The White House announced Tuesday that states can expect a slight boost in coronavirus vaccine supplies as manufacturers continue to scale up production. The weekly supply of vaccines being sent to states will grow from 11 million doses to 13.5 million, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday. The announcement comes less than a week after the Biden administration disclosed that it had finalized an agreement with two drugmakers to buy an additional 200 million doses by the end of July.
But punishing winter storms have hampered the vaccination drive. The hazardous weather and widespread power outages closed hundreds of vaccination sites nationwide and created dangerous road conditions that will lead to “widespread delays” in vaccine shipments, the CDC said.
Here are some significant developments:
The rate of new coronavirus cases continued to decline Monday and Tuesday, as the country’s rolling average of daily infections fell below 90,000 for the first time in more than 100 days. However, the milestone follows a holiday weekend, and holiday weekends have historically produced backlogs in virus case data.
North Korea tried to hack into the servers of the U.S. drugmaker Pfizer to steal coronavirus vaccine technology, South Korean intelligence officials said.
The World Health Organization has approved the AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine, opening the way for millions of doses of the inexpensive vaccine to be shipped to lower-income countries as part of an effort backed by the United Nations to stop the pandemic.
Nearly a year into the pandemic, Americans are increasingly turning to more extremist beliefs marked by a wholesale distrust in authorities — a historical pattern for pandemics since ancient times.
Congressional Democrats renewed their focus Tuesday on passing President Biden’s $1.9 trillioncoronavirus relief bill, as they face a mid-March deadline for when enhanced unemployment benefits will expire if Congress doesn’t act in time.
With former president Donald Trump’s impeachment trial out of the way in the Senate, Democrats are preparing to push the legislation through a few final procedural hoops before an expected floor vote next week in the House. From there, the legislation would go to the Senate.
Biden is participating in a CNN town hall event in Wisconsin on Tuesday night to discuss the coronavirus, the economy and other issues. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said he will use the opportunity to promote his relief plan, which includes a new round of $1,400 stimulus checks, as well as hundreds of billions of dollars for schools, city and state governments, coronavirus testing, and vaccine manufacture and distribution.
Since ancient times, pandemics have spurred sharp turns in political beliefs, spawning extremist movements, waves of mistrust and wholesale rejection of authorities. Nearly a year into the coronavirus crisis, Americans are falling prey to the same phenomenon, historians, theologians and other experts say, exemplified by a recent NPR-Ipsos poll in which nearly 1 in 5 said they believe Satan-worshipping, child-enslaving elites seek to control the world.
As shutdowns paralyzed the economy in the first months of the pandemic, Americans sharply increased searches for extremist and white supremacist materials online, according to Moonshot CVE, a research firm that studies extremism. The United States was not the only country affected: A British study found that the pandemic boosted radicalization globally, as people found more time to delve into extremist arguments.
PHILADELPHIA — This city's first mass vaccination site looked like a model of 21st-century efficiency. Run by a neuroscience graduate student who spoke of creating a blueprint for high-volume clinics across the country, the innovative operation delivered coronavirus shots to almost 7,000 people in just five days, ushering them swiftly through private immunization pods.
“It was like the checkout at the supermarket,” said Tonya Warden, 51, who went to get her shot with a co-worker. “Really fast.”
But after Philadelphia’s health department learned that Philly Fighting Covid, established in April as a nonprofit, had launched a for-profit company in December, the city abruptly shuttered the vaccination clinics. Officials said they had lost trust in the group, citing concerns that changes in its data policy might allow personal information to be sold.
CASTEL ROMANO, Italy — If all goes according to plan, a small biotech company outside Rome will soon be cranking out millions of coronavirus vaccine doses a month. The company has finished an initial, small-scale trial. It has financial backing from the Italian government.
Nothing stands in ReiThera’s way except the bedeviling logistics of turning science into medicine.
For vaccine manufacturers hoping to plug the gap, the path is at least as tricky as it was for the first-comers. But it also faces a series of more novel obstacles, related to this particular point in the pandemic, when larger pharmaceutical companies have claimed dibs on crucial supplies and the existence of effective vaccines raises ethical questions about testing new ones.
For now, even as Italian politicians speak hopefully about having a domestically made vaccine by September, ReiThera acknowledges it is still trying to navigate long waiting lists for several basic components.
The NBA has postponed six upcoming games involving the San Antonio Spurs and Charlotte Hornets in response to four Spurs players testing positive for coronavirus, marking the largest schedule disruption since the league tightened its health and safety protocols last month.
San Antonio, which embarked on a seven-game road trip last Friday, returned the positive tests following a 122-110 victory over Charlotte on Sunday. The Spurs’ road games against the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday, Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday, New York Knicks on Saturday and Indiana Pacers on Feb. 22 have all been postponed. Charlotte’s upcoming home games against the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday and the Denver Nuggets on Friday have also been postponed per the league’s contact tracing protocols.
After a rash of positive tests and 21 postponements in January, the NBA had only postponed two games in February before the Spurs’ episode and had only reported one positive player test in tests conducted between Jan. 27 and Feb. 10. All told, the league has now postponed 30 games due to positive tests or contact tracing efforts.
The Massachusetts case is a woman in her 20s who lives in Middlesex County, the state’s most populous. Public health officials said she has no history of travel. The announcement comes less than three weeks after the variant was found in South Carolina, the country’s first confirmed case. Maryland is home to the highest number of B.1.351 cases, with seven, according to data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The new variant is alarming for several reasons: It appears to be more contagious, it may be more resistant to antibody therapies, and in some cases it can reinfect people who have already recovered from covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
It is unclear how common such reinfections can be. Officials in Israel said this week that the variant has reinfected three people. In France, the first known person to be reinfected was hospitalized last month and remains in critical condition.
Experts anticipate the number of variant cases to multiply, adding even more urgency to the nationwide vaccination effort.
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Britain hits vaccination milestone with high participation, though some reluctance seen among minorities
LONDON — Britain’s fast-running coronavirus vaccination campaign appears to have hit its early target, offering a first dose to 15 million elderly people and health-care workers by Monday, as the government had promised.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed the National Health Service for making the deadline, calling the rapid rollout of two vaccines an “unprecedented national achievement,” but he also warned that now was “no moment to relax.”
The British government has been promoting its vaccine numbers hard, while it faces criticism for other aspects of its response. Britain has one of the world’s highest covid-19 death tolls.
Most of those who have received the vaccine have received only one dose of the two needed to achieve the full effect. The first doses were offered to all those older than 70, alongside nursing home residents, caregivers, front-line medical workers and those with serious illnesses that might make them more vulnerable to covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
The U.S. military is staffing a new state-run vaccination center in Los Angeles with active-duty troops and is planning to deploy other service members soon at sites in Texas and New York, senior U.S. officials said Tuesday.
The vaccination centers will be opened to expand the ability to vaccinate civilians quickly, with thousands per day. The Army is staffing the site in Los Angeles, with other centers staffed in Queens and Brooklyn in New York City, Houston, Dallas and Arlington, Tex., said Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck, the commander of U.S. Northern Command.
The vaccination teams involved are among the 100 that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has requested the Defense Department have ready, the general said in a phone call with reporters.
Robert J. Fenton Jr., a senior FEMA official, said that the agency requested the military vaccination teams in anticipation of more vaccines becoming available in March and April. The total number of military teams deployed will depend on how quickly state governments and pharmacies complete vaccinations, he said.
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Spread of S. African variant in eastern France triggers calls to suspend AstraZeneca vaccine rollout to health workers
PARIS — Concern about the spread of coronavirus variants in eastern France has prompted an acceleration of vaccination in that region, as well as calls to suspend the rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to the health-care workers there who had been first in line to get it.
AstraZeneca vaccinations in France began Feb. 6. But the French government’s top vaccine adviser, Alain Fischer, suggested in a weekend interview with the Journal du Dimanche newspaper that health workers in Moselle — where variants first detected in South Africa and in Brazil are suspected to be particularly widespread — should not receive that particular vaccine, one of three authorized in the European Union.
Instead, Fischer recommended administering either of the two authorized mRNA vaccines — one developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, the other by Moderna — as a “precautionary measure” because they allow individuals to obtain protection more quickly.
According to the paper, Fischer also cited the preliminary South African research finding that the AstraZeneca vaccine provided “minimal protection” against mild to moderate coronavirus cases caused by the variant known as B.1.351.
Megan Boudreaux was feeling down three months ago after she learned that New Orleans wasn’t going to issue Mardi Gras parade permits for 2021 because of the pandemic.
The holiday wouldn’t be the same, she said, without the elaborate floats made months in advance of Fat Tuesday’s 50-plus parades.
“I decided, ‘Well, okay then, I’m going to decorate my house instead, pull some beads out of the attic and throw them at the neighbors,’ ” said Boudreaux, 38.
“Everyone loved the idea and wanted to jump in to make their own house floats,” she said. “A shop owner decided to call her theme Yardi Gras, and it just exploded from there.”
Boudreaux became the Mardi Gras house float coordinator overnight, she said. More than 3,000 homes are now decked out for the parade-at-home holiday, and local hip-hop and rap legend Big Freedia has signed on as Grand Marshal.
TORONTO — Pamela Bendall and her husband ordinarily jaunt south each winter to warmer climes. This year, for the first time since 2008, they’re staying put on relatively chilly Vancouver Island. The decision, she said, was “simple”: Canada has advised against nonessential travel, and they followed the guidance.
Each winter, an estimated 1 million Canadians abandon the Great White North for balmier destinations, heading to condos, rental properties or mobile home parks where they live for anywhere from a month to half a year.
Now the pandemic is upending the annual migration of Canada’s snowbirds. Some have opted to roost at home. Others flocked to sun-soaked destinations as normal, but in the year of the pandemic, the experience has been anything but.
The weekly supply of coronavirus vaccines being sent to states is ratcheting up again, from 11 million doses to 13.5 million, the White House announced Tuesday, as the availability of the vaccine continues to run far behind demand.
According to White House press secretary Jen Psaki, the government is also providing more vaccine directly to pharmacies, increasing the number of doses per week from 1 million to 2 million.
That increase is part of a gradual expansion of Americans’ ability to sign up for inoculation directly from drugstores familiar to them. Psaki said the latest number of weekly vaccine doses that states will start to receive represents a 57 percent increase from the supply when President Biden was inaugurated Jan. 20. The increase comes from an anticipated scale-up in manufacturing rather than changes initiated by the new administration.
State and local health departments continue to be overwhelmed nearly two months into the start of the largest mass vaccination campaign in U.S. history, with residents eager for protection from covid-19, the coronavirus-caused disease that has killed more than 485,000 people in the United States.
Tuesday’s announcement came five days after Biden disclosed that his administration had finished an agreement with two vaccine manufacturers for an additional 200 million doses by the end of July. The government, exercising options built into contracts negotiated last year, purchased half those doses from Pfizer and its partner BioNTech, and the other half from Moderna — the vaccines authorized for emergency use in the United States.
That purchase should provide enough vaccine doses by midsummer to cover every U.S. adult. But it did not hasten the supply to surmount current shortages.
The winter storm battering Texas and much of the United States is also hampering coronavirus vaccine rollouts as inoculation sites across the nation shut down because of power outages and hazardous weather and shipments are delayed because of poor road conditions.
State and local health departments reported vaccine deliveries delayed until later this week because of the storm. The Texas Department of State Health Services said shipments would start arriving Wednesday, adding, “No one wants to put vaccine at risk by attempting to deliver it in dangerous conditions.”
The delays also affect states that aren’t heavily hit by the storm because they rely on vaccines shipped from places that are. South Carolina’s health department noted winter weather in Memphis and Louisville may cause delays across the southeast. The grocery chain Publix stopped taking appointments for vaccines in Florida, South Carolina and Georgia, citing the shipping delays.
A spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said federal officials are “projecting widespread delays in COVID-19 vaccine shipments and deliveries over the next few days” tied to poor weather in distribution hubs out of Louisville and Memphis.
The latest round of weather-related vaccine delays highlights a key vulnerability in the mass inoculation effort: Both vaccines authorized in the United States need to be stored at ultracold temperatures. When they are not, managers must scramble within hours to use them before they go bad.
Officials in Harris County, which includes Houston, rushed to deploy more than 5,000 doses after a storage facility lost power and the backup generator failed early Monday morning, the Houston Chronicle reported. They distributed the vaccines to Rice University, a local health system and the county jail to use Monday before they spoiled.
It turned out to be unnecessary: A county spokesman said Moderna reviewed the situation and concluded the vial temperatures did not fall enough for doses to be ruined.
A slew of states closed vaccination sites Tuesday, some for days. Missouri canceled mass vaccination events through Friday. Indiana shuttered 70 sites and warned residents that winter weather is also delaying attempts to reschedule appointments.
Developing countries turn to China as they are squeezed out of the race for Western vaccines
LIMA, Peru — Tour operator Marco Arellano’s business shuttling tourists to Machu Picchu and the Amazon jungle effectively ground to a halt during the coronavirus pandemic. Now, as this South American nation is caught in the throes of a brutal second wave, he and millions of other Peruvians are putting their faith in one country to turn the deadly tide.
Peru has joined developing nations from North Africa to the Andes in counting on China for help. For these customers, the vaccines developed in Chinese laboratories and now being distributed globally could hold the solution to a massive problem: how to inoculate their populations after bigger and richer nations have pushed them to the back of the line for the more reliable vaccines developed in the West.
For Beijing, which has invested heavily in a region seen by Washington as America’s backyard, its vaccine diplomacy could be a double win: a way to open new markets for its pharmaceutical products while building goodwill in Latin America, a region where it has long sought to expand its influence.
Faiola reported from Miami. Dou reported from Seoul.