the coronavirus have increased steadily since March 1, when Pakistan resumed regular classes at schools. On Wednesday, Pakistani authorities were expected to decide whether schools should again be closed.
Pakistan has reported 595,239 cases, including 13,324 deaths.
KYIV, Ukraine – After receiving its first shipment of coronavirus vaccine, Ukraine found itself in a new struggle against the pandemic – persuading its widely reluctant people to get the shot.
Although infections are rising sharply, Ukrainians are becoming increasingly opposed to vaccination: an opinion poll released earlier this month by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology found 60% of the country’s people don’t want to get vaccinated, up from 40% a month earlier.
The resistance appears to be rooted in longstanding suspicion of vaccines dating back to the Soviet era, amplified by politicians’ allegations about low-quality vaccines, corruption scandals and misinformation spread through social media. Even more surprisingly, the reluctance still appears even among those highest at risk: medical workers.
In the mining town of Selydove, 700 kilometers (420 miles) east of Kyiv, only 5% of the medical staff agreed to be vaccinated.
“I decided not to get vaccinated. I doubt the quality of the vaccine. I’m afraid there will be side effects,” said Olena Obyedko, a 26-year-old nurse who works in the hospital’s intensive care ward for COVID-19 patients.
BERLIN – A German doctors’ union is calling for its members to be able to vaccinate people with chronic illnesses against the coronavirus.
The Marburger Bund said in a statement Wednesday that GPs and specialists said people with chronic conditions are disadvantaged by Germany’s vaccine current priority lists.
Some German states have begun allowing doctors to administer the shots in a limited number of practices. Officials are discussing whether to allow all doctors practices to offer vaccines as the available supply increases in the coming weeks.
Germany’s disease control agency reported 9,146 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 overnight, and 300 additional deaths. Since the outbreak began, Germany has recorded more than 2.5 million cases and 72,489 COVID-related deaths.
JUNEAU, Alaska — Gov. Mike Dunleavy says Alaska will become the first state to drop eligibility requirements and allow anyone 16 or older who lives or works in the state to get a COVID-19 vaccination.
Dunleavy, who made the announcement Tuesday following his own bout with COVID-19, hailed the move to open up eligibility as a historic step.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker shows Alaska leading states in the percentage of its population to have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
The state last week vastly expanded eligibility to include those ages 55 to 64 and those 16 and older who are classified as essential workers, at or potentially at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19 or who live in multigenerational households or communities lacking in water or sewer systems.
MIAMI – Hundreds of cars streamed bumper-to-bumper into a federally supported vaccination site that appeared to be offering shots to anyone who shows up, breaking from the eligibility requirements set by Gov. Ron DeSantis that were intended to put seniors at the head of the line.
The wider availability of the vaccine sowed confusion – and hope – among those wanting to protect themselves from a disease that has already infected more than 1.9 million Floridians and killed nearly 32,000.
State officials said they were sorting through the situation. It was unclear what authority state officials might be able to exert on federal facilities.
Already, federal sites in Florida are adhering to federally issued guidelines that allow teachers and other school workers to get vaccinated, instead of complying with the governor’s directive setting an age minimum of 50 for educators and school staff.
Because of initially low demand, another federally funded vaccination site in Florida City last weekend began administering shots to any takers, regardless of age. The site was inundated the following day, prompting officials there to reimpose age restrictions.
On Tuesday morning, a traffic jam of vehicles formed in a parking lot at Miami Dade College North. People waited hours, but by 10 a.m., officials at the site announced they had depleted their supply of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
SAN FRANCISCO — California’s counties remain skittish over switching up their vaccine delivery systems to a new statewide one, with Santa Clara County saying it will not participate.
The Mercury News reports that County Executive Jeff Smith said late Monday that the county will not sign a contract giving Blue Shield control over COVID-19 vaccine distribution in California.
Some counties are also pushing for Newsom to reconsider a plan to distribute more vaccine to vulnerable areas.
The pushback to Newsom’s centralized plan for vaccine distribution comes as more of California reopens its economy and activities. Disney’s CEO says Disneyland will likely reopen by late April after a yearlong closure.
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