WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is set to highlight his administration’s push to dramatically expand distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, as the nation is on the cusp of meeting his goal of injecting 100 million doses in his first 100 days in office.
Biden is likely to mark the occasion Thursday on his 58th day in office. He has made a priority in his early days in office to set clear and achievable metrics for success, whether it be vaccinations or school re-openings.
The U.S. has three vaccines that received emergency use authorization – Pfizer, Moderna and the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The U.S. is injecting an average of about 2.2 million doses each day. The pace of vaccination is likely to dramatically expand later this month with an expected surge in supply of the vaccines.
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
LONDON — British regulators say people should keep getting AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine following its review of data on patients who suffered from blood clots after getting the shot.
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency says there is no evidence that the vaccine causes blood clots in veins. The agency says a further review of five reports in the UK of a rare type of clot in the brain is continuing, but the condition, which can occur naturally, has been reported in less than 1 in a million people vaccinated so far and no causal link has been established.
The agency says the benefits of the vaccines against COVID-19 continue to outweigh any risks. It says the public should continue to get the vaccine when invited to do so.
NEW YORK — The NBA is relaxing some of its health and safety protocols for individuals who are fully vaccinated.
The changes include fewer mandated coronavirus tests, no quarantine requirements following contact tracing issues and even the ability to visit restaurants again.
Only one team — the New Orleans Pelicans — has publicly acknowledged a team-wide vaccination effort so far, doing so this past weekend after state rules in Louisiana were amended and made it possible for the team to start the process for players, coaches and staff. No one in the NBA will be considered fully vaccinated until two weeks after receiving the final vaccine dose.
Once that happens, rules for some of those individuals will change, the NBA said in a memo sent early Thursday to teams and obtained by The Associated Press. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said at the All-Star Game this month that changes would be in store for those who choose to get the vaccine among the 30 NBA teams.
TOKYO — Japan says it will end a state of emergency in the Tokyo area set up to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
That’s despite concerns of a resurgence ahead of spring and next week’s Olympic torch relay. Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says the emergency will end Sunday. The decision underscores the government’s eagerness keep the economy going. However, some experts warned that although Tokyo has managed to bring down the rate of new infections, the decline has leveled off and could rebound.
The emergency began in January and centered around asking restaurants, bars and other businesses to close at 8 p.m. Suga says he supports preparations for the Olympics, which is scheduled to begin in July after being postponed last year.
Japan has managed to keep virus cases and deaths relatively low in the nation of 126 million without enforcing a hard lockdown. The Health Ministry reports about 450,000 total cases and more than 8,700 confirmed deaths. The U.S. leads the world with 29.6 million confirmed cases and more than 538,000 dead.
BRUSSELS — The European Union is planning to launch official dispute talks with Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca to ensure that it receives the vaccines it says the company has promised to deliver.
The EU’s executive body, the European Commission, which negotiated the “advanced purchasing agreement” with AstraZeneca, said Thursday that it wants to activate a clause in the deal opening 20 days of talks to fix the problem.
The 27 EU member countries must endorse the move first. Brussels says AstraZeneca originally pledged to deliver 90 million doses in the first three months of 2021 but is only on target to provide 30 million. In the second quarter, it will deliver 70 million doses, less than half of the 180 million it committed to, according to the Commission.
KYIV, Ukraine — The mayor of Kyiv says Ukraine’s capital will go into a lockdown on Saturday because of a surge in coronavirus cases in the country.
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko says during the three-week lockdown until April 9, malls and theaters will be closed, cafes and restaurants will only serve takeout, school students will study from home and spectators won’t be allowed at sports events. All government employees will work from home.
“We need to win time and do everything in order to avoid a collapse of the health care system,” Klitschko said. “Kyiv is introducing tough lockdown restrictions because we need to save people’s lives and health.”
Ukraine surpassed 1.5 million cases on Thursday, after registering 15,053 new cases – the highest since November. Ukraine added a record 289 deaths, increasing the confirmed total to 29,253 deaths.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Dr. Ashish Jha is recommending states keep their coronavirus restrictions for a few more weeks because the number of new cases nationwide has stopped declining.
Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, tweeted that the U.S. is reporting about 50,000 infections every day, “about where we were at the height of the summer.”
The coronavirus expert says he thinks the numbers are being driven by the British variant of the virus.
“We are still at a high level of infection,” he wrote. “We have stopped declining. Am I sure we’ll see cases rise? No, but worried. Let’s finish vaccinating high risk folks, then smartly relax public health measures. That will allow us to enjoy what should be a great summer.”
The U.S. has reported more than 538,000 deaths from the coronavirus.
SOFIA, Bulgaria — Struggling with a surge in coronavirus infections, Bulgarian health officials announced a 10-day nationwide lockdown for schools, restaurants, theaters and shopping malls.
The new restrictions will be the last test for the center-right government of Boyko Borissov, who hopes to win a fourth term in the parliamentary elections on April 4.
The Balkan nation of 7 million has recorded 291,769 cases of the coronavirus and 11,715 confirmed deaths. Some 350,700 Bulgarians have been vaccinated with a first dose so far.
GENEVA — The head of a World Health Organization team working with Chinese colleagues to finish a long-awaited report into the origins of the coronavirus says it will have unanimous backing from its members.
Health expert Peter Ben Embarek says the team hopes the report will be ready for release next week. He says the report written by all the experts and part of a “long and complex” process. The report is a first-phase study that is expected to be followed by a more in-depth look later.
Ben Embarek is an expert on food safety and diseases that jump from animals to humans. He led a 10-person international team of experts that visited China in January and February. He acknowledged political pressures have loomed large over the virus pandemic.
PARIS — France is set to announce new coronavirus restrictions on Thursday, including a potential lockdown in the Paris region and in the north of the country, as the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units spikes.
“We will make the decisions we need to make,” French President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday while visiting the hospital of Poissy and Saint-Germain-en-Laye, west of Paris. He added measures will be “pragmatic, proportionated and targeted.”
Prime Minister Jean Castex is scheduled to detail new restrictions on Thursday.
The virus is rapidly spreading in the Paris region, where the rate of infection has reached over 420 per 100,000 inhabitants and ICUs are closed to saturation. France’s nationwide infection rate is about 250 per 100,000.
As during previous infection peaks, health authorities have organized transfers of critically ill patients to less-affected regions to ease some of the pressure on hospitals in Paris and in northern and southern France.
People in France have been under a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. nationwide curfew for two months.
BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbia has signed a deal with China for the purchase of 2 million additional doses of the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine, which already has helped the Balkan country rapidly vaccinate its population.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic signed the contract on Thursday. He thanked Chinese President Xi Jinping, the Chinese Communist Party leadership and Sinopharm’s management “for supplying the vaccines at these difficult times.”
Vucic has often criticized the European Union and the West for the slow delivery of COIVD-19 vaccines to Serbia and other less developed nations and praised China and Russia for coming to the rescue.
Serbia, which formally seeks EU membership, has announced plans to start the production of vaccines developed in China and Russia that have not yet been approved by the European Medicines Agency for use.
The Balkan nation of 7 million has administered more than 2 million doses so far, one of the highest rates in Europe. Most Serb citizens have received the Sinopharm vaccines, followed by Sputnik V, Pfizer and AstraZeneca jabs.
BRUSSELS — Belgium is fearing another wave of coronavirus infections as new daily COVID-19 cases rose by nearly 30% over a week.
According to the Sciensano public health institute, an average of 3,052 daily infections were recorded over the past seven days, which is a 29% increase. Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 also rose by 16% over the same period, but the number of daily deaths remained stable.
Belgian health authorities said earlier this week that the vaccination campaign in nursing homes has been intensive and might explain the plateau of deaths since a large proportion of people over 85 have been immunized.
According to Belgian media, the latest surge of infections could lead the government to reconsider its decision to relax pandemic restrictions next month.
A total of 22,600 people have died from coronavirus-related causes in Belgium, a country with 11.5 million inhabitants.
WARSAW, Poland — The number of people in Poland who do not turn up to receive a COVID-19 vaccine made by AstraZeneca ranges from over a dozen to a few dozen percent at some immunization centers, officials said Thursday.
The government official in charge of the vaccination program, Michal Dworczyk, did not give exact figures but said fewer people are currently registering for vaccination as a result of questions being raised in the media about the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
He said abstaining from registered vaccination in Poland was “not a mass phenomenon.” Poland also is administering the vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna.
Dworczyk insisted that the vaccine is safe and effectively protects against severe COVID-19. He said unopened, unused doses were not being wasted because they can be stored for six months.
Dworczyk said there was a certain ”panic in the European Union that is not based on any research or scientific recommendations but based on political decisions.”
The head of Poland’s Office for Registration of Medicinal Products, Grzegorz Cessak said the country has registered five cases of blood clots among people who received the AstraZeneca vaccine, including one death.
A nation of 38 million, Poland has ordered some 100 million COVID-19 vaccines from various makers, including some 16 million from AstraZeneca.
LONDON — Europe’s top medical regulator will announce whether there is any evidence to show the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine is linked to a small number of blood clots reported in people across the continent.
The European Medicines Agency’s expert committee is set to announce the results of its investigation later on Thursday.
Earlier this week, more than a dozen countries including Germany, France, Spain and Italy suspended immunization using the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine after reports of unusual blood clots in several people among the 17 million who have received at least one dose in Europe. Both the EMA and the World Health Organization have said there is no current evidence to suggest the vaccine was responsible and that the benefits of immunization far outweighed the potentially small risk of getting vaccinated.
AstraZeneca said after a careful review of its COVID-19 immunization data, it found no evidence of any increased risk of blood clots in any age group or gender in any country.
LISBON, Portugal — The head of Portugal’s COVID-19 vaccination task force says he expects a surge in vaccine deliveries next month and is scaling up preparations to administer them quickly.
Rear Admiral Henrique Gouveia e Melo says rapid vaccination centers will open in April and a website will be launched for people to book their jabs. Pharmacies will also be available to help administer vaccines.
The plan has been on hold due to the European Union’s shortfall in anticipated vaccine supplies. “There’s no point opening a center to administer 500 or 600 vaccines a day and then only having 50 vaccines available,” Gouveia e Melo said in an interview with Portuguese news agency Lusa, published Thursday by the Expresso newspaper.
Portugal has so far been giving an average of around 23,000 jabs a day.
It is one of the countries that this week temporarily halted using the AstraZeneca vaccine due to concerns over its side-effects.