WASHINGTON—For months, President Joe Biden has laid out goal after goal for taming the coronavirus pandemic and then exceeded his own benchmarks. Now, though, the U.S. is on pace to fall short of his aim to have 70 percent of Americans at least partially vaccinated by July 4.
The White House has launched a month-long blitz to combat vaccine hesitancy and a lack of urgency to get shots, particularly in the South and Midwest. But it is increasingly resigned to missing the president’s vaccination target.
The administration insists that even if the goal isn’t reached, it will have little effect on the overall U.S. recovery from the virus.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, told reporters at a briefing on Tuesday that he still hopes the goal will be met “and if we don’t, we’re going to continue to keep pushing.”
So far 14 states have reached 70% coverage among adults, with about a dozen more on pace to reach the milestone by July 4. But the state-to-state variation is stark.
Fauci said the administration is “pleading” with states, particularly those with low vaccination rates, to step up their efforts in the coming months, though some of the states trailing behind are hardly sharing the urgency.
MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:
— Preparations around Olympic venues, virus cases down for Tokyo Games
— Master Card Foundation to spend $1.3B to vaccinate 50 million Africans among population of 1.3 billion
— India’s daily coronavirus infections dip below 100,000 for the first time in more than two months
— WHO official: High vaccination coverage needed to reduce risk of more transmissible variants
— Follow more of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
DEARBORN, Mich.—U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona visited a COVID-19 vaccine clinic at a suburban Detroit community college Tuesday to highlight the White House’s efforts to encourage similar efforts across the country.
“We’ve been talking about how we’re going to recover as a country and all hands on deck,” Cardona said at Henry Ford College in Dearborn, Michigan.
“So this is a great example of how colleges can do their part to bring people in to get them vaccinated,” he told clinic workers and news media.
Cardona also talked about the Biden administration’s COVID-19 College Challenge, in which colleges and universities commit to working to get their communities vaccinated. The challenge is part of President Joe Biden’s effort to get at least one vaccine dose into 70% of American adults by July 4.
“We have to continue to double down our efforts to get those who are a little unsure, uncomfortable. Or maybe we have to bring vaccine to them,” Cardona said. “I know there are some folks that might want it, but have issues with transportation. We’re working on every angle to make sure that we get as many shots in the arms of folks.”
JOHANNESBURG—South Africa’s health minister has been placed on special leave over a corruption scandal involving an irregular government contract.
Zweli Mkhize has been spearheading the COVID-19 response in South Africa, which has the most cases and deaths in Africa.
The contract saw $11 million paid by the health department Mkhize heads to a company connected to two people who used to work for him.
The move was announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa in a statement from his office Tuesday. It said Mkhize was placed on special leave “to attend to allegations and investigations” around the irregular contract.
South Africa’s minister of tourism will stand in as the acting minister of health.
MILWAUKEE — A former pharmacist in Wisconsin who intentionally ruined more than 500 doses of COVID-19 vaccine has been sentenced to three years in prison.
Steven Brandenburg, of Grafton, was sentenced Tuesday after pleading guilty in February to two felony counts of attempting to tamper with a consumer product. He had admitted to removing the doses manufactured by Moderna from a refrigerator for hours at Aurora Medical Center in Grafton, located just north of Milwaukee. Brandenburg said in a statement before receiving his sentence that he felt “great shame” and accepted responsibility for his actions. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports he apologized to his co-workers, family and the community.
Prosecutors asked for a sentence of three years and five months. Brandenburg faced a maximum penalty of 10 years of imprisonment and $250,000 in fines for each felony count.
Brandenburg is an admitted conspiracy theorist who believes vaccines are a product of the devil. Brandenburg also secretly substituted saline for flu vaccine that he was mandated to receive and persuaded several co-workers to secretly swap saline for their flu vaccine as well, according to court filings.
NEW YORK — Pfizer says it is expanding testing of its COVID-19 vaccine in children younger than 12.
After a first-step study in a small number of young children to test different doses, Pfizer is ready to enroll about 4,500 young volunteers at more than 90 sites in the U.S., Finland, Poland and Spain.
The vaccine made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech already is authorized for emergency use in anyone 12 and older in the U.S. and European Union.
Enrollment of 5- to 11-year-olds began this week. Those youngsters will receive two vaccine doses of 10 micrograms each -- a third of the teen and adult dose -- or dummy shots. Enrollment of children as young as 6 months will start in a few weeks using an even lower dose, 3 micrograms per shot.
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine is trying to persuade citizens to get vaccinated as the state rushes to administer around 200,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine set to expire in two weeks.
The Republican governor, like his counterparts across the country, is facing slowing vaccination rates as health officials say the majority of individuals who wanted the vaccine have already received it and the rest are either vaccine-hesitant or unwilling to receive it.
The state is also working against the clock to push the one-shot Johnson & Johnson to vaccine providers and asking them to distribute as many doses as possible. The doses are set to expire on June 23.
DeWine said Ohio and other states don’t have legal options for sending the vaccine elsewhere, either to other states or other countries.
COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster on Tuesday announced a cash infusion for the state’s technical colleges, aimed at training the jobless in new skills as they re-enter the workforce.
The Republican says he’s allocating $8 million in federal coronavirus relief aid to a partnership between the state’s 16 tech schools and the Department of Employment and Workforce.
Starting this week, the agency will contact the 87,000 South Carolinians already eligible for jobless benefits to advise them of tuition-free, short-term training classes designed to quickly prepare them for jobs like welding and truck driving, according to Tim Hardee, president of the state’s technical college system.
The funds come from a total of more than $48 million provided under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, to be used at the governor’s discretion.
TOKYO — Roads are being closed off around Tokyo Olympic venues for the event scheduled to begin July 23.
With six weeks to go, the roadblocks are appearing around the new $1.4 billion National Stadium, which will host the opening ceremony.
This is a sign that Tokyo Olympic planners and the International Olympic Committee are moving forward despite public opposition and warnings about the risks of the games becoming a coronavirus spreader event. New infections rates are going down in Tokyo. But the city and other parts of Japan remain under a state of emergency until June 20.
New infections in Tokyo are down to around 500 cases a day from 1,000 a month ago. The number of hospitalizations and the seriously ill have decreased, but the levels are still higher than last fall when COVID-19 variants were not prevalent in Japan.
Last week, experts on the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s pandemic panel said movement of people in central Tokyo had been rising for three weeks. They warned new infections could rebound if people continue to increase their mobility.
According to local organizers, some 11,090 Olympians are expected to enter Tokyo. Another 59,000 people will enter for the Olympics for a total of 70,090. They include: Olympic Broadcasting Service and other broadcasters (16,700); national Olympic committees (14,800); media (5,500); international sports federations (4,500); Olympic family (3,000) and others (14,500).
Japan has registered 13,500 confirmed deaths to the coronavirus.
BERLIN — Germany officials say it will exempt people accredited for soccer’s European Championship from quarantine when they arrive in the country.
The Interior Ministry says the Cabinet will approve the exemption this week. It says it will apply to everyone accredited by the organizing committee involved in the tournament, which opens on June 11. Munich is one of the venues for the tournament, which is taking place at venues in multiple countries this year.
The exemption is particularly relevant for people coming from Britain, the only country in Europe currently on a German list of “virus variant areas.” All arrivals from such areas are currently required to spend 14 days in quarantine, and airlines and others are restricted to transporting German citizens and residents.
Those restrictions will be dropped for Euro 2021 participants. But the Interior Ministry says they’ll still have to abide by rules such as daily testing. The exemption will last until July 28.
TORONTO — The Mastercard Foundation says it will spend $1.3 billion over the next three years to acquire and deliver COVID-19 vaccines for more than 50 million people in Africa.
The first-of-its-kind initiative from the Mastercard Foundation is aiming to bolster Africa’s lagging vaccination campaign amid widespread fears of a third wave of infections on the continent.
The foundation will purchase single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines at the discounted rate negotiated by the African Union during its 220 million dose deal with the vaccine manufacturer. A spokeswoman says the doses will become available in August.
The announcement Tuesday from the Toronto-based Mastercard Foundation, which has more than $39 billion in assets, comes days after the World Health Organization said Africa was encountering an alarming mix of a spike in virus cases and “a near halt” of vaccine shipments. The delays have been tied to India’s halt on vaccine exports, among other things.
The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is partnering with the foundation and will consult African government agencies and other institutions on how to best deploy the shots among the 55 African Union nations.
NEW ORLEANS — Republican Louisiana lawmakers have taken aim at coronavirus vaccines, sending Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards two bills that would keep state and local government agencies from requiring individuals to be immunized in order to be eligible for certain services.
Anti-vaccine proposals from Republican Reps. Danny McCormick and Kathy Edmonston received final passage on Monday. Edwards — who has championed vaccines against COVID-19 and regularly urges Louisiana residents to get shots — hasn’t taken a position on the legislation.
No state agency in his administration has publicly proposed mandating vaccination for services. Meanwhile, tests of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine started Monday in Louisiana for children ages 5 through 11.
Children had their temperatures and blood pressure were checked, their noses swabbed and their blood drawn at Ochsner Medical Center as they went through the vaccination research process. Finally, they got a shot of either the vaccine or a placebo.
Ochsner, just outside New Orleans, is among 98 facilities across the U.S., Finland, Poland and Spain where tests of the vaccine in younger children are taking place or planned.
KATHMANDU, Nepal — Nepal resumed its stalled coronavirus vaccination campaign on Tuesday with 1 million doses given by China after the Himalayan nation made international pleas for help.
Thousands of 64-year-old people lined up at vaccination centers even before they opened. People ages 60-63 are scheduled to be eligible for shots in coming days.
Nepal’s vaccination campaign began in January but stalled when neighboring India suffered a coronavirus surge and banned exports of the AstraZeneca vaccine it produces. Nepal had received 1 million AstraZeneca doses donated by India and paid for 2 million more but never received half the shipment.
That left 1.4 million people over age 65 who had received an initial dose of AstraZeneca vaccine uncertain if they would receive their second shot.
Desperate Nepal made several pleas to foreign governments and international donor agencies. President Bidhya Devi Bhandari made calls to the Chinese leader and wrote to the presidents of India, the United States and Britain.
Another 1 million doses donated by China arrived this month.
ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan on Tuesday reported a single-day coronavirus positivity rate of less than 3%, indicating the third wave of the pandemic in the impoverished Islamic nation had had peaked.
Pakistan reported 53 COVID-19 deaths in the past 24 hours. In April, when the positivity rate was over 11%, it reported a daily record of 201.
The country's steady decline in cases and fatalities from coronavirus started after the government imposed a two-week lockdown that ended last month. Pakistan has been in the grip of the third pandemic wave since March.
Pakistan has registered a total of 935,013 confirmed cases and 21,376 deaths in the pandemic.
GENEVA — Envoys from World Trade Organization member nations are taking up a proposal to ease patents and other intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines to help developing countries fight the pandemic.
On the table for a two-day meeting of a WTO panel opening Tuesday is a revised proposal presented by India and South Africa for a temporary IP waiver on coronavirus vaccines. The idea has drawn support from more than 60 countries, which now include the United States and China.
Some European Union member states oppose the idea, and the EU on Friday offered an alternative proposal that relies on existing World Trade Organization rules. The 27-nation bloc said those rules currently allow governments to grant production licenses — such as for COVID-19 vaccines or therapies — to manufacturers in their countries without the consent of the patent holders in times of emergency.
At stake in the meeting is whether the various sides can move toward drawing up a unified text, a key procedural step that could unlock accelerated negotiations. Inside observers cautioned, however, that a major breakthrough was not expected.
Even optimistic supporters acknowledge an IP waiver could take months to finalize because of solid resistance from some countries and WTO rules that require consensus on such decisions.
NICOSIA, Cyprus -- Cyprus says it will issue a temporary COVID-19 vaccination certificates to individuals planning on traveling abroad this month.
The Cypriot government said in a statement on Tuesday that the certificate is a stop-gap measure until the European Union starts issuing its own digital vaccination certificates.
The Cypriot document, which will be in Greek and English, will only be valid until July 1, when the EU certificates are scheduled to be available.
The government said citizens traveling to Greece don’t need to present the certificate.
The Health Ministry said that as of last week, one-third of the Mediterranean island nation's population of approximately 900,000 had been fully vaccinated.
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