The Latest: U.S. FDA approves J&J single-shot vaccine
WASHINGTON — The U.S. now has a third vaccine to prevent COVID-19.
The Food and Drug Administration on Saturday cleared a Johnson & Johnson shot that works with just one dose instead of two.
Health experts have anxiously awaited a one-and-done option to help speed vaccinations. The virus has already killed more than 510,000 people in the U.S. and is mutating in increasingly worrisome ways.
The FDA said J&J’s vaccine offers strong protection against what matters most: serious illness, hospitalizations and death. One dose was 85% protective against the most severe COVID-19 illness, in a massive study that spanned three continents.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
Sen. Susan Collins wants Biden Administration to reconsider U.S.-Canada border limits. U.S. House passes $1.9 trillion pandemic bill on near party-line vote. Communities in U.S. seeing less demand for coronavirus testing. Top U.S. diplomat ‘visits’ Mexico, Canada on virtual trip. North Dakota vaccinates 10% of residents so far.
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
LONDON — Church bells rang out and a World War II-era plane flew over the funeral service of Captain Tom Moore, in honor of the veteran who raised millions for Britain’s health workers by walking laps in his backyard.
Captain Tom, as he became known, died Feb. 2 at age 100 after testing positive for COVID-19. Just eight members of the veteran’s immediate family attended Saturday’s private funeral service, but soldiers carried his coffin and formed a ceremonial guard.
“Daddy, you always told us ‘Best foot forward’ and true to your word, that’s what you did last year,” Moore’s daughter Lucy Teixeira said at the service.
Moore, who served in India, Burma and Sumatra during World War II, set out to raise a modest 1,000 pounds for Britain’s NHS by walking 100 laps of his backyard by his 100th birthday last year. But donations poured in from across Britain and beyond as his quest went viral.
His trademark phrase -- “Please remember, tomorrow will be a good day” -- inspired the nation at a time of crisis. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in July at Windsor Castle.
A version of the song “Smile” singer Michael Bublé recorded for the funeral was played. So was “My Way” by Frank Sinatra, as Moore requested.
MILAN — The Lombardy region where Milan is located is heading toward a partial lockdown on Monday. Mayor Giuseppe Sala said in a video message he was disturbed by scenes of people gathering in public places, often with their masks down.
Italy has failed to flatten the curve on the fall resurgence, with numbers of new infections and deaths remaining stubbornly high amid new variants creating new outbreaks. The Italian Health Ministry reported 18,916 new infections and 280 deaths on Saturday.
The regions of Lombardy, Piedmont and Marche will go into partial lockdown on Monday, meaning no table service at bars and restaurants. Police vans blocked entrance to Milan’s trendy Navigli neighborhood Saturday evening after the mayor announced increased patrols to prevent gatherings during a spring-like weekend.
Basilicata and Molise will be designated red zones on Monday, which means upper grades will have remote learning and non-essential stores are closed. A 10 p.m. curfew remains in effect throughout the country.
ALBANY, N.Y. — New York’s new coronavirus-era dance rules aren’t exactly “Footloose” strict, but don’t plan on cutting loose and kicking off the Sunday shoes with just anybody.
The state says when wedding receptions resume next month, guests will be allowed to hit the dance floor only with members of their immediate party, household or family seated at the same table.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo previously announced weddings can begin again on March 15. Venues will be restricted to 50% of capacity, up to 150 guests, and all must be tested for coronavirus beforehand.
Dancers must wear face masks and stay within their own “dancing areas or zones.”
Happy couples can still take a twirl for a ceremonial first dance, and other couples can join in, but they must all stay 6 feet apart.
BISMARCK, N.D. — Nearly 10% of residents in North Dakota have completed both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The North Dakota Department of Health data indicates nearly 70,000 people in the state, or 9.5% of the population, have received the full two-dose series. More than 126,000, or 17.3%, have received the first dose.
North Dakota reported three COVID-19-related deaths on Saturday, bringing the state’s confirmed death toll to 1,445. Another 71 cases were confirmed, for a total of 99,780 overall.
Meanwhile, the North Dakota Department of Commerce announced $20 million in grants to help the state’s hotels, motels and lodging businesses that lost revenue due to the pandemic.
INDIANAPOLIS — Nearly 900 new cases of the coronavirus and 27 more deaths have been reported in Indiana.
The Indiana Department of Health says the 897 newly diagnosed cases bring the state’s confirmed total to 660,942 since the start of the pandemic.
The state has registered 12,125 deaths, while another 431 probable deaths have been reported based on clinical diagnoses in patients with no positive test on record.
More than 981,000 Indiana residents have received a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 552,241 are fully vaccinated.
JUNEAU, Alaska — The federal government has approved Alaska’s plan to give the state’s fishing industry almost $50 million in pandemic relief.
Commercial applicants will be required to provide evidence that the coronavirus pandemic caused them to lose at least 35% of revenue in 2020. Applications will be accepted from March until May.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game Deputy Commissioner Rachel Baker says the final plan excludes commercial permit holders who fish in Alaska but live in other states that received coronavirus relief. Payments could begin as early as June.
CoastAlaska reported Friday the decision came after two major revisions to the plan and more than 200 public comments from every industry sector.
CARIBOU, Maine — Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine wants the Biden administration to reconsider U.S.-Canada border restrictions that were imposed a year ago because of the pandemic.
Her letter came less than a week after Department of Homeland Security announced the U.S., Mexico and Canada had jointly agreed to maintain land border restrictions until March 21.
Collins wrote in a letter to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas that an “equitable solution” is needed for border communities that recognizes lower risk levels.
Only Canadian citizens, Americans with dual citizenship and family members and partners can cross for nonessential purposes.
SEATTLE — People looking for a unique outdoor dining option during the pandemic can now make a run to the home of the Seattle Seahawks.
A dining series called “Field to Table” kicked off this month at Lumen Field. It features four-course meals from local chefs, plus a view of the NFL stadium normally reserved for players and coaches.
Diners eat their meals under an open-sided tent on the field, near the north end zone.
Event producer Sam Minkoff says the series’ original dates quickly sold out, but additional reservations will be available soon.
A portion of the proceeds go to the nonprofit Big Table, which helps struggling restaurant and hospitality workers. Seattle area eateries recently resumed reduced-capacity indoor seating after being restricted to takeout or limited outdoor seating.
TAMPA, Fla. — The Toronto Raptors played without most of their coaching staff and one player on Friday night because of coronavirus-related issues.
Six members of their coaching staff, including head coach Nick Nurse, missed the game against the Houston Rockets. Forward Pascal Siakam also sat out, indicating either a testing or contact tracing issue.
The NBA has postponed 29 games this season because of virus-related issues with players or other personnel since the season began Dec. 22. It’s the first time a team has said its coaching staff would miss a game because of the protocols.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver says: “Anytime we have a positive case, we go through extensive contact tracing, player by player, team staff member by team staff member, and then that independent group makes that decision as to whether the game should go on.”
Assistant Sergio Scariolo coached Toronto to a 122-111 win against the Rockets on Friday night in Tampa, Florida. The Raptors play their home games in Florida because of coronavirus travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada.
WASHINGTON — Communities across the U.S. are seeing plummeting demand for coronavirus testing.
The drop comes at a significant moment in the outbreak, when experts are cautiously optimistic the coronavirus is lessening with the help of public health measures and vaccines. But they are concerned that emerging variants could prolong the epidemic.
U.S. testing hit a peak on Jan. 15. Since then, the average number of daily tests has fallen more than 28%. All major virus measures, including new cases, hospitalizations and deaths, are down. Other reasons for less testing include harsh winter weather, the end of the holiday travel season and a focus on vaccinations.
RAMALLAH, West Bank — The Palestinian government announced a 12-day lockdown in the Israeli-occupied West Bank after a surge in coronavirus cases, including new variants.
Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh announced the lockdown, which includes shutting down schools, a nighttime curfew and ban on travel to other governorates.
On Saturday, the Health Ministry reported 1,472 new infections in the West Bank. The confirmed death toll is 1,476 people.
The Palestinian Authority secured 10,000 doses of vaccines from Russia and began its limited inoculation drive. Israel delivered 2,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine and is yet to provide 3,000 more shots, covering a tiny fraction of the Palestinian population.
Israel, which has administered at least one dose of Pfizer vaccine on over half of its population, is facing scrutiny and criticism for not sharing the shots with Palestinians under its control. Israel says the Palestinian Authority is responsible for providing health services to its people.
TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s Health Ministry says the country expects to receive 250,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine from China on Saturday.
Alireza Raisi, deputy health minister, says the country will receive doses of other vaccines, including from India, in the “near future” as the country struggles to fight the worst outbreak of the pandemic in the Middle East.
This month, Iran imported 120,000 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine from Russia. Reports have said Iran has purchased a total of 2 million doses.
Iran in December began human trials on the first vaccine manufactured in the country, which is expected to be distributed in the spring. The country is also working on a joint vaccine with Cuba.
Iran plans to import some 17 million doses of vaccine from the international COVAX program and millions more from individual countries.
Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari put Iran’s death toll from COVID-19 at 59,980 after 81 more died from the disease since Friday. Lari says 7,975 new confirmed cases have brought the total to more than 1.6 million in a country with a population of more than 83 million.
SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico health officials on Friday confirmed an additional 659 COVID-19 infections, the highest daily case count in more than three weeks.
Nearly 30% of the new cases involved state inmates.
Officials this week expressed optimism about downward trends in the overall spread of the virus, with all of the state’s counties reporting positivity rates below 10%. However, they acknowledged that the seven-day rolling average of daily cases remained above targets.
In all, New Mexico has reported nearly 185,000 cases since the pandemic began. The death toll stands at 3,685, with more than a dozen deaths reported Friday.
OHAKUNE, New Zealand — New Zealand’s largest city of Auckland is going back into a seven-day lockdown after a new unexplained coronavirus case was found.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made the announcement Saturday evening after an urgent meeting with top lawmakers in the Cabinet. She said the lockdown would take effect from Sunday morning.
Auckland earlier this month was placed into a three-day lockdown after new cases of the more contagious variant first found in Britain were found.
New Zealand has pursued a zero-tolerance elimination strategy with the virus, and had successfully stamped out community spread before the latest cases were found this month.
Ardern said the latest patient had experienced symptoms since earlier in the week and could have infected others.
The rest of New Zealand will also have increased restrictions.
HONG KONG — Over 500,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived in Hong Kong on Saturday following a two-day delay due to export procedures, offering a second inoculation option for the city.
The Pfizer-BioNTech shots will be offered to about 2.4 million eligible residents from priority groups such as those aged 60 and above and health care workers.
About 70,000 residents who have registered for the vaccination program, which kicked off on Friday, will receive the shots developed by Chinese biopharmaceutical firm Sinovac. The Sinovac vaccines were the first to arrive last week.
Registration details for those wishing to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech shots haven’t been announced yet.
Hong Kong has struck deals for a total of 22.5 million doses, with 7.5 million each from Sinovac, AstraZeneca and Fosun Pharma, which is delivering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. The government has so far approved the Sinovac and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s Disease Control and Prevention Agency is allowing health workers to squeeze extra doses from vials of coronavirus vaccines developed by AstraZeneca and Pfizer.
The decision on Saturday came after some health workers who were administering the AstraZeneca shots reported to authorities that they still saw additional doses left in the bottles that had each been used for 10 injections.
KDCA official Jeong Gyeong-shil said skilled workers might squeeze one or two extra doses from each vial if they use low dead-volume syringes designed to reduce wasted medications and vaccines.
However, she said the KDCA isn’t allowing health workers from combining vaccines left in different bottles to create more doses.
The KDCA had previously authorized 10 injections for each AstraZeneca vial and six for each Pfizer vial.
South Korea, which launched its public vaccination campaign on Friday, is administering the AstraZeneca shots to residents and workers at long-term care facilities and the Pfizer ones to front-line medical workers.
WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — The Navajo Nation has continued on a downward trend in the number of daily coronavirus cases.
Tribal health officials on Friday reported 23 new cases of COVID-19 and four additional deaths. The latest numbers bring the total to 29,710 cases since the pandemic began. The death toll is 1,165.
A curfew remains in effect for residents on the vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah to prevent the spread of the virus.
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Gov. Ned Lamont says Connecticut still has “a long way to go” to improve COVID-19 vaccination rates among Black and Hispanic residents, as new data show whites are getting inoculated at higher rates.
Lamont appeared with Black clergy members at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport to try to convince people the vaccines are safe and effective. Several church leaders received vaccinations Friday.
“We’re doing better than we did two weeks ago, but not good enough," Lamont said.
New data released by the state Thursday shows 39% of white state residents ages 65 and older have received the first of two shots of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, compared with 21% of Black residents and 27% of Hispanic citizens 65 and older.