President Joe Biden expressed optimism Tuesday that the U.S. vaccine rollout will surpass forecasts, although a massive winter storm was stalling efforts to deliver shots this week.
“Before I took office, I set a big goal of administering 100 million shots in the first 100 days,” Biden tweeted Tuesday. “With the progress we’re making I believe we’ll not only reach that, we’ll break it.”
Biden’s goal had been considered conservative by experts who argued that vaccines must be manufactured, shipped and jabbed much more quickly for vaccines to become readily available by spring. Dr. Anthony Fauci said last week that it would be “open season” for all Americans who want the vaccine by April.
But the timeline remains unclear since the rollout has been marred by a lack of supply, forcing vaccination sites to shut down and leading to long lines and thousands of people on waiting lists. Biden has also said previously most Americans won’t be vaccinated until the end of the summer.
On Tuesday, the winter storm driving icy roads, power outages and dangerously low temperatures across much of the nation was snarling traffic from coast to coast and delaying vaccine shipments to Florida and Texas.
Jared Moskowitz, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said the state has been alerted that shipments were being delayed. It was unclear how many doses would be affected and when deliveries would resume. Texas state health officials, due to receive more than 400,000 additional vaccine doses this week, don’t expect deliveries until at least Wednesday. And vaccine appointments in the cities of Houston and Austin were expected to be canceled again Tuesday because of the severe winter weather.
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In the headlines:
►Chinese authorities say they are cracking down on vaccine-related crimes. Prosecutors there have approved the arrests of 70 suspects involved in 21 vaccine-related frauds, according to the prosecutor general’s office. One case involved 58,000 counterfeit vaccine doses using normal saline that drew $3 million in sales.
►President Joe Biden is extending a ban on home foreclosures for federally backed mortgages by three months and expanding a mortgage relief program to provide relief for families struggling financially amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
►Governors are asking Biden for more say in how the federal government is distributing COVID-19 vaccines to local pharmacies and community health centers in their states.
►The World Health Organization on Monday authorized use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine. The move will help boost supplies for millions of people worldwide through the U.N.’s COVAX effort, which aims to help vaccinate poorer countries.
►San Francisco is the latest California city to temporarily shutter a mass vaccination site because of a lack of vaccine, joining Los Angeles in pausing inoculations amid a national shortage, even as new federal-state vaccination sites open.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 27.6 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 486,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 109.2 million cases and 2.4 million deaths. More than 70 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and about 52.8 million have been administered, according to the CDC.
📘 What we’re reading: There’s no “giant national campaign” for COVID-19 vaccine education. Why? Experts say there’s a better way.
Mardi Gras slows its roll amid COVID concerns in New Orleans
Closed bars, canceled parades and frigid weather were expected to stifle Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans on Tuesday – a stark contrast from last year’s revelry that experts believe contributed to an early surge in COVID-19 cases in Louisiana. Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, is the annual pre-Lenten bash celebrated along much of the Gulf Coast. But Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards warned tourists they would not be able to celebrate Mardi Gras as usual.
“If people think they’re going to come to Louisiana, anywhere, or New Orleans and engage in the kind of activities they would have pre-pandemic, then they are mistaken and quite frankly they are not welcome here to do that,” Edwards said.
– N’dea Yancey-Bragg
CDC: Don’t take preemptive pain meds ahead of vaccination
The vaccines currently in use the the U.S. can cause temporary side effects that “may affect your ability to do daily activities,” but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning against preemptive doses of aspirin or other pain killers before vaccination. The CDC says fever, chills, headaches, soreness and tiredness are normal signs that your body is “building protection.” Over-the-counter medicines such as ibuprofen, aspirin, antihistamines, or acetaminophen can help with that, the CDC says.
“It is not recommended you take these medicines before vaccination for the purpose of trying to prevent side effects,” the CDC says. “It is not known how these medications may impact how well the vaccine works.”
Syringe shortage plagues Japanese vaccination effort
Japan is scrambling to secure special syringes to maximize the number of vaccine shots used from each vial of Pfizer vaccine amid fears that millions of doses could be wasted. Japan, with a population of 126 million, has a deal for 144 million doses that could vaccinate 72 million people. But without special syringes, the numbers could drop more than 15%. The government, still hoping to host the Summer Olympics starting in late July, is asking medical equipment manufacturers to boost output of the low dead-space syringes. Nipro Corp. said it planned to boost its monthly capacity.
“We are getting a request from the health ministry and we need to take some steps,” Nipro said in a statement to Japan Today. “But it’s not something we can do overnight. It’s another four to five months before we can ramp up sharply.”
NBA outlines protocols for All-Star game despite pushback from stars
The NBA revealed its health and safety protocols for the All-Star break in a memo to teams, including protocols for the All-Star game on March 7. The game has not been officially announced, and Lebron James is among prominent players who expressed dismay at the idea of conducting an All-Star game amid a pandemic.
All players are required to undergo COVID-19 testing while the league takes a break March 5-10. Players participating in All-Star events – either the game, dunk contest or 3-point shootout – are required to travel to Atlanta on March 6 via private transportation, and participation is dependent on returning negative tests on March 6 and March 7.
– Jeff Zillgitt
Experts fear fourth surge this spring
COVID-19 infection and hospitalization rates are falling nationwide, but experts talk in dire terms about what will happen if variants of the virus are allowed to surge this spring. The U.S. saw a spike in cases last spring, mainly in the Northeast, last summer in the South, and November through January pretty much everywhere. As the nation’s death toll from COVID-19 approaches half a million people, public health experts said they dread the possibility of a fourth wave. Three state legislatures lifted mask mandates in recent days, and New York and Massachusetts eased restrictions on restaurant seating in time for Valentine’s Day.
“It’s like we’re trying our best to help the virus rather than stopping it,” said Theodora Hatziioannou, a virologist and research associate professor at the Rockefeller University in New York City.
– Karen Weintraub
Gov. Andrew Cuomo defends New York’s response in nursing homes
After boasting of forging a winning battle plan against COVID-19, Cuomo faces a critical moment after an aide admitted to withholding nursing home data from the public after receiving a federal inquiry. Fallout from the scandal is growing as lawmakers mount a bipartisan push for further investigation of the Cuomo administration’s COVID-19 response, citing a series of revelations that lifted the veil of secrecy over the true coronavirus death toll for New York nursing homes, which topped 13,000 residents as opposed to the 8,700 previously reported.
“Thousands of New Yorkers lost family in nursing homes to COVID-19, a pain made worse by the inability to comfort their loved ones in their final hours,” U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-N.Y., wrote Sunday on Twitter. “They deserve answers and accountability.”
Meanwhile, Cuomo launched a lengthy defense on Monday, conceding state officials should have released the nursing home data earlier but struggled to do so because of the pandemic workload and politicized federal inquiry by the Department of Justice under former President Donald Trump.
– David Robinson, New York State Team
ER visits down last year, but overdoses up: Experts blame COVID-19
Many Americans stayed away from the emergency room when the nation went under lockdown for fear of contracting COVID-19 at the hospital. While this led to an overall decline in emergency department visits, a recent study shows weekly trips to the ER for drug overdoses were higher in 2020 than in 2019.
Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studied more than 180 million ER visits from Dec. 30, 2018, to Oct. 10, 2020, and found that weekly counts of all drug overdoses were up to 45% higher in 2020 than in 2019, according to the study published Feb. 3 in the peer-reviewed JAMA Psychiatry. Opioid overdoses, specifically, increased about 29% compared to before the pandemic.
Overall visits to the emergency room plummeted when COVID-19 lockdown measures were implemented in March 2020, decreasing about 43% compared to the same timeframe in 2019. However, drug overdoses experienced only a slight decrease from March 29 to April 11, about 4% compared to 2019, before increasing again.
“That all drug and opioid overdose emergency department visits did not decrease in a similar manner to other emergency department visits is especially compelling, suggesting an increase in overdose burden during the pandemic,” study authors said.
– Adrianna Rodriguez
Contributing: James Call, USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida Capital Bureau; The Associated Press.