Friday, May 14, 2021

Fact Check

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OLYMPIA, Wash. — Gov. Jay Inslee said Saturday that inoculations with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine can begin in Washington state following a review by scientific experts in a western states work group.

The Seattle Times reports that the Western States Scientific Safety Review work group — vaccine experts from Washington, California, Oregon and Nevada — met Friday to review data about the vaccine’s potential risks, after more than a dozen women nationwide developed rare blood clots.

“The benefits of the J&J vaccine outweigh the risks associated with it,” Inslee said in a statement. The federal Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday called for the 11-day pause on the J&J vaccine to be lifted after federal regulators reviewed data on blood clots and assess risks associated with the vaccine.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Several U.S. states resuming J&J vaccines with warning after pause

— India reports record 346,786 coronavirus cases amid world’s worst surge

— New York City offers walk-up vaccinations for all ages

— Navajo students describe pandemic struggles to first lady Jill Biden

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Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

LOS ANGELES — A panel of public health experts from California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington was meeting to discuss potentially lifting the pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, a spokesman for the California Department of Public Health said Saturday.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles County public health officials went ahead with telling vaccine providers they could resume administering Johnson & Johnson doses on Saturday, if they give out an updated fact sheet about the vaccine to recipients.

Dr. Paul Simon, chief science officer for the county’s Department of Public Health, said the county has been working on developing additional materials to explain the rare blood clotting issue that prompted the J&J vaccine pause on April 13.

Those will “include what we think is really important information about what to look for–the signs and symptoms if you were to have this, again, very rare reaction,” he said. “And we are going to underscore that this is a very rare reaction.”

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RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has suggested that the army might be called into the streets to restore order if lockdown measures against COVID-19 that he opposes lead to chaos.

In a television interview Friday night with TV Criticia in the Amazon city of Manaus, Bolsonaro repeated his frequent criticism of restrictions imposed by local governments to curb infections — measures he claims do more harm than good.

“That lockdown policy, of quarantine, is absurd. If we have problems … we have a plan of how to act. I am the supreme head of the armed forces,” Bolsonaro said.

Health experts urged Bolsonaro this month to impose a national lockdown after the nation’s daily toll of COVID-19 deaths reached new peaks. The Ministry of Health says there’s been more than 386,000 confirmed coronavirus deaths in Brazil.

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TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — President Joe Biden has highlighted how the United States has administered 200 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine before his first 100 days in office.

He’s also signaled it’s time for the U.S. to begin sharing its surplus of doses. The staggering inequality of vaccines is clear throughout the Americas, Africa and parts of Asia. China and Russia have aggressively pushed their homegrown vaccines around the world.

But the U.S. just shared its first 4 million doses last month with Canada and Mexico. Biden has said those countries would be targets for additional doses, and so too would countries in Central America.

Honduras has obtained only 59,000 vaccine doses for its 10 million people. Similar gaps in vaccine access are found across Africa, where just 36 million doses have been acquired for the continent’s 1.3 billion people, as well as in parts of Asia.

In the U.S, more than one-fourth of the population — nearly 90 million people — has been fully vaccinated. Some states are turning down planned shipments from the federal government.

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AUSTIN, Texas — State health officials say more than 1.7 million COVID-19 vaccine doses are headed to Texas next week.

The Texas Department of State Health Services say more than 708,000 first doses are headed to 928 providers in 129 Texas counties, while more than 570,000 second doses also have been ordered.

About 470,000 first and second doses have been allocated to pharmacies, federally qualified health centers and dialysis centers.

So far, more than 23.4 million doses have been distributed to Texas, and more than 36% of the state’s population has received at least one dose, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 24% of the population has been fully immunized.

Also, with the federal pause on the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine now lifted, the government is expected to make doses of that vaccine available soon.

There have been more than 2.8 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 48,946 confirmed deaths in Texas since the start of the pandemic.

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NEW YORK — Several states have resumed use of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine on Saturday, after receiving the green light from federal health officials.

Arizona, New York, Virginia, Missouri, Michigan, Tennessee and Virginia were among the states ordering or recommending a resumption. Indianapolis Motor Speedway is giving free J&J vaccinations to anyone 18 or older.

Those moves came swiftly after U.S. health officials said Friday evening they were lifting an 11-day pause on vaccinations using the J&J vaccine. During the pause, scientific advisers to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention decided the vaccine’s benefits outweigh a rare risk of blood clots.

There were 15 vaccine recipients who developed a highly unusual kind of blood clot out of nearly 8 million people given the J&J shot in the U.S. All were women, most under age 50. Three died and seven remain hospitalized.

Advisers to the CDC say warnings could help younger women and their doctors decide if they should use that shot or an alternative.

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PARIS — France and other countries in Europe are preparing to relax coronavirus restrictions while still pouring medical, financial and technological resources into keeping thousands of COVID-19 patients alive.

Inside one of Paris’ biggest hospitals, state-of-the-art artificial lungs are giving the most critical patients a last-ditch shot at survival. Outside, healthy people are planning getaways and drinks with friends as the country embarks on the perilous process of easing out of its latest lockdown.

French President Emmanuel Macron is reopening elementary schools on Monday and allowing people to move about more freely again in May.

Some frontline caregivers in hospitals see the easing as premature. Intensive care unit admissions at French hospitals remain stubbornly higher than at any point since the pandemic’s first deadly surge.

In France, Greece and elsewhere, governments are using ramped-up vaccinations to bolster arguments to ease restrictions. However, just one-quarter of adults in Europe have received a first dose.

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RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia health officials have told providers to immediately resume their use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine after federal agencies lifted a pause on the vaccine.

The decision came after the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration found the benefits of the one-shot vaccine outweigh its risks of rare blood clots.

This month, the agencies announced an investigation into six cases of an extremely rare blood clot disorder in recipients. The one woman who died was a 45-year-old Virginia resident who received the vaccine on March 6.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports before the pause, Virginia had administered 184,000 J&J shots.

“This extra scrutiny should instill confidence in the system that is in place to guarantee COVID-19 vaccine safety,” says Dr. Danny Avula, the state’s vaccine coordinator, who received a J&J shot on April 1. “As with any vaccine, we encourage individuals to educate themselves on any potential side effects and to weigh that against the possibility of hospitalization or death from COVID-19.”

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SRINAGAR, India — For the third day in a row, India set a global daily record with 346,786 coronavirus cases.

That increased India’s total to more than 16 million cases, behind only the United States. The Health Ministry reported another 2,624 deaths in the past 24 hours, pushing India’s confirmed death toll to 189,544.

Hospitals in New Delhi and some of the worst-hit states have reported critical shortages of beds and oxygen supplies on Saturday. Families are waiting for days to cremate their loved ones at overburdened crematoriums, with many turning to makeshift facilities for last rites.

Health experts and critics say a downward trend in infections late last year lulled authorities into complacency, and they failed to plug the holes in the ailing health care system that had become evident during the first wave. They also blame politicians and government authorities for allowing super-spreader events, including religious festivals and election rallies, to take place as recently as this month.

“It’s not the virus variants and mutations which are a key cause of the current rise in infections,” Dr. Anant Bhan, a bioethics and global health expert, tweeted this week. “It’s the variants of ineptitude and abdication of public health thinking by our decision makers.”

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DAMASCUS, Syria — The Syrian government has received the first batch of Chinese COVID-19 vaccines, a gift of 150,000 jabs to Damascus, according to Syrian and Chinese officials.

The Chinese vaccines arrived on Saturday in Damascus airport where they were received by Syria’s Health Minister Hassan Ghabbash and China’s ambassador to Damascus.

The Chinese batch comes a few days after more than 200,000 jabs were delivered to Syria through the United Nations-led platform which provides vaccines to the needy.

The new vaccines are likely to speed up a slow inoculation campaign in the war-torn country whose health sector has been overwhelmed by the virus amid a new surge of infection.

The Syrian government has registered nearly 22,000 confirmed infection cases and more than 1,500 confirmed deaths in areas under its control.

Another batch of UN-provided vaccines — some 53,800 shots — arrived in Syria’s last rebel-held enclave from neighboring Turkey on Wednesday. The first inoculation campaign is expected to begin in that territory, home to some 4 million people, on May 1.

Over 21,000 infections and 640 deaths have been recorded in rebel-held northwestern Syria, while the Kurdish areas in the northeast registered 14,400 cases and 477 deaths.

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CAIRO — Egypt’s top health official says there is a “slight but continual” spike in confirmed cases of coronavirus across the country in recent weeks.

Health Minister Hala Zayed says authorities have registered a weekly increase by up to 10% in some areas amid a third wave of the pandemic. She didn’t provide numbers.

She says they provided “large numbers” of intensive care units and ventilators to provinces where cases have been spiked.

Zayed urged people in the Arab world’s most populous country to stick to preventive measures, including wearing face masks and avoiding gatherings during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The minister also called for health care workers to register to be vaccinated against the virus. She said only 50 percent of the targeted health care workers registered.

Egypt, with 100 million people, has reported more than 220,650 confirmed cases and 12,959 confirmed deaths.

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NEW YORK — Appointments are no longer necessary at any of the coronavirus vaccination sites run by New York City.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced anyone eligible for the vaccine could walk up to any of the city’s mass vaccination sites and get a shot. The change comes as supplies of the vaccine have increased.

Among the city’s unique locations: Beneath the giant blue whale at the Museum of Natural History.

Last week, the city began offering walk-up vaccinations to everyone age 50 and over. De Blasio said it went well enough that the city is now doing the same for people of all ages.

Through Friday, about 40% of all New York City residents had gotten at least one vaccine dose. About 26% have been fully vaccinated.

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CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has reached an agreement with the global aid agencies he has often shunned to bring help to his country’s people.

Maduro this week signed a deal to let the United Nations World Food Program provide school meals for 1.5 million children. It follows an agreement worked out with another agency to access COVID-19 vaccines under a U.N.-backed program.

Maduro for years had rejected numerous humanitarian aid offers as unnecessary and as veiled attempts by the United States and other hostile forces to destabilize his socialist government. That stance appears to have wavered amid continuing hardships.

Venezuela has been vaccinating part of its population with the Russian Sputnik V vaccine and the Chinese Sinopharm. Maduro’s government on April 10 announced it had covered a $64 million down payment to join the U.N.-backed COVAX vaccine program, which helps poorer nations get shots.

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TEHRAN — Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency is reporting the country’s civil aviation agency has banned all flights to and from India and Pakistan because of the dramatic surge in coronavirus cases in the two nations.

IRNA says the decision was made by Iran’s Health Ministry and it takes effect Saturday at midnight.

Mohammad Hassan Zibakhsh, spokesman for Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization noted there are no routine flights between Iran and India and “flights are operated occasionally.”

Several other countries in the region, including the sheikhdoms of the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Kuwait, also have banned flights to and from India over the rise in coronavirus cases there.

Zibakhsh said flights to and from 41 countries already were prohibited in Iran, while those who want to fly to other countries listed as high risk are required to have a coronavirus test in Iran. Travelers over 8 years old need to submit a negative PCR test within 96 hours of departure and do another test on arrival.

Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari said 18,230 new confirmed cases over 24 hours, bringing Iran’s total on Saturday to more than 2,377,000.

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BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged Germans to accept nationwide pandemic restrictions that came into force at midnight, resulting in a 10 p.m.-5 a.m. curfews, further limits on personal contacts and access to non-essential stores in regions with high infection rates.

In her weekly video address Saturday, Merkel acknowledged the new rules are “tough” but insisted they are needed to curb the spread of the virus in the country.

Germany’s disease control agency on Friday reported 23,392 newly confirmed cases and more 286 deaths from COVID-19. Since the start of the pandemic, Germany has recorded almost 3.3 million cases and 81,444 deaths.

Merkel says the new measures, which automatically start regions with more than 100 newly reported cases a week per 100,000 inhabitants, are “urgently needed.”

She cited Britain, Portugal and Ireland, which had infection rates sharply reduced during strict lockdowns, and defended Germany’s new restrictions against critics who have called them excessive.

Also, Germany is restricting travel from India because of concern about a mutated version of the coronavirus amid surging cases there. India reported a global daily record of more the 346,000 infections.

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