The U.S. could soon be giving at least a million COVID-19 vaccinations a day despite the sluggish start, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday, even as he warned of a dangerous next few weeks as the coronavirus surges.

The slow pace is frustrating health officials and a desperate public alike, with only about a third of the first supplies shipped to states used as of Tuesday morning, just over three weeks into the vaccination campaign.

“Any time you start a big program, there’s always glitches. I think the glitches have been worked out,” the nation’s top infectious disease expert told The Associated Press. Vaccinations have already begun speeding up, reaching roughly half a million injections a day, he pointed out.

Now, with the holidays over, “once you get rolling and get some momentum, I think we can achieve 1 million a day or even more,” Fauci said. He called President-elect Joe Biden’s goal of 100 million vaccinations in his first 100 days “a very realistic, important, achievable goal.”

It’s an optimistic prediction, considering the logistical hurdles facing states and counties as they struggle to administer rationed vaccine supplies amid rising COVID-19 hospitalizations. Fauci pointed to California’s swamped hospitals and exhausted workers even before holiday travel and family gatherings added fuel to the outbreak.

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California freezer failure prompts a vaccination rush

SAN FRANCISCO — A hospital in Northern California quickly vaccinated 850 people after a freezer that was holding doses of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine failed, prompting officials to do an emergency distribution before the shots spoiled.

The Adventist Health Ukiah Valley Medical Center in Mendocino County told the Ukiah Daily Journal that it sent 200 doses to the country that were dispensed to county workers, including sheriff’s deputies and jail staff. Jail inmates also received shots.

Eighty doses were sent to nursing homes.

Hospital spokeswoman Cici Winiger says the rest were distributed at four makeshift clinics on a first-come, first-serve basis after the hospital sent out a social media blast alerting people that vaccinations were available.

U.S. airlines push to slash international travel restrictions, implement universal testing

The country’s biggest airlines are asking the Trump administration to institute a “global program to require testing for travelers to the United States” – and scrap many travel restrictions.

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Travelers wear face masks while using the self-checking kiosks at the Southwest Airlines ticket counter in the main terminal of Denver International Airport in December in Denver.David Zalubowski/Associated Press

In a letter to Vice President Mike Pence on Monday, the advocacy group Airlines for America said it was supporting a proposal by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to implement the universal testing. The organization, which represents airlines including American, Delta, United and Southwest, said it also urged the administration to eliminate entry restrictions on people traveling “from Europe, the United Kingdom and Brazil.”

The letter argues that such moves would protect the health and safety of people flying and communities on the ground while also allowing for “essential economic activities.”

“We believe a well-planned program focused on increasing testing of travelers to the United States will further these objectives in a much more effective way than the blanket travel restrictions currently in place,” the letter says.

Some national testing requirements are in place to fly in North America: Late last month, in light of news of a faster-spreading variant of the virus, the CDC introduced a requirement that anyone flying from the United Kingdom must show negative coronavirus test results from no more than 72 hours before departing. As of Thursday, the Canadian government is requiring all air passengers who are 5 years of age or older to test negative before flying to Canada.

Health experts have warned that testing isn’t foolproof for travel, as passengers can become infectious in the time window after testing negative. Testing, too, remains imperfect: According to the Food and Drug Administration, antigen tests for the coronavirus provide faster results than molecular tests but “have a higher chance of missing an active infection.” Airlines for America said it is in favor of accepting both kinds of tests, calling the testing program “another layer of safety in the travel journey.”

Airlines for America suggested a timeline of at least 14 days to roll out a global testing program and asked for government help in making rapid tests available to fliers.

“We share optimism that the end of this devastating pandemic is in sight now that safe and effective vaccines are being distributed,” the group said in the letter to Pence. “However, we also know that additional vigorous action is needed in the months ahead to bring the virus under control.”

Germany to extend coronavirus lockdown until Jan .31

BERLIN  — German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday that she has agreed with state governors to extend the country’s current lockdown by three weeks until Jan. 31.

Merkel said they also are tightening curbs on social contacts, in line with measures imposed at the beginning of the pandemic in March. And they called for new restrictions on movement for people living in areas with particularly high infection rates.

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Medical student Mara Karcher vaccinates a resident Ella Holdenried of Sankt Verena nursing home in Strassberg, Germany, Wednesday, Dec. 30. German authorities have reported more than 1,000 coronavirus-related deaths in one day for the first time since the pandemic began. Felix Kaestle/dpa via AP

The decision came as new coronavirus cases and deaths are running at stubbornly high levels, and officials remain uncertain what effect the Christmas and New Year holidays have had on the situation.

Germany launched a nationwide partial shutdown on Nov. 2, closing restaurants, bars, leisure and sports facilities. That failed to reduce infection figures, and the current lockdown — which closed nonessential shops and schools, and further limited social contacts — took effect Dec. 16. It was initially due to run through Jan. 10.

Germany’s disease control center reported 944 more COVID-19 deaths.

Vaccinations in Germany and the rest of the 27-nation European Union started over a week ago. In Germany, a nation of 83 million, nearly 265,000 vaccinations had been reported by Monday, the Robert Koch Institute said.

Opposition politicians and even some within Germany’s governing coalition have criticized the EU’s cautious advance ordering of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine — the only one so far cleared for use in EU nations. The EU’s medical regulator is also evaluating a vaccine by Moderna.

The country’s health minister has repeatedly said that the vaccinations are progressing as expected and that the slow start is because mobile teams are first going to nursing homes to vaccinate the most vulnerable, which takes more time than inviting people to mass vaccination centers.

Still, in a nod to the heavy pressure, Health Minister Jens Spahn said he has asked the country’s agency in charge of vaccinations if the second shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine could be delayed in order to be able to vaccinate more people right away with a first shot. Britain has embraced such a plan with its vaccinations, but the move is being hotly debated by scientists and governments around the world.

Germany’s new infections remain at more than twice the level of 50 per 100,000 residents over seven days, which the government wants to reach. In part because of lower testing and delayed reporting, it’s not yet clear what effect the Christmas holidays will have on Germany’s new coronavirus infections, hospitalizations and deaths.

Germany has reported 35,518 virus-related deaths overall.

 

Seniors in Florida camp out overnight for vaccine

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Hundreds of senior citizens determined to get vaccinated against the coronavirus camped out overnight in frigid temperatures to secure spots in Tuesday morning’s line in Daytona Beach.

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Seniors stand in line to make an appointment to receive the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine outside the King’s Point clubhouse in Delray Beach, Fla., on Wednesday. Greg Lovett /The Palm Beach Post via AP

City officials tried to avoid a repeat of Monday’s traffic jams by opening a stadium’s parking lot to overnight camping for people 65 and older. By 7:30 p.m. Monday, senior citizens in some 200 vehicles were on the property.

The Daytona Beach News Journal reported officials planned to close the gates once 1,000 people entered, matching the number of vaccines available for Tuesday. The shots will be administered by Volusia County’s office of the Florida Department of Health.

The state has received more than 960,000 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. By Monday, about 260,000 Floridians had been vaccinated, mostly health care workers and first responders, followed recently by the elderly.

About 83% of coronavirus deaths in Florida have been older than 65. Florida has one of the nation’s oldest populations, with 4.4 million of the state’s 21 million people 65 years or older.

Vermont figures out how to spend its coronavirus relief funds

MONTPELIER, Vt. — Vermont officials are working out how the state will spend its share of the latest coronavirus relief funds recently approved by Congress.

The Times Argus reports officials estimate the state will receive about $500 million. Douglas Farnham, of the Agency of Administration, estimates that among the expenditures will be $200 million for emergency rental assistance and homeless prevention; $179.4 million for public health and social service emergency funding; and $127 million for elementary and secondary education relief.

The funds cannot be used to help the state and local governments make up for budget shortfalls caused by the pandemic.

Denmark restricts crowd size to 5

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen says Denmark is lowering the number of people who can gather in public from 10 to five.

The plan was to “delay the mutation,” Frederiksen said of the British mutation, adding that Danes were advised against traveling to Britain. Frederiksen also urged people to stay home and “feel free to cancel all the appointments you can where possible.”

Earlier, Denmark has banned sale of alcohol after 10 p.m., made face masks mandatory in public places such as supermarkets, libraries, theaters and public transportation. Pharmacies are open but non-food shops, amusement parks, zoos and gyms are closed until at least Jan. 17. Restaurants and cafes can only offer take out. Students in the 5th grade and above have switched to remote learning.

Italy extends travel restrictions, lockdown

ROME — The Italian government has extended travel restrictions and other measures for another week in its modified Christmas season lockdown to try to head off a new surge in coronavirus infections.

A decree approved by the Cabinet early Tuesday extends the measures to Jan. 15. At the same time, the government agreed to begin letting high school students return to class starting next week, but only in limited numbers. High schools have been on remote learning since the end of October, though elementary and middle schoolers have been attending in-person school since the start of the academic year.

Italy has been trying to control its latest wave of infections with localized restrictions. After two months of restrictions, infections have plateaued but hospitals are still under pressure, hundreds of people are still dying every day and officials fear cases could surge again due to holiday get-togethers.

Italy has reported more than 75,600 confirmed virus deaths, but experts say many deaths were not counted early in the pandemic.

French officials promise to speed up vaccinations

PARIS — Amid public outcry, France’s health minister has promised an “exponential” acceleration of his country’s slow coronavirus vaccination process.

After barely 500 people in France were vaccinated in the first six days, Health Minister Olivier Veran defended the government’s strategy of giving the vaccines first to residents of nursing homes. But he vowed Tuesday to simplify a bureaucratic consent process blamed in part for France’s lagging vaccinations.

Veran says the government will expand the number of vaccination centers and categories of people eligible for early vaccines, and allow people to sign up for vaccinations on an app or by phone.

But he insisted that the government would not forego safety guidelines in a country facing broad vaccine skepticism.

While neighboring countries are imposing strict new lockdowns amid surging infections, Veran said France is weighing its options and “cannot relax,” but announced no new measures.


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