The Latest: Slovakia receives 200K Sputnik V vaccine doses
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Hard-hit Slovakia has signed a deal to acquire 2 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine.
Prime Minister Igor Matovic kept the purchase in secret and announced the deal Monday after a military cargo plane with 200,000 doses landed in eastern Kosice city.
He said the country will get one million shots in the next two months while another million will arrive in May and June.
Matovic’s coalition government originally rejected a plan to acquire Sputnik V vaccine doses in late February after one of his four coalition partners vetoed the move.
Health Minister Marek Krajci, whose decision made the deal possible, says authorities could begin administering the vaccine in about two weeks.
Slovakia is the second European Union nation after Hungary to use the Russian vaccine, which has not been approved by the European Medicines Agency.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Calls grow for pharmaceutical companies to share vaccine know-how and technology more broadly to meet global shortfall
— Health experts are urging Pope Francis to reconsider his March trip to Iraq, which is experiencing a surge of coronavirus cases
— India is expanding its vaccination drive to older people and those with medical conditions that put them at risk
— In the U.S., fraud overwhelms some pandemic unemployment aid programs
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
BEIRUT — China’s ambassador to Lebanon says Beijing will give the tiny Mediterranean country a gift of 50,000 shots of Sinopharm vaccines to combat the coronavirus.
Wang Kejian said in a tweet Monday that the Chinese gift comes after a request by Lebanese authorities. He added that Beijing wants to help Lebanon fight the virus.
Local media reported that the Chinese vaccines will be used to inoculate members of the Lebanese army.
The Mediterranean nation has so far received about 90,000 vaccines of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and has inoculated more than 50,000 of its residents over the past two weeks.
The Health Ministry says Lebanon will receive a batch of AstraZeneca vaccines later this month.
Lebanon, a country of 6 million people including a million Syrian refugees, has registered more than 375,000 cases and nearly 4,700 deaths since the first coronavirus case was registered in February 2020.
LONDON — British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on Monday urged developing nations to wait for the “gold standard” vaccines delivered by a U.N.-backed program rather than opt for shots from China and Russia.
Speaking on the day the first shots of vaccine from the COVAX program were given to people in the Ivory Coast, Raab said countries should consider advice from the World Health Organization about which vaccines are safest.
He said he understood the “conundrum” faced by developing countries as they wait for vital supplies of coronavirus vaccine.
The COVAX initiative, formed to ensure fair access to vaccines by low- and middle-income countries, has been hampered by the severely limited global supply of doses and logistical problems.
WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci says the government is taking “very seriously” a coronavirus mutation that is spreading in New York City.
New York was one of the hardest-hit cities in the first wave of the pandemic a year ago, and the wail of ambulance sirens on nearly deserted streets is a memory etched in the minds of many residents.
Fauci said Monday at the White House coronavirus briefing that the New York variant appears to have been first identified in the Washington Heights area of Manhattan, on the upper end of the island. But the strain has now been documented in “multiple” New York City boroughs, the government’s top infectious disease expert added.
He said there’s heightened concern because it appears the New York mutation can evade antibody treatments given to infected patients. There is some evidence it may be able to escape antibodies generated by vaccines.
GENEVA — The chief of the World Health Organization said it is “regrettable” that younger and healthier adults in some rich countries are being vaccinated against the coronavirus ahead of at-risk health workers in developing countries.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a press briefing Monday said immunizations provided by the U.N.-backed effort COVAX have started in Ghana and the Ivory Coast, but lamented that this was happening three months after countries such as Britain, the U.S. and Canada began vaccinating their own populations.
Tedros also noted that for the first time in seven weeks, the number of COVID-19 cases worldwide increased last week, after six consecutive weeks of declining numbers, calling the trend disappointing but not surprising.
The WHO was working to better understand why cases increased but that part of that spike appeared to be due to the “relaxing of public health measures,” he said.
WASHINGTON — The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging state officials and ordinary Americans not to let down their guard now against the coronavirus, amid rising cases even as a third vaccine comes on line.
Cases and hospitalizations have plunged since the end of January, and deaths have also declined.
But Dr. Rochelle Walensky said over the last seven days, average cases and deaths have risen have risen slightly – by about 2%. That’s happening as scientists confirm more cases involving coronavirus mutations that may spread more easily.
Though much lower than a few weeks ago, the level of new daily cases is still dangerously high. “We cannot be resigned to 70,000 cases a day and 2,000 daily deaths,” said Walensky.
Walensky said she is concerned by reports about more states rolling back public health measures aimed at curbing the spread of the virus.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California Gov. Gavin Newsom and state legislative leaders have reached an agreement aimed at getting most public school children back in classrooms by the end of March.
Under the deal announced Monday, school districts could receive up to $6.6 billion if they reopen classrooms by March 31.
Two state officials familiar with the plan said schools to get the money must return to in-person instruction at least through second grade.
Districts with coronavirus case numbers at low enough levels must return to in-person instruction for all elementary school grades, plus one grade each in middle and high school.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — South Dakota is expected to receive 7,000 doses this week of the recently-approved Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine.
It brings the state’s allotment to just over 25,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine per week.
South Dakota Department of Health Secretary Kim Malsam-Rysdon says the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a great option for people that have trouble being able to schedule an appointment for a second dose.
The Food and Drug Administration on Saturday cleared the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. One dose is 85% protective against the most severe COVID-19 illness, according to a massive study that spanned three continents.
This vaccine does not require extremely cold storage facilities.
JUNEAU, Alaska — Scientists in Alaska have discovered 10 cases of a new coronavirus strain that researchers say is more contagious and potentially more effective at evading vaccines.
A report released on Wednesday by scientists assembled by the state to investigate new strains found that the B.1.429 variant first discovered in California was identified in Alaska in early January.
It has since been detected nine more times. Scientists and public health officials have expressed concerns about multiple new strains of the coronavirus, which they say could prolong the pandemic even as governments scale up vaccination efforts.
BOSTON — Massachusetts eased some coronavirus restrictions on businesses Monday, making it much easier to grab dinner and a show. But health experts warn that lifting restrictions now as new confirmed cases of the virus and hospitalizations decline may lead to more misery down the road.
Restaurant capacity limits have been lifted entirely, but parties must be spaced 6 feet apart with a maximum of six diners per table, and a 90-minute limit per stay, Gov. Charlie Baker announced last week. Restaurants will also be allowed to host musical performances.
Indoor performance venues including theaters are allowed to open at 50% capacity, with a maximum of 500 people.
Capacity limits across all businesses have been raised to 50%.
Dr. Robert Horsburgh, a Boston University professor of epidemiology, said the state is reopening too fast.
BRUSSELS — The European Commission will present a legal proposal later this month to create an EU vaccine certificate aimed at facilitating travel.
EU commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas said Monday the 27-nation bloc’s executive arm will unveil its plans on March 17.
Vaccine certificates, which could be used as proof of inoculation and help avoid quarantines, have been a divisive topic because a large majority of EU citizens have not not had access to vaccines so far.
But Schinas said there is now a “convergence” among EU leaders. EU commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the so-called “Digital Green Pass” will include results of tests for those who have not been offered a coronavirus shot and will respect “data protection, security and privacy.”
Only 11 million European citizens have been “fully vaccinated” and almost 33 million doses injected amid delays in deliveries and vaccine production, according to health commissioner Stella Kyriakides.
CHERRY HILL, N.J. — President Joe Biden’s administration has fallen short of a target to have 100 new federally run vaccination sites up and running by the end of February.
Through February, seven sites had opened and another 11 had been announced, slated to launch in coming weeks. The federal government says that when all 18 are running, they can deliver up to 61,000 doses daily.
Governors and other officials have expressed reluctance about the sites if the vaccines sent there come out of the states’ allocations. With at least some of the announced sites, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has told states that will not happen.
Oklahoma officials, for instance, said last week that they would welcome a federal site if it meant additional doses in the state but that the federal government had still not made such an offer.
FEMA has concentrated on the most populous states. The announced or opened centers are in the six largest states by population — California, Texas, Florida, New York, Illinois and Pennsylvania — plus North Carolina, which ranks 10th.
BANJA LUKA, Bosnia-Herzegovina — A shipment of 20,000 Russian Sputnik V vaccines has arrived in the Serb-dominated part of Bosnia that has launched inoculation separately from the rest of the Balkan country.
This is the second shipment of the Russian vaccines to the Serb entity in Bosnia that has close relations with Moscow. The remaining part of Bosnia has been run by the country’s Bosniaks and Croats since the ethnic war during the 1990s’.
Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Radovan Viskovic on Monday welcomed the shipment. He says Republika Srpska, which is the name for the Serb entity in Bosnia, has moved to acquire the Russian vaccines because of delays in the arrival of vaccines through the international COVAX program.
Bosnia has threatened to sue COVAX unless the vaccines are shipped by an agreed term. The COVAX officials have said they need to make sure that Bosnia has fulfilled all the conditions first.
Bosnian Serb PM Viskovic says his government is working to acquire the Chinese vaccines as well. Bosnian Serb medical staff also have been crossing into neighboring Serbia to receive vaccines there.
PARIS — France is rolling out coronavirus tests for young schoolchildren that use saliva samples rather than eye-watering nasal swabs, hoping they will help prevent school closures as the country’s epidemic steadily worsens again.
Visiting a primary school in eastern France that was deploying the new tests, Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said Monday that keeping schools open is a “fundamental goal” for the French government.
Health authorities expect the saliva tests will help prevent infections spreading in schools by identifying pupils who already have the virus.
Blanquer said France will be able to carry out 300,000 saliva tests per week on school pupils by mid-March. They primarily target younger schoolchildren, with their parents’ consent.
BUDAPEST — Hungary has changed its protocols for issuing “vaccine passports” proving immunity to COVID-19 to ensure that the type of vaccine issued will not appear on the document.
The amended regulation published by the government requires that a vaccinated person’s name, identity card or passport number and the date of vaccination appear on the vaccine passport, but no longer requires the vaccine type to be specified.
Hungary is the only country in the European Union to have used vaccines developed in Russia and China, which have not been approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the EU’s drug regulator.
Last week, Polish health minister Adam Niedzielski announced that those entering Poland from the Czech Republic or Slovakia would be required to quarantine unless they can produce a negative PCR test or proof that they’ve been vaccinated with an EMA-approved jab.
Such requirements would prevent Hungarians who have received China’s Sinopharm or Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine jabs from entering Poland without going into quarantine.
Hungary plans to begin issuing immunity documents on Monday.
LONDON — Health officials in Britain have identified six cases of a highly contagious coronavirus strain first identified in the Brazilian city of Manaus -- including one in a person who has not been traced.
Scientists say the variant is more transmissible and may be more resistant to existing vaccines than the original virus, and may be able to infect people who have previously had COVID-19.
Direct flights from Brazil to the U.K. have been halted, but the newly identified cases have been linked to people who came to the U.K. from Brazil through other European cities in early February.
The arrivals came days before the U.K. imposed a 10-day hotel quarantine on people arriving from high-risk countries, including Brazil.
Three of the cases of the variant are in Scotland and two in southwest England. The sixth individual has not been identified because they did not correctly fill in a form with their contact details. Public Health England said it was working to find the person and is conducting local mass testing to see whether the variant has spread in the community.