NEW YORK — U.S. regulators are allowing Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to be shipped and stored at less-frigid temperatures, which should ease distribution and administration of one of the two vaccines authorized for emergency use in the country.
The Food and Drug Administration said Thursday that it’s allowing the additional option after reviewing new data from New York-based Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech.
The FDA said the vaccine, which is shipped in frozen vials, now can be transported and stored for up to two weeks at the temperatures of freezers commonly found in pharmacies. That’s after Pfizer provided the FDA with data on Feb. 19 that showed its vaccine remains stable for up to two weeks at those standard freezer temperatures.
Until now, the vaccine was required to be kept at ultra-cold temperatures — from minus 112 degrees to minus 76 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 80 degrees to minus 60 degrees Celsius) — so Pfizer ships the vials in a special thermal container packed with dry ice to maintain that temperature range. That requirement meant vaccination sites had to either obtain expensive ultracold freezers, keep adding dry ice to the shipping container to keep to the correct temperature range, or administer all the doses in each shipment quickly so none spoiled.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
Pfizer is studying effects of third vaccine dose as booster. Dr. Fauci says take whatever vaccine is available. Drug companies can tweak vaccines to adapt to variants, a process that should be easierthan coming up with the original shots. China approves two more virus vaccines for wider use to reach four total vaccines. Medical oxygen scarce for coronavirus patients in Africa, Latin America.
— Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
MISSOURI __ Missouri teachers and child care providers will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccination in mid-March, Gov. Mike Parson said Thursday.
Parson said during his weekly media briefing that the state plans to open up vaccinations to those in Phase 1B, Tier 3, effective March 15. That group involves an estimated 550,000 additional residents. The new date is about a month earlier than state leaders originally projected.
In addition to teachers and child care workers, those newly eligible will include school staff, water and waste employees, energy workers, critical manufacturing workers, and food and agricultural workers.
“While supply is still limited, we are expecting slow and steady increases, and activating Tier 3 on March 15 will allow us to continue making progress as supply expands,” the Republican governor said.
PRAGUE — The Czech government is planning to tighten the country’s lockdown amid a surge of a highly contagious coronavirus variant.
Prime Minister Andrej Babis says the plan includes a ban on travelling between counties for next three weeks in an attempt too “radically limit movement.” Among other measures, nursery schools, schools for children with disabilities and the first and second grades of elementary schools that have still been opened will close on Monday.
The government is set to discuss the plan with the opposition tomorrow morning. To make it possible to limit people’s movement, the opposition has to support a government request to extend the state of emergency in a vote in the lower house of Parliament scheduled for Friday.
More details of the restrictions will be announced on Friday. The government is also discussing with Germany and Poland an option to send Czech COVID-19 patients to their hospitals for treatment as the local clinics are reaching their limits.
The Czech Republic is one of the hardest-hit European Union countries.
The day-to-day increase in new confirmed cases reached 13,657 Wednesday, about 2,700 more than a week ago. The nation of 10.7 million had almost 1.2 million cases with 19,835 deaths.
SAN FRANCISCO — California Gov. Gavin Newsom is continuing his push to reopen more schools for in-class instruction with a plan broadly outlining how the state will allocate vaccines to education workers.
Last week the Democratic governor announced that at least 10% of the state’s vaccine supply would go to education workers. That translates roughly to 75,000 doses a week.
Newsom has come under increasing political pressure to get California’s public schools back open. The majority of the state’s 6 million K-12 public school students have not been inside a classroom since March 2020 due to the pandemic.
California’s powerful teachers unions have repeatedly said that getting teachers vaccinated is key to reopening classrooms. Newsom and lawmakers disagree.
Much of the supply in California remains dedicated for seniors 65 and older, although more counties are opening up appointments for educators, food and farm workers and other essential employees. The state had administered more than 8 million doses as of Thursday.
DES MOINES, Iowa — Gov. Kim Reynolds says she’s optimistic vaccinations of Iowans will accelerate due to the impending authorization of a new one-dose coronavirus vaccine and increased deliveries of the two-shot varieties.
Speaking at her weekly news conference on Thursday, Reynolds said 19.2% of eligible Iowans have received at least one dose of a vaccine, and nearly 53% of residents 65 and older have had a first dose.
Reynolds credited the federal government for increasing the production and delivery of vaccines to states.
“I’m cautiously optimistic that the progress we’re seeing now will only continue and I do appreciate the partnership of the federal government in making this possible,” she said.
She projected that by next week, 70% of first responders, health care workers in hospitals, K-12 teachers and staff and childcare workers will have received at least one dose.
By mid-March, she expects 70% of Iowans 65 and older to have received at least a first dose.
The next priority group expected to be eligible for vaccinations in March is essential workers, which will include people in meatpacking plants, food processing, agricultural production and manufacturing. People with disabilities living in home settings and staff at those facilities also should begin vaccinations in March.
PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron said he is confident European Union leaders will agree on common standards to allow international travels during the summer, including through introducing vaccine certificates amid other measures.
Macron spoke in a news conference following EU talks about whether and when to introduce vaccine certificates, which could help smooth a return to air travel and possibly avoid another disastrous summer holiday season.
“None of us will accept that to attract tourists, one country would have looser rules than others and would be taking risks by making people come from the other side of the world to fill up its hotels,” he said.
Southern European countries dependent on tourism, like Greece and Spain, support such a system, but their northern EU partners, like Germany, doubt whether the certificates would work.
Macron said vaccine certificates cannot be a condition for travelling in Europe this summer since a large part of the population won’t have access to vaccination yet. He said tests may be required for non-vaccinated people.
SALT LAKE CITY __ Utah Gov. Spencer Cox doubled down Thursday on his prediction that there will be gatherings without masks by the Fourth of July, contrary to predictions from the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Cox told reporters that he’s feeling optimistic about the nation’s vaccine rollout and expects mass gatherings could be held without masks this summer. His comments contradict predictions from Fauci who said earlier this week that Americans may still be wearing masks outside their homes in 2022.
“I’m not gonna be wearing this on the Fourth of July, and I’m gonna be in a parade somewhere,” Cox said holding a mask during his weekly COVID-19 briefing. “But if I’m wrong then I’ll come here and I’ll admit that I’m wrong and that we’re gonna do something different.”
Cox tweeted on Tuesday that he is “baffled” by pessimism coming from Washington and that he believes “we will be celebrating maskless in large groups” by the Fourth of July.
PARIS — French Prime Minister Jean Castex held out the possibility on Thursday of increased measures to fight the spread of the coronavirus in 20 regions, including Paris, where hospitals are under pressure, the infection rate is high and contagious variants make up in some cases more than 50% of new infections.
The regions are being placed under increased surveillance with a decision to take action by the weekend of March 6 if there is no improvement, Castex said on a national television.
“The virus has been gaining ground over the past week,” the prime minister said, noting Wednesday’s count of more than 30,000 new infections.
The Riviera city of Nice and surrounding region and the northern port of Dunkirk have been ordered under weekend lockdowns for at least two weeks, in addition to a national 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew.
The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, is taking another tact. She wants to strong-arm the virus with a three-week full lockdown for the French capital. Deputy Mayor Emmanuel Gregoire said on FranceInfo radio that the Paris City Hall will put that option on the table in talks this weekend with regional health authorities and others then take it to the government which alone can decide.
France has had two full lockdowns since the pandemic began sweeping over Europe. More than 85,000 people have died from COVID-19.
BERLIN — The European Medicines Agency has issued guidance to pharmaceutical companies on how to tweak already authorized coronavirus vaccines so they can be used to immunize against new variants.
The EU regulator say the three authorized vaccines, made by Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca, protect against the variants currently prevalent across Europe. However, as new mutations spread, the shots may need to be adapted.
EMA says its experts worked on the assumption the adjusted vaccine would work in the same way as the original shot, except for a change to the part that triggers the body’s immune response.
It says “large-scale safety and efficacy studies are not needed” but at least one clinical trial is recommended in people who have neither been vaccinated nor infected with the coronavirus.
The agency also suggested a study involving a small group randomly selected to receive either the parent or the variant vaccine to ensure they both trigger similar immune responses.
It says studies into using tweaked vaccines as a booster shot protecting against variants should be conducted, and it expects manufacturers to provide data on the production quality of the adjusted vaccines.
MADISON, Wis. — The number of people eligible for the coronavirus vaccine in Wisconsin will increase to 700,000, including teachers and child care workers, starting Monday.
The state Department of Health Services says other eligible people will include those enrolled in Medicaid long-term care programs; grocery store workers; bus drivers; 911 dispatchers; non-essential health care workers; and staff in shared housing situations such as condominiums, student dorms and prisons.
State health officials estimate that teachers and child care workers will take priority in March and early April, while the others will be vaccinated in April and May.
LISBON, Portugal — Portugal’s parliament has approved a request from the country’s president to extend a state of emergency by another two weeks.
Portugal’s recent pandemic surge, which made it the world’s worst affected country by size of population, has receded since the lockdown was introduced on Jan. 15. Authorities are wary of ending restrictions too quickly and are keeping the lockdown through March 16.
The proposal says the lockdown must be eased in phases based on recommendations by health experts and must be accompanied by more tests and tracing.
“There’s still a long way to go,” Health Minister Marta Temido told lawmakers.
Portugal’s 14-day case rate per 100,000 inhabitants stands at 287, according to the European Centre for Disease Control. That places it 13th in the 30 countries monitored by the EU agency.
FREETOWN, Sierra Leone — Sierra Leone and Mozambique are the latest African countries to receive Sinopharm vaccines from China.
A delivery of 200,000 doses of the vaccine arrived on a chartered flight from China in Sierra Leone on Thursday. China donated the shipment of doses to the West African country. Sierra Leone, with a population of about 8 million, will need several million more vaccine doses to reach herd immunity.
In southern Africa, Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi announced in a post on Facebook that a shipment of vaccines had arrived from China on Wednesday. The 200,000 doses from Sinopharm are the first to arrive in Mozambique, a country of 31 million people.
Nyusi says he’d been in communication with Chinese President Xi Jinping for two months to secure the vaccines. The arrival of the Sinopharm shipment came after Mozambique learned the arrival of 2.4 million doses from the COVAX initiative won’t arrive until May, according to the state-owned Jornal Noticias.
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Bosnia says it will sue the World Health Organization’s COVAX program if it doesn’t deliver vaccines against the coronavirus as planned.
Milorad Dodik, a member of Bosnia’s multi-ethnic presidency, says the Balkan nation has done all the preparations for the arrival of the 1.2 million shots via COVAX and expects the delivery.
“Bosnia-Herzegovina is demanding that COVAX starts delivering as soon as possible,” Dodik said. “If they break the deadline, Bosnia-Herzegovina will sue the program. “
Officials with COVAX, the program designed for poorer countries, have said the promised batch of the vaccines haven’t been dispatched because Bosnia’s authorities haven’t met Pfizer’s ultra-cold storage requirements.
Bosnian officials have denied this, insisting the country has the technical capabilities to accept the vaccines.
LONDON — Health officials in Britain say the country’s COVID-19 alert level should move down from the highest level because hospitalizations have decreased.
The U.K.’s four chief medical officers say although health services remain under significant pressure, the national alert level can move from five to four because the numbers of patients in hospital are “consistently declining.”
The coronavirus alert level was raised to the highest in early January when a third national lockdown was announced amid skyrocketing cases and hospital admissions. But the spread of infection has slowed down since, partly because of Britain’s vaccination program.
More than 18 million people in the U.K. have received at least one vaccine dose, and research suggests the vaccine rollout is having significant impact on stopping serious illness.
Britain has registered 4.1 million coronavirus cases, fourth highest in the world. It’s reported more than 122,000 deaths, the fifth highest behind the U.S., Brazil, Mexico and India.
HARTFORD, Conn. — A coalition of advocacy groups for people with disabilities has filed a federal complaint alleging Connecticut’s revised age-based policy for coronavirus vaccinations discriminates against people with underlying medical conditions, including those with disabilities.
Disability Rights Connecticut announced Thursday that it filed the complaint with the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, asking the agency to order state officials to immediately revise the vaccination policy to include people with underlying medical conditions.
Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont announced a major change in the state’s vaccination schedule Monday, saying Connecticut would continue to follow a mostly age-based system after previously saying people with underlying medical conditions would be among the next group eligible for vaccinations. The only exception in the new policy is public school employees.