Biden vows to ‘supercharge’ global fight against pandemic; J&J vaccine gets extended shelf life: Live COVID-19 updates

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President Joe Biden on Thursday outlined plans for the U.S. to help “supercharge the global fight against this pandemic,” saying the effort is driven by both American values and self-interest. 

Central to that campaign in the U.S. commitment to purchase 500 million doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine and donate them to 92 low- and middle-income nations, which Biden confirmed at the G-7 summit in England. Of the vaccine total, 200 million doses will be distributed this year and the rest in the first half of 2022, the president said.

“This is a monumental commitment by the American people,” Biden said, adding that the G-7 nations would announce their contribution to the global pandemic response Friday. “This is not the end of our efforts to fight COVID-19 and vaccinate the world.”

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, whose company sold the vaccine doses to be donated at cost, joined Biden in the announcement and said the ultimate goal is to provide 2 billion doses to poorer countries over the next 18 months. He also said research into forms of combating the coronavirus and its mutations continues, including the possibility of delivering the vaccine orally.

“We are testing our vaccine’s response to newly arriving variants and coordinating with public health authorities around the world on surveillance efforts,” Bourla said. “So far, none of the existing variants has escaped the protection provided by our vaccine.”

Also in the news:

►A North Carolina woman is accused of peddling a fake COVID-19 cure during the height of the pandemic. Diana Daffin, 68, the owner of a holistic health business in Charlotte, was arrested after she shipped the remedy to an undercover agent, the FDA said.

►Former Wisconsin governors Jim Doyle, a Democrat, and Scott Walker, a Republican, are joining together to promote vaccination in a new public service TV spot. Both are vaccinated.

►The World Health Organization warned that the highly transmissible Delta variant first identified in India is “poised to take hold in the region,” as many countries prepare to ease restrictions for summer travel.

►Germany has started rolling out a digital vaccination pass that can be used across Europe as the continent gears up for the key summer travel season.

►Two passengers on board MSC Cruises’ MSC Seaside ship tested positive for COVID-19, disembarking Tuesday during a scheduled port call in Sicily, Italy. MSC cruises has been sailing in Europe on and off since August.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 33.4 million confirmed coronavirus cases and at least 598,400 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: Over 174.5 million cases and over 3.75 million deaths. Nearly 141 million Americans have been fully vaccinated – 42.5% of the population, according to the CDC. 

📘 What we’re reading: As Americans get vaccinated against the coronavirus, a report published Wednesday found teens and adults may have missed millions of routine vaccinations recommended by the CDC in 2020.

Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates. Want more? Sign up for our Coronavirus Watch newsletter for updates to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

Longer shelf life for Johnson & Johnson vaccines may prevent waste

The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday extended the expiration date on hundreds of thousands of doses of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, giving states with large unused allotments more time to administer them. The shelf life of the J&J vaccines was stretched from three months to four-and-a-half months after tests on their stability. Many doses would have reached their expiration date on June 24.

Slowing demand and the lingering effects of a 11-day pause on the J&J vaccine left states with vast vaccine supplies in danger of expiring and having to be discarded. As of Wednesday, Arkansas alone had 93,271 doses of unadministered J&J vaccine. Of those, 42,971 would have expired on June 23 and another 10,042 on July 4, the Arkansas Department of Health said.

In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine had warned that nearly 200,000 J&J doses would have to be tossed by their June 24 expiration if they didn’t find takers.

– Elizabeth Weise

Moderna requests that FDA authorize its vaccine for kids 12-17  

Moderna announced Thursday that it has requested an emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for its COVID-19 vaccine for kids ages 12-17.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine already has won FDA authorization for kids as young as 12. Providing safe COVID vaccines for children is a crucial component in the effort to normalize in-classroom learning for the 2020-21 school year, little more than two months away in some school districts.

Moderna, which previously filed for the adolescent authorization with Health Canada and the European Medicines Agency, said it plans to file a similar request with agencies around the world.

“We remain committed to helping to end the COVID-19 pandemic,” Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said in a statement.

‘Joints for jabs’ off to shaky start in Washington state

Washington state’s new “joints for jabs” vaccination incentive program is off to a wobbly start. Some cannabis retailers say they don’t have the space for clinics. And some health care clinics are balking at setting up shop in a pot shop. Some retailers say they would prefer how the Liquor and Cannabis Board allowed breweries, wineries and bars to offer a free drink to customers who merely showed proof of vaccination – no onsite clinic required.

“We’re hearing from retailers that they want to be a part of this,” said Aaron Pickus, a spokesman for the Washington CannaBusiness Association, an industry group. “Why can’t we do this like the wineries and breweries did it?”

Hold the fireworks: Biden vaccination goal for July 4 could be out of reach

President Joe Biden’s vaccine goal for America – 70% of adults receiving at least one COVID-19 shot by the Fourth of July – is starting to look like a long shot. If shots continue at their current pace, the U.S. will fall short of that mark. In the past week, an average of about 365,000 adults have received their first vaccine each day. To reach Biden’s goal, that number will need to increase to about 630,000 adults newly vaccinated each day. The pace of vaccine administration has fallen significantly from its peak in early April, when more than 2 million adults were reported newly vaccinated each day.

 Janie Haseman

Add DC hospitals to growing number that require employee vaccinations 

Most hospitals in Washington, D.C., will require employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccination, joining a growing number of health care systems and other businesses nationwide in opting for the controversial mandate. The hospitals will each set their own deadline, the District of Columbia Hospital Association said in a statement Tuesday. Vaccine hesitancy has slowed progress in getting the nation jabbed, and some health care systems and other businesses are trying to reawaken vaccination momentum.

Jacqueline Bowens, president and CEO of the District of Columbia Hospital Association, said the “consensus is a reiteration of our hospitals’ commitment to safety by keeping our staff, patients and visitors protected against COVID-19.”

California regulators withdraw controversial work mask rules

California’s workplace regulators have reversed themselves for the second time in a week, withdrawing a controversial, pending mask regulation late Wednesday. That will give them time to consider a rule that more closely aligns with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s promise that the state will fully reopen from the pandemic on Tuesday.

The California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board’s revised rule would have allowed workers to forego masks only if every employee in a room is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. That contrasts with the state’s broader plan to do away with virtually all masking requirements for vaccinated people in concert with the latest recommendations from the CDC.

The goal, said board chairman David Thomas, is to change the workplace regulation “so that it matches up with the CDC and the California Department of Public Health, so that we’re all on the same page. That’s what this is about, so we’re not out of step with everybody else.”

Seattle, San Francisco take their shots as top major cities for vaccinations 

Two West Coast cities are in a neck-and-neck race for the country’s top vaccination status, and each may have a claim on holding the lead. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said Wednesday that hers is the first major U.S. city with 70% of its residents 12 and older having completed their COVID-19 vaccinations, edging San Francisco by a percentage point.

“Now that we have reached community protection, we can lead the nation in safely reopening and recovering in earnest,” Durkan said in a statement.

However, San Francisco is slightly ahead with the nation’s best rate of residents 12 and above who’ve had at least one vaccine shot, 79-78%, and could inch ahead in the race for herd immunity.

“I do believe we are on track to be the first city to achieve herd immunity,” Dr.  Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease expert with the University of California, San Francisco, told the San Francisco Chronicle. 

“Our high rates of immunity means we are not susceptible to new infections even with travel here,” she said. 

Contributing: The Associated Press