Life expectancy in the United States dropped a staggering one year during the first half of 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic caused its first wave of deaths, health officials are reporting.

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Gravedigger Thomas Cortez watches as a refrigerated trailer is delivered to keep pace with a surge of bodies arriving for burials, mostly those who died from coronavirus, at the Hebrew Free Burial Association’s cemetery in the Staten Island borough of New York last April. David Goldman/Associated Press

Minorities suffered the biggest impact, with Black Americans losing nearly three years and Hispanics, nearly two years, according to preliminary estimates Thursday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This is a huge decline,” said Robert Anderson, who oversees the numbers for the CDC. “You have to go back to World War II, the 1940s, to find a decline like this.”

Other health experts say it shows the profound impact of COVID-19, not just on deaths directly due to infection but also from heart disease, cancer and other conditions.

“What is really quite striking in these numbers is that they only reflect the first half of the year … I would expect that these numbers would only get worse,” said Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, a health equity researcher and dean at the University of California, San Francisco.

This is the first time the CDC has reported on life expectancy from early, partial records; more death certificates from that period may yet come in. It’s already known that 2020 was the deadliest year in U.S. history, with deaths topping 3 million for the first time.

Life expectancy is how long a baby born today can expect to live, on average. In the first half of last year, that was 77.8 years for Americans overall, down one year from 78.8 in 2019. For males it was 75.1 years and for females, 80.5 years.

As a group, Hispanics in the U.S. have had the most longevity and still do. Black people now lag white people by six years in life expectancy, reversing a trend that had been bringing their numbers closer since 1993.

Between 2019 and the first half of 2020, life expectancy decreased 2.7 years for Black people, to 72. It dropped 1.9 years for Hispanics, to 79.9, and 0.8 years for white people, to 78. The preliminary report did not analyze trends for Asian or Native Americans.

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Native American tribes welcome vaccine, coronavirus prevention measures

CHEROKEE, N.C. — Joyce Dugan did not hesitate before sitting down inside the Cherokee Indian Hospital for her second and final dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. “I’m proud of our hospital,” the 72-year-old former tribal chief said as a nurse quietly prepped her arm. “I’m proud that we’re able to get these shots.”

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A man waits to receive the COVID-19 vaccine inside a hospital belonging to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, in Cherokee , N.C. in January. Associated Press/Sarah Blake Morgan

While minority communities across the United States have struggled to trust the vaccine, the opposite is true for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, a Native American tribe of 16,000 in western North Carolina, and other tribes across the country, which were also quick to adopt coronavirus prevention measures.

The federal Indian Health Service said Tuesday that it has administered nearly 385,300 doses of COVID-19 vaccines. At a rate of about 18,490 per 100,000, that’s higher than all but five U.S. states, according to an AP analysis of federal data.

The trend owes itself both to a harsh reality — Native Americans and Alaskan Natives are four times more likely to be hospitalized from COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — and tradition. Community before self has long been a core principle in Native American culture.

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Thousands of U.S. service members saying no to COVID-19 vaccine

WASHINGTON — By the thousands, U.S. service members are refusing or putting off the COVID-19 vaccine as frustrated commanders scramble to knock down internet rumors and find the right pitch that will persuade troops to get the shot.

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Hickam 15th Medical Group host the first COVID-19 mass vaccination on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam on Feb. 9. U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Anthony Nelson Jr./Department of Defense via AP

Some Army units are seeing as few as one-third agree to the vaccine. Military leaders searching for answers believe they have identified one potential convincer: an imminent deployment. Navy sailors on ships heading out to sea last week, for example, were choosing to take the shot at rates exceeding 80% to 90%.

Air Force Maj. Gen. Jeff Taliaferro, vice director of operations for the Joint Staff, told Congress on Wednesday that “very early data” suggests that just up to two-thirds of the service members offered the vaccine have accepted.

That’s higher than the rate for the general population, which a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation put at roughly 50%. But the significant number of forces declining the vaccine is especially worrisome because troops often live, work and fight closely together in environments where social distancing and wearing masks, at times, are difficult.

The military’s resistance also comes as troops are deploying to administer shots at vaccination centers around the country and as leaders look to American forces to set an example for the nation.

“We’re still struggling with what is the messaging and how do we influence people to opt in for the vaccine,” said Brig. Gen. Edward Bailey, the surgeon for Army Forces Command. He said that in some units just 30% have agreed to take the vaccine, while others are between 50% and 70%. Forces Command oversees major Army units, encompassing about 750,000 Army, Reserve and National Guard soldiers at 15 bases.

At Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where several thousand troops are preparing for future deployments, the vaccine acceptance rate is about 60%, Bailey said. That’s “not as high as we would hope for front-line personnel,” he said.

Bailey has heard all the excuses.

“I think the most amusing one I heard was, ‘The Army always tells me what to do, they gave me a choice, so I said no’,” he said.

Service leaders have vigorously campaigned for the vaccine. They have held town halls, written messages to the force, distributed scientific data, posted videos, and even put out photos of leaders getting vaccinated.

For weeks, the Pentagon insisted it did not know how many troops were declining the vaccine. On Wednesday they provided few details on their early data.

Officials from individual military services, however, said in interviews with The Associated Press that refusal rates vary widely, depending on a service member’s age, unit, location, deployment status and other intangibles.

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Crippling weather hampers vaccine deliveries, distribution

ATLANTA  — The icy blast across much of the U.S. injected more confusion and frustration into the nation’s COVID-19 vaccination drive Wednesday just when it was gathering speed, snarling vaccine deliveries and forcing cancellation of countless shots around the country.

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An electronic message board advises drivers of potential congestion on the intersecting interstate as they drive south on Interstate 55 in north Jackson, Miss., Monday, Feb. 15, as light snow mixed with sleet, and rain continue to cover much of the state. AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

Across a large swath of the nation, including the Deep South, the snowy, slippery weather either led to the closing of vaccination sites outright or held up the necessary shipments, with delays expected to continue for days.

In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio said doses expected this week were delayed by weather elsewhere in the country, forcing the city to hold off making 30,000 to 35,000 vaccination appointments.

“So appointments we would have been putting up available to people right now, we have to hold them back because the vaccine hasn’t arrived,” de Blasio said.

In Washington, White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said: “People are working as hard as they can, given the importance of getting the vaccines to the states and to providers, but there is an impact on deliveries.”

He added that in places where .vaccination sites are closed, like Texas, the government is encouraging sites to increase their hours once they are open.

“We want to make sure that as we’ve lost some time in some states for people to get needles in arms, that our partners do all they can to make up that lost ground,” he said.

The U.S. is vaccinating an average of 1.7 million Americans per day against COVID-19, up from under 1 million a month ago.

Japan starts COVID-19 vaccinations with eye on Olympics

TOKYO — Japan launched its coronavirus vaccination campaign Wednesday, months after other major economies started giving shots and amid questions about whether the drive would would reach enough people quickly enough to save a Summer Olympics already delayed by the pandemic.

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The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled to open on July 23 but recent polls show about 80% of the Japanese public want the Olympics canceled or postponed. Associated Press/Koji Sasahara

Despite a recent rise in infections, Japan has largely dodged the kind of cataclysm that has battered other wealthy countries’ economies, social networks and health care systems. But the fate of the Olympics, and the billions of dollars at stake, makes Japan’s vaccine campaign crucial. Japanese officials are also well aware that rival China, which has had success beating back the virus, will host the Winter Olympics next year, heightening the desire to make the Tokyo Games happen.

Japan’s rollout lagged behind other places because it asked vaccine maker Pfizer to conduct clinical trials with Japanese people, in addition to tests already conducted in six other nations — part of an effort to address worries in a country with low vaccine confidence.

That longstanding reluctance to take vaccines — usually because of fears of rare side effects — as well as concerns about shortages of the imported vaccines now hang over the rollout, which will first give shots to medical workers, then the elderly and vulnerable, and then, possibly in late spring or early summer, the rest of the population.

Medical workers say vaccinations will help protect them and their families, and business leaders hope the drive will allow economic activity to return to normal. But the late rollout will make it impossible to reach so-called herd immunity in the country of 127 million people before the Olympics begin in July, experts say.

That will leave officials struggling to quell widespread wariness — and even outright opposition — among citizens to hosting the Games. About 80% of those polled in recent media surveys support cancellation or further postponement of the Olympics.

Despite that, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and others in his government are forging ahead with Olympic plans, billing the Games as “proof of human victory against the pandemic.”

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First coronavirus vaccines arrive in Gaza Strip following blockage by Israel

JERUSALEM – The first coronavirus vaccines reached the Gaza Strip Wednesday when at least a thousand doses of the Russian Sputnik serum crossed into the heavily guarded enclave of almost 2 million Palestinians.

The shipment arrived after Palestinian officials accused Israel of blocking the shipment for political purposes when an initial attempt at delivery was turned-back Monday at a military checkpoint.

Israel maintains tight control over goods and people entering Gaza, and some right-wing Israeli politicians and activists want to condition the delivery of vaccines to the release of hostages and human remains held by Hamas, the militant Palestinian group that governs the enclave.

“We warn [Israel] against the consequences of the spread of coronavirus in Gaza,” said Ismail Radwan, a former Hamas minister. “The resistance will not be blackmailed and we will not pay a price for letting the vaccine into the Gaza Strip.”

Israeli officials would not comment on the reasons for the two-day delay in granting permission for the vaccine to enter Gaza, saying only that the request had been under review by the country’s National Security Council and the military agency that controls access to Gaza.

Health officials in Gaza City said they would begin inoculating residents immediately, starting with patients who are most vulnerable to dying from COVID-19, including transplant patients and those on dialysis.

Gaza, where clean water and reliable electricity are in critically short supply and crowded refugee camps make it one of the most densely populated communities in the world, has battled to keep the virus from overwhelming its meager health system. Gaza has registered almost 54,000 positive COVID cases and 538 deaths.

Kamala Harris calls for teachers to get COVID vaccine priority

Speaking in her first sit-down network television interview since taking office, Vice President Kamala Harris stressed the importance of getting educators vaccinated since their work is so important and they work in an environment where protective measures are tough to implement.

“Teachers should be a priority,” said Harris on Wednesday. “They should be able to teach in a safe place …. So teachers should be a priority along with other frontline workers.”

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Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the National Institutes of Health, Tuesday, Jan. 26, in Bethesda, Md. AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

Harris told “Today” show host, Savannah Guthrie that only about half the states are giving vaccine priority to teachers and called on states to put educators at the front of the line.

“We all want schools to reopen… All of us with children in our lives, they want to back to school…Teachers want to teach,” Harris said.

Harris dodged a question about the Centers for Disease Control’s recommendation that schools remain closed if the positive test rate is above dangerous levels in the overall community.

“What the CDC have recommended are exactly that, recommendations, about how to reopen safely if they’ve been closed, how to stay open if they’ve been open,” Harris said.

Getting schools reopened as soon as possible has become a major focus of President Biden’s new administration.

Harris doubled down on Biden’s vow Tuesday night at a CNN town hall to get as many elementary and middle schools fully reopened as possible within the first 100 days of his presidency.

“The issue here is not just about statistics — it’s about our kids, it’s about their parents,” Harris said. “It’s about the fact that every day our kids are missing essential, critical days in their educational development.”

Countries offering to vaccinate U.S. diplomats with U.S.-made vaccines because State Dept. can’t

WASHINGTON – U.S. diplomats serving in countries with poor medical infrastructure and high coronavirus infection rates are venting frustrations about the way top officials in Washington are distributing the vaccines for the virus, according to meeting notes, interviews and documents obtained by The Washington Post.

The limited supply of the vaccines has forced State Department leaders to make difficult and unenviable decisions, and has created humbling experiences for U.S. diplomats representing the world’s wealthiest country.

Managing the shortage is an early challenge for Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who has pledged to restore “morale and trust” in his department.

At least 13 foreign governments offered to inoculate U.S. officials serving abroad with their own supplies of U.S.-made Moderna and Pfizer vaccines – a gesture the State Department has accepted, said senior U.S. officials. The department is evaluating offers from at least eight other countries that are willing to do the same.

In Russia, some State Department personnel appealed to Moscow for doses of its Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine after Washington could not promise the delivery of U.S.-made vaccine in the near future, officials said. The Sputnik vaccine has not been approved by the World Health Organization or the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The State Department is not recommending that its employees take it but is permitting them to make their own health decisions.

The pandemic has killed more than 2.4 million people worldwide.

“It’s embarrassing for the world’s richest country to require the charity of other nations when it comes to vaccines,” said one U.S. diplomat posted to the Middle East, “especially when you consider that the best vaccines were made in the U.S.”

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After year of avoiding it, Sweden considers COVID lockdown

Sweden’s government said Wednesday it was seeking broader powers to impose coronavirus measures as cases crept upward and officials expressed concern over the spread of its more contagious variants.

The measures would build on a pandemic law passed last month and grant the government authority to close down a wider spectrum of venues such as restaurants, gyms, hair salons and other retail spaces. They would also allow it to regulate entry to public places at risk of overcrowding.

A couple hugs and laughs as they have lunch in a restaurant in Stockholm in April. After the first confirmed virus reached Sweden in January, the Scandinavian country of 10 million opted for a different — and much-debated — approach to handling the pandemic by keeping large sections of society open. Associated Press/Andres Kudacki

Sweden has been reluctant to implement the type of “circuit-breaker” lockdowns imposed elsewhere in Europe, relying instead on residents to observe social distancing and other public health protocols. In recent weeks, however, the number of cases has increased as Sweden’s public health agency warned fewer people were adhering to recommendations such as mask-wearing on public transport.

A more contagious variant of the virus first identified in Britain was also driving an increase in cases, the government said. Health and Social Affairs Minister Lena Hallengren said Wednesday that the government did not currently believe that a lockdown was warranted but was instead trying to anticipate a possible third wave of infections.

“The decision today is not that we are going to shut down Sweden, but that we are giving ourselves the tools to respond should such a situation develop,” Hallengren told a news conference.

“It could become necessary to close down parts of Swedish society,” she said.

Government agencies were still debating the proposal and it was unlikely to come into force until mid-March, local media reported.

Sweden has recorded more than 617,000 coronavirus infections and over 12,400 deaths since the pandemic began, a higher proportion than its Scandinavian neighbors who have implemented stricter measures.

Britain gets approval to deliberately infect volunteers with the coronavirus

LONDON — The British government said Wednesday that the world’s first human coronavirus trials will start within a month after receiving ethics approval.

Britain is the first country in the world to greenlight a “human challenge” study, in which scientists will deliberately infect healthy volunteers with the coronavirus. The effort is funded by the British government, which hopes it will accelerate scientific understanding of vaccines and treatments.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited a vaccination center in Cwmbran, south Wales on Wednesday. Geoff Caddick via Associated Press

Up to 90 healthy volunteers from 18 to 30 years old will be exposed to the coronavirus in a “in a safe and controlled environment to increase understanding of how the virus affects people,” the government said in a statement.

The volunteers will be quarantined at a hospital during the study and monitored by medics and scientists.

In the first stage of the study, scientists will attempt to discover the smallest amount of the virus it takes to cause an infection, which they hope will support vaccine development.

Clive Dix, head of Britain’s vaccine task force, said that “we have secured a number of safe and effective vaccines for the [United Kingdom], but it is essential that we continue to develop new vaccines and treatments for COVID-19.”

He added: “We expect these studies to offer unique insights into how the virus works and help us understand which promising vaccines offer the best chance of preventing the infection.”

New Zealand ends first lockdown in 6 months
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — A lockdown in the New Zealand city of Auckland will end at midnight, the government announced Wednesday after concluding a coronavirus outbreak had been contained.

“This is good news,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

The nation’s largest city was put into lockdown on Sunday after three unexplained cases were found in the community. It was the first lockdown in six months in a nation which so far has managed to successfully stamp out the spread of the disease.

The move to end the lockdown came as health authorities said the outbreak had grown by three cases to six in total. But Ardern said the additional cases were to be expected because they involved close contacts.

Ramped-up testing indicates the outbreak hasn’t spread far. Laboratories processed more than 17,000 individual tests on Tuesday, authorities said, and they also tested wastewater samples, which came back negative.


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