WASHINGTON — The government’s top infectious-disease expert said Friday that he hopes to see some kids starting to get vaccinated for COVID-19 in the next few months. It’s a needed step to securing widespread immunity to the virus.

Virus_Outbreak_93850

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a White House briefing Wednesday on the Biden administration’s response to the pandemic. White House via AP

Vaccines are not yet approved for children, but testing already is underway for those as young as 12.

If those trials are successful, Dr. Anthony Fauci said they would be followed by another round of testing down to those 9 years old.

“Hopefully by the time we get to the late spring and early summer we will have children being able to be vaccinated,” Fauci said at a White House coronavirus briefing.

Fauci was looking ahead to a time vaccines will be plentiful. Even older adults are having difficulty getting shots at the moment. As of Thursday, only about 1.3% of Americans had been fully vaccinated with the required two doses of the currently available vaccines.

Read the full story here.

Canada to quarantine travelers, suspend flights to sunny destinations south

TORONTO — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday announced stricter restrictions on travelers in response to new, likely more contagious variants of the novel coronavirus — including making it mandatory for travelers to quarantine in a hotel at their own expense when they arrive in Canada and suspending airline service to Mexico and all Caribbean destinations until April 30.

Trudeau said in addition to the pre-boarding test Canada already requires, the government will be introducing mandatory PCR testing at the airport for people returning to Canada.

Virus_Outbreak_Canada_54404

Shoppers bundled up in the cold and masked in Montreal this month. Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via Associated Press

“Travelers will then have to wait for up to three days at an approved hotel for their test results, at their own expense, which is expected to be more than $2,000,” Trudeau said.

“Those with negative test results will then be able to quarantine at home under significantly increased surveillance and enforcement.”

He said the measure will be take effect “in the coming weeks.”

The steep cost for the hotel stay includes the cost for a private PCR test, security, food and the cost of measures the designated hotels will have to take to keep their workers safe.

“The cost is a ballparking. This isn’t like any other facility. This is one where there has to be infection prevention control measures, security and other costs as well. It’s not just a regular stay at a hotel,” said Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer.

Tam also said a test will be required on the 10th day after people return.

The prime minister said those with positive tests will be immediately required to quarantine in designated government facilities to make sure they’re not carrying variants of particular concern.

Trudeau also said the government and Canada’s main airlines have agreed to suspend service to sun destinations right away. He said Air Canada, WestJet, Sunwing, and Air Transat are cancelling air service to all Caribbean destinations and Mexico starting Sunday until April 30.

“They will be making arrangements with their customers who are currently on a trip in these regions to organize their return flights,” Trudeau said.

Mexico’s Foreign Relations Department said in a statement that “the government of Mexico expresses its hope that the measure recently announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau can be withdrawn as soon as possible, in order to avoid a deep economic crisis in the North American Region.”

Trudeau said starting next week, all international passenger flights to Canada must land at four airports: Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary and Montreal.

“We will also, in the coming weeks, be requiring nonessential travelers to show a negative test before entry at the land border with the U.S., and we are working to stand up additional testing requirements for land travel,” Trudeau said.

Canada already requires those entering the country to self-isolate for 14 days and to present a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days before arrival.

Tam, Canada’s top health official, said that security contractors will be going door-to-door to check on returnees who are isolating at home.

The move to require a hotel stay upon return would discourage vacations as people would not want to have to quarantine at a hotel at their own expense upon return.

Unconventional mass vaccination help wanted: Fast-food managers, road race experts

A year into the coronavirus pandemic, Americans are painfully aware that overcoming the scourge is a marathon, not a sprint.

Virus_Outbreak_Unconventional_Help_28222

Boston Marathon Race Director Dave McGillivray, shown on Thursday outside Fenway Park in Boston, has been asked by the state of Massachusetts to run mass vaccination operations at Gillette Stadium and Fenway Park. Event organizers and other unconventional logistics experts are using their skills to help the nation vaccinate as many people against COVID-19 as possible. Charles Krupa/Associated Press

Enter Dave McGillivray, who knows a thing or two about endurance events — and logistics.

The race director of the Boston Marathon, which is on hold until fall, has been tapped by the state of Massachusetts to run mass vaccination operations at Gillette Stadium and Fenway Park.

Idled at his day job by the pandemic, he’s part of an emerging group of event organizers and other unconventional logistics experts who are using their skills to help the nation vaccinate as many people against COVID-19 as possible.

“It’s amazing how our event management skill set can be applied to running a massive vaccination site,” said McGillivray, who has been directing the marathon — with its many moving parts — for more than three decades.

The push for creative workarounds comes as virus cases surge nationwide, lines grow at testing and vaccination sites and tempers flare as government websites crash beneath the digital weight of millions desperately seeking appointments.

Likening it to a “wartime effort,” President Biden announced this week that the U.S. is ramping up deliveries to hard-pressed states and expects to provide enough doses to vaccinate 300 million Americans by the end of the summer or early fall.

In Washington state, Starbucks and Amazon are being pressed into service for vaccination operations and logistics support, and a union representing food and commercial workers is helping to staff the effort.

In California, Disneyland — hit hard by the global health crisis — is hosting a mass vaccination effort, as is Six Flags Magic Mountain, about 60 miles north.

After a computer glitch at a COVID-19 testing site in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, caused a traffic jam, the mayor called a local Chick-fil-A fast food restaurant manager for help, hoping his experience in managing drive-thru situations might help. It did: Manager Jerry Walkowiak sorted it out and got the wait time down from an hour to 15 minutes.

Other states are looking into having dentists, optometrists and even veterinarians help get shots into people’s arms.

Read the full story here.

EU regulator authorizes AstraZeneca vaccine for all adults

Regulators authorized AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine for use in adults throughout the European Union on Friday, amid criticism the bloc is not moving fast enough to vaccinate its population.

The European Medicines Agency’s expert committee unanimously recommended the vaccine to be used in people 18 and over, though concerns had been raised this week that not enough data exist to prove it works in older people, and some countries indicated they may not give it to the elderly.

The shot is the third COVID-19 vaccine given the green light by the European Medicines Agency after ones by Pfizer and Moderna. The EMA’s decision requires final approval from the European Commission, a process that occurred swiftly with the other vaccines.

With trials showing about 60 percent efficacy, the vaccine appears to offer less protection than ones already authorized, but experts have said any vaccine with an efficacy rate of over 50 percent could help stop outbreaks.

The agency recommended the vaccine’s use in older people, despite limited data regarding its efficacy in people over 55, citing the immune responses seen and experience with other vaccines.

“At least some protection is expected,” Bruno Sepodes, of the EMA’s expert committee, said Friday at a news briefing. He acknowledged that “the exact level of protection cannot be estimated for the time being.”

Many countries on the continent have been struggling to vaccinate people as quickly as Britain, Israel, the U.S. and elsewhere, and it was long hoped that the AstraZeneca shot would help speed things up at a time when countries face surging cases in a pandemic that has taken the lives of more than 400,000 people in the 27-nation bloc.

The EU bet heavily on the shot, which is cheaper and easier to handle than some other vaccines, with orders for 300 million doses to be delivered after authorization and options for another 100 million doses.

Read the full story here.

Fauci: Vaccines still good against virus variants, but drug companies must tweak shots to stay ahead

WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci says the emergence and increasing spread of coronavirus mutations means that vaccine makers must be ready to make new shots to stay ahead of the public health crisis.

The government’s top infectious disease expert spoke Friday during a White House coronavirus briefing.

“This is a wake-up call to all of us,” says Fauci, noting government scientists will be working to keep pace with virus mutations.

The nature of viruses is to change in ways that promote their spread, Fauci says. The evolution of mutant versions means scientists need to be “nimble” and ready to make tweaks to vaccines. So far, the mutants haven’t overwhelmed the protective power of vaccines.

Fauci says its important to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible to keep new mutations from developing.

New Year’s revelers flocked to Dubai, now it is blamed for spreading virus abroad

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — After opening itself to New Year’s revelers, Dubai is now being blamed by several countries for spreading the coronavirus abroad, even as questions swirl about the city-state’s ability to handle reported record spikes in virus cases.

Dubai, known for its long-haul carrier Emirates, the world’s tallest building and its beaches and bars, in July became one of the first travel destinations to describe itself as open for business. The move staunched the bleeding of its crucial tourism and real estate sectors after lockdowns and curfews cratered its economy.

Tourists party on a yacht in Dubai, United Arab Emirates in January. Associated Press/Kamran Jebreili

As tourism restarted, daily reported coronavirus case numbers slowly grew but mostly remained stable through the fall.

But then came New Year’s Eve — a major draw for travelers from countries otherwise shut down over the virus who partied without face masks in bars and on yachts. For the last 17 days, the United Arab Emirates as a whole has reported record daily coronavirus case numbers as lines at Dubai testing facilities grow.

In Israel, more than 900 travelers returning from Dubai have been infected with the coronavirus, according to the military, which conducts contact tracing. The returnees created a chain of infections numbering more than 4,000 people, the Israeli military told the AP.

Tens of thousands of Israelis had flocked to the UAE since the two countries normalized relations in September. Israeli Health Ministry expert Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis was quoted by Channel 13 TV as complaining in a call with other officials that a few weeks of travel had been more deadly than decades of no relations with the Arab nation.

In the United Kingdom, tabloids have splashed shots of bikini-clad British influencers partying in Dubai while the country struggled through lockdowns trying to control the virus. Britain in mid-January closed a travel corridor to Dubai that had allowed travelers to skip quarantine over what was described as a significant acceleration in the number of imported cases from the UAE.

Meanwhile, mutated strains of the coronavirus have been linked back to Dubai. The U.K. instituted a travel ban Friday barring direct flights to the UAE over the spread of a South African variant of the coronavirus.

Denmark already discovered one traveler coming from Dubai who tested positive for the South African variant, the first such discovery there. Like Britain, Danish celebrities similarly traveled to Dubai for the New Year.

In the Philippines, health authorities say they discovered a British strain infecting a Filipino who made a business trip to Dubai on Dec. 27. He returned to the Philippines on Jan. 7 and tested positive.

As daily reported coronavirus cases near 4,000, Dubai has fired the head of its government health agency without explanation. It stopped live entertainment at bars, halted nonessential surgeries, limited wedding sizes and ordered gyms to increase space between those working out. It also now requires coronavirus testing for all those flying into its airport.

Tanzania’s president says God has eliminated the virus in his country

NAIROBI, Kenya — Tanzania’s president says God has eliminated COVID-19 in his country. His own church now begs to differ.

From the local Catholic authority warning this week of a new wave of coronavirus infections, to government institutions now requiring staffers to take precautions, populist President John Magufuli is being openly questioned as the African continent fights a strong resurgence in cases and deaths.

“We are not an island,” the Catholic secretariat of the Tanzania Episcopal Conference said in a widely shared statement this week. It urged followers, which include the president, to pray but also to adopt measures long practiced in the rest of the world, including avoiding public gatherings and close personal contact. The church’s newspaper on Friday stressed in a large front-page headline: “There is corona.”

Virus_Outbreak_Tanzania_18466

Traders sell vegetables at a street market in Dodoma, Tanzania in March. Associated Press

Tanzania has tried to be an island since April, when the East African country of 60 million people stopped updating its number of virus infections at 509 cases. Some health officials who questioned Magufuli’s stance that COVID-19 had been defeated were fired. The government promoted international tourism, eager to avoid the economic pain of neighbors who imposed lockdowns and curfews.

The president even praised Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi for not wearing a face mask during a visit this month, calling it another sign that Tanzania is free of the virus.

But pandemic concerns have returned to the spotlight in Tanzania as the world focuses on the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines.

While other African countries seek millions of doses, Magufuli this week accused people who had been vaccinated overseas of bringing the virus back into Tanzania. He also questioned whether the vaccines work.

“If the white man was able to come up with vaccinations, then vaccinations for AIDS would have been brought, tuberculosis would be a thing of the past, vaccines for malaria and cancer would have been found,“ he said on Wednesday.

“Be firm,” he added. “Vaccines are inappropriate.” He urged the health ministry not to rush into vaccinations without being satisfied about their safety. He offered no evidence for his claims.

African health officials were already worried about misinformation campaigns around COVID-19 vaccines as the first doses begin arriving on the continent of 1.3 billion people. Magufuli’s stance contrasts sharply with other African heads of state like President Wavel Ramkalawan of the Seychelles, who publicly received his first vaccine shot this month and urged citizens to do the same.

Asked about Tanzania on Thursday, Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director John Nkengasong told reporters that “if we do not fight this as a collective on the continent, we will be doomed.“

Japan’s prime minister determined to hold Olympics in July

TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says he is determined to host the postponed Tokyo Olympics this summer, despite growing uncertainty as coronavirus cases rise at home.

Suga, speaking at a virtual meeting of the World Economic Forum, says the Olympics would be a symbol of human victory over the pandemic. He pledged to get infections under control in Japan as soon as possible and achieve a “safe and secure” Olympics.

Virus_Outbreak_Japan_Daily_Life_93477

People wearing face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus walk by the Olympic rings in Tokyo on Jan. 26. Associated Press/Koji Sasahara

Olympic officials have repeatedly said the games will be held in July as planned after a one-year postponement, though various scenarios including the holding of events without spectators are being considered.

Suga has been criticized for delaying virus measures until daily cases surged to new highs in late December. He eventually declared a partial state of emergency in early January, issuing non-binding requests through Feb. 7 for people to avoid crowds or eating out in groups and for restaurants and bars to close early.

New coronavirus cases in Tokyo have dipped but experts say they haven’t slowed enough, indicating the emergency measures could be extended for several more weeks.

Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine is 66% effective against COVID-19

Johnson & Johnson’s long-awaited vaccine appears to protect against COVID-19 with just one shot – not as strong as some two-shot rivals but still potentially helpful for a world in dire need of more doses.

J&J said Friday that in the U.S. and seven other countries, the single-shot vaccine was 66% effective overall at preventing moderate to severe illness, and much more protective — 85% — against the most serious symptoms.

There was some geographic variation. The vaccine worked better in the U.S. — 72% effective against moderate to severe COVID-19 – compared to 57% in South Africa, where it was up against an easier-to-spread mutated virus.

“Gambling on one dose was certainly worthwhile,” Dr. Mathai Mammen, global research chief for J&J’s Janssen Pharmaceutical unit, told The Associated Press.

With vaccinations off to a rocky start globally, experts had been counting on a one-dose vaccine that would stretch scarce supplies and avoid the logistics nightmare of getting people to return for boosters.

But with some other competing vaccines shown to be 95% effective after two doses, at question is whether somewhat less protection is an acceptable tradeoff to get more shots in arms quickly.

Read the full story here.

EU publishes vaccine contract, price redacted

BRUSSELS — The European Union has made public a redacted version of the contract it agreed with the drugmaker AstraZeneca which lies at the heart of a major row over coronavirus vaccine deliveries.

The EU’s executive branch, the European Commission, published the text of the advance purchasing agreement Friday after consulting the British-Swedish company.

Details about the price of the vaccine were notably redacted. The U.K. is thought to be paying far more for the vaccine than the 27-nation bloc.

Earlier this week, the EU lashed out at the drugmaker after it said it would not be able to deliver the 80 million doses that it hoped to provide and could only supply 31 million.

The advance purchasing agreement was signed before any vaccine existed. European authorities are expected to approve the AstraZeneca vaccine later Friday, but questions remain over how effective it is among people over 65.

Outrage in Italy over reduced vaccine delivery

ROME — Italy’s virus czar says pharmaceutical company Moderna officially advised the government Friday that it would reduce a planned upcoming vaccine delivery to Italy by 20%, fueling increasing outrage in Italy as such delays have forced the country to drastically slow down its vaccine campaign.

Domenico Arcuri expressed “stupor, concern and discomfort” at Moderna’s decision, noting that it came after both Pfizer and AstraZeneca announced similar delays in scheduled deliveries. The Italian government has formally advised Pfizer it is weighing legal action.

Arcuri said Moderna told the government its Feb. 8 deliveries would be 132,000 doses instead of a planned 166,000.

The reduced deliveries have meant that Italy’s plan to start vaccinating Italians over age 80 on a mass scale have been delayed by several weeks, and reduced by more than half the number of shots administered each day. Italy concentrated the first weeks of its vaccine campaign on health care workers, with about 1 million of the 1.7 million doses administered so far going to doctors and nurses.

10% of coronavirus infections in Spain are derived from mutations

MADRID — Spain’s health minister says that between 5 and 10% of all confirmed coronavirus infections are believed to be derived from a mutation seen as responsible for the high contagion rates seen first in the United Kingdom and later in other countries.

Appearing Friday at a Congress of Deputies health commission, Carolina Darias said that so far confirmed cases of the new variant in Spain stand at 350 but that experts’ analysis showed that up to 10% of new infections could be attributed to it.

“The following weeks are crucial to see if this variant takes over … like has happened in other countries,” Darias told lawmakers.

On Thursday Spain logged nearly 35,000 new cases of the virus and 515 confirmed deaths, although the 14-day rate of infection per 100,000 residents dropped slightly for the first time in nearly a month.

Authorities say that an abrupt decline would be needed for overwhelmed hospitals to free up space before any effects of the new variant increases contagion and hospitalizations again.

Denmark extends restrictions

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Denmark has extended restrictions that close food shops, except for grocery stores and pharmacies, schools and public gatherings of more than five people for another three weeks until the end of February.

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said “we have seen how quickly the new mutation can get things out of control. Therefore, we cannot relax the restrictions. Even when we get vaccinated more, we must proceed cautiously.”

Cafes and restaurants remain closed but can still sell takeout food. Gyms, public libraries, beauty parlors and hairdressers also will remain shut until Feb. 28.

Advice to avoid non-essential travel — including business trips — outside of Denmark also was extended to the end of February, with Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod saying it was “an important element in the effort to control the spread of infection as the mutations of coronavirus occur in several countries.”

 


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.