The ramp-up of production of the latest vaccine to obtain FDA clearance will allow all U.S. adults to access a COVID-19 vaccine within three months, the Biden administration said on Wednesday.
White House coronavirus adviser Andy Slavitt, speaking at a White House briefing, said the federal government was spending $ 100 million to rework Merck Co.’s manufacturing plants to allow production of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Slavitt also unveiled plans by major health insurers to speed up the vaccination of 2 million people aged 65 and over “as soon as possible.” Insurers will communicate with vulnerable elderly people with information on the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine and will also help plan and organize transport to the vaccination site.
“Thanks to the collective actions of all, we are now on the right track not only to catch up, but also to have enough vaccines for every American adult by the end of May,” Slavitt said.
Also on Wednesday, the Senate was due to start debating the Biden administration’s $ 1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package. Democrats hope to stick to a timeline that could start rolling out $ 1,400 stimulus checks within two weeks.
The bill also includes funding for state and local governments, family tax credits, and larger unemployment checks.
Far outside of Washington’s political ring road, New York State is working on plans to bring people back to theaters and sports arenas. Texas and Mississippi have abandoned all mask mandates. Governors cited a drop in hospitalizations and the accelerated pace of vaccine rollouts – although a USA TODAY survey shows some states find federal government deployment tracking cumbersome and of little value.
Also in the news:
►Saudi Arabia’s health ministry will only allow vaccinated people to attend the Hajj in July, Saudi newspapers reported. The annual religious pilgrimage draws millions of Muslims from around the world to the holiest cities in Islam. Last year, only 1,000 Saudi worshipers were allowed to participate due to COVID concerns.
►New York State is testing a high-tech “Excelsior Pass” allowing attendees to confirm recent negative COVID-19 vaccinations or tests and access events in theaters and arenas.
►A report by Geneva-based Insecurity Insight and the University of California, the Berkeley Center for Human Rights has identified more than 1,100 threats or acts of violence against health workers and facilities health last year. Researchers found that around 400 of these attacks were linked to COVID-19.
📈 Today’s numbers: The United States has more than 28.7 million confirmed cases of coronavirus and 516,000 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Global totals: over 114.8 million cases and 2.55 million deaths. More than 102.3 million doses of the vaccine have been distributed in the United States and about 78.6 million have been administered, according to the CDC.
📘 What we read: More COVID-19 Variants Emerge Closer to Home: What to Know About Those Discovered in Brazil, New York, California.
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Obamacare registration attracts 206,000 in two weeks
More than 206,000 Americans purchased health insurance through federally-run HealthCare.gov in the first two weeks of the special three-month enrollment period created by President Joe Biden, the administration said on Wednesday. . That compares to about 76,000 people who signed up during the same time period last year, when people could only choose a plan if they had a special circumstance, such as job loss. But that’s still a small fraction of the estimated 9 million Americans who don’t have insurance coverage. Biden, in a statement, called the initial listing numbers an “encouraging sign.”
“But we can’t slow down until every American has the security and peace of mind that comes with quality, affordable health coverage,” he said.
– Maureen Groppe
Dolly Parton, who helped fund vaccine, receives ‘dose of her own medicine’
Breathe out, country music lovers. Dolly Parton received a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The country music legend – who helped fund the Moderna vaccine with a $ 1 million donation to researchers at Vanderbilt – got his shot on Tuesday in Nashville, Tennessee, via an Instagram post. Her caption reads simply: “Dolly is getting a dose of her own medicine.”
In a video released Tuesday, Parton, 75, urged viewers to get the vaccine because “the sooner we feel better, the sooner we will get back to normal.”
Fed’s high-tech vaccine tracking is too complicated for many states
Operation Warp Speed spent $ 16 million on Tiberius, a high-tech system to track vaccine shipments and guide local decisions about where to send them. Tiberius – a tyrannical and brooding Roman emperor and the middle name of Star Trek’s Captain James T. Kirk – would allow “granular planning” to the doctor’s office, provide “a zip code-by-zip-code view of priority populations” and ” lighten the burden “on public health officials, the federal government said.
But for many states, Tiberius turned out to be either so irrelevant or too complicated. This has contributed to an erratic rollout of vaccines, where access depends more on where you live and your internet knowledge.
Even if local officials chose to use Tiberius, “they would give us the data they gave us,” said Dr. Bela Matyas, deputy director of public health for Solano County, Calif. “Local public health officials have a huge amount of data and know their communities well.
– Aleszu Bajak and David Heath
Disturbing variants take hold in the United States
The country has more than 2,500 cases of coronavirus variants that can spread more easily and avoid certain successful treatments for the original virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Tuesday.
More than 100 new cases of variant B.1.1.7 observed for the first time in the UK have been reported just since Sunday, bringing the national total to 2,506. The number of known cases in the US of variant B. 1,351 first observed in South Africa rose to 65. The United States has 11 known cases of the P.1 variant first observed in Brazil.
– Mike Stucka
Texas, Mississippi governors challenge health officials, end mask warrants
Defying warnings from federal health officials about the need to remain vigilant against the coronavirus, the Republican governors of Texas and Mississippi said on Tuesday they were lifting COVID-19 restrictions, including mask warrants.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said he was set to “open Texas 100%” and would issue an executive order to take effect on March 10, rescinding most of his previous orders, including July 2 restrictions on business occupancy and mask order.
Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves tweeted Tuesday that starting Wednesday, all county mask warrants would be lifted and businesses allowed to operate at full capacity. Hospitalizations and the number of cases have dropped, and the vaccine is being distributed quickly, he said: “We are trying to tell people what they can and cannot do.”
COVID-19 Can Affect Immune System In Complex Ways, Research Finds
In some patients with COVID-19, scientists say unprepared immune cells appear to respond to the coronavirus with a devastating release of chemicals, inflicting damage that can last long after the threat has been eliminated.
“If you have a brand new virus and the virus is gaining ground, the immune system can go into an ‘all hands on deck’ response,” said Dr Nina Luning Prak, co-author of a January study on COVID-19 and the immune system. “Things that are normally watched closely are relaxed. The body can say, “Who cares. Give me all you got. “
As all viruses find ways to escape the body’s defenses, a growing area of research suggests that the coronavirus imbalances the immune system more deeply than previously thought.
– Liz Szabo, Kaiser Health News
Contributing: Nicholas Wu and Ledyard King, USA TODAY, The Associated Press