The Latest: 400K in US got Pfizer booster shots last weekend

WASHINGTON — More than 400,000 Americans got Pfizer booster shots last weekend through local pharmacies in the opening days of the U.S effort to provide more protection for vulnerable populations.

White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients says an additional 1 million people have scheduled booster shots for the coming weeks. He adds: “We’re off to a very strong start with the booster campaign.”

As many as 25 million people qualify for the third dose of the Pfizer shot, which was authorized last week for those 65 or older, those with pre-existing conditions or facing an elevated risk at their workplace.

U.S. officials say their primary focus is ensuring the roughly 25% of eligible Americans who have yet to get their first shot do so.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says a major priority is the vaccination rate among pregnant women, which stands at 30% nationally and at 15% among Black pregnant women. She encouraged them to seek out vaccinations, saying data shows they’re safe for mother and baby and can prevent needless illness or death.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— Employer vaccine mandates convert some workers, but not all

— Pfizer gives vaccine data from kids 5-11 to US FDA

— Japan to lift all coronavirus emergency steps nationwide

— Vaccination situation in Europe a story of two regions

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See all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron has announced psychology appointments in France will be funded by the government starting next year.

State health care systems in Britain, Germany and some other countries already fund therapy sessions. French health professionals say a national effort to improve access is long overdue, especially as the coronavirus pandemic has caused and aggravated psychological distress.

Macron acknowledged both the psychological impact of government virus restrictions and past government failures to make mental health a priority during a conference with mental health professionals on Tuesday. He described a spike in the number of children seeking psychological treatment and in attempted suicides, notably among teenagers.

Health surveys in France last year pointed to a surge of depression most acute among people without work, those in financial hardship and young adults.

The French government announced free therapy sessions for children and young people earlier this year, and on Tuesday pledged to extend it to everyone. Psychiatric treatment is already largely reimbursed by the state.

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WILMINGTON, Del. — Delaware Gov. John Carney announced all teachers and school staff in Delaware will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly testing.

Carney announced the requirement Tuesday. It will be formally issued by emergency regulation and take effect Nov. 1. The requirement also applies to contractors and volunteers who work in K-12 public and private schools.

Carney says the top priority has been to get all students back in school this fall, and the mandate will help minimize disruptions.

Delaware State Education Association President Stephanie Ingram says the state’s largest teacher’s union supports the decision and urges members to get vaccinated, calling weekly testing a “reasonable alternative.”

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NEW YORK — Businesses with vaccine mandates say some workers who’ve been on the fence have gotten inoculated against COVID-19, with some holdouts.

Meanwhile, coronavirus cases are surging in the U.S. The seven-day average COVID-19 deaths climbed above 2,000 last week for the first time since March.

Even before President Joe Biden’s announcement on Sept. 9 that companies with more than 100 workers would have to require vaccinations, dozens of companies, including Amtrak, Microsoft, United Airlines and Disney, issued ultimatums to most workers.

United Airlines said 97% of its workers have been vaccinated even before its deadline took effect Monday. Alternatives for those employees include weekly testing, working remotely or away from other staff, or ultimately, termination.

Some bigger companies that require in-office workers be vaccinated now or in coming weeks include Google, McDonald’s (U.S.-based office workers), and Goldman Sachs, among others.

Biden wants to boost the vaccination rate in the U.S., where about 77% of American adults have had one dose of the vaccine, according to the CDC.

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BUCHAREST, Romania — Romania started administering third doses of coronavirus vaccine on Tuesday, the same day it recorded its highest number of daily infections since the start of the pandemic.

Romania, which has the second-lowest vaccine rate in the European Union, is facing a rise of COVID-19 cases. The country registered 11,049 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday. That’s almost 1,000 more than its previous record last November.

Chief vaccination coordinator Dr. Valeriu Gheorghita administered boosters during a hospital visit in the capital Bucharest.

“We still have a long way to go,” he said. “The rate of vaccination is obviously not enough to limit the negative consequences of the fourth wave and especially with the delta variant infections.”

Only 33% of adults in Romania, a country of 19 million, have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The booster shots are recommended for people vulnerable to the virus who received their second dose at least six months ago.

Romania has recorded more than 1.2 million confirmed cases and 36,658 confirmed deaths.

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ZAGREB, Croatia — Croatian authorities say all employees in health and social care services in the country must produce COVID-19 certificates to work or they must get tested twice a week.

The decision Tuesday will apply to facilities where patients don’t require urgent medical care. Workers will be required next week to show evidence of vaccination, a negative virus test or a certificate that they’ve had COVID-19.

Croatia introduced the new rules after a recent case surge and a slowing of the vaccination drive in the nation. Croatia has reached about 50% vaccination rate among the adult population in the country of 4.2 million.

Health Minister Vili Baros says “we don’t want to be rigid” but adds it’s clear more vaccinations are needed and those not following the rules “won’t get paid.”

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NEW YORK — Pfizer has submitted research to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on the effectiveness of its COVID-19 vaccine in children as it moves closer to seeking approval for expanded use of the shots.

The drugmaker and its partner, Germany’s BioNTech, say they expect to request emergency use authorization of their vaccine in children ages 5 to 11 “in the coming weeks.” The companies also plan to submit data to the European Medicines Agency and other regulators.

The two-shot Pfizer vaccine is currently available for those 12 and older. An estimated 100 million people in the U.S. have been fully vaccinated with it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Pfizer tested a lower dose of the shots in children. The drugmaker said last week that researchers found the vaccine developed coronavirus-fighting antibody levels in children that were just as strong as those found in teenagers and young adults getting regular-strength doses.

Earlier this month, FDA chief Dr. Peter Marks told the AP that once Pfizer turns over its study results, his agency would evaluate the data “hopefully in a matter of weeks” to decide if the shots are safe and effective enough for younger kids.

Another U.S. vaccine maker, Moderna, also is studying its shots in elementary school-aged children. Results are expected later in the year.

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PARIS — French drugmaker Sanofi says it is shelving plans for a COVID-19 vaccine based on messenger RNA but will develop a new flu vaccine.

The Paris-based company says it will continue to develop another vaccine candidate already undergoing late-stage human trials. That vaccine, developed with Britain’s GlaxoSmithKline, is being tested as a COVID-19 booster.

Sanofi recently expanded trials of that recombinant protein vaccine as a booster dose to extend immunity for people inoculated with a variety of other vaccines. Results from that study are expected later this year.

Messenger RNA vaccines are currently made by Pfizer and Moderna. Sanofi officials say they decided it wasn’t worth pursuing that technology for COVID-19 vaccines, given how those vaccines are widely available.

They plan to use the mRNA technology to develop a new flu vaccine, with clinical studies expected to start next year, according to Jean-Francois Toussaint, global head of research and development at Sanofi’s vaccine unit.

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TOKYO — Japan’s government says the coronavirus state of emergency will end Thursday to help rejuvenate the economy as infections slow.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced virus restrictions will be eased gradually. Government officials are instituting other plans, such as vaccine passports and virus tests, Suga says.

With the lifting, Japan will be free of emergency requirements for the first time in more than six months. The current state of emergency, declared in April, was repeatedly extended and expanded, especially during the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

Infections started to worsen in July and peaked in mid-August after the Olympics, surging above 5,000 daily cases in Tokyo alone and topping 25,000 nationwide. Thousands of patients unable to find hospital beds had to recover from the illness at home.

Daily reported cases have fallen to around 2,000 nationwide. Health experts attributed the declining numbers to the progress of vaccinations — 58% of the population is fully vaccinated — increased social distancing efforts after alarm from full hospitals.

There have been 1.69 million confirmed cases and 17,500 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 in Japan.

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PHOENIX — A judge has struck down Republican-passed Arizona laws that block schools from requiring masks and restrict the power of local governments to impose COVID-19 requirements.

The ruling Monday could clear the way for cities and counties to enact mask requirements if it withstands a promised appeal. It comes as the fight over school masks and other COVID-19 restrictions has moved into courtrooms across the U.S. Lawsuits have been filed in at least 14 states either for or against masks in schools.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends mask-wearing in schools, and children 12 and under are not yet eligible for vaccines.

The sweeping Arizona ruling also struck down several non-virus provisions slipped into the state budget and an entire measure that served as a vehicle for a conservative policy wish list. It included a required investigation of social media companies and stripping the Democratic secretary of state of her duty to defend election laws.

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MOSCOW — Coronavirus confirmed deaths in Russia hit another record at 852 on Tuesday.

Russia’s state coronavirus task force reported the increase from the previous record of 828 on Friday.

Daily coronavirus infections in Russia have fallen from more than 20,000 in late August to about 18,000 in mid-September. However, the numbers have started creeping up again. Since last Thursday, the state coronavirus task force has been reporting more than 21,000 new cases a day. On Tuesday, 21,559 new infections were registered.

Despite the increase, there are few restrictions in place in Russia, which had one, six-week lockdown last spring. Vaccination rates have remained low, too, with only 32% of the country’s 146 million population having received at least one shot of a vaccine and only 28% fully vaccinated.

Russian authorities have reported a total of about 7.4 million confirmed infections and more than 205,000 confirmed deaths. However, reports by the government’s statistical service Rosstat indicates the tally of coronavirus-linked deaths retroactively reveal much higher mortality numbers.

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LISBON, Portugal — Portugal is winding down its military-led vaccine task force after almost reaching its target of fully inoculating 85% of the population against COVID-19.

The task force, led for the past eight months by a senior naval officer from a NATO building near Lisbon, will be replaced by three teams reporting to the Health Ministry.

Portugal’s vaccination drive e rollout is the most advanced in the world, with 84.88% of the country’s 10.3 million people having received shots, according to Our World in Data.

Portugal is scrapping most of its pandemic restrictions starting Friday. Prime Minister Antonio Costa said many people deserved credit for the country’s expeditious vaccine rollout, but he singled out Portugal’s acceptance of vaccinations as the prime reason for success.

Portugal has no significant anti-vaccination movement and is one of the European Union’s leading countries in terms of vaccine uptake for illnesses such as measles and influenza.

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s planning minister says the government will begin a drive to vaccinate children ages 12 and above to protect them from the coronavirus.

The announcement by Planning Minister Asad Umar came Tuesday amid a steady decline in COVID-19 deaths across the country.

Umar said in a tweet that the government would soon launch a campaign soon to vaccinate children at schools. He didn’t give a precise date.

Pakistan is currently offering free vaccine shots to teenagers and adults.

The country on Tuesday reported 41 more COVID-19 deaths and 1,400 new cases in the past 24 hours. It was the first time since July that Pakistan confirmed fewer than 1,500 daily cases..

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