WASHINGTON — The White House says two new mass vaccination sites will soon be open, in Atlanta and Cleveland, each with the ability to provide 6,000 daily coronavirus shots.
Coronavirus special adviser Andy Slavitt says the FEMA-supported centers will operate from Mercedes-Benz stadium in Atlanta, which is home to the NFL’s Falcons, and the Wolstein Center in Cleveland.
Slavitt says it brings the total of FEMA-supported sites to 18, with the capacity to provide 60,000 daily shots. There are 450 community vaccination centers already in operation.
More than 54 million Americans have received at least one shot. Nearly 28 million people, representing about 8% of the population, have completed their vaccinations.
— AP-NORC poll: Americans largely back Biden’s virus response
— Canada OKs Johnson & Johnson shot, getting 4th vaccine for nation
— France backs Italy in blocking export of vaccines from the European Union
— Pope arrives in Iraq to rally Christians despite pandemic
— Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
INDIANANPOLIS — Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb received his COVID-19 vaccine shot Friday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the opening of the state’s first mass vaccination clinic.
Holcomb wore a face mask in the front passenger seat of an SUV while getting the shot of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the drive-through clinic.
Holcomb says his message is: “This is going to help us beat COVID-19. The more, the faster.”
The state health department says nearly 17,000 people had filled up four days of appointments for the speedway clinic held Friday through Monday. About 630,000 people, or nearly 10% of Indiana’s population, were fully vaccinated through Wednesday.
TORONTO — Canada is getting a fourth vaccine to prevent COVID-19, approving the Johnson & Johnson shot that works with just one dose.
Health experts are eager for a one-and-done option to help speed vaccination. Canada has also approved vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca. Health Canada is the first major regulator to approve four difference vaccines.
Canada doesn’t have domestic production and has struggled with a shortage of vaccines. The U.S. isn’t exporting locally made vaccines, so neighbors Canada and Mexico must get vaccines from Europe and Asia.
Canada has pre-purchased 10 million Johnson & Johnson doses, with options to buy another 28 million.
The U.S. approved the Johnson & Johnson vaccine last month. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says one dose was 85% protective against the most severe COVID-19 illness in a massive study that spanned three continents.
BERLIN — The head of Germany’s disease control agency is urging people to get vaccinated for the coronavirus when given the opportunity, no matter which vaccine is offered.
The comments Friday from Robert Koch Institute President Lothar Wieler come amid reports some have declined the AstraZeneca shot.
Germany’s independent vaccine committee on Thursday approved AstraZeneca for people 65 and over. Several countries, including Germany, initially restricted it to people under 65, or in some cases under 55, citing a lack of data on its effectiveness in older people.
Germany is also administering the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
“If you are offered a vaccine, please get yourself vaccinated. They are safe and effective,” Wieler says, adding that vaccinating large numbers of people is “the way out of the pandemic.”
WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s government plans to open temporary hospitals and impose partial localized lockdowns.
Health Minister Adam Niedzielski says the government will open more temporary hospitals on Wednesday because of a rise in infections. Niedzielski says it’s partly because of the British variant.
With nearly 16,000 new cases recorded Friday, Niedzielski says that level could rise to 18,000 new daily cases or more next week.
ISLAMABAD — A Pakistani official says authorities are hoping to start receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine in the middle of this month under the WHO’s COVAX Facility.
Sajjad Hussain Shah, a spokesman at ministry of health services, says Pakistan will receive 17 million doses coronavirus vaccines under the COVAX program from March to June. It will be in addition to 500,000 doses of Chinese Sinopharm vaccine which Pakistan will get from Beijing next week.
China had promised to donate 1 million doses of vaccine to Pakistan. Last month, Pakistan received 500,000 doses.
Pakistan is currently using Chinese vaccines for health workers and elderly people amid a steady increase in deaths and cases from COVID-19. Pakistan allocated $250 million to buy vaccines, and authorities say they were still in talks with manufacturers of vaccines.
Also, Pakistan had allowed its private sector to import vaccines, but so far no private laboratory has started vaccinations for unexplained reasons.
Pakistan has reported 13,128 confirmed deaths among 587,014 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic.
WASHINGTON — Joe Biden has a 60% approval rating of his job performance from Americans and even more backing for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
That’s according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Support for Biden’s pandemic response extends across party lines. Overall, 70% of Americans back his handling of the virus response, including 44% of Republicans.
Biden has made the pandemic his central focus, urging Americans to follow stringent social distancing and mask guidelines and vowing to speed up distribution of critical vaccines. He’s also argued that until the spread of the virus is under control, the economy won’t fully recover.
Overall, 48% of Americans say the country is headed in the right direction, compared with 37% in December.
BAGHDAD — Pope Francis has arrived in Iraq to urge the country’s dwindling number of Christians to stay put and help rebuild the country after years of war and persecution, brushing aside the coronavirus pandemic and security concerns.
Iraqis men were seen welcoming him along roadsides, most without masks. Iraq’s foreign minister described the visit as a historic meeting between the “minaret and the bells,” saying Iraqis were eager to welcome Francis’ “message of peace and tolerance.”
The pope, who wore a facemask during the flight, kept it on as he descended the stairs to the tarmac and was greeted by two masked children in traditional dress. But health measures appeared lax inside the airport despite the country’s worsening coronavirus outbreak.
The 84-year-old pope, the Vatican delegation and travelling media have been vaccinated; most Iraqis have not. Iraqi security forces are on hand to protect the delegation, along with the expected first use of an armored car for the popemobile-loving pontiff.
SAN DIEGO — The San Diego Zoo has vaccinated nine great apes for the coronavirus after a troop of gorillas in its Safari Park became infected.
Officials say four orangutans and five bonobos received COVID-19 injections in January and February.
Three bonobos and a gorilla also are expected to receive the vaccine, which is experimental.
The vaccinations followed a January outbreak of COVID-19 at the zoo’s Safari Park. Eight western lowland gorillas got the virus, probably by exposure to a zookeeper who tested positive for COVID-19.
The gorillas had symptoms ranging from runny noses to coughing and lethargy. But they are recovering.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand’s largest city will exit a weeklong lockdown on Sunday morning after the latest coronavirus outbreak appears to have been stamped out.
There have been no new community cases of the virus found in Auckland or elsewhere in New Zealand for the past five days.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Friday that Auckland would move to Alert Level 2 from 6 a.m. Sunday while the rest of New Zealand would move to Alert Level 1. Level 2 places limits on crowd sizes but allows people to continue most aspects of life as normal, while Level 1 requires only that people wear masks on public transport.
Auckland had gone six months without a lockdown before 15 community cases of the more transmissible variant first found in Britain were discovered in February, prompting an initial three-day lockdown followed later by the weeklong lockdown.
Ardern made the decision to ease restrictions after meeting with senior lawmakers in the Cabinet.
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah will open up COVID-19 vaccine appointments to people ages 50 and older on Monday.
Republican Gov. Spencer Cox made the announcement during his weekly pandemic briefing Thursday.
Cox also said that Utah residents 18 and older with certain health conditions — diabetes, chronic kidney disease or obesity — can start making vaccine appointments next week.
The expansion will mean 700,000 more state residents can be vaccinated. People with a body mass index of 30 or higher can also be vaccinated. The previous threshold was 40 or higher.
Cox also announced last week that Utah had been approved to get 20,000 doses of the new single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
CONNECTICUT —- Connecticut will eliminate coronavirus-related capacity limits on restaurants, houses of worship and other spaces in two weeks as infections and hospitalizations are declining, Gov. Ned Lamont said Thursday.
The Democrat said face coverings will continue to be required and bars that do not serve food will remain closed until further notice. Indoor theaters will continue to have capacity capped at 50% and large event venues like stadiums will open in April, he said.
“While it is encouraging to see the number of cases in our state gradually going down and people getting vaccinated at rates that are among the highest in the nation, we need to continue taking this virus seriously to mitigate its spread as much as possible,” Lamont said.
In Connecticut, the seven-day rolling average of daily new infections has dropped from about 840 to around 775 over the past two weeks. The seven-day average of daily deaths has dropped nearly in half, from 21 to about 12. Since Dec. 15, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has decreased from about 1,270 to about 450.
OKLAHOMA CITY — Unemployment payments since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic a year ago in Oklahoma have surpassed the payments made during the past 10 years combined by nearly $1.5 billion, the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission said Thursday.
More than $4.4 billion in jobless claims have been paid since March 2020, the OESC said.
“In the past year, OESC has paid out more in unemployment claims than in the entire previous decade, which was extremely challenging considering the unprecedented number of claims we were processing,” OESC director Shelley Zumwalt said.
The state reached a high of 14.7% jobless in April during a shutdown ordered by Gov. Kevin Stitt in an effort to stem the spread of the virus. The shutdown was lifted in May. The most recent unemployment data showed a 5.3% jobless rate in December.
BRUSSELS — A shipment of a quarter million AstraZeneca vaccines destined for Australia has been barred from leaving the European Union in the first use of an export control system.
An EU official, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue, confirmed a report that first appeared in the Financial Times. The move came at the behest of Italy, which has been taking a tough line in dealing with vaccine shortages within the 27-nation bloc since a new government led by Mario Draghi came into power last month.
Faced with shortages of doses during the early stages of the vaccine campaign that started in late December, the EU issued an export control system for COVID-19 vaccines. It requires companies respect their contractual obligations to the bloc before commercial exports can be approved. So far, the EU has vaccinated only 8 % percent of its population.
TORONTO — The leader of Canada’s most populous province says he thought he’d see a change with a new American president but he says it remains “every person for themselves” when it comes to getting vaccines from the United States.
The U.S. isn’t allowing vaccines made in the U.S. to be exported so Canada has been forced to get vaccines from Europe and India. Ontario Premier Doug Ford says the U.S. is Canada’s closest ally in the world but said “You really see who your friends and foes are.”
Like other countries, Canada has had a shortage of vaccines. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki says the U.S. is focused on vaccinating Americans and says once that is done the next step is economic recovery and ensuring America’s neighbors, Canada and Mexico, have similarly managed the pandemic so that the borders can reopen.
China and Russia are sharing their vaccines with certain countries. The shortage is so acute in Canada that provincial governments are now saying they will extend the interval between the two doses of a COVID-19 shot to four months to quickly inoculate more people.
The past protocol is an interval of three to four weeks between doses for the Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines. Johnson & Johnson is a one-dose vaccine but has not been approved in Canada yet.
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Breaking from other Southern GOP governors, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Thursday extended her state’s mask order for another month.
However, she says the requirement will end in April. Following the recommendations of medical officials, Ivey says she will keep the mask order that was set to expire Friday in place until April 9. The Republican governor says before lifting the order, she wants to get past Easter and get as much vaccine distributed as possible.
“The bottom line is we have kept the mask mandate in place for more than a generous period of time because it has helped,” Ivey said at a news conference.
Medical officials welcomed Ivey’s decision after recommending an extension, arguing that easing restrictions before more people were vaccinated could reverse recent improvements. Alabama’s rolling seven-day average of daily cases has dropped from 3,000 in early January to below 1,000. Hospitalizations are at their lowest point since summer.
MIAMI — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and state health officials are under deeper scrutiny amid revelations that seniors in a wealthy enclave in Key Largo received hundreds of life-saving vaccinations as early as mid -January.
The revelations were the latest example of wealthy Floridians getting earlier access to coronavirus vaccines, even as the state has lagged in efforts to get poorer residents vaccinated.
DeSantis pushed back Thursday, saying a local hospital — not the state — was behind the vaccinations of more than 1,200 residents of the exclusive Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo, Florida, and the state “wasn’t involved in it in any shape or form.”
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried joined Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist in calling for federal officials to probe the DeSantis administration’s vaccine distribution programs.
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