The Latest: Biden criticizes pace of vaccine rollout

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — President-elect Joe Biden is criticizing the Trump administration for the pace of distributing COVID-19 vaccines, saying it is “falling far behind.”

Biden says “it’s gonna take years, not months, to vaccinate the American people” at the current pace.

He is vowing to ramp up the current speed of vaccinations five to six times to 1 million shots a day, but acknowledges it “will still take months to have the majority of Americans vaccinated.”

The president-elect, who takes office Jan. 20, says he has directed his team to prepare a “much more aggressive effort to get things back on track.”

___

THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— 91-year-old Margaret Keenan, gets 2nd shot after 1st Brit to get vaccine

— Alabama cases surge, ICUs 91% full last week

— Belarus, Argentina start vaccinations with Russian shots

— Hospitalizations in England exceed peak in spring

— Follow AP’s 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:

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico officials have fined two Albuquerque churches for violating the state’s public health orders aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19 after both venues held large gatherings for Christmas.

The New Mexico Department of Health fined Legacy Church and Calvary Church $5,000 each on Monday after photos and video showed both churches violated orders limiting occupancy, mandating masks and practicing social distancing.

Tripp Stelnicki, a spokesman for Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, said the leaders and congregation at the two churches violated state regulations.

Legacy Church officials accused the state of trampling on their constitutional rights. Calvary Church’s pastor said they urged people to follow guidelines, blocked every other row to practice social distancing, provided outdoor seating and gave masks to guests who were not wearing one.

___

PARIS — The French Health Minister says authorities are planning to extend the country’s night curfew in regions where the coronavirus is circulating more, in eastern France near the border with Germany, Switzerland and Italy.

Health Minister Olivier Veran says the extended curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. will start on Jan. 2 “where it’s needed,” he says. Veran ruled out any national or local lockdown in the coming days.

In other regions, the curfew in place since mid-December will be maintained from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. Restaurants and bars will remain closed at least until Jan. 20.

So far, France’s vaccination campaign has been limited to a few dozen people since Sunday, compared with at least 18,000 people in neighboring Germany.

Veran says France has the same number of vaccine doses as Germany in proportion to its population and will get the “same results.” But he acknowledged the approach to vaccine first people in nursing homes and get written consent from them or their family slowed down the process.

___

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — A South Dakota lawmaker says she will participate in the upcoming legislative session remotely until she receives a coronavirus vaccine.

Rep. Linda Duba, a Sioux Falls Democrat, informed legislative leadership she’ll stay away from the Capitol building out of concern for her health, the Argus Leader reported. The 64-year-old lawmaker says she wouldn’t attend meetings in-person until she receives two doses of a vaccine.

South Dakota’s Legislature is set to convene in Pierre on Jan. 12 for a two-month session. Rules and protocols for the session have not been set but may allow lawmakers to participate remotely due to the pandemic.

Duba told legislative leaders in an email she believes proposed rules in the Capitol are not in line with CDC guidelines on indoor gatherings.

___

CONCORD, N.H. — Up to 400 New Hampshire lawmakers are expected to attend an upcoming legislative session modeled on a drive-in movie theater.

The House released plans Tuesday for what acting Speaker Sherm Packard calls “the most risk-mitigated session of the House yet during this pandemic.”

Lawmakers will park in front of a large screen at the University of New Hampshire in Durham and will remain in their cars for the duration of the session on Jan. 6.

Since the pandemic began, the House has met indoors at university arena and outside on an athletic field. House Speaker Dick Hinch, R-Merrimack, died of COVID-19 on Dec. 9, a week after being sworn in during the outdoor gathering.

___

DES MOINES, Iowa — Coronavirus vaccinations began this week in Iowa’s nursing homes.

Officials say although it will take weeks to complete, the vaccination drive gives hope to the isolated residents that they can resume contact with their families.

Three pharmacy companies signed contracts with the government to go into nursing homes and give the vaccines to residents and staff. They began Monday. In Iowa, there are about 31,000 residents and 37,000 staff members in 445 nursing homes and 258 assisted living facilities, said Brent Willett, CEO of the Iowa Health Care Association, a trade group those communities.

It will take several weeks to administer the first dose and it must be followed with a second booster, so the homes won’t be reopened to visitors immediately.

Iowa nursing home residents make up about 1.5% of the state’s population but about 2.5% of all coronavirus cases and 30% of deaths. Current public health data shows 1,138 deaths in nursing homes out of the state’s total 3,812 confirmed deaths.

___

LONDON — Some people in Britain have received their second and final dose of coronavirus vaccine as the country’s immunization program rolls on.

Margaret Keenan, 91, who became the first person in the U.K. to get a vaccine on Dec. 8, had the follow-up injection Tuesday at a hospital in the central England city of Coventry.

Hospital chief executive Andy Hardy says: “We were delighted to welcome Margaret Keenan back to Coventry’s University Hospital today to safely receive the second dose of the vaccination after she became the first person in the world to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 (vaccine) following its clinical approval.”

The vaccine developed by Pfizer and German firm BioNTech is given in two doses three weeks apart. Its developers say it conferred 95% immunity in clinical trials.

___

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Alabama, long one of the unhealthiest and most impoverished states in America, has emerged as an alarming coronavirus hot spots.

Its hospitals are in crisis in a region with high rates of obesity, high blood pressure and other conditions that can make COVID-19 even more dangerous. Access to health care was limited even before the outbreak. And public resistance to masks and other precautions is stubborn.

While ICUs nationwide were at 78% capacity during the week of Dec. 18-24, Alabama’s were 91% full, according to the U.S. Health and Human Services Department. On Monday, there were 2,800 people in Alabama hospitals with COVID-19, the highest total since the start of the pandemic.

The virus has killed more than 4,700 people in Alabama. Tennessee and California have been hit especially hard in recent weeks. The U.S. leads the world with more than 335,000 confirmed deaths.

___

ROME — Italy added 659 deaths to its official coronavirus toll ahead of another few days of full lockdown for the New Year’s holiday.

Another 11,212 people tested positive, according to health ministry data released Tuesday.

Italy has been under a modified nationwide lockdown since before Christmas in a bid to stave off a new surge in infections as a result of holiday gatherings. Shops are having a few days of reprieve to reopen for business but will close again by the end of the week.

Amid the closures, Italy is proceeding with its vaccination effort. On Tuesday, officials sent messages of solidarity to the first Italian to get the vaccine, a Rome nurse at the capital’s main infectious disease hospital, after her social media accounts were inundated with insults from vaccine skeptics.

Italy has Europe’s highest official death toll at 73,029 and more than 2 million confirmed infections.

___

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Dr. Ashish Jha, an expert on the coronavirus pandemic, says he’s frustrated by the slow rollout of coronavirus vaccines.

Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, in a series of Twitter posts on Monday blamed the federal government for neglecting to work with states on the final steps of getting vaccines to citizens.

“Did we not know that vaccines were coming? Is vaccine administration a surprise?” he wrote.

The amount of vaccine doses shipped to states has been lower than initially expected.

He adds there “appears to be no investment or plan in the last mile. No effort from Feds to help states launch a real vaccination infrastructure.”

Jha says the coronavirus relief bill passed by Congress and signed into law Sunday by President Donald Trump, which includes $69 billion for vaccine distribution, gives him hope.

He tweeted: “After a slow ramp up, it’ll get better.”

___

LONDON — Ireland has administered its first doses of coronavirus vaccine.

National broadcaster RTE says 79-year-old Annie Lynch was the first person to be vaccinated, getting a jab at St. James’s Hospital in Dublin.

Lynch says. “like everyone else, I have been waiting for the vaccine and I really feel like there is a bit of hope there now.”

Ireland received a shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine over the weekend as part of its rollout to the 27 nations of the European Union.

Irish authorities plan to vaccinate 40,000 people a week beginning in January, starting with elderly people in nursing homes and frontline health care workers.

___

MILWAUKEE — Wisconsin U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore says she has tested positive for the coronavirus and is in isolation.

The 69-year-old Milwaukee Democrat says in a statement she is “following guidance from my doctor” and is “thankful to be feeling well.”

Moore says she didn’t expect the virus to affect her work and encouraged the continued wearing of masks, washing of hands and practicing of social distancing.

The statement didn’t say when she learned she had contracted the virus or where she might have gotten it.

The Journal Sentinel reports Moore announced nearly two years ago she had been diagnosed with small-cell lymphocytic lymphoma. Moore has been in Congress since 2005.

___

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The United Arab Emirates has detected the country’s first known cases of the new fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus.

The UAE’s National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority reported Tuesday it found “a limited number of cases received from abroad,” without specifying how many or where the travelers had been.

Neighboring Gulf countries halted international commercial flights because of concerns about the virus strain found in the United Kingdom. The UAE, with its large population of British expats, has remained open to tourists. Those arriving from the U.K. are required to get tested for the virus upon arrival in Dubai.

On Tuesday, the health ministry recorded more than 1,500 infections, the highest single-day total in months.

The federation of seven sheikhdoms has an economy that draws heavily on tourism, aviation and hospitality industries. The health ministry has reported more than 204,300 confirmed cases and 662 confirmed deaths amid an aggressive testing campaign.

___

MOSCOW — Russia’s updated statistics on coronavirus-linked deaths show more than 100,000 people had died by December, a number much higher than previously reported by government officials.

A total of 116,030 people with the coronavirus died in Russia between April and November, according to data released Monday by Russia’s state statistics agency Rosstat. The count included cases where the virus was not the main cause of death and where the virus was suspected but not confirmed.

Also, Belarus and Argentina announced the start of mass coronavirus vaccinations with the Russian-developed Sputnik V shot. They are the first countries outside of Russia to roll out the vaccine that is still undergoing late-stage studies to ensure its safety and effectiveness. The first batch of Sputnik V arrived in Belarus. Argentina plans to start using the Russian vaccine on Tuesday.

Russia has been widely criticized for giving Sputnik V regulatory approval in August after the vaccine only had been tested on a few dozen people. This month, Russian authorities started mass vaccinations with Sputnik V, even though it is still undergoing late-stage trials.

___

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s state TV says the first study has begun on the safety and effectiveness of a locally developed coronavirus vaccine in Iran.

Details about the vaccine’s production remained slim. Dozens are due to receive the shot in the hardest-hit country in the Middle East. The vaccine is produced by Shifa Pharmed, part of a state-owned pharmaceutical conglomerate. It’s the first in the country to reach human trials.

The study, a Phase 1 clinical trial, will enroll a total of 56 volunteers to receive two shots of Iran’s vaccine within two weeks. Iran has struggled to stem the worst virus outbreak in the region, which has more than 1.2 million confirmed infections and nearly 55,000 confirmed deaths.

___

MILWAUKEE — Clinicians had to discard about 500 doses of the Moderna vaccine after vials were kept unrefrigerated for too long at Aurora Medical Center in Grafton.

Advocate Aurora Health officials say someone removed 50 vials from a refrigerator to access other items and failed to put them back overnight Friday. Each vial contained 10 doses of vaccine.

The Journal Sentinel reports an internal investigation found the failure was an “unintended human error.”

Clinicians were still able to administer some of the vaccine from the vials within the allowable 12-hour, post-refrigeration window but had to discard most of it. Once the vaccine is thawed, it cannot be refrozen.

___

Categories: National & International News