CONCORD, N.H. — All New Hampshire adults will be eligible for the coronavirus vaccine in a matter of weeks, Gov. Chris Sununu said Thursday.

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A New Hampshire resident gets ready to receive the Johnson & Johnson one-dose COVID-19 vaccine at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on March 6. Geoff Forester/The Concord Monitor via Associated Press

“We don’t have a firm date on that but it really is just weeks away that any adult citizen in the state of New Hampshire will be able to go to VINI and sign up for their vaccine,” he said. “Things are very progressing very, very quickly here in the state.”

The state started vaccinations with health care workers and other groups, followed by those ages 65 and up and those with multiple medical conditions. Eligibility expanded last week to include school and child care workers, and anyone age 50 years and older can start signing up Monday.

A new registration system went online Wednesday, and more than 10,000 people signed up in the first 24 hours, Sununu said.

The state hasn’t figured out whether New Hampshire college students from other states will be eligible to get vaccinated here, Sununu said. Residency for voting purposes has been a contentious issue in recent years, with Republicans pushing to prevent out-of-state students from voting, but vaccination remains an open question.

Sununu said officials are still deciding how to handle college students, part-time residents and those who may have gotten their first shots in other states but want to get their second in New Hampshire.

“All of that, we’ll really look at in the next couple of weeks and make sure we define it really clearly,” he said.

EU drug regulator finds no overall link between clots and AstraZeneca vaccine

LONDON — The European Union’s drug regulatory agency says experts have concluded that the AstraZeneca vaccine is not linked to an overall increase in the risk of blood clots and that the benefits of use outweigh the risks.

The finding from the European Medicines Agency could open the way for European countries that had suspended the use of the vaccine over the past week to resume dispensing the shots.

The head of the EMA, Emer Cooke, said Thursday that the agency “cannot rule out definitively a link” between rare types of blood clots and the vaccine, however, and experts recommend raising awareness among doctors and recipients of possible risks.

EMA recommended adding a description of these cases to the vaccine leaflets so health workers and patients would be aware of these rare blood clots.

But Cooke also said: “Our scientific position is that this vaccine is a safe and effective option to protect citizens against COVID-19. It demonstrated that at least 60 percent efficacy in clinical trials and preventing coronavirus disease. And in fact, the real-world evidence suggests that the effectiveness could be even higher than that.”

Numerous European countries had suspended use of the vaccine over the past week amid concerns over blood clots in a few dozen of the millions of people vaccinated with the formula across the continent.

Clots that form in the arms, legs or elsewhere can break free and travel to the heart, brain or lungs, causing strokes, heart attacks or other deadly blockages.

While many countries have continued to use the AstraZeneca vaccine, there are concerns the debate could seriously undermine confidence in the shot, which is key to efforts to vaccinate the world’s population, especially in poorer countries.

Read the full story here.

Biden to reach 100 million vaccinations goal 6 weeks early

President Biden is poised to meet his goal of delivering 100 million COVID-19 vaccine shots in his first 100 days in office as soon as Thursday, reaching the milestone more than a month ahead of time.

As of Wednesday, his 57th day in office, the U.S. had vaccinated nearly 98 million people since Biden’s inauguration. The pace of shots has risen to an average of nearly 2.5 million per day for the last week.

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People receive the COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination site in Las Vegas last month. John Locher/Associated Press

That leaves Biden within grasp of his target on Thursday — the 58th day of his presidency — and poised to hit it no later than Friday, barring a major slowdown. He’s scheduled to speak publicly on Thursday afternoon about the state of vaccinations.

With the pace continuing to accelerate, Biden is actually on course to double his goal and see 200 million shots by his 100th day as president, though hiccups in deliveries or rollout of the shots could impact that.

While some Republicans have belittled Biden’s initial goal as a low-ball target, he first made the 100 million shots in 100 days pledge in December, when there was substantial uncertainty about U.S. vaccine approvals, production capacity and deliveries.

He cast the goal as a realistic target, though it was less ambitious than the Trump administration’s baseline predictions. The vaccination campaign began during the Trump administration, and officials had said in December that they thought 200 million doses could be administered by the end of February.

But the inoculation effort began slowly, and only 75 million shots had been given by the beginning of March.

The achievement marks a significant political victory for Biden, who has made fighting the pandemic a cornerstone of his early presidency. And it comes after another win — passage of his $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package, which the administration is promoting in a series of trips to electoral battleground states this week.

Biden has begun linking the two, and promised to both cross the 100-million shot milestone and deliver 100 million checks to people over the coming week.

The pace of vaccinations has increased to 2.5 million a day from 900,000 when he took office. Biden has used the rising numbers to both boost shipments to states, and to open and expand other channels for shots, including at pharmacies and Community Health Centers.

Read the full story here.

U.S.-Canada border restrictions extended

TORONTO — Restrictions on nonessential travel at the U.S.-Canada border have been extended for an additional 30 days, government officials said Thursday.

Madawaska/Edmundston International Bridge Photo courtesy of Maine DOT

The measures have had limited impact on trade and the movement of some cross-border workers, but have upended life in close-knit border communities, separated loved ones and roiled the tourism industry. They will remain in place until at least April 21.

“Informed by science and public health guidance, we will work with our counterparts to identify an approach to easing restrictions when conditions permit and with the protection of our citizens from COVID-19 at the forefront of our minds,” said the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in a tweet.

U.S. lawmakers in some border states have pressed President Biden to lift some of the restrictions by the summer. Canadians largely support the measures, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has given no indication that they will be eased anytime soon.

Biden will send Mexico surplus vaccines, as U.S. seeks help on immigration enforcement

The Biden administration has agreed to supply Mexico with excess doses of the coronavirus vaccine, and Mexico is moving to help the United States contain a migration surge along its southern border, according to senior officials from both countries involved in the conversations.

The decision to send Astra-Zeneca vaccine to Mexico, and to Canada, is expected to be announced Friday. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had asked President Biden to help them fill vaccine shortfalls in recent talks.

Mexican and U.S. officials who described the agreement said it was not a quid pro quo conditioning the delivery of vaccines on an enforcement crackdown. Rather, the United States made clear it sought help from Mexico managing a record influx of Central American teenagers and children. Mexico pledged to take back more Central American families “expelled” under a U.S. emergency health order, while also urging Biden to share the U.S. vaccine supply, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the conversations.

A White House official said that “currently, we are assessing how we can loan AZ doses to both Canada and Mexico” and “assessing the feasibility” with companies.

“Our top priority remains vaccinating the U.S. population, but the reality is that this virus knows no borders and ensuring our neighbors can contain the virus is mission-critical to protecting the health and economic security of Americans and for stopping the spread of COVID-19 around the globe,” the official said.

A Bahraini prince planning to climb Mount Everest showed up in Nepal with thousands of coronavirus vaccine doses

When a Bahraini prince flew to Nepal to climb Mount Everest this week, he didn’t show up empty-handed: Among his cargo were some 2,000 coronavirus vaccine doses, according posts on his climbing team’s Instagram account.

It quickly became evident that the gesture, intended as a munificent gift for a remote mountain village, would turn out to be more of an international faux pas.

Nepal bans drug imports without permission, and health officials there said they had no idea that Sheikh Mohamed Hamad Mohamed al-Khalifa planned to carry out his own small-scale vaccination campaign. Taken by surprise, regulators are investigating the breach of protocols, and have yet to make a decision on whether the doses can be used.

“We have deployed a team of drug inspectors to investigate how the vaccines were brought into the country without any prior approval,” Bharat Bhattarai, director general of the Department of Drug Administration, told the Kathmandu Post. “We did not know that vaccines were being imported from Bahrain.”

Both Bahrain’s government and the Nepalese trekking company leading the expedition have said that permission to import the vaccines was granted by Nepal’s embassy in Bahrain, which apparently failed to alert health officials and drug regulators back in Kathmandu. That’s led to an awkward situation, as authorities seek to avoid the impression that wealthy foreigners can simply show up and distribute vaccine doses as they see fit, even if such a gift could be difficult to turn down.

Further complicating the matter, the Kathmandu Post on Thursday quoted anonymous Nepali health officials as saying that the vaccines were manufactured by Chinese maker Sinovac, whose coronavirus vaccine has not been approved for emergency use in Nepal.

But the Nepali Embassy in Bahrain has claimed that the prince donated Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine doses, which is already being administered in Nepal. Nepal’s health ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the origin of the doses.

U.S. schools, camps prepare summer of learning to help kids catch up

MISSION, Kan.  — After a dreary year spent largely at home in front of the computer, many U.S. children could be looking at summer school — and that’s just what many parents want.

Although the last place most kids want to spend summer is in a classroom, experts say that after a year of interrupted study, it’s crucial to do at least some sort of learning over the break, even if it’s not in school and is incorporated into traditional camp offerings.

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Students arrive for classes at the Immaculate Conception School in The Bronx on Sept. 9, 2020. Associated Press/John Minchillo

Several governors, including in California, Kansas and Virginia, are pushing for more summer learning. And some states are considering extending their 2021-22 academic year or starting the fall semester early. Many cities, meanwhile, are talking about beefing up their summer school programs, including Los Angeles, Hartford, Connecticut and Atlanta — the latter of which considered making summer school compulsory before settling for strongly recommending that kids who are struggling take part.

“People are exhausted right now, but they know that it is really important for our kids,” said Randi Weingarten, the head of American Federation of Teachers, who has been calling for what she described as a voluntary “second second semester” and for districts to start recruiting for it.

The new $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package should help, as it allocates $122 billion in aid to K-12 public schools, including $30 billion specifically for summer school, after-school and other enrichment programs.

The influx of money and increase in summer offerings has come as a relief to parents of kids who struggled with remote learning during the coronavirus pandemic.

Read the full story here.

Vaccine restrictions vanish in some states and counties, offering a glimpse of the future

Alaska’s top doctor awoke last Tuesday not knowing her state would throw open access to coronavirus vaccines that afternoon, making everyone 16 and older eligible for immunization.

Two messages that morning made clear to the chief medical officer, Anne Zink, that it was time to act. The first was a warning from a nurse on a statewide call that appointments for a large weekend clinic were going unclaimed. The second was a question from the governor, Republican Mike Dunleavy, who had seen the latest immunization data and phoned Zink to ask, “Why are we slowing down?”

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Larry Daugherty, a musher from Eagle River, carried empty packages of COVID-19 vaccine with him on the trail this year as mushers began the Iditarod Sled Dog Race in early March. Marc Lester/Anchorage Daily News via Associated Press

The abrupt decision March 9 to discard eligibility requirements in Alaska – making it the first state to do so – illustrates how quickly access is expanding throughout the country, and some of the reasons why. Chief among them is a lack of demand for the shots, as vaccine scarcity gives way to vaccine hesitancy, or even outright resistance in some communities.

Health officials said vaccine misinformation metastasizing online plays a role in that resistance and is adding to their sense of urgency about the pace of vaccinations. “It felt like we were in a race against not only the virus and the variants, but also misinformation,” Zink said.

Moves to simplify eligibility and expand access are signs of success, experts said. But as supply becomes more abundant, “vaccine hesitancy becomes all the more apparent,” said Katherine Poehling, a professor of pediatrics at the Wake Forest School of Medicine and a member of the panel that advises the government about how vaccines should be used.

Read the full story here.

Older people especially vulnerable to coronavirus reinfection without vaccine, study says

Most people who have contracted the coronavirus are protected against reinfection for at least six months — but that immunity diminishes significantly with age, according to a new study published in the Lancet medical journal.

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Carmela Sileo, left, and Susan McEachern sit next to each other and talk at a nursing home in Opelika, Ala. in February. Associated Press/Julie Bennett

The study by Danish researchers has highlighted the importance of vaccinating elderly populations, as well as previously infected individuals, as the pandemic wears on, according to the authors. Researchers found that natural infection reduced the chances of getting the virus again by about 80 percent, but offered just 47 percent protection against repeat infection among those over 65.

Two British immunologists commenting on the results also in the Lancet called the protective immunity from natural infection “poor” relative to the immune response elicited by current coronavirus vaccines. “The hope of protective immunity through natural infections might not be within our reach, and a global vaccination program with high efficacy vaccines is the enduring solution,” they said in an article linked to the study.

Disneyland and other California theme parks, reopening in just weeks,

LOS ANGELES – The assassination of President Kennedy led Disneyland to close for a day in 1963. Universal Studios Hollywood closed just long enough to complete safety inspections after the Northridge earthquake struck in 1994.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shut California’s largest theme parks for more than a year, creating an unprecedented challenge for the operators of Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood and other parks who are now scrambling to prepare to reopen under more relaxed safety protocols issued by the state.

It’s a big job: They must prepare dozens of attractions for daily use, rehire and train thousands of workers, and adopt a slew of new safety protocols that in many cases dramatically alter how attractions will operate and how visitors will be expected to behave.

“It’s like turning an aircraft carrier,” said Scott Strobl, senior vice president of operations at Universal Studios Hollywood.

Making the challenge even more difficult: Park officials are not sure whether the state will release detailed safety protocols that affect which attractions can open, which need to be altered before they are available to visitors and which must remain offline for now.

Visitors flock in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. in 2015. Associated Press

Disney is preparing a range of game plans as it awaits a response from the state, said Kris Theiler, vice president of the Disneyland Park.

Gov. Gavin Newsom and California public health officials announced this month that with the rollout of vaccines and the drop in new COVID-19 cases, the state would allow theme parks to reopen earlier than previously anticipated. Parks in counties with low enough coronavirus transmission can open as early as April 1.

The state has offered only a handful of guidelines: All park visitors must be California residents and wear masks, indoor dining is prohibited, and workers must be tested weekly for the coronavirus. For parks in counties in the second-most-restrictive tier of the state’s four-category reopening road map — the tier currently including Los Angeles and Orange counties — total park attendance will be capped at 15% of capacity, and parks’ individual indoor attractions will be limited to a maximum 15% capacity with time restrictions.

Before the state unveiled the more relaxed reopening plans, a coalition of California theme parks proposed more detailed guidelines to the state. The ideas included limiting riders on attractions and limiting the time that parkgoers are crowded together in attractions and queues. Some of the guidelines proposed by the California Attractions and Parks Assn. were based on protocols adopted at theme parks that are already open in Florida, Europe and Asia.

Theme park executives say they are assuming the state will accept those guidelines or make only minor adjustments.

“We have some foundational points that we are working on,” Strobl said.

Only weeks remain to nail down the details and get everyone ready.

France set to unveil new restrictions amid spike

PARIS — France is set to announce new coronavirus restrictions on Thursday, including a potential lockdown in the Paris region and in the north of the country, as the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units spikes.

“We will make the decisions we need to make,” French President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday while visiting the hospital of Poissy and Saint-Germain-en-Laye, west of Paris. He added measures will be “pragmatic, proportionated and targeted.”

Prime Minister Jean Castex is scheduled to detail new restrictions on Thursday.

The virus is rapidly spreading in the Paris region, where the rate of infection has reached over 420 per 100,000 inhabitants and ICUs are closed to saturation. France’s nationwide infection rate is about 250 per 100,000.

As during previous infection peaks, health authorities have organized transfers of critically ill patients to less-affected regions to ease some of the pressure on hospitals in Paris and in northern and southern France.

People in France have been under a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. nationwide curfew for two months.

More people are dying now of COVID-19 in Europe than at the same time last year, WHO says

More people are dying now in Europe of COVID-19 than they were a year ago when the virus first tore through the continent, the World Health Organization said Thursday, warning of a devastating surge in new cases driven in part by more contagious variants.

In central and eastern Europe, case incidence rates, hospitalizations and deaths are now “among the highest in the world,” the U.N. agency’s regional director for Europe, Hans Kluge, said at a briefing. He added that the continent is grappling with three consecutive weeks of growth in coronavirus cases with more than 1.2 million new infections last week alone.

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A patient is transferred to the “red zone,” an area reserved for treating those suffering from COVID-19, in Madrid on Feb. 17. Associated Press/Bernat Armangue

At least 48 out of 53 countries in the region — stretching from western Europe to Russia — have reported cases involving the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in Britain, he said. The variant, which is highly transmissible, has also been associated with higher rates of hospitalization and death.

“Last week, new deaths in the region surpassed 900,000,” Kluge said. “Every week, more than 20,000 people lose their lives to the virus.”

Europe has yet to benefit from the health impact of mass vaccinations, Kluge said, as immunization campaigns across much of the continent stall. The slow rollouts were initially plagued by supply bottlenecks and manufacturing woes, but have since been compounded by the widespread suspension of AstraZeneca’s vaccine across much of Europe over blood clot concerns.

“At this point in time … the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine far outweigh its risk and its use should continue [in order] to save lives,” Kluge said. “Vaccines work and will eventually allow a return to a new normal.”

 


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