The Latest: Biden uses Defense Production Act for vaccines

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UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations chief is urging the world to mark the “heart-wrenching milestone” of 2 million deaths from the coronavirus by acting with greater solidarity to ensure vaccines are available and affordable in all countries.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a video message Friday that governments have a responsibility to protect their people.

“Science is succeeding —but solidarity is failing,” he warned. “Vaccines are reaching high income countries quickly, which the world’s poorest have none at all.”

Guterres said the world’s leading economies have a special responsibility to support the World Health Organization’s COVAX program to buy and deliver coronavirus vaccines for the world’s poorest people.

He also urged rich nations to share excess doses of vaccines which “would help vaccinate all health care workers around the world on an urgent basis and protect health systems from collapse.”

New York has offered vaccinations to people 65 and over and the 71-year-old Guterres is scheduled to be vaccinated next week, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. Volkan Bozkir, the 70-year-old president of the 193-member U.N. General Assembly, says he’ll be vaccinated on Feb. 2.

THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

Global deaths reach 2 million from coronavirus. Pfizer temporarily reduces European deliveries of vaccine. Desperate effort to bring oxygen supplies to the Brazilian rainforest’s biggest city. City in northern China builds 3,000-unit quarantine facility to handle anticipated overflow of COVID-19 patients.

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden has unveiled $1.9 trillion plan for tackling the coronavirus pandemic and provide 100 million vaccines in 100 days. Spain insists it can stay open and still beat the virus while much of Europe is increasingly locked down.

HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

RICHMOND, Va. — A spokeswoman for Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam says reports the federal government has already depleted a reserve of vaccine promised to states are “astonishing.”

On Tuesday, governors “were told explicitly” that they’d be provided additional doses, Northam’s spokeswoman, Alena Yarmosky, said in a statement to The Associated Press.

Northam, a Democrat and a doctor, then moved quickly to announce the state would expand vaccine eligibility.

Yarmosky says Northam’s administration on Friday is “trying to gather as much information as possible” to understand the situation and plan accordingly.

“Once again, the Trump administration cannot seem to provide basic facts and truths,” she says.

NEW YORK — Health officials say by March, a new and more infectious strain of coronavirus — first found in the United Kingdom — will likely become the dominant strain in the United States.

The UK variant currently is in 12 states but has been diagnosed in only 76 of the 23 million U.S. cases reported to date. However, it’s likely that version of the virus is more widespread in this country than is currently reported, according to scientists at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While it’s considered more infectious than the virus that’s been causing the bulk of U.S. cases so far, there’s no evidence that it causes more severe illness or is transmitted differently. Therefore, mask wearing, social distancing and hand washing and other prevention strategies can still work, the CDC says.

GENEVA — The U.N. health agency’s emergencies chief says the impact of new variants of the coronavirus in places like Britain, South Africa and Brazil remains to be seen, and faults human behavior for some recent rises in case counts.

“It’s just too easy to lay the blame on the variant and say, ‘It’s the virus that did it,’” Dr. Michael Ryan, the emergencies chief at the World Health Organization, said Friday. “Well unfortunately, it’s also what we didn’t do that did it.”

That’s a reference to holiday gatherings and other social contacts as well as loosening adherence by some to calls from public health officials to respect maks wearing, social distancing and hand washing.

Ryan also pointed to new recommendations from the WHO’s emergency committee advising that countries shouldn’t require proof of vaccination by incoming travelers for now.

“If you look at the recommendation made by the committee around vaccination for travelers, it says ‘at the present time,’” Ryan said, noting that vaccine supply is not complete and that the science remains unclear if the COVID-19 vaccines now being deployed act to prevent transmission from a vaccinated person to others.

MEXICO CITY — The global death toll from the coronavirus has topped 2 million.

It crossed the threshold on Friday, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. The bleak milestone comes amid a monumental but uneven effort to vaccinate people against the coronavirus.

Some countries are seeing real hope of vanquishing outbreaks. In wealthy countries, including the United States, Britain, Israel, Canada and Germany, tens of millions of citizens have already received shots. But elsewhere, immunization drives have barely gotten off the ground.

Many health experts are predicting another year of loss and hardship in places like Iran, India, Mexico and Brazil. Those four countries collectively account for about a quarter of the world’s deaths.

The U.S. leads the world with nearly 390,000 confirmed deaths.

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer has confirmed it will temporarily reduce deliveries to Europe of its COVID-19 vaccine while it upgrades production capacity to 2 billion vaccine doses per year.

“This temporary reduction will affect all European countries,” a spokeswoman for Pfizer Denmark said in a statement to The Associated Press. Germany’s Health Ministry says Pfizer had informed the European Commission, which was responsible for ordering vaccines from the company, that it won’t be able to fulfill all of the promised deliveries in the coming three to four weeks.

The ministry says German officials took note of the unexpected announcement by the Commission “with regret” because the company had made binding delivery commitments by mid-February.

TORONTO — Canada’s procurement minister says production issues in Europe will temporarily reduce Pfizer’s ability to deliver vaccines.

Minister Anita Anand says the U.S. drug-maker is temporarily reducing deliveries because of issues with its European production lines. She adds while the company says it will still deliver 4 million doses by the end of March, that is no longer guaranteed.

Canada has received just 380,000 doses of the vaccine and was supposed to get another 400,000 this month. It is expecting nearly 2 million doses in February. Canada hopes to vaccinate everyone who wants to be vaccinated by September.

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden also is tapping former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner David Kessler to help lead the incoming administration’s vaccine rollout and development program.

Kessler has been advising Biden as a co-chair of his advisory board on the coronavirus pandemic. He served in the FDA from 1990 to 1997, under Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

The pick of Kessler comes after Biden on Thursday called the Trump administration’s rollout of coronavirus vaccines a “dismal failure” and says he will unveil his own plans on Friday to speed up inoculations.

He will replace Moncef Slaoui, a researcher and former drug company executive who led Operation Warp Speed for the Trump administration, Slaoui will become a consultant to Operation Warp Speed.

Kessler will work with Gen. Gustave Perna, who will continue as chief operating officer.

SALEM, Ore. — Oregon Gov. Kate Brown says the state’s efforts to increase COVID-19 vaccinations have been thrown in disarray because of “deception on a national scale” by the Trump administration.

The Democrat wrote on Twitter that she was told by General Gustave F. Perna, who leads the “Operation Warp Speed” federal vaccine effort, states won’t receive increased shipments of vaccines from the national stockpile next week “because there is no federal reserve of doses.”

Brown wrote: “I am demanding answers from the Trump Administration. I am shocked and appalled that they have set an expectation on which they could not deliver, with such grave consequences.”

On Thursday, officials from the Oregon Health Authority announced vaccination sites had met the goal of 12,000 coronavirus vaccine doses a day. The state has administered a total of 146,137 first and second doses of vaccines.

COLUMBIA, Mo. — The Missouri House canceled work next week because of a rising number of coronavirus cases in the capitol.

Republican House leaders announced the decision late Thursday.

“Due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the building, we are exercising an abundance of caution to protect members, staff, and visitors by canceling session next week,” top Republican representatives said in a joint statement.

House leaders didn’t specify how many lawmakers and staffers are ill, but at least two lawmakers tested positive and another is in quarantine.

House leaders plan to return to work the week of Jan. 25. Senate leaders have not yet announced whether they plan to cancel work next week.

ATLANTA — The coronavirus vaccines have been rolled out unevenly across the U.S., but some states in the Deep South have had particularly dismal inoculation rates. Data from the states and the CDC shows less than 2% of the population in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and South Carolina had received its first dose of a vaccine at the start of this week.

So far, the highest states have managed to vaccinate about 5% of their populations.

As in other parts of the country, southern states face challenges: limited vaccine supplies, some health care workers who refuse the shot and bureaucratic systems not equipped to schedule the huge number of appointments.

Public health researchers note the South has typically lagged in funding public health systems and addressing disparities in care for its large rural populations.

DENVER — Senior citizens are scrambling to figure out how to sign up to get their shots.

Many states and counties ask people 65 and older to make appointments online. But glitchy websites, overwhelmed phone lines and a patchwork of fast-changing rules are bedeviling older people who are often less tech-savvy, live far from vaccination sites and are more likely to not have internet access at all.

States have thrown open the line to many of the nation’s 54 million senior citizens with the blessing of President Donald Trump’s administration, though the minimum age varies from place to place at 65, 70 or higher.

Doctors and other health officials are saying there’s a flood of confusion, and some places are looking for solutions, like partnering with community groups.

The U.S. recorded an all-time high of 4,327 deaths on Tuesday, according to Johns Hopkins University. The nation’s overall death toll has topped 388,000.

ROME — Italy’s beleaguered premier, Giuseppe Conte, has signed a new series of restrictions aimed at containing the coronavirus resurgence.

Conte has lost the support of a small but key coalition partner over his handling of some aspects of the crisis. Meanwhile, the new rules running through Feb. 15 extend the ban on traveling between regions and maintains a 10 p.m.-5 a.m. curfew.

The opening of ski lifts has been postponed for a second time. And in a rule hotly contested by regional leaders, bars must close completely at 6 p.m., and cannot offer take-away or delivery as is permitted by restaurants.

Italy has been operating on a three-tier set of restrictions.

BERLIN — The Austrian capital of Vienna will vaccinate thousands of medical workers in the coming four days.

Authorities in Vienna plan to give first shots to 11,000 people, the majority general practitioners, specialists and their staff.

The shots are being administered at Vienna’s main convention center and will be available to hundreds of paramedics, nurses and independent midwives.

Mayor Michael Ludwig says giving priority to medical workers would help show the rest of the population that the vaccines are safe.

BEIRUT — Lebanon’s parliament has approved a draft law to allow the importing of vaccines.

The approval Friday opens the way for imports of vaccines from around the world, including the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Health Minister Hamad Hassan, who is hospitalized with the coronavirus, had said that once the draft law is approved, the first deliveries of vaccines should start arriving in February.

Lebanon a tiny country of about six million people has witnessed a sharp increase of cases in recent weeks, with some 80,000 expatriates flying in to celebrate Christmas and New Year.

Lebanon has reserved 2.7 million doses of vaccines from multiple international companies and 2.1 million to be provided by Pfizer, Diab’s office says.

Lebanon has registered nearly 240,000 of coronavirus cases and some 1,800 confirmed deaths.

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