Nation & World: States rush to catch up on delayed vaccines, expand access
photo by: Associated Press
HOUSTON (AP) — A giant vaccination center is opening in Houston to administer 126,000 coronavirus vaccine doses in the next three weeks. Nevada health officials are working overtime to distribute delayed shots. And Rhode Island is rescheduling appointments after a vaccine shipment failed to arrive as scheduled earlier in the week.
From coast to coast, states were scrambling Tuesday to catch up on vaccinations a week after winter storms battered a large swath of the U.S. and led to clinic closures, canceled appointments and shipment backlogs nationwide.
But limited supply of the two approved COVID-19 vaccines hampered the pace of vaccinations even before extreme weather delayed the delivery of about 6 million doses.
The White House promised on Tuesday that help was on the way.
States can expect about 14.5 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine this week, an almost 70% increase in distribution over the past month, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday. And White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients told governors on Tuesday that the number of doses sent directly to pharmacies will increase by about 100,000 this week, Psaki said.
The stepped-up efforts come as the COVID-19 death toll in the U.S. surpassed 500,000, far more than any other country.
More than 44 million Americans have received at least one dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, and about 1.4 million per day received either a first or second dose over the past seven days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Although average daily deaths and cases have been falling, some experts say not enough Americans have been inoculated for the vaccine to be the reason. The decline instead is attributed to the passing of the holidays, more people staying indoors during the winter and better adherence to mask rules and social distancing.
What’s more, they warn that dangerous variants could cause the trend to reverse itself. States are responding by simultaneously trying to catch up from last week’s pause and gear up to vaccinate more people in coming weeks.
Houston’s federally funded vaccination site will open today at NRG Park, operating seven days a week for three weeks to distribute 126,000 first doses, before transitioning to second doses, officials said.
Texans are recovering from a devastating winter storm that killed at least 35 people, left millions without power and water, and delayed vaccinations.
“It’s been trauma after trauma, and people deserve some good news, some hope,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the county’s chief elected official.
In Buda, Texas, retired teachers Donna and Gerald Haschke, both 74, were supposed to get their second doses last week but their appointments were canceled three times because of the storm. They’re scheduled to receive doses on Thursday.
The couple are eager to get completely vaccinated after months of having to scale back all their activities because of the coronavirus. Gerald Haschke has heart stents and Donna Haschke has atrial fibrillation, she said.
“My cardiologists said, ‘You do not want to get COVID,'” Donna Haschke said. “I said, ‘No, I don’t.’ To me that was a warning that I need to stay home.”
In Mississippi, where COVID-19 vaccinations plummeted last week amid freezing temperatures and icy roads, health officials were automatically rescheduling appointments, and planned to schedule more than normal through the weekend.
The state Department of Health said Monday that just 32,540 vaccinations were given in the state last week, down from 106,691 the previous week.
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak said Monday that 46,000 doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine that were delayed by weather began arriving in the state. The head of the state’s Bureau of Child, Family and Community Wellness said officials would work overtime to administer those doses along with this week’s regularly scheduled shipment.
President Joe Biden has said that every American who wants a vaccine will be able to get one by the end of July.
But demand continues to outpace limited supplies distributed by the U.S. government.
Executives from five companies with contracts to supply shots to the U.S. — Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca and Novavax — testified about supply issues Tuesday before Congress’ Energy and Commerce Committee.
Looking ahead to summer, Pfizer and Moderna executives said they expect to complete delivery of 300 million doses each, and J&J aims to provide an additional 100 million doses — more than enough to vaccinate every American adult.
Arizona will increase vaccinations by opening its fourth state-run mass vaccination clinic, state health department officials said. In addition, transportation costs to and from vaccination appointments now will be covered for people enrolled in Arizona’s Medicaid program, Gov. Doug Ducey said.
“This change will make it easier for our most vulnerable Arizonans … to get vaccinated,” Ducey said.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom said 11 mobile clinics will open in California’s vast Central Valley, an agricultural region that’s been hit hard by the coronavirus. They’ll be used mainly to vaccinate farmworkers who don’t have transportation to larger vaccination sites or can’t navigate the state’s online signup portal.
Newsom said the state also is sending 34,000 extra vaccine doses to that area from a pharmacy that wasn’t using them quickly enough.
Meanwhile, Tennessee’s top health official said Tuesday that more than 2,400 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine went to waste over the past month in Shelby County, which encompasses Memphis, while local officials sat on tens of thousands of shots that they thought had already gone into arms.
Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said a Department of Health investigation over the weekend found issues dating to Feb. 3 that included spoiled doses, an excessive vaccine inventory, insufficient record-keeping and no formal process to manage soon-to-expire vaccines. A federal investigation is also expected.
Supporters mark one year since Arbery’s death
Savannah, Ga. — Family and friends walked in procession through the coastal subdivision where armed men chased and shot him in the street. Others joined his mother for a vigil at the rural church where he’s buried. Lawmakers paused to remember him at the Georgia state Capitol, and President Joe Biden offered thoughts on the slaying one year ago of Ahmaud Arbery.
When the 25-year-old was killed on Feb. 23, 2020, few outside this Georgia port city paid much attention at first. As three men await trial for murder, those closest to Arbery sought to make sure his death isn’t overlooked again.
“He isn’t going to rest in his grave until we get justice,” Marcus Arbery, Arbery’s father, said Tuesday evening as he and other family members led a group of about 100 supporters on a memorial march into the Satilla Shores subdivision.
Board leaders resign after deadly Texas power outages
Austin, Texas — Top board leaders of Texas’ embattled power grid operator said Tuesday they will resign following outrage over more than 4 million customers losing electricity last week during a deadly winter storm, including many whose frigid homes lacked heat for days in subfreezing temperatures.
The resignations are the first since the crisis began in Texas, and calls for wider firings remain in the aftermath of one of the worst power outages in U.S. history.
All of the four board directors who are stepping down, including Chairwoman Sally Talberg, live outside of Texas, which only intensified criticism of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. The resignations are effective today — a day before Texas lawmakers are expected to sharply question grid managers and energy officials about the failures during hearings at the state Capitol.
A fifth board member also resigned, and a candidate for a director position who also does not live in Texas withdrew his name.
Tech firms: There’s little doubt Russia was behind hack
Washington (ap) — Leading technology companies said Tuesday that a months-long breach of corporate and government networks was so sophisticated, focused and labor-intensive that a nation had to be behind it, with all the evidence pointing to Russia.
In the first congressional hearing on the breach, representatives of technology companies involved in the response described a hack of almost breathtaking precision, ambition and scope. The perpetrators stealthily scooped up specific emails and documents on a target list from the U.S. and other countries.
“We haven’t seen this kind of sophistication matched with this kind of scale,” Microsoft President Brad Smith told the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Forensic investigators have estimated that at least 1,000 highly skilled engineers would have been required to develop the code that hijacked widely used network software from Texas-based SolarWinds to deploy malware around the world through a security update.
Poet, publisher Ferlinghetti dies at 101
San Francisco (ap) — Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the poet, publisher, bookseller and activist who helped launch the Beat movement in the 1950s and embodied its curious and rebellious spirit well into the 21st century, has died at age 101.
Ferlinghetti, a San Francisco institution, died Monday at his home, his son Lorenzo Ferlinghetti said. A month shy of his 102nd birthday, Ferlinghetti died “in his own room,” holding the hands of his son and his son’s girlfriend, “as he took his last breath.” The cause of death was lung disease. Ferlinghetti had received the first dose of the COVID vaccine last week, his son said Tuesday.
Few poets of the past 60 years were so well known, or so influential. His books sold more than 1 million copies worldwide, a fantasy for virtually any of his peers, and he ran one of the world’s most famous and distinctive bookstores, City Lights. Although he never considered himself one of the Beats, he was a patron and soul mate and, for many, a lasting symbol — preaching a nobler and more ecstatic American dream.
Late gains reverse most of stock market’s early slide
A late-afternoon burst of buying on Wall Street helped reverse most of a stock market sell-off Tuesday, nudging the S&P 500 to its first gain after a five-day losing streak.
The benchmark index eked out a 0.1% gain after having been down more than 1.8% earlier. The Nasdaq lost 0.5% as technology stocks fell for a sixth straight day. The tech-heavy index had been down nearly 4%. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, which is less exposed to tech stocks than the two other indexes, managed to rise 0.1%.
Facebook, Disney, Netflix and other communications stocks helped drive the market’s comeback. Financial and energy companies also helped lift the market, outweighing losses in technology and other sectors. Bond yields held near their highest level in a year.
More policy, less pomp as Biden, Trudeau meet virtually
Washington (ap) — President Joe Biden’s first bilateral meeting with Canada’s Justin Trudeau since taking office was high on policy and low on pomp as the coronavirus forced the two leaders to convene virtually Tuesday rather than gathering with customary Oval Office fanfare.
The two leaders — Biden in the Roosevelt Room at the White House and Trudeau in the prime minister’s office in Ottawa — delivered friendly opening remarks in front of the media, with flags from both countries on display at both ends of the long-distance conversation.
“The United States has no closer friend, no closer friend, than Canada,” Biden said.
Mars rover’s giant parachute carried secret message
Cape Canaveral, Fla. (ap) — The huge parachute used by NASA’s Perseverance rover to land on Mars contained a secret message, thanks to a puzzle lover on the spacecraft team.
Systems engineer Ian Clark used a binary code to spell out “Dare Mighty Things” in the orange and white strips of the 70-foot (21-meter) parachute. He also included the GPS coordinates for the mission’s headquarters at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
Clark, a crossword hobbyist, came up with the idea two years ago. Engineers wanted an unusual pattern in the nylon fabric to know how the parachute was oriented during descent. Turning it into a secret message was “super fun,” he said Tuesday.
Biden moves to reengage with Palestinians after Israel focus
Washington (ap) — The Biden administration is moving slowly but surely toward reengaging with the Palestinians after a near-total absence of official contact during former President Donald Trump’s four years in office.
As American officials plan steps to restore direct ties with the Palestinian leadership, Joe Biden’s national security team is taking steps to restore relations that had been severed while Trump pursued a Mideast policy focused largely around Israel, America’s closest partner in the region.
On Tuesday, for the second time in two days, Biden’s administration categorically embraced a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, something that Trump had been purposefully vague about while slashing aid to the Palestinians and taking steps to support Israel’s claims to land that the Palestinians want for an independent state.