The country’s top infectious-disease expert, Anthony S. Fauci, said Wednesday that he did not know in January that President Donald Trump was vaccinated, lamenting the “lost opportunity” to sway more people to get inoculated against the novel coronavirus.
Members of President Biden’s coronavirus response team criticized governors’ decision to lift mask mandates, warning that now is “not the time to release all restrictions.” The president said such decisions were “the last thing we need” and “Neanderthal thinking.”
Fauci called state orders to lift mask mandates and restrictions “ill-advised,” pointing at data that show the number of infections have plateaued.
The Texas Department of State Health Services commissioner has directed that all teachers, school staffers and those who work as or for licensed child-care providers, including center-based and family-care providers, are now eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) has issued an executive order that requires schools to offer in-person learning by March 15, according to a statement from the governor’s office.
Coronavirus vaccines will likely be available for high school students this fall, and early 2022 for younger children, Fauci said Wednesday during a town hall meeting with members of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.
The country’s top infectious-disease expert said on Wednesday that he did not know in January that President Donald Trump was vaccinated, lamenting the “lost opportunity” to sway more people to get inoculated against the novel coronavirus.
On Wednesday, CNN’s Erin Burnett asked Anthony S. Fauci whether he was aware at the time that Trump was given the vaccine, and the immunologist said he was not.
When asked whether publicizing the inoculation could have made a significant difference to Trump’s supporters, Fauci said it “would have been an extraordinarily good opportunity to get a signal to the people who would clearly have listened to him the way they listen to him in many other ways. He has a great deal of influence.”
“It was just, unfortunately, a lost opportunity because he could have gotten a lot of people who are hesitant about getting vaccinated,” Fauci said. “I’m sorry he didn’t do that.”
Trump and former first lady Melania Trump, who both tested positive for the virus in the fall, were vaccinated at some point before their final departure from the White House on Jan. 20, though a staffer did not specify the exact date or maker of the vaccine.
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Everything travelers need to know about vaccine passports
Since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, health and travel officials alike have pointed to vaccinations as the route back to unrestricted travel. Now that vaccinations are picking up in the United States and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is issuing thousands of physical vaccination cards daily, apps that aim to verify travelers’ inoculation for travel are quickly rolling out — with some already being utilized by airlines.
But what is a vaccine passport, and how will it be used for a safe return to travel? We asked experts what the programs aim to accomplish, what their limitations are and where they are already used.
FLOWOOD, Miss. — Carrie Kizek and her mother, Sandra Breland, decided to skip masks while headed out to lunch Wednesday — the day after Mississippi’s governor said residents were no longer required to wear them.
“If he says we don’t have to, then I’m not,” Kizek said of Gov. Tate Reeves (R).
Reeves and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) rescinded coronavirus restrictions Tuesday, doing away with mask mandates and allowing businesses to operate at 100 percent capacity. The impact was immediate in both states and beyond, with “masks required” signs coming down, businesses trying to navigate the lack of restrictions, local officials pushing back and the White House weighing in.
President Biden blasted the decisions by Abbott and Reeves as “Neanderthal thinking.” In Austin, local officials called an early morning news conference to beg residents to continue wearing masks, while leaders in the Fort Worth area dropped a face covering mandate they were planning to extend into May.
The men’s basketball game between No. 22 Virginia Tech and Louisville scheduled for Wednesday in Blacksburg, Va., was canceled, the ACC announced, because of coronavirus-related complications in the Hokies’ program.
The cancellation is the eighth schedule modification this season for Virginia Tech, which is unable to play because of contact tracing protocols connected to an undisclosed member of the program. As of this past weekend, no players had tested positive, Coach Mike Young had said.
Virginia Tech and Louisville originally were scheduled to play Feb. 13 before the Hokies had a virus-related pause that led to three postponed games, including two against ACC front-runner Florida State.
This lost game comes in the final week of the regular season and could have seeding implications for the ACC tournament. The event begins Tuesday at Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum, which took over as host from Washington’s Capital One Arena for logistical reasons amid the pandemic.
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The District of Columbia has denied for now the Washington Nationals’ request to host fans at limited capacity at Nationals Park when the season begins in April, doing so in a letter Tuesday while promising to revisit the question in about two weeks. That means the final answer on in-person attendance is still pending.
The team submitted a proposal Feb. 12 to have fans at the ballpark starting next month. The proposal was in line with what other MLB teams have had approved by local or state officials, according to a person with knowledge of the process who was not authorized to speak publicly about it. The proposal, the person said, asks to have the maximum number of fans who could sit in small pods that would be spaced six feet apart in all directions.
CREMONA, Italy — In one of the hardest-hit parts of the West’s most aged nation, the coronavirus blitzed through a generation in a matter of weeks. It killed more than 100 of 400 residents in the local nursing home. It forced this city to rush-order eight refrigerated trailers to hold the corpses. It created a horrifying landscape of ambulances racing to the private homes of seniors, who were dying at a rate 400 percent above the norm.
“The pain was atrocious,” said Gilberto Anelli, 82, who lost his wife of 57 years and now starts every morning speaking to her photograph.
As a global event, the coronavirus pandemic has upended nearly every person’s life. But in the country that was Europe’s first major epicenter, a year of data and personal accounts show how the virus concentrated its blow on a single, already-vulnerable age group, causing a historic spike in elderly mortality.
All the while, the very measures designed to keep the elderly safe have erected a wall around them. Survivors in places such as Cremona are trying to cope with a mass death event that has also left many feeling cut off, depressed and without purpose.
Not every aged country has been ravaged. Japan is one notable outlier. And some nations with younger populations, including the United States, have suffered extraordinary blows because of government mishandling and pervasive health problems. But in Italy, health experts say, demographics amplified a death toll that is approaching 100,000, among the highest of any country.
Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon remembers flying back to the United States from Belize on March 10 last year and seeing a fellow passenger wearing gloves and a mask cleaning her tray table. She rolled her eyes at what seemed like an overreaction.
“Of course, by later that week, everything had changed,” she said. “I wasn’t one of those people, but I have turned into one of those people.”
Once the pandemic is over, she said, she expects to keep her in-flight mask habit.
“You don’t know what invisible danger there is,” she said. “The people who are wearing masks now and are compliant now and want to wear masks now, I think — like me — they’re going to want to continue wearing it on a plane.”
Infectious-disease specialists agree that masks shouldn’t be relegated to history once the pandemic has ended.
President Biden has agreed to narrow eligibility for a new round of $1,400 stimulus payments in his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill, under pressure from moderate Senate Democrats who have pushed for more “targeted” spending in the bill.
Under the new structure, the checks would phase out faster for those at higher income levels, compared to the way the direct payments were structured in Biden’s initial proposal and the version of the bill passed by the House on Saturday.
Under the plan passed by the House last week, individuals earning below $75,000 per year and couples making up to $150,000 per year would qualify for the full $1,400 stimulus payment. The size of that payment begins diminishing for higher earners. Under the House plan, individuals making up to $100,000 per year and couples making up to $200,000 per year would receive a partial payment less than $1,400 per person, scaled down depending on income.
Biden on Wednesday sharply criticized the decisions by Abbott and Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) one day earlier to lift coronavirus restrictions in their states, calling the moves “a big mistake.”
“Look, I hope everybody’s realized by now these masks make a difference,” Biden told reporters at the White House Wednesday afternoon ahead of a meeting on combating cancer. “We are on the cusp of being able to fundamentally change the nature of this disease because of the way in which we’re able to get vaccines in people’s arms. … The last thing, the last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking — that, 'In the meantime, everything’s fine. Take off your mask. Forget it.’ It still matters.”
Biden added that it is “critical, critical, critical” that state leaders “follow the science” and that Americans continue to wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines.
“I know you all know that,” he told reporters. “I wish the heck some of our elected officials would.”
On Tuesday, Abbott ended his state’s mask mandate and boasted in all-caps on Twitter that “Texas is OPEN 100%. EVERYTHING.” Reeves announced similar plans.
With both Texas and Mississippi still in the top 10 deaths per capita among U.S. states, health officials have warned that easing restrictions before vaccines have been widely distributed could cause another spike in cases and deaths.
Ahead of Biden’s remarks to reporters, White House press secretary Jen Psaki urged Americans to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing, even as the governors of Texas and Mississippi have lifted the restrictions in their states.
“We need to remain vigilant,” Psaki said at a daily news briefing. “And [Biden] believes that — and he’s hopeful that — people in these states will continue to follow the guidelines that have been set out and the recommendations made by health and medical experts.”
Asked whether Biden plans to speak with Abbott and Reeves to ask them to reconsider their moves, Psaki said only that the president “speaks with governors of both parties on a regular basis.”
“He obviously traveled with the governor [of Texas] last Friday, and I’m sure he will raise this the next opportunity he has,” Psaki said.
Katie Shepherd contributed to this report.
A vaccinated pope and his delegation head to an Iraq mired in an outbreak
ROME — When Pope Francis this week embarks on his first trip abroad since the pandemic began, everybody on board, from priests to journalists, will be vaccinated. The plane will be packed. Aside from mask-wearing, it will look like any other papal voyage.
But then Francis will arrive in Iraq — where the coronavirus is raging.
The pontiff’s trip gives some hope that global figures, once they are armed with the mighty power of inoculation, might be able to travel again widely.
But some health experts say that in venturing to a country with far fewer resources to manage the pandemic, the pope’s March 5-8 trip is nonetheless risky. It could spur crowds — and increase the transmission of the virus — in a nation that is nominally under curfew, has a brittle health system and where only a minimal batch of Chinese-made vaccine doses have arrived.
U.S. health insurers are starting a new effort to help arrange vaccinations for 2 million older people particularly at risk from covid-19.
The goal of the project, announced Wednesday by the White House and the insurance industry, is to surmount inequities in vaccination in communities where disproportionately few people have gotten the shots.
Insurers will use industry and government data to identify people 65 and older in those areas and work with community-based groups to answer questions and encourage people to be immunized. They also will help people register for an appointment and, if necessary, help arrange transportation to a vaccination site or provide other services to remove barriers.
The project, called Vaccine Community Connectors, aims “to get 2 million of the most vulnerable older adults vaccinated as soon as possible,” Andy Slavitt, senior adviser to the White House’s coronavirus response team, said Wednesday at a briefing.
White House officials condemn state decisions to lift mask mandates
White House officials sharply criticized decisions this week by the governors of Texas and Mississippi to lift requirements that people wear masks and abide by other restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“We have been very clear now is not the time to release all restrictions,” Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Wednesday at a briefing from the White House’s coronavirus response team.
“The next month or two is really pivotal in terms of how this pandemic goes,” she added.
Walensky urged people to keep wearing face coverings and taking other steps to protect against infection, even if their state governments say they do not need to do so.
Andy Slavitt, a senior adviser on the White House’s coronavirus response, noted that Biden had ordered mask-wearing everywhere the federal government has jurisdiction to do so. That includes federal property and airports and among federal workers and contractors.
“I don’t think he could be any clearer about the need for masks,” Slavitt said of the president.
Asked whether administration officials are talking to the governors who just lifted mandates, Slavitt did not give specifics but said the White House is “in constant conversation with the states.”
“Suffice it to say there are plenty of people … health officials in every state, who feel now is the wrong time to lift the mask mandate,” he said.
Watch how Novavax is using moth cells to create its coronavirus vaccine
Johnson & Johnson isn’t the only company not relying on the mRNA technology made famous by pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and Moderna. Novavax, a Maryland biotech company, is also taking a different approach to its coronavirus vaccine — in the form of moth cells.
This more traditional method is known as a recombinant protein vaccine. Ovary cells from fall armyworm moths are used to produce copies of the coronavirus’s spike protein, which are injected into patients.
“The structure of the insect cell, even though it’s an insect, in its organizational features is very much like your or my cell,” said Gregory Glenn, president of research and development at Novavax.
Unlike the mRNA vaccines, Novavax’s treatment does not require subfreezing storage that can impede distribution. Early results from Phase 3 trials in the United Kingdom indicate an 89.3 percent efficacy, while trials continue in the United States and Mexico.
Glenn said he expects to apply for emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration in the second quarter of this year.
Johnson & Johnson CEO praises public-private collaboration to speed vaccine approval
Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky said Wednesday that the unprecedented collaboration and speed that led to coronavirus vaccine approvals in an emergency have shown companies and governments new ways to operate.
Gorsky spoke as a guest on Washington Post Live a day after Biden announced that Merck had agreed to help Johnson & Johnson manufacture its vaccine. Biden likened the collaboration to the commitment companies showed during World War II.
Merck will receive $268 million from the federal government for upgrades and also benefit from the administration’s use of the Defense Production Act to prioritize equipment and supplies.
Gorsky said Johnson & Johnson and other companies had been sharing scientific and clinical trial data and working with government regulators to speed vaccine approvals as never before. He cited efforts by the Food and Drug Administration, which has moved quickly on reviews, and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, which has spent billions on subsidies for drug companies.
“I have never seen the level of partnership and collaboration that I have observed over the last 13 months,” Gorsky said. “We were sharing data between companies in real time. We weren’t relying only on our own data sets, but other data sets that gave us greater certainty in a shorter period of time.”
Johnson & Johnson received FDA authorization for its one-shot coronavirus vaccine Saturday, but its production is behind schedule. The help from Merck and other moves by the Biden administration to accelerate manufacturing will put Johnson & Johnson back on track in the coming months, as well as set it up to produce even larger quantities of its vaccine in the second half of the year, administration officials said.
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