WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Monday appeared to boost his goal for coronavirus vaccinations in his first 100 days in office, suggesting the nation could soon be injecting 1.5 million shots on an average per day.

Biden signaled his increasing bullishness on the pace of vaccinations after signing an executive order to boost government purchases from U.S. manufacturers. It was among a flurry of moves by Biden during his first full week to show he’s taking swift action to heal an ailing economy as talks with Congress over a $1.9 trillion stimulus package showed few signs of progress.

Biden reiterated that he believes the country is in a precarious spot and and that relief is urgently needed, even as he dismissed the possibility of embracing a scaled-down bill to secure passage faster. Among the features of the stimulus plan are a national vaccination program, aid to reopen schools, direct payments of $1,400 to individuals and financial relief for state and local governments.

Biden’s new vaccination target comes after he and his aides faced criticism for the 100 million goal in his first 100 days in office. The U.S. has exceeded a pace of 1 million doses per day over the last week.

“I think we may be able to get that to … 1.5 million a day, rather than 1 million a day,” Biden said, “but we have to meet that goal of a million a day.”

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New Hampshire reverses policy, now bans vaccinations for out-of-state homeowners

CONCORD, N.H. — Nonresidents are no longer eligible to get coronavirus vaccinations in New Hampshire, state officials said Monday.

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New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, shown in November, said on Monday that some vaccination appointments are being scheduled as late as April, but the state will move up appointment slots if it gets more vaccine. Charles Krupa/Associated Press

Earlier rules would have allowed anyone who owned property in New Hampshire, including second homeowners and out-of-state landlords, to get vaccinated in the state, regardless of where they actually live. But after some backlash, the state updated its guidance to say that only New Hampshire residents are eligible. Such residency must be proven with documentation such as a driver’s license or a recent payroll check showing a legal New Hampshire address.

In neighboring states, Maine is limiting vaccines to residents, while Vermont is administering vaccines to residents and those who work in the state.

Vaccinations began Saturday for the more than 300,000 people in Phase 1B, which includes those aged 65 and older, people with multiple qualifying medical conditions, corrections workers and those living and working in residential facilities for people with developmental disabilities. While the next phase is supposed to start in March, if the state doesn’t begin getting more doses, it would take well into May to finish the current phase.

Since registration opened Friday, nearly 200,000 people have signed up, and more than 60 percent have scheduled their first appointments, Gov. Chris Sununu said. While some appointments are being scheduled as late as April, the state will move up appointment slots if it gets more vaccine.

First case of Brazil coronavirus variant identified in the United States

Minnesota officials announced Monday they have identified a person infected with a highly transmissible variant of the coronavirus that has been spreading at alarming rates in recent weeks in Brazil. This is the first report in the United States of the so-called P.1 variant.

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A woman of the Ticuna Indigenous group gets her shot of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Ticuna de Umariaçu village health post in Tabatinga, Amazonas state, in Brazil last week. Andre Borges/Associated Press

The Minnesota Department of Health said the case involved “a Minnesota resident with recent travel history to Brazil,” and the variant was detected through genomic sequencing of random blood samples. The person, a resident of the Twin Cities metro area, reported feeling sick the first week of January, and was tested Jan. 9.

“This isn’t surprising. It’s a very difficult development, but at the same time not unexpected,” Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and an adviser to President Biden’s coronavirus response team, said in an interview.

All viruses mutate, and there are countless variants in circulation. The Brazil variant is one of three that have drawn particular global attention. The other two were first identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa. There is some overlap in the mutations in the three variants, but they arose independently and, along with other variants under review, provide a vivid reminder that the coronavirus is not a static target for vaccines and the human immune system.

California to lift virus statewide stay-at-home orders

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California Gov. Gavin Newsom will lift regional stay-at-home orders on Monday and announce the state is returning to a system of county-by-county restrictions intended to stem the spread of the coronavirus, two administration officials with knowledge said.

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom, shown in May,  said the state is returning to a system of county-by-county restrictions intended to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Eric Risberg, Pool/Associated Press

The decision comes with improving trends in the rate of infections, hospitalizations and intensive care unit capacity as well as vaccinations. The order had been in place in the San Francisco Bay Area, San Joaquin Valley and Southern California. The change will allow businesses such as restaurants to resume outdoor operations in many areas.

During the weekend, San Francisco Bay Area ICU capacity surged to 23 percent while the San Joaquin Valley increased to 1.3 percent, its first time above zero. The huge Southern California region, the most populous, remains at zero ICU capacity.

The change is based on projections, but the state has not disclosed the data behind the forecasts.

Early last year, the state developed a system of color-coded tiers that dictated the level of restrictions on businesses and individuals based on virus conditions in each of California’s 58 counties.

Then, as COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations exploded, Newsom put in place a new system that grouped counties into five regions: Southern California, San Joaquin Valley, Bay Area, Greater Sacramento and Northern California. Stay-at-home orders took effect if a region’s ICU capacity fell below 15 percent.

Mexican president tests positive for COVID-19, symptoms mild

MEXICO CITY — Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador was working from isolation on Monday, a day after announcing that he had tested positive for COVID-19, his interior secretary said.

The president was absent for the first time in his two years in office from his daily news conference.

Having shaped an administration so reliant on himself for everything from setting priorities to making public statements, López Obrador’s absence felt all the greater. It comes as his country registers its highest levels of infections and deaths to date.

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Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador gives his daily, morning news conference at the presidential palace, Palacio Nacional, in Mexico City on Dec. 18, 2020. López Obrador says he has tested positive for COVID-19 and is under medical treatment, Sunday. AP Photo/Marco Ugarte, File

López Obrador spoke by phone Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his spokesman, Jesus Ramirez, said afterward on Twitter that Mexico would receive 24 million doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19, though it has not yet been approved for use in the country.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard, who is also isolating and awaiting test results, said via Twitter that López Obrador had appeared “with resolute spirit, working and looking good.”

López Obrador, who has been criticized for his handling of Mexico’s pandemic and for not setting an example of prevention in public, announced the diagnosis Sunday on his official Twitter account, saying, “The symptoms are mild but I am already under medical treatment.”

José Luis Alomía Zegarra, Mexico’s director of epidemiology, said the 67-year-old López Obrador had a “light” case of COVID-19 and was “isolating at home.”

On Monday, Interior Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero said the president had designated her to hold the daily briefings until his return. She said López Obrador was well and strong.

“He is carrying out his functions as president of the republic. He will continue keeping an eye on public affairs,” she said. Sánchez Cordero, who spoke without wearing a mask, said she was awaiting test results of her own.

Despite his age and high blood pressure, López Obrador has not received a vaccine shot, though Mexico has received batches of Pfizer-BioNTech doses. He has said that health workers would be the first to get them. Under the government plan, people over 60 will start being vaccinated in February.

López Obrador has rarely been seen wearing a mask and continued to keep up a busy travel schedule, taking commercial flights.

He spent the weekend in San Luis Potosi and Nuevo Leon states, where he was photographed without a mask.

He has also resisted locking down the economy, noting the devastating effect it would have on so many Mexicans who live day to day, despite that the country has registered nearly 150,000 COVID-19 deaths and more than 1.7 million infections. A new wave of infections has pushed the health system of the country’s capital city close to saturation.

Early in the pandemic, asked how he was protecting Mexico, López Obrador took two religious amulets from his wallet and proudly showed them off.

“The protective shield is the ‘Get thee behind me, Satan,’” López Obrador said, reading off the inscription on the amulet, “Stop, enemy, for the Heart of Jesus is with me.”

Moderna vaccine protects against British and South African variants, company say

The coronavirus vaccine developed by Moderna triggers an immune response that protected in laboratory tests against two variants of the virus first detected in Britain and South Africa, the company said Monday.

The finding was largely encouraging but contained a clear warning sign: Even though the vaccine generated disease-fighting antibodies that worked against the South African variant, that efficacy was diminished. Moderna said there was a reduction in response, prompting the company to design a new potential vaccine that could be added to the current two-dose regimen.

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A nurse draws some Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to give to people at a California drive thru vaccination center in Sacramento on Jan. 21. Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli

As a precaution, Moderna announced that it will begin two new studies. The company will test adding a third shot of its current vaccine to boost its two-dose regimen. The biotechnology company also plans early human tests of the all-new vaccine specific to the South African variant, using it as a booster to prime the immune system to the new strain.

“The virus is changing its stripes, and we will change to make sure we can beat the virus where it’s going,” Moderna President Stephen Hoge said in an interview. “The unknown is: Would we feel it’s necessary to do that, would public health officials want this at that point or would they still be comfortable? What we’re trying to do is create an option.”

The success of two remarkably effective coronavirus vaccines in record time last year provided the world some breathing room and hope, even as the pandemic surged. But the detection of both variants late last year caused immediate concern, first because of evidence that they were spreading far more easily. Many of the mutations in each variant – eight of those found in the British variant and 10 of those in the South African variant – drew special concern because they sit in the spiky proteins that dot the outside of the coronavirus and have been the key target for vaccines and therapeutics. That raised the specter that the current generation of vaccines might be rendered obsolete before they have even been fully rolled out.

The company’s announcement puts some of those fears to rest, suggesting that the vaccines will still work against both variants. But the science on vaccines is far from resolved, as was illustrated by the surprising announcement Monday that Merck, a longtime vaccine company, was abandoning its two candidates, finding that both triggered inferior immune responses compared with other vaccines and natural infection.

The Merck vaccine effort started later and significantly lagged other companies, and the nation’s vaccination plan wasn’t heavily reliant on a possible Merck shot. The two authorized vaccines use a novel approach that had never been used in an authorized vaccine, while Merck employed a more traditional approach.

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Merck gives up on two potential COVID-19 vaccines, citing poor results

Merck is giving up on two potential COVID-19 vaccines following poor results in early-stage studies.

The drugmaker said Monday that it will focus instead on studying two possible treatments for the virus that also have yet to be approved by regulators. The company said its potential vaccines were well tolerated by patients, but they generated an inferior immune system response compared with other vaccines.

Merck was developing one of the potential vaccines with France’s Pasteur Institute based on an existing measles vaccine. The French institute said it will keep working on two other vaccine projects using different methods.

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Merck corporate headquarters in Kenilworth, N.J. in May 2018. The drugmaker will stop developing two potential COVID-19 vaccines after seeing poor results in early-stage studies. AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File

Merck entered the race to fight COVID-19 later than other top drugmakers.

It said last fall that it had started early-stage research in volunteers on potential vaccines that require only one dose. Vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna were already in late-stage research at that point.

The Food and Drug Administration allowed emergency use of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines late last year. Each requires two shots.

Five potential vaccines have reached late-stage testing in the United States, the final phase before a drugmaker seeks approval from regulators. Results from a single-dose candidate developed by Johnson & Johnson are expected soon.

Since vaccinations began in December, nearly 22 million doses have been delivered to people nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly 6 percent of the population has received at least one dose.

A total of 3.2 million people, or 1 percent of the population, have received both doses required for those vaccines.

More than 419,000 people in the United States and 2 million globally have died due to the coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The government is paying Merck & Co. about $356 million to fast-track production of one of its potential treatments under Operation Warp Speed, a push to develop COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. The money will allow the Kenilworth, New Jersey, company to deliver up to 100,000 doses by June 30, if the FDA clears the treatment for emergency use.

The treatment, known as MK-7110, has the potential to minimize the damaging effects of an overactive immune response to COVID-19. This immune response can complicate the life-saving efforts of doctors and nurses.

Merck said early results from a late-stage study of that drug showed a more than 50 percent reduction in the risk of death or respiratory failure in patients hospitalized with moderate or severe COVID-19. The company expects full results from that study in the first quarter.

Merck’s other potential treatment is an oral antiviral drug. The company also expects to see early results from mid-to-late-stage research on that in the first quarter.

Preparations underway to upgrade vaccine to combat variant

WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci says scientists are already preparing to upgrade COVID-19 vaccines to address the variants of the coronavirus now circulating in the United Kingdom and South Africa.

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, laughs while speaking in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House, Thursday, Jan. 21, in Washington. AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, says those variants are not only more infectious but they do not respond as well to the monoclonal antibodies that have been used in treating patients. He said he was especially concerned about the South African variant, which he described as “different and more ominous than the one in the UK.”

”The data has not come out officially, but taking a look at the preliminary data that the UK scientists have analyzed, I’m pretty convinced that there is a degree of increase in seriousness of the actual infection, which we really have to keep an eye on,” Fauci told NBC’s “Today.”

Fauci said there is also “a very slight, modest diminution” of the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines against those variants but “there’s enough cushion with the vaccines that we have that we still consider them to be effective against both the UK strain and the South Africa strain.”

“We really need to make sure that we begin, and we already have, to prepare if it’s necessary to upgrade the vaccines,” Fauci said. “We’re already taking steps in that direction despite the fact that the vaccines we have now do work,” Fauci spoke on NBC’s “Today” show and “CBS This Morning.”

Hundreds of cars line up at Czech-German border after Czech Republic declared high-risk

BERLIN — German police say hundreds of cars and pedestrians are lining up at border crossings along the Czech-German border after Germany declared the Czech Republic a high risk area in the pandemic, meaning it requires proof a negative coronavirus test results before entry.

At the crossings in Waldmuenchen and Fuerth im Wald authorities said hundreds of cars lined up on the Czech side trying to get into Germany in the early morning hours. Further backup was expected during the day Monday.

Since Sunday, people from the Czech Republic need to show negative test results no older than 48 hours every time they enter Germany.

The Czechs who commute to work in neighboring Germany formed long lines at some border crossings, waiting for required tests on the coronavirus.

The Czechs were boosting the capacity of their testing site at the crossings and elsewhere to meet the growing demand.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis was scheduled to discuss the situation with his Bavarian counterpart Markus Söder.

Other Czechs who don’t work in the neighboring country on a daily basis have to have a test but also need to isolate for 10 days if they travel to Germany.

Bangladesh receives 5 million vaccine doses

DHAKA, Bangladesh — Bangladesh has taken delivery of 5 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from an Indian producer.

Bangladesh has planned to buy 30 million doses of vaccines from the Serum Institute of India in phases. Bangladeshi company Beximco Pharmaceuticals Ltd. has received the consignment of 5 million doses as distributor in the South Asian country.

On Thursday, the country received 2 million doses of the vaccine as a gift from India while Monday’s vaccines were purchased.

The vaccines, manufactured under license by Serum Institute of India, will primarily be given to frontline workers including doctors and nurses. The government says the inoculation is expected to start soon.

Since March, Bangladesh has recorded more than 8,000 deaths from coronavirus.

Australia suspended travel bubble with New Zealand

SYDNEY — Australia has suspended its partial travel bubble with New Zealand after New Zealand reported its first coronavirus case outside of a quarantine facility in two months.

Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt said Monday the suspension would last for three days and was being implemented out of an abundance of caution. Travelers affected need to cancel or face two weeks in quarantine upon arrival.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she’d told Morrison she had confidence in New Zealand’s systems and processes, but it was up to Australia to decide how they managed their borders.

Health officials in New Zealand say genome tests indicate the woman contracted the virus from another returning traveler just before leaving quarantine. However, there was no evidence the virus has spread further.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said the 56-year-old woman had recently returned from Europe. During her mandatory two weeks in quarantine, she tested negative twice. She developed symptoms at home later and tested positive.

Officials say the woman appears to have caught the more infectious South African variant of the virus from another traveler on her second-to-last day in quarantine, and they’re investigating how the health breach happened.

Australia OKs Pfizer vaccine

SYDNEY — Australia’s medical regulator has approved use of its first coronavirus vaccine, paving the way for inoculations to begin next month.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration on Monday gave provisional approval for people aged 16 and over to use the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech. Residents and workers at aged-care facilities, frontline healthcare workers and quarantine workers are among the groups being prioritized for the first doses.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison welcomed the development. He said Australia was among the first countries to complete a comprehensive process to formally approve a vaccine rather than just grant an emergency approval.

Australia has an agreement for 10 million doses of the two-dose Pfizer vaccine and an option to buy more if supplies allow. It also has ordered, conditional on regulatory approval, 53.8 million doses of the vaccine made by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, 50 million of which would be made in Australia in a partnership with Melbourne-based biopharmaceutical company CSL.

Australia is aiming to complete inoculations by October. The nation of 26 million people has reported fewer than 30,000 virus cases and a little over 900 deaths.

Hong Kong lockdown in Kowloon lifted

HONG KONG — A lockdown in part of Hong Kong’s Kowloon neighborhood was lifted Monday after thousands of residents were tested for the virus.

The lockdown that began early Saturday covered 16 buildings in the working-class Yau Tsim Mong district. During the lockdown, residents were not allowed to leave their premises until they had tested negative for the coronavirus.

The district has been at the center of a worsening coronavirus outbreak, with over 160 cases reported over the first three weeks in January. Higher concentrations of the virus were also found in sewage samples, prompting fears the virus could be transmitted via poorly installed plumbing systems in subdivided units that lack ventilation.

The government said in a statement early Monday that about 7,000 people were tested for the coronavirus during the lockdown, with 13 positive infections found. As of Sunday, Hong Kong has reported 10,086 cases of the coronavirus overall, with 169 deaths recorded.


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