The Latest: Official optimistic virus vaccine will be OK’d

WASHINGTON — A top medical adviser to President Donald Trump’s administration saId Sunday he’s confident that the Food and Drug Administration will approve the coronavirus vaccine from pharmaceutical company Pfizer this week.

FDA officials will meet to review the Pfizer vaccine Thursday and it could be authorized almost immediately.

“Based on the data I know I expect the FDA to make a positive decision, but of course, it’s their decision,” said Moncef Slaoui, the chief adviser to Operation Warp Speed told CBS “Face the Nation.”

But White House coronavirus task force coordinator Deborah Birx warned Americans not to let their guard down even so.

Birx, speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” noted that more than 100 million Americans suffered preexisting heath conditions that put them at high risk if they contract the virus. The vast majority of those won’t have access to the vaccine for months still.

“I want to be very frank with the American people,” Birx said. “The vaccine’s critical, but it’s not going to save us from this current surge. Only we can save us from this current surge, and we know precisely what to do.”



— Vaccines are being shipped around U.K. in super-cold containers ahead of a mass vaccination program that kicks off Tuesday and will be watched around the world

— Europe battles a surge in coronavirus deaths in nursing homes even as it gears up for a massive vaccination program that gives priority to the elderly

— Most of California to enter sweeping new virus lockdown

— China prepares large-scale rollout of coronavirus vaccines

— Ethiopia’s conflict stokes humanitarian and virus crisis

— Towns in the Austrian Alps postpone mass coronavirus testing after being hit by huge snowfall.


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WASHINGTON — A top Trump administration official is calling President-elect Joe Biden’s criticism of distribution plans for the upcoming COVID-19 vaccines “nonsense.”

Biden said Friday that “there’s no detailed plan that we’ve seen” for how to get vaccines out of a container, into syringes and into people’s arms.

Speaking to “Fox News Sunday,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said, “With all respect, that’s just nonsense.”

Azar said the process is “micromanaged and controlled by the United States military,” and leverages state and local governments, retail pharmacies and national shipping chains.

The first vaccine could be approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the next week, with the Trump administration saying the first immunizations should follow within 24-36 hours of approval.


BERLIN — Several communities in the Austrian Alps have put mass coronavirus testing on hold and others were urged to do the same after a storm dumped huge amounts of snow, sending some avalanche warnings to their highest level.

Some parts of the province of Tyrol saw 70 centimeters (27.5 inches) of snow fall overnight Friday into Saturday, and another 110 centimeters (43 inches) were expected on Sunday, Austria’s APA news agency reported.

In East Tyrol, 500 households were left without electricity after trees brought down power lines and the avalanche warning was at its highest level of 5. Several areas in East Tyrol postponed virus testing.

Austria on Friday started a voluntary mass testing program that officials hope will prevent long, hard lockdowns in the future. The fast antigen tests started in Vienna and in the westernmost Vorarlberg and Tyrol provinces.

Over the first two days, some 300,000 people were tested out of Austria’s nearly 9 million. The government is hoping that several million will have been tested by mid December.


LONDON — The coronavirus vaccine developed by American drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech was being sent to hospitals across the U.K. in super-cold containers on Sunday, two days ahead of the kickoff of Britain’s biggest-ever immunization program, one being closely watched around the world.

Around 800,000 doses of the vaccine are expected to be in place for the start of the rollout on Tuesday, a day that British Health Secretary Matt Hancock has reportedly dubbed as “V-Day,” a nod to triumphs in World War II.

“Despite the huge complexities, hospitals will kickstart the first phase of the largest scale vaccination campaign in our country’s history from Tuesday,” said Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England’s national medical director.

Last week the U.K. became the first country to authorize the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine for emergency use. In trials, the vaccine was shown to have around 95% efficacy. Vaccinations will be administered starting Tuesday at around 50 hospital hubs in England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will also begin their vaccination rollouts that day.

Governments and health agencies around the world will be monitoring the British vaccination program to note its successes and failures and adjust their own plans accordingly.


MOSCOW — Coronavirus infections in Russia hit a new record on Sunday, as the country’s authorities registered 29,039 new confirmed cases, the highest daily spike in the pandemic.

Russia’s total of over 2.4 million reported infections remains the fourth largest caseload in the world. Russia has also reported 43,141 virus-related deaths.

Russia has been swept by a resurgence of the virus this fall, with daily confirmed infections and deaths significantly exceeding those reported in the spring. Nevertheless, Russian authorities have rejected the idea of another nationwide lockdown or any widespread closures of businesses.

On Wednesday, President Vladimir Putin ordered a “large-scale” vaccination against COVID-19 to begin in Russia with the domestically developed Sputnik V vaccine that is still undergoing advanced studies needed to ensure its safety and effectiveness. Doctors and teachers will be first in line.

Sputnik V has been offered to medical workers for several months even though the vaccine was still in the middle of advanced trials. Several top Russian officials said they had already gotten the required two jabs. The Russian military this week began vaccinating the crews of navy ships scheduled to depart on a mission.

Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said Wednesday that more than 100,000 people in Russia have already received the shots.


CAIRO — Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church is suspending Sunday services for one month in the capital, Cairo and the Mediterranean province of Alexandria because of a surge in coronavirus cases among the faithful and monks.

The measure, which takes effect Monday, also includes all other activities in the Coptic Orthodox churches.

Christians constitute around 10% of Egypt’s predominantly Muslim nation of more than 100 million people.

Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country, has faced an increase in coronavirus cases, with authorities warning that a new wave of the pandemic lies ahead. Egypt on Saturday reported 431 confirmed cases, the highest daily tally in months. It also reported 18 deaths.

Overall, Egypt has reported more than 118,000 confirmed cases including 6,750 deaths but actual cases are thought to be much higher.


BEIJING — Eight people in the northern Chinese city of Manzhouli have coronavirus after everyone in the city was tested following the discovery of two locally acquired infections, the official Xinhua News Agency reported Sunday.

Authorities conducted nucleic acid tests on 203,378 people in the city on the border with Mongolia in two rounds starting Nov. 22 and Nov. 27.

The city had 24 locally acquired cases as of Sunday, Xinhua said. It said 1,239 people who had close contact with them were under medical observation.


SEOUL, South Korea __ South Korea says it’ll further toughen physical distancing rules as recent restrictions has failed to curb a viral resurgence that threatens the country’s health care system.

Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said Sunday recently elevated distancing rules haven’t showed much effect. Park says South Korea could face a shortage of intensive care unit beds if the current level continues for one to two weeks.

Under new restrictions effective Tuesday for three weeks, authorities will shut down karaoke rooms, fitness centers, indoor gyms and most of cram schools in the Seoul metropolitan area. Some high-risk facilities like nightclubs in the Seoul area have already been shut down.

Events must be under 50 people in the Seoul area and sports matches will be held without fans.

Park says South Korea has reported an average of 514 new virus cases each day in the past week, 375 of them in the Seoul area. South Korea reported 631 new cases Sunday, taking its total to 37,546 with 545 deaths.


SALEM, Ore. — The Oregon Medical Board has suspended the medical license of a doctor who said at a pro-Trump rally that he doesn’t wear a mask at his Dallas, Oregon, clinic.

KGW-TV reported Friday that Dr. Steven LaTulippe also said at the November rally that he also encourages others not to wear masks.

A state order requires health care workers to wear a mask in health care settings. The medical board voted this week to suspend LaTulippe’s license immediately due to concerns about patient safety.


ST. LOUIS — St. Louis children’s hospitals have started treating adult patients as area hospitals struggle to keep up with rising coronavirus cases.

Dr. Marya Strand, chief medical officer for SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that is treating adults who don’t have COVID-19 to take some of the pressure off other hospitals. St. Louis Children’s Hospital also has opened its doors to adults.

About 1,054 people were hospitalized in the St. Louis area Wednesday for COVID-19, including 221 patients in intensive care units. St. Louis-area hospitals are at about 82% capacity for in-patient beds and 81% capacity for ICU beds.

Staff at SSM Health and BJC Healthcare children’s hospitals have also started volunteering to work at other overwhelmed hospitals.


PHOENIX — Arizona health officials used a blunt tone Saturday as the state reported 6,799 coronavirus cases, the second-highest daily increase.

The Department of Health Services says on Twitter that people should wear masks “around anyone who isn’t a member of your household, even those you know and trust.”

Similarly, the department’s director, Dr. Cara Christ, says “we must act as though anyone we are around may be infected.”

The cases reported Saturday trailed only the record 10,322 cases reported Tuesday. Officials have said record high included data delayed by the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. There were four daily reports of more than 5,000 cases this week.

The hospitalizations for coronavirus rose to 2,931 on Friday, five times as many since early October. Republican Gov. Doug Ducey has not ordered a statewide mask mandate or curfews.

The state reported 40 deaths on Saturday. Arizona has 358,900 total cases and 6,935 confirmed deaths.


ROME — Italy had more than 21,000 daily coronavirus cases and added 662 deaths in the last 24 hours.

The 21,052 new cases raised Italy’s total to nearly 1.6 million. There’s been 59,514 confirmed deaths, the second-highest toll in Europe behind Britain’s toll.

This week, Italy’s Premier Giuseppe Conte signed a decree limiting travel between regions Dec. 21 to Jan. 6, national Epiphany Day holiday. Conte hopes that will prevent holiday vacations that could fuel contagion.


RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina reported a record increase in cases of the coronavirus and hospitalizations on Saturday.

The state reported 6,018 cases since Friday and 2,171 people with coronavirus in the hospitals. That’s up 14 from a day earlier.

“In less than a week, we went from exceeding 5,000 new cases reported in one day to exceeding 6,000,” said Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s health secretary. “This is very worrisome. This indicates we have even more viral spread across our state right now.”

North Carolina has a record number of people in intensive care, Cohen says. Another 49 people have died, bringing the confirmed total to 5,516, the health department says.


OKLAHOMA CITY — There were 4,370 newly reported coronavirus cases Saturday in Oklahoma.

The rolling averages of cases rose from 2,843 per day on Nov. 20 to 3,044 on Friday. The daily average of deaths increased from 15 daily to 22 during the same period, according to data by Johns Hopkins University.

The increase is due largely to community spread, according Dr. Dale Bratzler of the University Oklahoma medical center. He says, “it’s typically places like restaurants, bars, gyms, places of worship.”

Oklahoma has 213,245 total confirmed cases. There were 14 more deaths reported Saturday, bringing the total to 1,874 confirmed deaths.

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