The first of many freezer-packed COVID-19 vaccine vials made their way to distribution sites across the United States on Sunday, as the nation’s pandemic deaths approached the horrifying new milestone of 300,000.
The rollout of the Pfizer vaccine, the first to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration, ushers in the biggest vaccination effort in U.S. history — one that health officials hope the American public will embrace, even as some have voiced initial skepticism or worry. Shots are expected to be given to health care workers and nursing home residents beginning Monday.
Quick transport is key for the vaccine, especially since this one must be stored at extremely low temperatures — about 94 degrees below zero. Early Sunday, workers at Pfizer — dressed in fluorescent yellow clothing, hard hats and gloves — wasted no time as they packed vials into boxes. They scanned the packages and then placed them into freezer cases with dry ice.
The vaccines were then taken from Pfizer’s Portage, Michigan, facility to Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, where the first cargo plane took off amid what airport officials called a “jubilant” mood.
“This is a historic day,” said Richard W. Smith, who oversees operations in the Americas for FedEx Express, which is delivering 630-some packages of vaccine to distribution sites across the country. United Parcel Service also is transporting a share of the vaccine.
TORONTO — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the first of many freezer-packed COVID-19 vaccine vials have arrived in Canada.
Trudeau tweeted a picture of them being taken off a plane. Canada’s health regulator approved the vaccine made by U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech last Wednesday.
The Canadian government recently amended its contract with Pfizer so that it would deliver up to 249,000 doses this month. Trudeau says it is good news but he is urging Canadians to continue to wear masks, avoid gatherings and to download a government app that lets users know if they’ve come in contact with those who have tested positive.
LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County has again broken a record for coronavirus hospitalizations, fulfilling the county public health director’s dire predictions in just days.
Figures released Sunday afternoon show that more than 4,000 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 in the nation’s most populous county.
That breaks the previous record set only the day before, with 3,850 patients in a hospital, and follows the trend of hospitalizations increasing nearly every day since Nov. 1.
The LA County health director warned on Monday, when hospitalizations were near 3,000, that the county could see the statistic to climb to 4,000 within two weeks.
Statewide coronavirus figures were not immediately available Sunday.
More than 325,000 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine are on their way to California.
ROME — Italy on Sunday registered 484 confirmed COVID-19 deaths, one of its lowest daily death tolls in about a month. But those latest deaths were enough to eclipse Britain’s toll as having Europe’s highest toll in the pandemic, according to tracking done by Johns Hopkins University.
Counting criteria differ in the two countries, and many deaths, especially early in the pandemic in Italy, are believed to have gone undetected.
According to the Italian Health Ministry on Sunday, Italy’s known death toll stood at 64,520. Britain’s toll, according to Johns Hopkins data, stood at 64,267 as of Sunday evening.
Italy added nearly 18,000 coronavirus infections from the previous day, raising the nation’s official tally over 1.84 million. By far, the region registering the highest number of new infections in the last 24 hours was the northern region of Veneto, which in the first surge last spring had fared better than its neighbor Lombardy.
ALGIERS, Algeria — Still recovering from COVID-19, Algeria’s president has suddenly reappeared after nearly two months out of the public eye.
President Abdelmadjid Tebboune said in a video message Sunday that it may still be several more weeks before he is fit enough to return to the North African country. He fell ill and then left for treatment in Germany in late October. Before his 4-minute, 54-second video message, his last public appearance had been in mid-October, in a meeting with France’s foreign minister.
The 75-year-old Tebboune spoke clearly in the video and did not seem short of breath. He has, however, clearly lost weight.
SEATTLE — The American spirit of generosity this holiday season may be no match for nonprofits dealing with the coronavirus.
Despite record amounts of charitable donations this year, nonprofits across the country are being suffocated by the effects of the pandemic as organizations face soaring costs and demands for help, yet are largely without their own support systems, including volunteers and in-person fundraising events.
December is generally the most important month for nonprofit revenues, as Christmas and end-of-year tax deductions typically drive a flood of charitable giving. All that might not be enough.
There have been efforts to encourage more giving since the coronavirus took hold of modern life in March.
The IRS is urging the public to utilize a special $300 tax deduction that can be claimed next year for cash donations in 2020 to tax-exempted nonprofits. The initiative allows non-itemized filers to get the tax break only for 2020, as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act passed by Congress last spring.
WASHINGTON — Moncef Slaoui, the chief scientist leading the White House’s Operation Warp Speed, said President Donald Trump’s public pressuring of the Food and Drug Administration commissioner last week to quickly approve the coronavirus vaccine was not helpful for building public confidence in the inoculation campaign.
Trump on Twitter and his chief of staff Mark Meadows privately lambasted FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn last week for moving too slowly before the FDA issued an emergency authorization on Friday for an authorization for the vaccine produced by Pfizer Inc.
Asked about the pressuring of Hahn, Slaoui said on Fox News Sunday that “if that phone call happened, I think it was useless and unfortunate, so are some of the tweets.”
An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research published last week found only about half of Americans are ready to take the vaccine.
Slaoui also urged Americans to keep an open mind about the vaccine and warned that the virus will continue to plague the nation beyond the spring if too few people take it.
WASHINGTON — The head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says he’s hopeful that the agency’s outside advisers will clear a second coronavirus vaccine for emergency use later this week.
But FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn says he won’t “prejudge” the outcome of Thursday’s meeting.
That’s when FDA advisers will review the agency’s independent assessment of data supplied by Moderna about its coronavirus vaccine.
Hahn tells CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday that it is his “sincere hope” that his agency can move forward “expeditiously” on the Moderna vaccine.
The same FDA panel last Thursday endorsed the first coronavirus vaccine, made by Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech. The FDA approved that vaccine for emergency use on Friday.
Pfizer began shipping out its vaccine on Sunday.
WASHINGTON — The director of the National Institutes of Health is that stressing the first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine being distributed this week are safe and effective and is urging Americans to put aside any skepticism so that as many people can be vaccinated as possible.
Dr. Francis Collins tells NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he hopes people will get past the “noise” and “conspiracy theories” about the Pfizer vaccine’s safety because approval was based on “scientific decision-making of the most vigorous sort.”
He says face masks are still going to be “a part of our life” in the coming months because it remains unknown whether a vaccinated person could spread COVID-19 to others.
But he believes the virus could be significantly stunted by June if 70% to 80% of Americans are vaccinated, the level most experts believe is needed to reach “herd immunity.”
Collins says masks could be all but gone in the latter half of next year. If only half of Americans are willing to take the vaccine, he says, “this could go on and on and on.”
ROME — Italy’s special commissioner for the pandemic says the vaccination campaign against COVID-19 will begin in all 27 European Union countries on the same “symbolic” day, to be followed with individual countries’ rollouts of larger inoculation programs.
“The idea that one European country could begin before another is far” from what will occur, the official, Domenico Arcuri, told reporters on Sunday. “The campaign will begin in all countries on a symbolic day” before the start of the actual campaign of mass vaccinations.
He did not say when the first day was or how many people would be vaccinated that day.
Italy’s first phase of vaccinations, targeting 1.8 million health care personnel and residents and staff of nursing homes, should be underway in mid-January, Arcuri said. Some 300 pavilions will be set up in town squares and other public places, where people can receive the shots.
BERLIN — Most stores shut, tight limits on social contacts, no singing in church and a ban on fireworks sales: Germany is ratcheting up its pandemic restrictions to cut the stubbornly high rate of coronavirus infections.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said she and the governors of Germany’s 16 states agreed Sunday to step up the country’s lockdown measures from Dec. 16 to Jan. 10 to stop the exponential rise of COVID-19 cases.
“We are forced to act and we’re acting,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin, noting that existing restrictions imposed in November failed to significantly reduce the number of new infections.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Germany has risen over the past two weeks from 21.23 new cases per 100,000 people on Nov. 28 to 26 new cases per 100,000 people on Dec. 12.
Starting Wednesday, schools nationwide will be closed or switch to home schooling; most non-food stores will be closed, as will businesses such as hairdressers; restaurant takeout will remain permitted, but consumption on-site — including alcohol— will be banned.
With the exception of Christmas, the number of people allowed to meet indoors will remain restricted to five, not including children under 14.
PARIS: Authorities on the Mediterranean island of Corsica are making COVID-19 tests obligatory for any visitors traveling from the French mainland for the Christmas-New Year period.
The measure is extraordinary in that it sets Corsica apart from all of mainland France’s other regions, which do not require tests for travel between them.
Under the measures announced this weekend by the French government’s top administrator for Corsica, Pascal Lelarge, all travelers aged 12 and over will need to undergo a virus test in the 72 hours before taking a plane or boat to the island. The rules will apply from Dec. 19 to Jan. 8, 2021.
Travelers will need to fill out a form confirming that they tested negative. A fine of 135 euros ($164) can be levied from travelers who don’t get tested. Lelarge also warned of possible legal action against people who infect others. Police at airports and ports in Corsica will carry out checks, and travelers will need to be able to produce paperwork from labs or pharmacists proving that they got tested.
The measures are aimed at keeping down Corsica’s infection rates, which are far lower than the national average, and to shield the island’s hospitals.
LONDON — Elderly residents of Scottish nursing homes will start receiving the coronavirus vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech on Monday.
The residents, along with nursing home staff, will be the next to get the innoculations after 5,000 health service workers and vaccinators in Britain received the shots, Scottish officials said Sunday.
It’s part of the first phase of Britain’s mass vaccination program, which launched earlier this month and involves giving out 800,000 doses.
Authorities in the U.K., which has reported more than 64,000 COVID-19 related deaths, gave emergency authorization to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine earlier this month, making it the first country to approve its widespread use.
Officials said they were able to extend the rollout to nursing homes after solving some logistical challenges with the vaccine, which has to be stored at minus-70 degrees Celsius (minus-94 degrees Fahrenheit).
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan has increased its funds allocation for purchasing COVID-19 vaccines amid a surge in the coronavirus.
Dr. Nausheen Hamid, parliamentary secretary for National Health Services, says the budget for the vaccines has been enhanced to $250 million. Earlier, the government had set aside $150 million.
Pakistan recorded 3,369 new cases of the virus and 72 new deaths on Saturday.
A surge in the virus comes amid massive disregard by people for precautionary measures despite constant warnings by the authorities.
UNITED NATIONS — A global alliance of more than 1,000 organizations has announced $20.6 billion in pledges to help women, newborns, young children and adolescents deal with the COVID-19 pandemic as well as longstanding issues.
The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, which is hosted by the World Health Organization, says $16.1 billion are new commitments to address COVID-19, $2.2 billion is new money not linked to the coronavirus, and $2.3 billion is new funding for existing programs.
Low and middle income countries including Afghanistan, India, Kenya, Liberia and Nigeria pledged a total of $6.6 billion while $14 billion came from international aid and grants from Germany, Canada, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the partnership said. The pledges were announced Thursday and Friday.
Former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, who chairs the partnership, says: “Our concern is that resources — insufficient to begin with — are being diverted away to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Clark, who also led the U.N. development agency from 2009 to 2017, said the $20.6 billion will ensure women, children and adolescents can access health services and priority social protections throughout the COVID-19 crisis and recovery periods.
SAN DIEGO — California’s attorney general has told the owners of two strip clubs to follow orders because he said they are violating the state’s new stay-at-home policy, which bars social gatherings in an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
In a letter sent Friday to Midway Ventures LLC and F-12 Entertainment Group, the owners of Pacers Showgirls International and Cheetahs Gentlemen’s Club, respectively, Xavier Becerra said the clubs must change their policies because they are in violation of the order, issued Dec. 6, that covers Southern California.
Becerra said the state will pursue legal action if the companies don’t comply.
The clubs could not immediately be reached for comment.
TOKYO — Japan’s daily coronavirus cases have exceeded 3,000 for the first time while the government delays stricter measures for fear of hurting the economy ahead of the holiday season.
The 3,030 new cases, including 621 in Tokyo, took Japan’s national tally to 177,287 with 2,562 deaths, the Health Ministry said Sunday.
Experts say serious cases are on the rise around the country, putting burden on hospitals and affecting the daily medical treatment for other patients. They urged authorities to take measures such as suspending out-of-town trips and requesting stores to close early.
Recent media surveys show support ratings for the government of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga have dropped about 20 points from around 70% amid public discontent over his coronavirus handling.
Japan issued a non-binding state of emergency in the spring and has survived earlier infection peaks without a lockdown.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has set another record for its daily coronavirus tally with 1,030, as authorities struggle to suppress the viral spread.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said Sunday the additional cases including two deaths raised the national caseload to 42,766 with 580 fatalities.
About 80% of the new cases were found in the densely populated Seoul area, where authorities have shut nightclubs and other high-risk venues, banned late-night dining and taken other steps to slow the spread. But such measures have shown little effect.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said Saturday his government may have to enforce its highest-level social distancing rules if the virus doesn’t slow down. Such restrictions would ban a gathering of more than 10 people, shut down schools, theaters and department stores and suspend professional sports leagues.
BALTIMORE — The U.S. has recorded more than 16 million cases of COVID-19, by far the most of any country in the world, according to data kept by Johns Hopkins University.
Cases of the virus have been rising across much of the U.S., causing record death totals in recent days.
India and Brazil are the only two other countries that have reported more than 3 million cases of COVID-19. Globally, more than 71 million cases have been confirmed. The actual number of cases is believed to be far higher because many people haven’t been tested and some who get the disease don’t show symptoms.
The U.S. also leads the world in deaths related to the coronavirus at more than 297,600, including a record 3,309 recorded on Friday.
The increases come as millions of doses of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer start rolling into U.S. hospitals on Monday. The first vaccines will go to hospital staff and other health care professionals.
The coronavirus has caused more than 1.6 million global deaths.
FRESNO, Calif. — California public health officials say the number of available intensive care unit beds in the vast San Joaquin Valley has dropped to zero for the first time Saturday. Just a day earlier, ICU capacity in region comprised of 12 counties was at 4.5%.
The news comes as ICU units fill up across California amid spiking COVID-19 cases. Last week, San Joaquin Valley and the enormous Southern California region were ordered to follow the strictest anti-COVID-19 rules under a new stay-at-home order.
Overflowing ICUs was a major factor in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision to implement the new order.
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The U.S. has reached a record 3,309 daily coronavirus deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
The deaths reported Friday exceeded by 6% the previous high of 3,124 deaths reported Wednesday.
The U.S. also reached a record daily confirmed infections at 231,775, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. That’s nearly 4,000 more than the previous high on Dec. 4.
The increases come as millions of doses of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer start rolling into hospitals on Monday. The first vaccines will go to hospital staff and other health care professionals.
The U.S. leads the world in confirmed cases at 15.9 million and deaths at more than 296,000. The coronavirus has caused more than 1.6 million global deaths.
WASHINGTON — The Federal Aviation Administration says pilots may receive the COVID-19 vaccine but may not fly for 48 hours.
The FAA says it is requiring the observation period “to maintain the highest level of safety” in the airspace it regulates. The 48-hour observation also applies to air traffic controllers.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday approved emergency use of a vaccine developed by Pfizer and shipments are expected in various states on Monday. The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses taken three weeks apart. The 48-hour period applies after both doses.
The FAA says it will monitor reaction to the vaccine. It requires similar waiting periods after aviation employees receive other vaccines, such tuberculosis and typhoid.
ROME — Italy added another 649 coronavirus deaths Saturday, bringing its official total to 64,036 and just shy of Britain’s Europe-leading 64,123 dead.
Italy could overtake Britain despite having 6 million people fewer than the U.K.’s 66 million, and trails only the much larger U.S., Brazil, India and Mexico, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
Italy has the most deaths per 100,000 population among the most affected countries. Italy has added nearly 29,000 dead since Sept. 1.
More than 1.8 million Italians have contracted the virus since the start of the pandemic. Health experts say the numbers reflect an underfunded health care system with few ICU beds, government delays in imposing restrictions and an elderly population.
Global cases and death tolls are believed to greatly underestimated because of missed infections, limited testing and different counting criteria.
PHOENIX — Arizona reported 8,076 confirmed coronavirus cases, one of the state’s largest daily total.
The Department of Health Services reported 77 more deaths on Saturday, increasing the state’s confirmed totals to 402,589 cases and 7,322 deaths.
The cases eclipsed Friday’s 6,983 as the third-largest daily case report, behind 12,314 on Tuesday and 10,322 on Dec. 1.
The coronavirus hospitalizations on Friday reached 3,534, up 52 from Thursday and topping the summer surge high of 3,517 on July 13. There were 799 patients in intensive care units.
WASHINGTON — U.S. officials say the nation’s first COVID-19 vaccine will begin arriving in states Monday morning.
Army Gen. Gustave Perna says trucks will roll out Sunday morning as shipping companies UPS and FedEx begin delivering Pfizer’s vaccine to nearly 150 distribution centers across the states. An additional 450 sites will get the vaccine between Tuesday and Wednesday.
Perna is with Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s vaccine development program. He says the vaccine was timed to arrive Monday morning so health workers would be available to receive the shots and begin giving them.
BOISE, Idaho — Idaho Gov. Brad Little has authorized another 150 Idaho National Guard soldiers to help medical facilities battle the coronavirus.
The Republican governor added the soldiers to the 100 he activated last month to help the state deal with surging infections and deaths. The 250 soldiers will help with mobile testing support, facility decontamination and coronavirus screenings. They are also helping at food banks.
State officials say nearly 120,000 Idaho residents have been infected. There have been 1,151 confirmed deaths.
The positivity rate is 20%, well above the 5% or less state officials recommend.