Public health experts Thursday blamed COVID-19 vaccine shortages around the U.S. in part on the Trump administration’s push to get states to vastly expand their vaccination drives to reach the nation’s estimated 54 million people age 65 and over.

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A man seeking COVID-19 vaccine holds his paperwork as he talks to a New York City health department worker outside a closed vaccine hub Thursday. Associated Press/Kathy Willens

The push that began over a week ago has not been accompanied by enough doses to meet demand, according to state and local officials, leading to frustration and confusion and limiting states’ ability to attack the outbreak that has killed over 400,000 Americans.

Over the past few days, authorities in California, Ohio, West Virginia, Florida and Hawaii warned that their supplies were running out. New York City began canceling or postponing shots or stopped making new appointments because of the shortages, which President Joe Biden has vowed to turn around. Florida’s top health official said the state would deal with the scarcity by restricting vaccines to state residents.

The vaccine rollout so far has been “a major disappointment,” said Dr. Eric Topol, head of the Scripps Research Translational Institute.

Problems started with the Trump administration’s “fatal mistake” of not ordering enough vaccine, which was then snapped up by other countries, Topol said. Then, opening the line to senior citizens set people up for disappointment because there wasn’t enough vaccine, he said. The Trump administration also left crucial planning to the states and didn’t provide the necessary funding.

Read the full story here.

Scientists developing mask sensor that detects coronavirus

SAN DIEGO — The National Institutes of Health has awarded the University of California, San Diego $1.3 million to develop a small, wearable sensor that can tell whether a person has the novel coronavirus or has been exposed to it by someone else.

The lightweight sensor would be attached to face masks to monitor for the presence of coronavirus-related molecules that appear in a person’s breath and saliva. The “surveillance” test strip also would detect virus molecules expelled by someone else and possibly inhaled by the user of the mask.

The user would squeeze the sensor to see if it turns color, denoting a positive reading. The process is similar to the one used to check results in a home pregnancy test. If there’s a positive reading, the face mask user would then get a test to confirm the infection. The result would be available almost immediately. The sensor also is meant to be useful in contact tracing.

“This would be a way of identifying outbreaks early,” said Jesse Jokerst, the UCSD nanoengineering professor who is leading the project. “We’re repurposing something that people are already wearing to sort of monitor the environment.”

The test strip, which could be ready for use later this year, is a variation of things that UCSD is already doing to detect and stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Last fall, the university began placing sensors in its wastewater system to monitor for the presence of the virus in sewage coming out of specific buildings. When there’s a positive reading, UCSD alerts people who might have been using the buildings at specific times and asks them to get a COVID-19 test.

The early-warning system is the largest of its kind at an American university and is likely to be in use for quite a while. Although UCSD has taken many steps to slow the spread of the virus, the campus has experienced a surge in infections since the winter quarter began Jan. 4. The school says 311 students have tested positive for the virus. More than 40 percent of the students who tested positive live on campus. UCSD also reports that 87 of its employees have tested positive.

Appointments postponed at 15 New York City vaccine sites as supply lags

NEW YORK — Fifteen COVID-19 vaccination hubs run by New York City are postponing all first-dose appointments and other sites have stopped making new appointments as the state burns through its supply of the shots, officials said Thursday.

A cyclist passes a closed vaccination center at the George Westinghouse High School on Thursday in New York. Officials say 15 New York City-run COVID-19 vaccination hubs are postponing all first-dose appointments as the city waits for more vaccine supplies. Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

Vaccinations in the city haven’t stopped, Mayor Bill de Blasio said. Another 45,000 doses were administered Wednesday, bringing the total number of people who have gotten a shot in the city to nearly half a million.

But the city’s capacity to hand out shots, which was initially limited, now far exceeds the number of doses available.

“We’re going to be at 50,000 a day and more very soon if we have the vaccine to go with it,” de Blasio said. “It’s just tremendously sad that we have so many people who want the vaccine and so much ability to give the vaccine, what’s happening? For lack of supply, we’re actually having to cancel appointments.”

Both de Blasio and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo have been pleading for more doses of the two vaccines that have been approved for emergency use, both of which require two doses for maximum effectiveness.

In the meantime, all Jan. 21 through Jan. 24 appointments for the first dose of the vaccine at 15 community vaccination hubs set up by the city health department have been postponed to next week.

Other health department-run clinics, including 24-hour sites in Manhattan and Queens, are continuing to operate, said health commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi, who joined de Blasio at a video briefing.

An additional three sites run by the city’s public hospital system are running, “but vaccine is running low and all of the appointments are filled,” said Dr. Mitchell Katz, head of the hospital system.

The hodgepodge of locations where people can get vaccinated in New York City also includes private hospital systems, state-run sites and sites run by unions or employers. Some of those sites have also canceled or postponed appointments. Mount Sinai Hospital announced last week that it would “temporarily pause scheduling of non-employees” from Jan. 15 through Jan. 19.

The cancellations are an unwelcome hurdle for New Yorkers who struggled to book appointments in the first place.

Canada’s vaccine rollout hits snags despite huge orders

Canada came out No. 1 in the global race to secure vaccines against Covid-19, pre-ordering enough shots to inoculate its 38 million people three times over. You wouldn’t know it, though, from the pace of vaccinations.

Canada has administered about 684,000 doses, enough to give first shots to about 1.8% of the population, according to Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker, though some people have already gotten two. That compares with roughly 7.6% in the U.K. and 5.2% in the U.S. Israel, leading all nations, has administered enough vaccine to give first shots to nearly a third of its population.

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford looks on as the vaccine is administered to personal support worker in Toronto on Jan. 4. Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via Associated Press

Canada’s campaign hit another roadblock last week, when Pfizer Inc. said it would temporarily reduce deliveries outside the U.S. as it renovates a factory in Belgium to boost capacity. Canada won’t receive any shipment from the pharmaceutical giant next week.

“Pfizer’s global supply issues are not ideal, but that’s why we were so ambitious in the large number of contracts we signed and doses we secured,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters this week. “The total number of doses committed to us is still the same, with every Canadian who wants to get vaccinated able to get vaccinated by September.”

Canada has ordered 40 million doses from Pfizer, amounting to less than 20% of the country’s commitments.

The delay is a blow to Canada, where a resurgence of the virus since October has pushed hospitals near capacity, prompting provinces to add restrictions, including a curfew in Quebec. While Canada is hardly alone in its struggle to roll out the vaccine, the subdued start and the Pfizer hurdle have increased tensions between Trudeau and the provinces, and emboldened his critics.

“Canada is a proud, strong G7 nation,” Erin O’Toole, the leader of the opposition Conservative Party, said in written statement Tuesday. “We cannot accept this kind of failure — not with so much at stake.”

Canada’s vaccination ratio ranks 14th worldwide on the vaccine tracker, behind Ireland and Iceland and ahead of Austria, Romania and Germany. The sluggish start has been a particularly sore point as vaccinations accelerated in the U.S., which ranks fifth, just below the U.K. The contrast between the North American neighbors was highlighted in news reports showing Canadian snowbirds happily getting shots in Florida.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce likes Biden’s virus plan

WASHINGTON — The largest business lobbying group in the U.S. is supporting President Joe Biden’s early moves to confront the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce chief policy officer Neil Bradley says Biden is correct in his assessment that controlling the coronavirus is the key to fully reopening the economy.

“America must return to health before we can restore economic growth and get the 10 million Americans who lost their jobs in the last year back to work,” Bradley said. “We support the new administration’s focus on removing roadblocks to vaccinations and reopening schools, both of which are important steps to accelerating a broad-based economic recovery for all Americans.”

Biden’s predecessor had put pressure on states to quickly reopen. The U.S. is facing its most deadly wave of the pandemic, with joblessness on the rise again.

The U.S. Chamber is particularly influential with Republican Congressional lawmakers, who hold sway over Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion coronavirus package.

Read about the virus plan here.

Drug can prevent COVID-19 illness in nursing homes, study shows

INDIANAPOLIS  — Drugmaker Eli Lilly said Thursday its antibody drug can prevent COVID-19 illness in residents and staff of nursing homes and other long-term care locations.

It’s the first major study to show such a treatment may prevent illness in a group that has been devastated by the pandemic.

Nursing home residents line up for the COVID-19 vaccine in New York City on Jan. 15. Associated Press/Yuki Iwamura

Residents and staff who got the drug had up to a 57% lower risk of getting COVID-19 compared to others at the same facility who got a placebo, the drugmaker said. Among nursing home residents only, the risk was reduced by up to 80%.

The study involved more than 1,000 residents and staff at nursing homes and other long-term care locations like assisted living homes. The vast majority tested negative at the start of the study. Some were assigned to get the drug, which is given through an IV, and others got placebo infusions.

The research was conducted with the National Institutes of Health. Results were released in a press release, and the company said it would publish more details in a journal soon.

Among the nearly 300 residents who did not have COVID-19, four later got the disease and died. Lilly said all of them had received the placebo.

The Food and Drug Administration in November allowed emergency use of Lilly antibody drug as a treatment for people ages 12 and older with mild or moderate cases of COVID-19 that do not require hospitalization. It’s a one-time treatment.

Lilly said it plans to work with regulators to see about expanding the authorization to prevent and treat COVID-19 in long-term care facilities, where vaccinations are already underway.

Experts have said drugs like Lilly’s could serve as a bridge to help manage the virus until vaccines are widely available.

Biden to ramp up virus vaccinations, testing, mask-wearing

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is putting forth a national COVID-19 strategy to ramp up vaccinations and testing, reopen schools and businesses and increase the use of masks for travel.

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President Joe Biden pauses as he signs his first executive orders in the Oval Office of the White House on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Biden will address inequities in hard-hit minority communities as he signs 10 pandemic-related executive orders on Thursday, his second day in office.

Biden administration officials say a coordinated nationwide effort is needed to defeat the virus. They’re also depending on Congress to provide $1.9 trillion for economic relief and COVID-19 response.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will set up vaccination centers, aiming to have 100 up and running in a month. Biden ordered the CDC to make vaccines available through local pharmacies starting next month.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s top medical adviser on the coronavirus, also announced renewed U.S. support for the World Health Organization.

Read the full story here.

Amazon offers to help with national vaccine distribution

SEATTLE  — Amazon is offering its colossal operations network and advanced technologies to assist President Joe Biden in his vow to get 100 million COVID-19 vaccinations to Americans in his first 100 days in office.

“We are prepared to leverage our operations, information technology, and communications capabilities and expertise to assist your administration’s vaccination efforts,” wrote the CEO of Amazon’s Worldwide Consumer division, Dave Clark, in a letter to Biden. “Our scale allows us to make a meaningful impact immediately in the fight against COVID-19, and we stand ready to assist you in this effort.”

Packages move down a conveyor system were they are directed to the proper shipping area at the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Sacramento, Calif. in February 2018. AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File

Amazon said that it has already arranged a licensed third-party occupational health care provider to give vaccines on-site at its facilities for its employees when they become available.

Amazon has more than 800,000 employees in the United States, Clark wrote, most of whom essential workers who cannot work from home and should be vaccinated as soon as possible.

Biden will sign 10 pandemic-related executive orders on Thursday, his second day in office, but the administration says efforts to supercharge the rollout of vaccines have been hampered by lack of cooperation from the Trump administration during the transition. They say they don’t have a complete understanding of the previous administration’s actions on vaccine distribution.

Biden is also depending on Congress to provide $1.9 trillion for economic relief and COVID-19 response. There are a litany of complaints from states that say they are not getting enough vaccine even as they are being asked to vaccinate a broader swath of Americans.

According to data through January 20 from Johns Hopkins University, the seven-day rolling average for daily new deaths in the U.S. rose over the past two weeks from 2,677.3 on January 6 to 3,054.1 on Wednesday. More than 400,000 people in the U.S. have died from COVID-19.

Fauci praises WHO leadership in pandemic, signaling break from Trump era

Anthony S. Fauci, the chief medical adviser to President Biden, praised the leadership of the World Health Organization on Thursday in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic, a dramatic departure from the attitude of the previous U.S. administration.

Hours after taking office, Biden signed directives to reengage with the WHO and join its effort to distribute coronavirus vaccines around the world, reversing the position of the Trump administration, which repeatedly criticized the U.N. agency.

Fauci, who is also the United States’ top infectious-disease expert, led the U.S. delegation to the group’s executive board meeting and confirmed Biden’s decision, which includes honoring financial obligations to the cash-strapped health body.

“I join my fellow representatives in thanking the World Health Organization for its role in leading the global response to this pandemic,” he said via videoconference. “Under trying circumstances, this organization has rallied the scientific and research community to accelerate vaccines, therapies and diagnostics.”

He also praised the WHO’s efforts in providing medical supplies to countries and giving regular briefings on the progress of the pandemic around the world.

Medical oxygen is a critical need in Africa

NAIROBI, Kenya — The director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says access to medical oxygen is a “huge, huge critical need” across the continent as Africa’s case fatality rate from COVID-19 is now above the global average and health centers are overwhelmed.

John Nkengasong said the case fatality rate across the African continent is 2.5% while the global average is 2.2%. And while confirmed coronavirus cases in the past week across Africa dropped by 7%, deaths rose by 10%.

“It’s beginning to be very worrying,” Nkengasong told reporters Thursday. He noted that a Nigerian colleague has said struggling health workers are having to decide which cases to manage and which not to manage in Africa’s most populous country.

Twenty-one of Africa’s more than 50 countries have case fatality rates above the global average, led by Sudan at 6.2%. The continent has seen more than 6,000 deaths in the past week, with more than 81,000 overall. Africa has had more than 3.3 million confirmed virus cases. Almost all African countries are still waiting for COVID-19 vaccines.

Spring term: New wave of coronavirus uncertainty slams higher education

Johns Hopkins University is revving up for a wider opening in Baltimore after a months-long clampdown to fight the pandemic. But undergraduate classes will remain online for the first week.

The College of William & Mary in Virginia and the University of Maryland at College Park won’t start teaching in person until the spring term is two weeks old. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will hold off for three weeks.

These are but a few examples among many of the profound and continuing havoc that the coronavirus crisis has wreaked in higher education. The intensification of the pandemic in recent weeks, with viral infections and COVID-19 hospitalizations surging nationwide, has unleashed a new wave of uncertainty.

“It still seems like 2020 to me,” University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins said. “We are still in this fight. But we feel confident that we’ve learned a lot.”

The semester began last week at the public university in Tucson with all classes online except for “essential in-person” teaching, much of that in laboratories. Robbins is promoting a January viral “testing blitz” to help keep the campus safe.

By now, schools and students are accustomed to the flux after the pandemic abruptly emptied campuses last March and caused widespread upheaval at the start of the school year in August and September.

Weary of the disruptions, students yearn to return to the classroom.

“Nothing beats in person,” said Anthony Joseph, who is the student government president at William & Mary, a public university in Williamsburg

Colleges are racing to restore a sense of togetherness after a fall semester held under extraordinary — and deeply isolating — public health restrictions. Some campuses were almost vacant. Others housed modest numbers of students but taught remotely. Some opened up residence halls more broadly and taught mostly in person. Many used “hybrid” techniques that blended online and face-to-face experiences.

The choices that schools make are pivotal to public health. COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has killed more than 400,000 people in the United States. Variants of the coronavirus are threatening to accelerate its spread even as authorities are stepping up a national vaccination campaign.

On Jan. 8, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study of what happened at the outset of the fall semester in counties that are home to universities with at least 20,000 students. The report found that the incidence of infection tended to decline where schools taught remotely and rise where schools taught in person.

The CDC said schools can limit spread of the virus through measures such as mask-wearing, social distancing and expansion of viral testing. Regulating behavior outside the classroom is crucial: College and university leaders say the virus spreads much more off campus than in academic spaces.

Ahead of the Lunar New Year celebration, China imposes restrictions

BEIJING — China is imposing some of its toughest travel restrictions yet as coronavirus cases surge in several northern provinces ahead of the Lunar New Year.

Next month’s festival is the most important time of the year for family gatherings in China, and for many migrant workers it is often the only time they are able to return to their rural homes.

This year, however, travelers must have a negative virus test within seven days of departure, and many local governments are ordering quarantines and other strict measures on travelers.

A national health official had this message Wednesday for Chinese citizens: “Do not travel or have gatherings unless it’s necessary.”

Officials are predicting Chinese will make 1.7 billion trips during the travel rush. That is down 40% from 2019.


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