Nation & World: Biden moving to free up vaccine doses, expand access
photo by: Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden’s administration announced Tuesday that it is moving to expand access to COVID-19 vaccines, freeing up more doses for states and beginning to distribute them to retail pharmacies next week. The push comes amid new urgency to speed vaccinations to prevent the spread of potentially more serious strains of the virus that has killed more than 445,000 Americans.
Starting next week, 1 million doses will be distributed to some 6,500 pharmacies across the country, the White House said. The administration is also boosting by 500,000 the weekly allocation of vaccines sent directly to states and territories for the coming weeks, up to 10.5 million. It is allowing state and local governments to receive additional federal dollars to cover previously incurred expenses relating to the pandemic.
Coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients announced the moves on a call with the nation’s governors Tuesday morning and then detailed them to the public in an afternoon news conference.
Drugstores have become a mainstay for flu shots and shingles vaccines, and the industry is capable of vaccinating tens of millions of people monthly. “This will provide more sites for people to get vaccinated in their communities,” Zients said.
“This is a critical step to provide the public with convenient trusted places to get vaccinated in their communities,” he added.
The number of participating pharmacies and the allocation of vaccines are expected to accelerate as drug makers increase production. The White House said the ultimate goal was to distribute the vaccines through more than 40,000 pharmacies nationwide. State and local guidelines will determine who is eligible to get a shot at their neighborhood pharmacy. Availability will be limited at first.
“Getting it into pharmacies is a viable approach,” said Dan Mendelson, founder of the health care industry consulting firm Avalere Health. “The pharmacies know how to move people in and out.”
Part of the reason the vaccination campaign got off to a slow start, he added, is that states lacked their own infrastructure for mass vaccinations.
The partnership with drugstores was originally announced by the Trump administration in November. At that time, no coronavirus vaccines had been approved. Participating are major chains like CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid, big box stores such as Walmart and Costco, and supermarket pharmacies. CVS said it will receive 250,000 doses initially, to be distributed to pharmacies in 11 states.
The pharmacy doses will be distributed to states by population, but a priority will be to get the vaccine to minority communities that have suffered a disproportionately high toll of disease and deaths from the virus, Zients said.
He said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was “making sure that we are picking pharmacies in that first phase that are located in areas that are harder to reach to ensure that we have equitable distribution of the pharmacy doses.” Walgreens said it was selected in part to “optimize vaccine access in medically underserved areas.”
The 1 million doses being shipped to pharmacies will be on top of the increased allotments to states over the coming three weeks. The Biden administration has sought to increase certainty to state governments on their upcoming allocations to streamline deliveries and prevent stockpiling of second doses for the two-dose regimens.
The Tuesday announcement comes a day after Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious-disease expert, called on Americans to get vaccinated as soon as they’re eligible to prevent further mutations of the virus. The U.S. is tracking the spread of potentially more virulent and treatment-resistant variants.
“Viruses cannot mutate if they don’t replicate,” Fauci said. “And if you stop their replication by vaccinating widely and not giving the virus an open playing field to continue to respond to the pressures that you put on it, you will not get mutations.”
The U.S. government has already starting working with vaccine manufacturers on potential booster shots to enhance protection against the variants.
Biden’s move to allow for an additional $3 billion to $5 billion in retroactive funding to state and local governments for reimbursement of pandemic-related spending was expected to free up more money for vaccine distribution.
“States will be fully repaid for things like masks, gloves and the mobilization of the National Guard, and they can use the additional resources for vaccination efforts and emergency supplies moving forward,” Zients said.
That is on top of additional assistance to state and local governments from the Federal Emergency Management Agency already authorized by the Biden administration for them to stand up and support vaccination sites across the country.
Amazon founder Bezos will step down as CEO
NEW YORK (AP) — Jeff Bezos, who founded Amazon as an online bookstore and built it into a shopping and entertainment behemoth, will step down later this year as CEO, a role he’s had for nearly 30 years, to become executive chairman, the company announced Tuesday.
Bezos, 57, will be replaced in the summer by Andy Jassy, who runs Amazon’s cloud-computing business.
In a blog post to employees, Bezos said he planned to focus on new products and early initiatives being developed at Amazon. He said he would have more time for side projects, including his space exploration company Blue Origin, his philanthropic initiatives and overseeing The Washington Post, which he owns.
House Dems make case for Trump’s conviction
WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump endangered the lives of all members of Congress when he aimed a mob of supporters “like a loaded cannon” at the U.S. Capitol, House Democrats said Tuesday in making their most detailed case yet for why the former president should be convicted and permanently barred from office. Trump denied the allegations through his lawyers and called the trial unconstitutional.
The dueling filings offer the first public glimpse of the arguments that will be presented to the Senate beginning next week. The impeachment trial represents a remarkable reckoning with the violence in the Capitol last month, which the senators witnessed firsthand, and with Trump’s presidency overall.
Held in the very chamber where the insurrectionists stood on Jan. 6, it will pit Democratic demands for a final measure of accountability against the desire of many Republicans to turn the page and move on.
The impeachment trial, Trump’s second, begins in earnest on Feb. 9.
Moscow court: Over 2 1/2 years of prison time for Navalny
MOSCOW (AP) — A Moscow court on Tuesday ordered Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny to prison for more than
2 1/2 years, finding that he violated the terms of his probation while recuperating in Germany from nerve-agent poisoning. The ruling ignited protests in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Navalny, who is the most prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin, had denounced the proceedings as a vain attempt by the Kremlin to scare millions of Russians into submission.
After the verdict that was announced about 8 p.m., protesters converged on areas of central Moscow and gathered on St. Petersburg’s main avenue, Nevsky Prospekt.
Helmeted riot police grabbed demonstrators without obvious provocation and put them in police vehicles. The Meduza website showed video of police roughly pulling a passenger and driver out of a taxi.
Florida shooting kills 2 FBI agents, wounds 3 more; suspect dead
SUNRISE, FLA. (AP) — Two FBI agents were killed and three wounded in a shooting that erupted on Tuesday when they arrived to search an apartment in a child pornography case, a confrontation that marked one of the bloodiest days in FBI history. The suspect is believed to have killed himself.
The violence forced residents in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Sunrise to huddle inside their homes as a SWAT team stormed the apartment building and police helicopters circled overhead.
FBI Director Christopher A. Wray identified the two slain agents as Daniel Alfin and Laura Schwartzenberger, both of whom specialized in investigating crimes against children.
Punxsutawney Phil predicts more winter
PUNXSUTAWNEY, PA. (AP) — There will be six more weeks of winter, Punxsutawney Phil predicted as he emerged from his burrow on a snowy Tuesday morning to perform his Groundhog Day duties.
Members of Phil’s “inner circle” woke up the furry critter at 7:25 a.m. at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Penn., to see whether he would see his shadow or not.
Shortly after this year’s prediction was revealed, one of the members of the circle shared a message he said Phil had told him earlier in the day: “After winter, you’re looking forward to one of the most beautiful and brightest springs you’ve ever seen.”
Senate confirms Buttigieg as transportation secretary
WASHINGTON (AP) — Pete Buttigieg won Senate approval Tuesday as transportation secretary, the first openly gay person to be confirmed to a Cabinet post. He’ll be tasked with advancing President Joe Biden’s ambitious agenda of rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure and fighting climate change.
Buttigieg, a 39-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Ind., and Biden’s one-time rival during the Democratic presidential primaries, was approved on a 86-13 vote.
Big Tech, banks help stocks rally as GameStop and AMC tank
Big Tech companies and banks helped power a broad rally on Wall Street Tuesday, though shares in GameStop and other recent high-flying stocks hyped by online traders plunged.
The S&P 500 rose 1.4%, extending gains from a day earlier, as investors sized up the latest batch of company earnings reports. Rising crude oil prices and solid earnings results helped lift energy companies, including Exxon Mobil and Marathon Petroleum. Treasury yields rose and the VIX, a measure of fear in the market, fell sharply, a sign volatility was easing.
The wave of buying coincided with a skid in GameStop and AMC Entertainment, stocks that have been caught up in a speculative frenzy by traders in online forums and on social media who seek to inflict damage on Wall Street hedge funds that have bet these stocks would fall. The price of silver, which spiked 9% Monday, fueling speculation the precious metal was also being hyped up by online traders, sank by more than 10%.
Republicans moving quickly to limit voting in Georgia
ATLANTA (AP) — Republicans in Georgia’s state Senate are moving quickly to limit who can vote and how after Democrats won the presidential election and two U.S. Senate runoffs in the once reliably red state.
Democrats say the GOP’s bills are unnecessary, politically motivated and will suppress legal votes.
Many of the proposals target absentee voting by mail after relentless false claims by former President Donald Trump and his allies, including some Republican state senators. State election officials have said unequivocally that there was no widespread fraud in voting by mail, or irregularities that could have changed November’s results.
The bills introduced Monday would restrict who can vote absentee by mail, require a photo ID for those who do vote absentee by mail, ban ballot drop boxes and block outside groups from sending out absentee ballot applications. Other proposals would end automatic voter registration when obtaining a driver’s license and ban new residents from voting in a runoff election.