US to donate 500 million doses of Pfizer vaccine to the world; Americans skipping vaccines for other diseases: Live COVID-19 updates

Amid intensifying calls for wealthy nations to share their COVID vaccine surplus with the rest of the world, the U.S. is poised to step up big time.

President Joe Biden will announce the U.S. has purchased 500 million doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to donate to 92 low-income countries and the African Union, a person familiar with the plan told USA TODAY.

Biden is set to announce the donation Thursday in remarks at the Group of Seven summit in Britain. The doses will be distributed through the global vaccine alliance known as COVAX, with 200 million to be shared this year and the remaining 300 million to be donated through the first half of 2022, according to the person, who confirmed the report on condition of anonymity.

The U.S. has been under mounting pressure to step up efforts to share vaccines as need across the country begins to wane and more Americans are vaccinated. The administration had previously said it would give away 80 million vaccine doses by the end of this month, but this new commitment represents a six-fold increase.

The first allotment of those 80 million doses – a 25 million tranche – will go mostly to countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, South and Southeast Asia and Africa.

Vaccine inequality has become an increasingly pressing concern, and the World Health Organization has warned of a “two-track pandemic” as wealthy nations inoculate large portions of their populations and developing countries are left exposed to the coronavirus’ ravages.

In a June 3 report, Oxfam International said that of the 1.77 billion doses administered worldwide to that point, 28% had gone to people in G7 nations and only 0.3% to low-income countries. Such disparity could prolong the pandemic and allow for dangerous variants to emerge as the virus continues to spread.

— Courtney Subramanian

Also in the news:

►Iowa won’t allow its residents to see their vaccination histories or those of their children on the state website anymore, saying it wants to prevent employers from checking on their workers’ vaccination status without permission.

►With France’s rate of adults at least partially vaccinated reaching 54%, the French government on Wednesday reopened indoor spaces in restaurants and cafes as well as gyms and swimming pools. The nightly curfew was pushed back from 9 to 11 p.m.

►Several dozen staffers at Houston Methodist Hospital, which became the first major health care system in the U.S. to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations, were suspended without pay this week for not complying with the hospital’s full vaccination requirement. The staffers represent less than 1% of the hospital’s roughly 26,000 employee workforce.

►Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is pushing to accelerate the country’s COVID-19 vaccination program ahead of the Summer Olympics, says he is aiming to have everyone in the country vaccinated by November.

►An uptick in cases has prompted authorities in Moscow to increase enforcement measures for wearing masks and gloves. The Russian coronavirus task force on Wednesday reported 4,124 new cases in the capital city, a 40% increase from Sunday.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 33.4 million confirmed coronavirus cases and at least 598,500 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: Over 174 million cases and over 3.75 million deaths. Nearly 141 million Americans have been fully vaccinated – 42.5% of the population, according to the CDC.

📘 What we’re reading: Summer vacation season is underway without a key element this year: packed flights between the United States and London because of COVID travel restrictions.

Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates. Want more? Sign up for our Coronavirus Watch newsletter for updates to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

Seattle, San Francisco take their shots as top major cities for vaccinations

Two West Coast cities are in a neck-and-neck race for the country’s top vaccination status, and each may have a claim on holding the lead.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said Wednesday hers is the first major U.S. city with 70% of its residents 12 and older having completed their COVID-19 vaccinations, edging San Francisco by a percentage point.

“Now that we have reached community protection, we can lead the nation in safely reopening and recovering in earnest,” Durkan said in statement.

However, San Francisco is slightly ahead with the nation’s best rate of residents 12 and above who’ve had at least one vaccine shot, 79-78%, and could inch ahead in the race for herd immunity. At least according to The Guardian.

Under the headline “San Francisco may be first major US city to hit herd immunity, experts say,” the British newspaper says the California city is averaging less than 14 new infections a day, not enough to fuel any outbreaks.

“That is what herd immunity looks like,” said Dr. George Rutherford, an infectious disease expert at the University of California-San Francisco. “You’re going to have single cases, but they’re not going to propagate out.”

Americans missed millions of vaccine doses for other diseases in 2020

It’s not only the COVID vaccine a large segment of the U.S. population has failed to get.

A new report says teens and adults may have missed more than 26 million doses of recommended vaccines in 2020, split into 8.8 million for adolescents and 17.2 million for adults. Vaccine claims were close to 35% lower for teens last year compared with 2019, and claims for adults were up to 40% lower.

“As life returns to normal, we must prioritize getting individuals caught up on their missed vaccines,” said Dr. Leonard Friedland, vice president and director of scientific affairs and public health at GSK Vaccines.

Though the U.S. has inoculated more than half its population against the coronavirus, polls show millions of Americans have no intention to get the vaccine.

— Adrianna Rodriguez

Fauci: US needs to avoid Delta variant problems now dogging UK

The Delta variant is fueling a spike in coronavirus cases in the United Kingdom, and the top American infectious-diseases expert says the U.S. needs to be wary because the mutation has already arrived in its shores.

The U.K. recorded 7,540 new infections Wednesday, the biggest daily increase since Feb. 26, according to government figures. Cases have been rising over the past few weeks with the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant first identified in India, leading to concerns that the surge may stress the health system once again.

Health experts hope the rapid rollout of vaccines will break the link between new cases and deaths. A large proportion of the new infections are among the younger age groups, many of whom have yet to receive a first dose.

White House COVID adviser Anthony Fauci told CNN the U.S. can avoid similar problems by having more people get the vaccine, which appears to be effective against the Delta variant. U.S. health officials say the variant currently makes up 6% of infections in the country.

“We don’t want to give it the opportunity to take over as the dominant variant,” Fauci said, “and we have within our power to do that by getting people vaccinated, because we have very, very good vaccines.”

Largest summer school program in history faces major task

Millions of children will participate in what’s expected to be the largest summer school program in history, powered by more than $1.2 billion in targeted post-pandemic assistance from the federal American Rescue Plan. But experts worry the students who would most benefit from extra tutoring won’t get it. Studies have shown students most needing help, typically Black or Latino kids from low-income families who were already being left behind academically before the pandemic – often because of socio-economic factors and systemic racism – are least likely to actually participate. And those who sign up often don’t attend consistently.

“The past many months have been full of trauma and heartbreak and stress,” said Austin Beutner, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District. “We know one of the best places for kids to heal is schools, surrounded by support and their friends and the sense of community that only a school can provide.” Read more here.

Trevor Hughes

Wisconsin pharmacist who tried to ruin 500 vaccine doses gets three years in prison

A former pharmacist in Wisconsin who admitted trying to sabotage more than 500 doses of COVID-19 vaccines at a time when demand for the shots was overwhelming has been sentenced to three years in prison.

Steven Brandenburg, 46, of Grafton admitted after his arrest in December to intentionally removing the doses manufactured by Moderna from a refrigerator for hours at Aurora Medical Center in Grafton. He pleaded guilty in February to two felony counts of attempt to tamper with a consumer product.

His attorney, Jason Baltz, said Brandenburg was skeptical about vaccines in general after one of his daughters was diagnosed with eczema, a skin condition, following an inoculation at a young age.

Aurora destroyed most of the tampered doses, but not before 57 people – mostly Brandenburg’s co-workers – received inoculations from the supply. Those doses are believed to have still been effective, but weeks of uncertainty on that front created a storm of anger, anxiety and anguish among the recipients, according to court documents.

“The team is still very troubled,” said Michelle Blakely, president of the Aurora facility. “This has been absolutely devastating for the organization.”

Elliot Hughes’ Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Ohio reports 20,000th death and fewest hospitalizations to date

Ohio crossed two COVID-19 milestones Tuesday, surpassing 20,000 deaths but also reporting the fewest number of people currently hospitalized statewide.

Only 503 COVID patients were being treated in Ohio hospitals Tuesday, the lowest number seen since the Ohio Hospital Association began collecting data in March 2020. That’s down from a high of 5,308 on Dec. 15, 2020, and 1,058 just one month ago.

After recording a high of 5,520 deaths in December, the state saw a decline in January and February as people in long-term care facilities got vaccinated. As of Tuesday, more than 46% of Ohio’s population had received at least one vaccine shot.

– Jackie Borchardt, Cincinnati Enquirer

CDC: Vaccinated Americans can visit Canada, Mexico, 60 other nations

Federal authorities are giving their blessing for Americans to visit our neighboring countries to the north and south, as long as travelers are vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised travel health notices for dozens of nations to a lower-risk tier, adjusting travel guidance for vaccinated Americans in the process. Among the 62 destinations that dropped from “COVID-19 very high” Level 4 tier to “COVID-19 high” Level 3 tier are Canada, Mexico, Japan, Italy, France and Germany.

The CDC recommends avoiding countries at Level 4 and says visitors to Level 3 nations should be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. It discourages nonessential travel to the latter group by those who are not vaccinated.

– Bailey Schulz

Fake COVID-19 vaccination cards are circulating on the Internet

Fake COVID-19 vaccination cards are being sold online across various platforms, from Amazon to Telegram. Amazon has since taken down the vendor, but photos shared on Twitter show what was once live – a 10-pack of blank vaccination cards for $12.99. Some organizations and states created apps and digital passports to prove vaccination, but there is no widespread practice. Scammers are making use of the confusion to profit from the fake vaccination cards. Scammers have also found space on Telegram, the messaging service and app, to sell fake COVID-19 vaccine cards, BuzzFeed News found.

The FBI shared a public service announcement in March saying that it is illegal to make or buy the vaccination cards because it is a misuse of the official government agency’s seal. The agency also said it puts others at risk of contracting COVID-19.

Contributing: The Associated Press.

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