The Latest: Biden to prioritize vaccinating school teachers

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is directing states to prioritize vaccinating all teachers during the month of March, and announced that the federal government will help in the effort through its partnership with retail pharmacies.

Biden said his goal is for every pre-kindergarten through 12th grade educator, school staff member and childcare worker to receive at least one shot by the end of March.

To achieve this, Biden announced that qualifying individuals will be able to sign up this month to be vaccinated at a pharmacy near them.

Biden said that while schools are safe to reopen even before staff have been vaccinated, “time and again, we’ve heard from educators and parents that have anxieties about that,” so to “accelerate” the safe reopening teachers should be prioritized.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— AP source: Merck to help produce Johnson & Johnson vaccine

— Vatican defends pope’s trip to Iraq, stadium mass for 10,000 people

— Chinese vaccines sweep across the world, despite some concerns

— Pandemic frustrations fuel attacks on health care workers around the world

— Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said that the U.S. will have enough coronavirus vaccine supply to cover every adult in America by the end of May, two months earlier than anticipated.

Biden said that to accelerate production of the vaccine, drugmaker Merck & Co. will help produce rival Johnson & Johnson’s newly-approved shot. The administration is invoking the Defense Production Act, a wartime measure that gives the federal government authority to direct private companies to meet the needs of the national defense, to equip two Merck facilities to produce the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Biden said Johnson & Johnson will operate 24/7 to produce the vaccine. He also said the Defense Department will provide daily logistical support for the company in its efforts.

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SALEM, Ore. – The Brazilian variant of coronavirus has emerged in Oregon, the first known such case on the U.S. West Coast, medical authorities said Tuesday.

The sample was sent to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the end of January by medical officials in Douglas County, Oregon. They said they received the results back on Monday night, showing the P.1 variant.

“The P.1 variant … appears to be related to business travel outside the United States to and from Brazil,” the Douglas County COVID-19 Response Team said in a statement Tuesday.

The variant, which was originally traced to Brazil, appears to be more contagious than the original COVID-19 strain. It can potentially be contracted by someone who was already infected or who has been vaccinated.

There have been 10 other cases of the P.1 variant reported in the United States, with five in Florida, two in Minnesota and one each in Oklahoma, Alaska and Maryland, the CDC says.

The Oregon Health Authority said the unidentified person who has the Brazilian variant has been working closely with the local health department and has been self-isolating.

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JACKSON, Miss. — The governor of Mississippi has said he is getting rid of most mask mandates previously imposed to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus. He is also lifting most other restrictions, including limits on seating in restaurants.

Republican Gov. Tate Reeves said he is issuing a new executive order that takes effect at 5 p.m. Wednesday and remains in place until March 31.

Reeves said the number of people hospitalized because of the virus has decreased in recent weeks, and vaccination numbers are increasing.

Until now, most of Mississippi’s 82 counties had been under a mask mandate for months.

Reeves said he is encouraging other people to wear face coverings but is not requiring it. He is asking people to follow recommendations from the state health officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs.

Dobbs said that it’s still a good idea for people to avoid large, unmasked gatherings.

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SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco Mayor London Breed said indoor dining, movie theaters and gyms can reopen within 24 hours in the city.

Breed made the announcement as California gave the county the go-ahead to open up more of its economy as the rate of coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths declines statewide.

San Francisco and Santa Clara counties in the Bay Area join five other counties in moving on from the most restrictive tier. Much of the state’s population, including Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties, are limited to outdoor dining and outdoor museums.

California reported an additional 2,533 confirmed COVID-19 cases, bringing the state’s total known cases to nearly 3.5 million. Officials also announced an additional 303 deaths, raising that total to just under 52,500 fatalities in the state of nearly 40 million.

San Francisco, a city and county of roughly 900,000 before the pandemic, has among the lowest case and death rates in the country. It has reported a total of 34,000 confirmed cases and 422 deaths as of Tuesday.

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BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbia’s health authorities say they are monitoring the condition of a man who mistakenly has received two doses of vaccines from two different producers.

Epidemiologist Branislav Tiodorovic says the man’s condition is ‘under control’ and that ‘something like this must not happen again.’

Serbian media have reported that the man from the southern town of Vranje first received a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine but then got Chinese Sinopharm as the second dose in an apparent mix-up.

Tiodorovic said the incident happened because procedures were not followed fully. Serbia also has been using Russia’s Sputnik V and Astra-Zeneca in addition to China’s Sinopharm and Pfizer.

The Balkan nation of 7 million has vaccinated over 1.5 million people with at least one dose.

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HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said Tuesday that teachers will receive doses of the newly approved one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, under a plan his administration will release.

In a news conference on a separate topic, Wolf said his administration’s plan will be released Wednesday.

He gave few details, but said he and a bipartisan legislative task force agreed that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should be set aside for teachers and then other workers considered to be essential, but who are not included in the first vaccination phase.

“There’s some really important front-line workers who I think and I think the task force believes, on a bipartisan basis, should be included in that, like teachers and, not too far down the road, like child care workers, and police, and fire, grocery store workers, bus drivers,” Wolf said.

State officials expect 94,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to arrive this week as school districts face pressure to bring students back to classrooms for in-person instruction.

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida isn’t expecting Spring Break travel to return fully back to normal, pre-pandemic levels, but is expecting many more travelers than last year when the U.S. outbreak was just getting started. At the time, images of Florida beach revelers raised alarms nationally and prompted the state to shut high-profile South Florida beaches while municipalities elsewhere in the state temporarily closed or restricted theirs.

The state has mostly been open since last summer, and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis opposed to any return to “lockdown.” The governor made it clear during his annual State of the State speech in Tallahassee that he welcomes more visitors to Florida in his drive to keep the state’s economy thriving — though he didn’t mention spring break directly.

Still, municipalities can impose mask rules and curfews, restrict beach access and place some limits on bars and restaurants, though some of them have virtually none in place ahead of the season.

Miami Beach, however, is hoping to keep a lid on rampant revelry. The city requires masks both indoors and outdoors and will restrict the number of people allowed on the beach. The county remains under a midnight-to-6 a.m. curfew and with limits on indoor bar and restaurant capacity.

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AUSTIN, Texas — State officials said Texas is lifting its mask mandate, making it the largest state to end an order intended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus that has killed more than 42,000 Texans.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has faced sharp criticism from his party over the mandate, which was imposed eight months ago. It was only ever lightly enforced, even during the worst outbreaks of the pandemic.

Abbott, who made the announcement at a restaurant in Lubbock, also said Texas will no longer impose limits on the number of diners that businesses can serve indoors.

The decision comes as governors across the U.S. have been easing coronavirus restrictions, despite warnings from health experts that the outbreak is far from over. Like the rest of the country, Texas has seen a sharp plunge in cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks.

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LANSING, Mich. — The governor of Michigan announced the further loosening of state coronavirus restrictions, easing capacity limits in restaurants and a host of other businesses while also allowing for larger indoor and outdoor gatherings.

The revised state health department order takes effect Friday. Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also said families will be able to visit nursing homes after being tested for COVID-19.

Restaurants and bars, now limited to 25% capacity inside, will have a 50% restriction. A 10 p.m curfew will shift to 11 p.m. Venues such as movie theaters, bowling alleys, banquet halls and casinos will have higher capacity limits, too.

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MONTPELIER, Vt. — The state of Vermont is expanding the number of people eligible to be vaccinated against the virus that causes COVID-19 to include teachers.

Republican Gov. Phil Scott said that beginning next week Vermont will open vaccine eligibility to teachers, school staff and child care workers.

The state is also expanding eligibility to include people aged 16 to 64 who have pre-existing medical conditions that put them at higher risk of complications or death when infected with COVID-19.

Starting Monday, people with those conditions in the 55-to-64 age group will be able to make appointments. The younger group will be able to register the week after.

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WASHINGTON — The White House is announcing an increase in available coronavirus vaccines to 15.2 million doses a week, up from 14.5 million.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki says only 8.6 million doses a week were available when Joe Biden became president in late January.

States are receiving 2.8 million doses of the newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week. That means a total of 18 million doses will go out this week. Upcoming shipments of the J&J vaccine could be uneven during the next few weeks as the company ramps up production.

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MADRID — Spain’s rolling two-week incidence rate of coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants keeps falling, with officials considering mid-April for a broad easing of restrictions.

Spain reported 168 cases per capita on Tuesday, that’s down from nearly 900 at the end of January.

Authorities hope Spain can reach a target of fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 people in about six weeks.

Authorities say 10 of the country’s 17 autonomous regions and two autonomous cities have fallen below 150 cases per 100,000 people over two weeks.

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ATLANTA — Three leading health organizations say stronger efforts are needed to collect and report race and ethnicity data about Americans receiving COVID-19 vaccinations.

That information was missing in almost half of vaccination records reported in the first month to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to an open letter from the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association and the American Pharmacists Association.

“This information will allow our nation to better understand whether we are providing access to vaccines to vulnerable populations and inform efforts to improve vaccine confidence,’’ the letter said.

“We encourage clinicians to share with patients in a transparent and culturally sensitive manner why collecting race and ethnicity information can help improve the health of their families and communities,” the groups said. “These actions reinforce our commitment to high-quality equitable care.”

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AMSTERDAM — The European Medicines Agency says it will hold a meeting on March 11 to evaluate whether the single-dose coronavirus vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson should be authorized across Europe.

The Amsterdam-based drug regulator said an opinion could be issued on March 11 “provided that the data submitted on the quality, safety and efficacy of the vaccine are sufficiently robust and complete.”

Three other COVID-19 vaccines have already been licensed in the European Union, those made by Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca, all of which require two doses. Despite having ordered hundreds of millions of vaccines, the EU is struggling to vaccinate its population quickly and has fallen behind other countries including Britain, the U.S. and Israel.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted the J&J shot the green light on Saturday, saying the vaccine offered strong protection against hospitalization and death. One dose appeared to be about 85% protective in a massive study that included participants in South Africa, where a variant is spreading.

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