The Latest: China donates vaccine doses to UN peacekeepers

By The Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS — China’s U.N. ambassador says China is donating 300,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines to U.N. peacekeepers, with priority given to those serving in Africa.

Ambassador Zhang Jun sent a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres informing him of the donation, China’s U.N. Mission said Monday. It follows the announcement by China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi of Beijing’s intention to donate vaccines at a U.N. Security Council meeting on Feb. 17.

The mission said “China attaches great importance to the safety and security of peacekeepers” and the donation “is a further step to make China’s vaccines a global public good, and also a demonstration of China’s firm and continuous support to the U.N. and multilateralism.”

Last month, the U.N. thanked India for offering 200,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses for U.N. peacekeepers.

The U.N. currently has a dozen peacekeeping operations, half in Africa with a total of about 100,000 peacekeepers.

There was no immediate word on what the U.N. plans to do with the two offers.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Why countries are halting the AstraZeneca vaccine, though there is no evidence the shot is responsible for reported blood clots

—- Extent of COVID-19 vaccine waste due to mishandling, poor recording keeping and other reasons, remains largely unknown

— Former cruise ship passengers recall deaths, frustration and quarantine last year

— An alarming number of US prison guards are refusing vaccines despite COVID-19 outbreaks

— Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

SAN FRANCISCO — Alcatraz, the historic island prison off San Francisco, opened up Monday for a limited number of indoor tours, which had been off-limits for more than a year due to the pandemic.

Face masks and social distancing are still required at the island, which once housed Al Capone and George “Machine Gun” Kelly. Access will be limited only to visitors who sign up for the audio tour in advance.

Officials say Alcatraz will host about 1,000 tourists a day instead of the normal 5,000.

Safety modifications have been made throughout the island including social distancing markers, increased cleanings and hand sanitizing stations.

The popular tourist destination opened to an outdoor-only experience in August.

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NEW YORK — U.S. health officials say some of the guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the Trump administration fell short of the agency’s standards.

A review ordered by President Joe Biden’s CDC director found examples of guidance that was not primarily authored by the agency, used softer language than was warranted or did not incorporate all the latest scientific evidence.

Under then-President Donald Trump, the White House buried or shelved some of the guidelines CDC had assembled and allowed non-agency officials to vet what was posted on CDC’s website, the AP and others have reported.

The agency’s long-standing principal deputy, Dr. Anne Schuchat, led the review to determine if the guidance was grounded in science and free of political influence.

Schuchat noted examples of documents posted on the CDC site last year that were developed or finalized outside the CDC that have since been removed. One from July minimized health risks while emphasizing the importance of reopening schools. Another from August suggested it was not necessary to test asymptomatic people for the coronavirus after they had been in close contact with infected others.

Schuchat also said the CDC used the word “considerations” for guidance that agency scientists felt deserved more emphatic phrasing.

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OSAKA, Japan — Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. is the latest drugmaker to offer help with production of a rival’s COVID-19 vaccine as their industry works to churn out billions of vaccine doses.

Takeda, one of Japan’s top vaccine makers, said Monday it’s reached a deal to have a German contract drug manufacturer temporarily use capacity at its factories that had been reserved for Takeda to instead produce Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose COVID-19 shot.

Germany’s IDT Biologika Gmbh previously had saved capacity to make Takeda’s experimental dengue vaccine, now in final testing before regulatory reviews, ahead of the planned launch of the dengue shot.

Under the three-company deal, starting this month IDT will manufacture the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for three months, then resume manufacture of the dengue vaccine candidate.

Takeda previously said it will manufacture more than 250 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine developed by Novavax that’s likely to be approved in a few months, with that supply meant for Japan.

Meanwhile, Takeda has been testing its existing products to see if they are effective against the coronavirus. Takeda also plans to distribute 50 million doses of Moderna’s vaccine in Japan and has multiple partnerships with other companies to try to develop other treatments and vaccines to fight the pandemic.

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ATLANTA — Georgia threw open the doors for COVID-19 vaccination to a majority of adults Monday, as the state seeks to improve its worst-in-the-nation share of the population that has been inoculated against the respiratory illness.

Monday was the first day that people aged 55 to 64 could get shots, as well as people with serious health conditions and those who are overweight and obese.

Officials with Gov. Brian Kemp’s office say that, overall, another 3.3 million people are eligible, meaning more than 5 million Georgians overall can now seek vaccination.

At the Macon State Farmers Market mass vaccination site, cars full of people waiting their turn for a shot formed a long but orderly line that stretched down the block and out onto a highway, partially blocking a lane of traffic. A few appointments remained available Monday morning at state and local public health mass vaccination sites, but some feared that older people will be crowded out in a new rush for appointments.

The state will open five new mass vaccination sites on Wednesday, including Columbus, Emerson, Sandersville, Savannah and Waycross. The federal government will take over a Fulton County site at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta.

Georgia has only given 20.8% of its adult population at least one dose, the worst in the nation, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The same data show Georgia has administered the second-lowest share of doses delivered among states, with more than one-third of doses still awaiting injection.

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LISBON, Portugal — Portugal is following other European Union countries and temporarily halting use of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine while experts review its safety.

The General Director for Health, Graça Freitas, told a Monday evening news conference that Portugal has so far seen none of the cases of dangerous blood clots in some recipients recorded elsewhere in Europe.

Officials said they hoped a scientific review of the jab can be completed by the end of the week.

Freitas urged people who have had the AstraZeneca vaccine to remain calm.

Portugal is postponing the mass vaccination of educational workers scheduled for next weekend because of the AstraZeneca suspension.

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NEW YORK — Two new studies add evidence that a virus variant first detected in Britain is more deadly than the previous dominant form.

Other research had already demonstrated the strain is more transmissible, but a new paper published Monday in the journal Nature suggests the U.K. variant may also be associated with an increased risk of death.

Comparing cases in more than 1 million people infected in England, researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine estimated the risk of death was about 55% higher for those with the new variant versus the previous one.

For men in their 50s or 60s, that meant the risk of death went from 0.06% to 0.09% with the new strain.

In a University of Exeter study published in the British journal BMJ last week, researchers followed about 100,000 positive COVID-19 cases, matching pairs of participants on age, sex and other factors. They also found those with the U.K. variant were at higher risk of death during the study.

The variant has been found in all but a few states in the U.S. and is expected to become the dominant strain later this spring.

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FORT COLLINS, Colorado — A powerful late winter snowstorm that dumped over 3 feet of heavy, wet snow in parts of Colorado and Wyoming interfered with COVID-19 vaccinations as well as closing Denver’s airport, state legislatures in both states and roads.

Federal officials shut down vaccine shipments to the region as the storm neared so the vials packed in dry ice wouldn’t spoil during mail delays, Wyoming Department of Health spokeswoman Kim Deti said.

“We think they’ll be at least a couple days,” Deti said. “Nobody is quite sure when things will be cleared and reopened.”

The storm also was keeping many people from getting to vaccine locations, Deti noted.

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JACKSON, Miss. — All Mississippi residents will be eligible for the coronavirus vaccine starting Tuesday. Gov. Tate Reeves made the announcement Monday.

“Starting tomorrow, ALL new appointments will be open to ALL Mississippians,” Reeves tweeted Monday. “Get your shot friends – and let’s get back to normal!”

Vaccinations in Mississippi are currently available for anyone ages 50 or over, staff at K-12 schools, first responders, health care workers and those who are at least 16 and have health conditions that might make them more vulnerable to the virus.

Reeves urged those in the 50 and up age group to make appointments Monday before eligibility expands to the entire state. People can get vaccinated at state-run drive-thru sites in counties across the state, at private clinics and community health centers and some pharmacies, like Walmart and Walgreens.

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginians aged 16 and older with underlying medical conditions are now eligible for a coronavirus vaccine, along with all essential workers of any age, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced on Monday.

The list of eligible conditions include asthma, heart disease, high blood pressure, intellectual disabilities, autoimmune disorders and more. Pregnant residents are also eligible as are the caretakers of those with some diseases.

All residents 50 and over have already been eligible for a vaccine. Last week, Justice said the state “will absolutely step up” to meet President Joe Biden’s goal that all Americans be eligible for vaccinations by May 1. He and other governors, though, stressed the need for the vaccine supply to increase.

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HARTFORD, Conn. — Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont announced plans Monday to speed up the next age-based phase of the COVID-19 vaccination rollout by a few days.

Ultimately, the new timeline will allow everyone else, age 16 and older, to begin making their appointments for a shot tentatively on April 5.

Meanwhile, the state plans to work with health care providers and the Department of Developmental Services to accelerate access for the most medically high-risk individuals under age 45 during April.

The Biden administration has informed Connecticut that it should be receiving a “significant” increase in vaccine doses over the next several weeks. Currently, the state is receiving roughly 139,000 to 150,000 doses a week, and that will climb to about 200,000 doses a week by early April.

Currently, everyone age 55 and older, health care personnel, medical first responders, residents and staff at long-term care facilities and select congregate settings, and pre-K-12 school staff and professional childcare providers are allowed to get the shot.

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LJUBLJANA, Slovenia — Slovenia has decided to temporarily halt the use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine pending a decision by the European Medicines Agency.

Health Minister Janez Poklukar said Monday the Slovenian expert group for vaccines proposed the vaccination be suspended “as a matter of precaution.”

Those scheduled to receive the vaccine will be rescheduled, while vaccinations with Moderna and Pfizer vaccines will continue as planned, he said.

The decision comes after several European countries, including Germany, France and Italy, have decided to halt the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine amidst reports of blood clots in some who have received it.

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GENEVA — The chief scientist of the World Health Organization is recommending that countries continue to use the AstraZeneca vaccine for now despite concerns about blood clots in some people who have received it.

Dr. Soumya Swaminathan says officials at the U.N. health agency “don’t want people to panic” even as close monitoring of the vaccine’s use continues. She said a review is under way that could produce updated recommendations as early as Tuesday.

Swaminathan noted that some 300 million doses of a variety of coronavirus vaccines have been given to people around the world, and “there is no documented death that has been linked to a COVID vaccine.”

She said the rates at which blood clots have occurred in people who received the AstraZeneca vaccine “are in fact less than what you would expect in the general population.”

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ROME — Italy on Monday temporarily halted administering the AstraZeneca vaccine only days after its government vowed to significantly step up the national vaccination program by tripling the number of shots given daily.

Italy joined several other European Union nations who have temporarily suspended AstraZeneca’s vaccine out of precaution following the deaths of several persons who received it. Autopsies and other procedures were underway in Italy to determine if the vaccine was related to the deaths.

Some 2.2 million of the 8.6 million vaccine doses of various brands delivered to Italy are AstraZeneca vaccines, so the temporary stoppage is likely to significantly hamper Italy’s current vaccine rollout.

The temporary suspension comes as admissions to hospitals of COVID-19 patients, including to ICUs, have been steadily rising, and Italy sees some of its highest new daily caseloads in weeks. In the nation of 60 million people, about 5.7 million have received at least one injection of a COVID-19 vaccine.

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GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization says it is “routine practice” to investigate concerns like those over the AstraZeneca vaccine against the coronavirus amid reports of blood clots among some people who received it.

As a growing number of countries temporarily suspend the use of the vaccine, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the reported blood clots may not be linked to the vaccine.

The main problem facing most countries is a lack of access to vaccines, he said, particularly at a time when some rich countries have been “buying enough vaccines to immunize their populations several times over.”

He said a WHO advisory committee on vaccine safety was reviewing the data about blood clots among people who had received the AstraZeneca vaccine, and it would meet on Tuesday.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is a pillar of a U.N.-backed project known as COVAX that aims to get COVID-19 vaccines to people in need around the world, especially in poorer countries.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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