President Joe Biden says the U.S. is doubling its purchase of Pfizer’s COVID-19 shots to share with the world. The U.S. purchase of another 500 million shots brings the total U.S. vaccination commitment to more than 1.1 billion doses through 2022.
At a virtual “vaccine summit” on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, Biden also embraced a goal of vaccinating 70% of the global population within the next year. Biden encouraged well-off nations to do more to get the coronavirus under control around the world.
“We need other high-income countries to deliver on their own ambitious vaccine donations and pledges,” Biden said, adding wealthy countries should commit to donating, rather than selling the shots to poorer nations “with no political strings attached.”
World leaders, aid groups and global health organizations are growing increasingly vocal about the slow pace of global vaccinations and the inequity of access to shots.
About 160 million shots supplied by the U.S. have already been distributed to more than 100 countries, representing more donations than the rest of the world combined. The remaining American doses will be distributed over the coming year.
“To beat the pandemic here, we need to beat it everywhere,” Biden said. “For every one shot we’ve administered to date in America, we have now committed to do three shots to the rest of the world.”
WASHINGTON — Influential government advisers are debating which Americans should get an extra dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine once regulators clear the booster shots.
The Food and Drug Administration is expected to rule soon on Pfizer’s bid for extra doses, after its advisers last week dramatically scaled back the Biden administrations plans for boosters for everyone. Instead, that panel backed booster shots for seniors and others at high risk.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has the final word on who would qualify and convened its own advisers Wednesday to start deliberations.
The priority remains to vaccinate the unvaccinated, who the CDC says account for the vast majority of COVID-19 cases, now soaring to levels not seen since last winter. About 182 million Americans are fully vaccinated, nearly 55% of the total population.
The government will decide later whether to allow extra doses of Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
NAIROBI, Kenya — Travelers and authorities from India and many African countries are angry and confused about Britain’s new COVID-19 travel rules, calling them discriminatory.
The British government announced what it billed as a simplification of the rules last week, including allowing fully vaccinated travelers arriving in England from much of the world to skip quarantine and take fewer tests.
But the fine print on who was considered “fully vaccinated” is proving far more complicated. People vaccinated in India and African countries were among those left off the list.
Countries like Kenya, which has received hundreds of thousands of doses the AstraZeneca vaccine from Britain, were left wondering why their vaccination programs don’t appear to be good enough.
BERLIN — Germany will stop sick pay for unvaccinated people who have to go into quarantine because of COVID-19.
Previously, Germans could claim for income lost due to having to go into quarantine after returning from abroad or coming into contact with a positive case.
Health Minister Jens Spahn says the move was a matter of “fairness,” arguing that by the time the new rule comes into force on Nov. 1, everyone who wants a vaccine will have had an opportunity to get the shot.
Those who choose not to “will need to bear responsibility for this then, including the financial costs,” he says.
Germany has fully vaccinated 63.4% of its population. The government says it wants to achieve a vaccination rate of 75% to prevent a sharp rise in cases during the winter months.
LONDON — Britain’s government has announced plans to share more than a million doses of coronavirus vaccine with South Korea in a “vaccine swap.”
The U.K. plans to ship more than a million doses of its stockpile of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to South Korea in the coming weeks. South Korea is attempting to fully vaccinate 70% of its population by the end of October.
The Department of Health says the vaccine doses are not immediately required in the U.K. and won’t affect Britain’s program to roll out booster shots for parts of the population this fall and winter. South Korea will return the same number of doses to Britain by the end of the year.
Officials add the doses swapped with South Korea are not part of Britain’s commitment to send 100 million vaccines overseas.
Britain has donated 10.3 million vaccines to other nations, including 6.2 million through the vaccine-sharing facility COVAX. The rest were donated bilaterally to countries in need.
GENEVA — The number of new coronavirus cases fell again last week, with 3.6 million cases reported globally, down from 4 million the previous week, according to the World Health Organization.
Last week’s drop marked the first substantial decline for more than two months, with falling cases in every world region. In its latest update on the pandemic released on Tuesday, WHO said there were major decreases in cases in two regions: a 22% fall in the Middle East and a 16% drop in Southeast Asia.
The U.N. health agency said there were just under 60,000 deaths in the past week, a 7% decline. Southeast Asia reported a 30% decrease in COVID-19 deaths and the Western Pacific region reported a 7% increase. The most coronavirus cases were seen in the U.S., India, Britain, Turkey and the Philippines. WHO said the faster-spreading delta variant has reached 185 countries and is present in every part of the world.
The organization also revised its list of “variants of interest,” or those that it believes have the potential to cause big outbreaks; WHO said it’s tracking the lambda and mu variants, which both arose in Latin America but have yet to cause widespread epidemics.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — As coronavirus infections plummet and vaccinations accelerate in the United Arab Emirates, authorities have loosened a long-standing face mask mandate.
The Gulf Arab sheikhdom said Wednesday that residents no longer need to wear masks while exercising outdoors or visiting beaches and pools in the country. Those who receive medical or beauty treatments may also forgo the mask. However, face masks will still be required in indoor spaces like shopping malls and public transportation.
It’s the first time the Emirati government has relaxed the strict nationwide mask mandate, violations of which result in an $800 fine.
Virus cases have steadily declined in recent weeks, with health authorities now recording some 300-400 cases a day. About 80% of the population has been fully vaccinated.
The move comes just a week before Dubai hosts the long-awaited World Expo, which was pushed back a year because of the pandemic.
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Coronavirus infections in Slovakia are rising steeply, surpassing 1,000 people testing positive in one day for the first time since April.
The Health Ministry says the daily increase in new cases reached 1,180 on Tuesday, the highest number since April 7. It was 474 a week ago.
Nine more people died of COVID-19 on Tuesday for a confirmed total of 12,589 in the nation of 5.5 million.
Some 2.3 million people in Slovakia have been fully vaccinated. The country has one of the slowest vaccination rates among the European Union countries.
BEIJING — Officials in the northeast China city of Harbin say national level health officials have been sent to the city to deal with what may be a coronavirus outbreak.
The city of 9.5 million people reported three infection cases Wednesday, a day after discovering a first case of community transmission.
After the initial finding, authorities started mass testing and closed schools. The city also ordered businesses like mahjong parlors, cinemas and gyms to shut. City authorities say residents must display a negative virus test to leave for only essential travel. Otherwise, people are being told to stay home.
China has kept the virus from transmitting widely within its borders through a costly and strict strategy that relies on lockdowns and mass testing.
HONOLULU — A man who helped organize a Hawaii group that opposes coronavirus vaccines and pandemic restrictions says he now has regrets after contracting COVID-19.
Chris Wikoff told Hawaii News Now this week that he helped start the Aloha Freedom Coalition last October. He says he believed government shutdowns and other restrictions were threatening liberties and harming businesses.
But then he and his wife contracted COVID-19, the disease that is sometimes caused by the virus. Wikoff says he thought he was going to die and he still has trouble breathing. He is considering getting vaccinated because his family and doctors recommend it.
Wikoff says he no longer wants to be associated with the Aloha Freedom Coalition. He’s warning others in the group not to gather.
LOS ANGELES — California is seeing lower coronavirus transmission than other U.S. states as virus cases and hospitalizations for COVID-19 decline following a summer surge.
The state is currently the only one experiencing “substantial” coronavirus transmission, the second-highest level on the CDC’s color-coded map. So is Puerto Rico. In all other U.S. states, virus transmission is rated as “high.”
State health experts say relatively high vaccination rates in California ahead of the arrival of the delta variant of the coronavirus made a difference. They say additional measures, such as masking, also helped stem the surge.
State data say nearly 70% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.
HONOLULU — Hawaii health care providers are receiving half the number of monoclonal antibody treatments for COVID-19 that they requested amid a shortage of the drugs.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports the federal government has capped Hawaii’s weekly allocation at 680 treatments. The state will have to see whether it can get more supply in the coming weeks.
There has been a spike in demand for the drugs in states where surging hospitalizations among the unvaccinated have overwhelmed hospitals.
The treatments have been shown to reduce death and hospitalization if given early. The drugs are laboratory-made versions of virus-blocking antibodies that help fight infections.
CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Wyoming’s governor has activated the Wyoming National Guard to provide temporary assistance to hospitals dealing with a surge of patients with COVID-19.
Gov. Mark Gordon activated 95 soldiers and airmen to serve at 24 sites in 17 Wyoming cities. The Guard members will help with cleanup, food service, coronavirus screening, management of personal protective equipment and other support tasks.
Guard members will serve 14- to 30-day rotations, with the potential to extend through the end of the year.
On Tuesday, 190 people were hospitalized in Wyoming with COVID-19. That is down from a recent high of 223 on Sept. 8.
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — A North Carolina-based health care provider says nearly 400 of its workers face firings for failing to comply with a mandatory coronavirus vaccination program.
The Winston-Salem Journal reports that Novant Health said Tuesday that 1.4% of its overall workforce, or 375 employees, are not being allowed to work.
Novant announced its mandatory vaccination policy July 22, saying then that it would require full compliance by Sept. 15.
In a news release, Novant Health says the affected workers will have five days to comply with the vaccine mandate. If they don’t get the shot before the deadline, they will be fired.
NEW YORK — A new study of Texas prison inmates provides more evidence that coronavirus can spread even in groups where most people are vaccinated.
A COVID-19 outbreak at a federal prison in July and August infected 172 male inmates in two prison housing units, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released Tuesday.
About 80% of the inmates in the units had been vaccinated. More than 90% of the unvaccinated inmates wound up being infected, as did 70% of the fully vaccinated prisoners.
Severe illness, however, was more common among the unvaccinated. The hospitalization rate was almost 10 times higher for them compared with those who got the shots.
It echoes research into a July outbreak in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where several hundred people were infected — about three-quarters of whom were fully vaccinated.
Such reports have prompted a renewed push by health officials for even vaccinated people to wear masks and take other precautions. They believe the delta variant and possibly waning immunity may play a role.
The authors didn’t identify the prison, but media reports in July detailed a similar-sized outbreak at the federal prison in Texarkana.