TORONTO — A national panel of vaccine experts in Canada recommended Wednesday that provinces extend the interval between the two doses of a COVID-19 shot to four months to quickly inoculate more people amid a shortage of doses in Canada. A number of provinces said they would do just that.

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Anita Anand, Canada’s minister of public services and procurement, and High Commissioner of India to Canada Ajay Bisaria pose Wednesday at a facility in Ontario with some of the first 500,000 AstraZeneca vaccine doses that Canada has secured through a deal with the Serum Institute of India. Carlos Osorio/Pool Photo via AP

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also expressed optimism that vaccination timelines could be sped up. But one top health official called it an experiment and noted that no other country is doing it.

The current protocol is an interval of three to four weeks between doses for the Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines. Johnson & Johnson is a one dose vaccine but has not been approved in Canada yet.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization said extending the dose interval to four months would allow as many as 80% of Canadians over the age of 16 to receive a single dose by the end of June simply with the expected supply of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.

Second doses would begin to be administered in July as more shipments arrive, the panel said, noting that 55 million doses are expected to be delivered in July, August and September.

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Pandemic puts 1 in 3 nonprofits in financial jeopardy

NEW YORK — More than one-third of U.S. nonprofits are in jeopardy of closing within two years because of the financial harm inflicted by the viral pandemic, according to a study released Wednesday by the philanthropy research group Candid and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.

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Staff Sgt. Mike Schuster loads two produce boxes into a car at a food bank on Jan. 7 in Cleveland. Tony Dejak/Associated Press

The study’s findings underscore the perils for nonprofits and charities whose financial needs have escalated over the past year, well in excess of the donations that most have received from individuals and foundations. The researchers analyzed how roughly 300,000 nonprofits would fare under 20 scenarios of varying severity. The worst-case scenario led to the closings of 38 percent of the nonprofits. Even the scenarios seen as more realistic resulted in closures well into double digit percentages.

Officials of Candid, which includes the philanthropic information resources GuideStar and Foundation Center, and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, which analyzes charitable giving during crises, said the most dire scenarios could be avoided if donations were to increase substantially – from the government as well as from private contributors.

“If you are a donor who cares about an organization that is rooted in place and relies on revenue from in-person services, now is the time probably to give more,” said Jacob Harold, Candid’s executive vice president.

Among the most vulnerable nonprofits, the study said, are those involved in arts and entertainment, which depend on ticket sales for most of their revenue, cannot significantly their reduce expenses and don’t typically hold much cash.

Other studies have concluded that smaller arts and culture groups, in particular, are at serious risk. Californians for the Arts, for example, surveyed arts and culture nonprofits in the state and found that about 64 percent had shrunk their workforces. Roughly 25 percent of them had slashed 90 percent or more of their staffs. And a report last week from New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli found that employment in New York City’s arts, entertainment and recreation sector tumbled 66 percent during 2020.

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Majority of small businesses not requiring employee vaccinations, tests

ORLANDO, Fla. — A majority of small businesses are not requiring their employees to get tested for the new coronavirus or get any COVID-19 vaccines, though the health care and hospitality industries are ahead of the curve on this requirement, according to a report released this week by the U.S. Census Bureau.

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Bartender Alyssa Dooley makes a cocktail at Mo’s Irish Pub on Tuesday in Houston. The health care and hospitality industries are ahead of the curve when it comes to requiring their employees to get tested for the new coronavirus or get any COVID-19 vaccines, a report finds. David J. Phillip/Associated Press

The bureau’s most recent Small Business Pulse Survey showed 70 percent of the small businesses surveyed said “no” when asked if they had required employees to test negative for COVID-19 before coming to work in the last week. Another 10 percent said “yes” and almost 20 percent said the question was not applicable.

Of the small businesses, two sectors, health care and accommodations/ food service had higher rates than the national average — respectively 15.5 percent and 14.3 percent.

When asked if employees were asked to have proof of COVID-19 vaccination in the past week, 2.2 percent of the small businesses answered “yes” and 78.4 percent answered “no,” with 19.4 percent saying it wasn’t applicable, according to the survey.

However, 62 percent of small businesses in the health care industry said they were requiring a vaccine, the survey said.

The latest Small Business Pulse Survey is among a series of surveys the Census Bureau has conducted since last spring to measure the effect of the pandemic. It was conducted February 15-21 when the survey was sent to approximately 100,000 businesses. About 25,000 businesses responded.

The small businesses have less than 500 employees and are in a single location.

The latest survey asked the small businesses what changes they had made to their capital expenditures last year. Almost a quarter of respondents said they had postponed planned spending, 15.6 percent had decreased expenditures and 12.8 percent had canceled some spending, the survey said.

When asked about what effect the pandemic has had on their businesses overall, responses by the small businesses were relatively unchanged over the past three months. Around 44 percent say it has had a moderately negative effect, almost 30 percent says it has had a large negative effect, 19 percent say it has had little to no effect, 5.6 percent say it has had a moderately positive effect and 1.7 percent say it has had a large positive effect.

Biden stands by May timeline for vaccines for all U.S. adults

WASHINGTON  — President Biden said the U.S. expects to take delivery of enough coronavirus vaccine for all adults by the end of May — two months earlier than anticipated — and he pushed states to get at least one shot into the arms of teachers by the end of March to hasten school reopenings.

Biden also announced Tuesday that drugmaker Merck will help produce rival Johnson & Johnson’s newly approved one-shot vaccine, likening the partnership between the two drug companies to the spirit of national cooperation during World War II.

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President Joe Biden speaks about efforts to combat COVID-19, in the State Dining Room of the White House, Tuesday, March 2, in Washington. AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Despite the stepped-up pace of vaccine production, the work of inoculating Americans could extend well into the summer, officials said, depending both on the government’s capacity to deliver doses and Americans’ willingness to roll up their sleeves.

Biden’s announcements quickly raised expectations for when the nation could safely emerge from the pandemic, but even as he expressed optimism, Biden quickly tempered the outlook.

“I’ve been cautioned not to give an answer to that because we don’t know for sure,” Biden said, before saying his hope for a return to normal was sometime before “this time next year.”

As Biden spoke, states across the country were moving to relax virus-related restrictions. This despite the objections of the White House and the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who have warned against any relaxation of virus protocols until more Americans are vaccinated.

In Texas, GOP Gov. Greg Abbott moved to lift his state’s mask-wearing mandate and a host of other limitations. Michigan’s Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer eased capacity limits on restaurants and both public and residential gatherings.

Fauci has previously said the nation must achieve a vaccination rate of about 80 percent to reach “herd immunity.” Only about 8 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, though the pace of vaccination has been increasing.

The Biden administration has told governors to make preparations to administer even more doses in the coming weeks. More shots are also headed toward the federally backed program to administer doses in retail pharmacies, which federal officials believe can double or triple their pace of vaccination.

More than 800,000 doses of the J&J vaccine will be distributed this week to pharmacies, on top of the 2.4 million they are now getting from Pfizer and Moderna.

Read the full story here.

Health officials sound alarm bells over Texas and Mississippi ‘100 percent’ openings

On Tuesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) ended his state’s mask mandate and boasted in all-caps on Twitter that “Texas is OPEN 100 percent. EVERYTHING.”

But public health experts and local officials in Texas and in Mississippi, where Gov. Tate Reeves (R) announced similar plans on Tuesday, had a starkly different message for residents: Wear masks anyway and keep practicing social distancing.

“If you’re interested in knowing what you can get away with, listen to the governor,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, a Democrat who has advocated for tougher restrictions as the county’s chief elected official, said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon. “If you’re interested in knowing what doctors say will keep you, your business and your family safe, listen to me and the doctors.”

The backlash against Abbott’s and Reeves’ moves is fueled by concerns they might set back the battle against the coronavirus. The drop in new cases stalled this week, and there are worries that highly transmissible new variants of the coronavirus could keep the pandemic from significantly ebbing until summer at the earliest. With both Texas and Mississippi still in the top 10 deaths per capita among U.S. states, health officials warned that easing restrictions before vaccines have been widely distributed could cause another spike in cases and deaths.

“It’s still too early,” Philip Huang, Dallas County’s health director said on Tuesday, the Dallas Morning News reported. “We’d all love to get back to normal. [But] it’s not the time to relax.”

The moves to reopen Texas and Mississippi are the latest flash points between politicians, particularly in the GOP, pushing for a return to normal and experts who say the pandemic is not yet over. Some other states, including Iowa and Montana, lifted mask mandates last month. Even Democrat-controlled states hit hard by the pandemic have recently moved to lessen restrictions, with New York allowing stadiums to host concerts and California permitting indoor dining in many counties.

French families sue over thousands of nursing home virus deaths

PARIS  — A Paris court is holding a hearing Wednesday in a class-action effort to hold French health authorities and companies accountable after thousands with the virus died in nursing homes, and families were locked out and left in the dark about what was happening to their isolated loved ones.

The hearing is a first step in likely a years-long legal marathon. Families hope it shines a light on what went wrong last year as the virus devastated France’s oldest generation and deprived their children and grandchildren of a chance to help or even say goodbye.

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Sabrina Deliry arrives for a hearing at the Paris Palace of Justice, on Wednesday. Deliry mobilized a class-action effort to hold French health authorities and companies accountable after thousands of people with the virus died in nursing homes. Associated Press/Lewis Joly

“We want to ensure that mistakes aren’t repeated, that someone is held responsible,” said plaintiff Sabrina Deliry, who has mobilized families around France since her mother’s Paris nursing home was first locked down a year ago.

The hearing Wednesday involves a special measure to demand access to documents or other material involving decisions at nursing homes. It is among many legal efforts around the mismanagement of the pandemic that are working through the French justice system. Others include manslaughter charges, or target top government ministers, but this could be one of the most far-reaching cases.

It targets several nursing homes, the national health agency DGS, the Paris public hospital authority and others. Plaintiffs include family members of nursing home residents, doctors and associations.

Their complaint focuses on multiple issues at French homes for the elderly and disabled during the first half of 2020. Those flaws included mask shortages for residents and staff; testing shortages; the use of a powerful sedative called Rivotril on some residents while homes were locked down; and opaque decisions on which residents received hospital treatment for the virus and which were left to suffer or die in their nursing homes.

Abortion concerns prompt Catholic bishops’ warning on vaccine

NEW ORLEANS  — Roman Catholic leaders in St. Louis and New Orleans are advising Catholics that the COVID-19 vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, newly approved for use in the U.S., is “morally compromised” because it is produced using a cell line derived from an aborted fetus.

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Vials of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine in the United States. Johnson & Johnson via Associated Press

The New Orleans archdiocese says the decision to receive a vaccine is one of individual conscience. In its statement late last week, it stopped short of advising Catholics not to take the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but adds that Catholics should choose coronavirus vaccines made by Moderna or Pfizer — if they are available.

The Archdiocese of St. Louis on Tuesday encouraged Catholics to seek out the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines and avoid the Johnson & Johnson version if possible. Like the New Orleans archdiocese statement, the St. Louis statement called the Johnson & Johnson vaccine “morally compromised.” However, the St. Louis statement stressed that Catholics can get that vaccine “in good conscience if no other alternative is available.”

Later Tuesday, a statement issued by chairmen of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ committees on doctrine and abortion issues issued a statement reiterating the moral concerns. It said the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines are preferable “if one has the ability to choose a vaccine.”

While not disputing the church officials’ contention that an abortion-derived cell line is used in the production, Johnson & Johnson issued a statement Tuesday stressing that there is no fetal tissue in its vaccine.

Third wave of virus hits Stockholm

STOCKHOLM — A top health official in the Swedish capital says a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic has hit Stockholm after a drop in cases after the New Year. Cases in the capital have been rising sharply for the past three weeks.

“We do not want to see a development where the need for health care increases sharply,” said Johan Bratt, the capital city’s health director.

The last week of February saw 6,336 new cases, almost double the 3,225 new cases recorded three weeks earlier.

Officials in neighboring Norway said restaurants and gyms in some areas would be closed after pockets of virus outbreaks in the capital Oslo and elsewhere. The move comes after more cases of the virus mutations have been reported in Norway. The changes apply as of Wednesday.

Province won’t give AstraZeneca to older Canadians, citing limited data on effectiveness

TORONTO — The health minister of Canada’s most populous province says Ontario seniors won’t receive the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine since there’s limited data on its effectiveness in older populations.

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott says Ontario plans to follow the advice of a national panel that’s recommended against using the newly approved vaccine on people aged 65 and older.

Elliott says for anyone over that age, it’s recommended that they receive either the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccine.

There are no concerns that the vaccine is unsafe for use, but Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization said this week that the vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are preferred for seniors due to “suggested superior efficacy.″

France said this week it will allow some people over 65 to receive the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, after initially restricting its use to younger populations because of limited data on the drug’s effectiveness.


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