The Latest: Italy ponders suing Pfizer for vaccine delays
ROME — Italy’s virus czar is pressing ahead with plans to take legal action against Pfizer after the U.S. pharmaceutical company announced delays in delivering pre-ordered COVID-19 vaccines to Europe.
Domenico Arcuri said he had secured unanimous backing from Italy’s regional governors to take civil or criminal action, where possible. In a statement late Tuesday, he said: “It was unanimously decided that such action will be taken in the coming days.”
Pfizer confirmed last week it would temporarily reduce deliveries to Europe and Canada while it upgrades production capacity to 2 billion doses per year at its Belgium plant. Arcuri said the delay would amount to a 29% reduction in upcoming deliveries to Italy.
In announcing the impending legal action, Arcuri said: “The health care of Italian citizens isn’t negotiable.”
As of Wednesday, Italy had administered more than 1.2 million vaccine shots, or 76% of the doses already delivered to Italian regions.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Ontario’s leader asks Biden for 1 million vaccine shots due to Pfizer shortfall for Canada
— India to start delivering Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines to neighboring countries
— Expert panel says both China and the WHO should have acted faster to prevent the pandemic
— Surging infections give Spain’s new emergency hospital in Madrid a second chance to prove its worth
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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
TORONTO — Canada won’t be getting any Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccines next week and 50% fewer than expected over the next month, officials said Tuesday, prompting the leader of Canada’s most populous province to ask U.S. President-elect Joe Biden to share a million doses from Pfizer’s Michigan plant.
Maj. Gen. Dany Fortin, who is leading Canada’s logistical rollout and distribution of vaccines, called it a major reduction, but said Pfizer is still expected to meet its contractual obligation to ship four million doses to Canada by the end of March.
U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer confirmed last week it would temporarily reduce deliveries to Europe and Canada of its COVID-19 vaccine while it upgrades production capacity at its plant in Puurs, Belgium. Pfizer’s Belgian plant supplies all shots delivered outside the U.S.
Doug Ford, the premier of Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, said he’s angry. He asked Biden to help Canada out, noting there’s a Pfizer plant in Michigan.
“Our American friends, help us out,” Ford said. “You have a new president, no more excuses. Help us out.”
ROME — The Vatican has begun offering COVID-19 vaccines to homeless people and says it plans to expand the program in coming days.
A preliminary group of 25 people who live in residences run by the pope’s chief alms-giver received the shots on Wednesday in the Vatican’s auditorium. They joined Pope Francis, emeritus Pope Benedict XVI and other Vatican employees and their families who began receiving the vaccines last week.
The Vatican, as a sovereign city state, arranged for its own vaccine deliveries and said its first jabs were the Pfizer-BioNTech shots. Italy has it’s own vaccine campaign under way but to date the national health care system is prioritizing health care workers and the elderly.
Francis has called for universal availability of the shots, especially for the poor and most vulnerable. He has also said it was ethically necessary to take the vaccine, expressing incredulousness at vaccine and virus skeptics, because “you’re playing not only with your health but the health of others.”
NEW DELHI — India began supplying coronavirus vaccines to its neighboring countries on Wednesday, as the world’s largest vaccine making nation strikes a balance between maintaining enough doses to inoculate its own people and helping developing countries without the capacity to produce their own shots.
India’s Foreign Ministry said the country would send 150,000 shots of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, manufactured locally by Serum Institute of India, to Bhutan and 100,000 shots to the Maldives on Wednesday.
Vaccines will also be sent to Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and the Seychelles in coming weeks, the ministry said, without specifying an exact timeline. It added in a statement late Tuesday that regulatory clearances were still awaited from Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Mauritius.
WARSAW, Poland – Poland’s chief medical expert for fighting COVID-19 said Wednesday that the nation’s high rate of deaths from the infection is mostly the result of people aged over 70, with other serious diseases, succumbing to the coronavirus.
According to Professor Andrzej Horban, the current high number of deaths among the elderly is the result of infections caught during large gatherings during Christmas and New Year’s.
Wednesday’s data showed almost 7,000 new infections and 443 deaths. Some 15,000 people remain hospitalized due to COVID-19. A nation of some 38 million, Poland has so far registered almost 1.5 million cases and over 34,000 deaths.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Police in the Norwegian capital are doubling fines for violating coronavirus restrictions, saying not respecting the limit of 10 people for private gatherings can lead organizers being fined 20,000 kroner ($2,326) while participants will be fined 10,000 kroner ($1,163).
“This increase in fine rates underlines the seriousness of breaking the coronavirus rules. Everyone has a responsibility to take care of infection control,” said Oslo chief prosecutor Beate Brinch Sand.
Earlier this month, Oslo imposed COVID-19 tests for all people entering the Scandinavian country from abroad to stop the spread of the coronavirus variant detected first in Britain.
Norway also has a nationwide ban on serving alcohol in restaurants and bars to prevent a virus resurgence and it raised fines for those violations too.
HONOLULU — Hawaii’s leaders say limited supply is the main thing constraining distribution of the coronavirus vaccine in the state.
Hawaii received 59,000 doses of the vaccine last week, but expects to get only about 32,000 this week.
Still, Lt. Gov. Josh Green says the state expects to be able to vaccinate everyone in the top priority category by the end of February. That category includes health care workers, long-term care facility residents, people over 75, and teachers and other front-line essential workers.
The federal government is distributing vaccine to each state in accordance with their share of the U.S. population.
BEIJING — China’s capital has recorded seven new coronavirus cases amid a lingering outbreak of infections in the country’s north, where a total of 81 additional cases were reported in three provinces Wednesday.
China has now recorded a total of 88,557 cases since the new coronavirus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019. It has reported 4,635 deaths related to COVID-19.
China is hoping to vaccinate 50 million people against the virus by the middle of next month. It is also releasing schools early and telling citizens to stay put during the Lunar New Year travel rush that begins in coming days.
Meanwhile, World Health Organization experts are undergoing quarantine in Wuhan ahead of beginning field visits seeking to shed light on the origins of the virus, which is thought to have jumped to humans from animals, possibly bats.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Vaccine scarcity is continuing to plague California even as other indicators seem to show a slowing in the holiday-driven surge that led the state to be the first to top 3 million confirmed coronavirus infections.
San Francisco’s public health department is likely to run out of vaccine Thursday, in part because the state pulled back on administering a batch of Moderna vaccine.
Sacramento County is also running short.
Los Angeles County is starting to inoculate those 65 and older despite the scarcity.
But infection indicators are starting to show what the state’s top health official on Tuesday called “rays of hope.”
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s speedy coronavirus vaccination drive is facing a roadblock, with state leaders saying they didn’t receive an expected increase in doses this week.
With 99.6% of first doses delivered already administered, officials are clamoring for the federal government to send more vaccine.
Noting that other states have doses unused, Gov. Jim Justice said Tuesday: “We’ve got them all in people’s arms and we’ve done exactly what we should have done. … I think performance ought to be rewarded.”
He says the state hasn’t received a promised 25,000 additional doses this week on top of its usual weekly allocation of about 23,000.
West Virginia officials say 7.4% of the state’s 1.78 million people have received at least one of two doses — the highest rate among the 50 states
OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma on Tuesday surpassed 3,000 total deaths due to COVID-19 and the U.S. death toll topped 400,000 since the coronavirus pandemic began.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported an increase of 43 deaths in Oklahoma for a total of 3,037. The department reported 358,374 total cases.
A tally by Johns Hopkins University reports that Oklahoma had the fourth highest number of new cases per capita in the nation with 1,269.19 per 100,000 residents during the past two weeks.
Deputy state health commissioner Keith Reed said Oklahoma has administered 243,807 vaccinations thus far.
The Oklahoma City Council on Tuesday voted to extend a mask mandate in the state’s most populous city to March 5. The Tulsa City Council last week extended that city’s mask mandate until April 30.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus has eclipsed 400,000 in the waning hours in office for President Donald Trump, whose handling of the crisis has been judged by public health experts to be a singular failure.
The running total of lives lost reported Tuesday by Johns Hopkins University is nearly equal to the number of Americans killed in World II. It is about the population of Tulsa, Oklahoma; Tampa, Florida; or New Orleans. It is equivalent to the sea of humanity that was at Woodstock in 1969.
It is just short of the estimated 409,000 Americans who died in 2019 of strokes, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, flu and pneumonia combined.
PORTLAND, Maine — Public health authorities in Maine said Tuesday that thousands of doses of coronavirus vaccine exceeded temperature requirements during their shipment to the state.
Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Nirav Shah said Tuesday the 4,400 doses of Moderna’s vaccine exceeded the required temperature during their journey to 35 sites in the state. He said the sites have set the vaccine doses aside and will receive replacement doses on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Shah said Operation Warp Speed and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are investigating how and why the error happened.
Maine has had more than 500 deaths from the virus since the start of the pandemic.
MADRID — Several Spanish regions are tightening restrictions against the steep increase of coronavirus infections, awaiting for a government decision to allow regional curfews as early as 8 p.m.
A meeting on Wednesday is expected to decide on whether to tweak a nationwide emergency state to allow regional governments a stricter response to the country’s third resurgence of contagion. Roughly half of the regions have asked to bring forward the existing limit on a 10 p.m. curfew.
The health ministry recorded Tuesday 34,291 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours and 404 new confirmed deaths, bringing the totals since the pandemic began to 2.37 million cases and at least 54,000 deaths.
Central Castilla La Mancha, eastern Valencia and northern Navarra are announcing new closures of bars and restaurants or restrictions to allow only food deliveries or outdoor dining. The western Extremadura region, currently with the country’s highest rate of infection, is further delaying the reopening of schools for 2021 until Jan. 25.
JERUSALEM — Israel’s Cabinet on Tuesday extended an existing nationwide lockdown through the end of January as the country contends with a runaway surge in coronavirus cases.
Most schools and nonessential businesses were closed earlier this month for two weeks, with outdoor gatherings restricted to 10 people. Those restrictions were extended until Feb. 1, and people landing in Israel must now present a negative coronavirus test result from at least 72 hours before their arrival.
Although Israel has administered the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine to more than 2 million people, the country of 9 million has seen an infection surge. Israel’s health ministry has reported more than 562,000 COVID-19 confirmed cases and at least 4,049 deaths. The ministry recorded a record-high number of daily infections on Monday, with more than 10,000 new cases.
Israel’s health ministry also announced it is preparing to ramp up its vaccination efforts to 250,000 people per day, including people as young as 40.
LONDON — The U.K. has recorded more than 90,000 coronavirus-related deaths, just ten days after it passed the 80,000 threshold.
Government figures Tuesday show that another 1,610 people were reported to have died in the 28 days after testing positive for COVID-19, taking the total to 91,470. The daily increase is the highest daily figure reported since the pandemic took root in the U.K.
Figures released Tuesday have invariably been higher throughout the pandemic because of weekend reporting lag effects.
Though the number of people dying is rising on a 7-day average, the number of people testing positive for the virus is clearly declining in the wake of the lockdown measures put in place across the U.K.
On Tuesday, the government recorded another 33,355 people were reported to have tested positive for the virus. That’s the lowest since Dec. 27.
The U.K., which is Europe’s worst-hit nation in terms of COVID-related deaths, recorded huge increases in cases around the turn of the year, with scientists blaming a new variant of the virus first identified around London and the southeast of England.