The Latest: Biden makes economic case for vaccinations

US & World

Medical workers carry a patient infected with the coronavirus on a stretcher at the Syrian American Medical Society Hospital, in the city of Idlib, northwest Syria, Monday, Sept. 20, 2021. Coronavirus cases are surging to the worst levels of the pandemic in Idlib province, a rebel stronghold in Syria — a particularly devastating development in a region where scores of hospitals have been bombed and that doctors and nurses have fled in droves during a decade of war. (AP Photo/Ghaith Alsayed)

ELK GROVE VILLAGE, Il. — President Joe Biden is championing the fight against COVID-19, requiring workplace vaccination requirements to force the roughly 67 million unvaccinated American adults to roll up their sleeves.

Biden is delivering that message in Illinois, where he’s visiting a suburban Chicago construction site run by a company that’s imposing a new vaccinate-or-test requirement.

In the coming weeks, more than 100 million Americans will be subject to vaccine requirements ordered by Biden. The majority of the nation is already vaccinated and industry leaders mostly agree with the mandates for the safety of workers and the economy.

Biden also planned to meet with the CEO of United Airlines, Scott Kirby, whose company successfully implemented a vaccine mandate, with no option for workers to be tested. Less than 1% have failed to comply and risk termination.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— President Biden making economic case for vaccination

— UK eases travel restrictions further by slashing ‘red list’

— US health experts urge flu shots to avoid ‘twindemic’

— Pfizer’s request to OKshots for kids a relief for parents

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— See all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

SAN FRANCISCO — Counties in the San Francisco Bay Area will start easing their requirements for people to wear masks inside many public spaces.

A group of eight counties in the region indicated the rules will be dropped when vaccination rates are above 80% and COVID-19 transmission rates and hospitalizations are low. In San Francisco, where places like gyms and offices already require people to show proof of vaccination, some will be allowed to drop masks next week.

The 80% vaccination rate includes the entire population, not just those 12 and older who are eligible for the shots. It will be up to each county to determine its own mask rules. Such a change is likely weeks away in most areas.

The Bay Area has among the highest vaccination rates and lowest case rates in the nation. Counties had reinstated the indoor mask mandate in August as infections surged because of the highly contagious delta variant.

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TOPEKA, Kan. — Health officials are frustrated so many school boards remain reluctant to adopt mask mandates, even though most COVID-19 outbreaks in Kansas schools are occurring in districts without mask requirements.

The state has 68 active school clusters, down from 79 a week ago, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Those clusters have been connected to 596 cases, one hospitalization and one death.

Of the active outbreaks from last week, only 29% occurred in districts that reported a mask requirement, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported. The outbreaks at schools without mask mandates or schools that didn’t report their mask policies had clusters five to six times the cases per capita, according to health department data.

Only about 20% of school districts report requiring masks for most or all of their students, but those districts educate about 63% of the state’s student population, according to data presented at a meeting of the governor’s Safer Classrooms Workgroup on Wednesday.

“We have studies that show that masks work in kids,” said Dena Hubbard, with the Kansas American Academy of Pediatrics, during the meeting. “Now we have data that masks work in prevention of spread in Kansas. Why do we still have this percentage (of schools) that has no mask policy or is encouraged but not required?”

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KALAMAZOO, Mich. — A federal appeals court ruled in favor of some athletes at Western Michigan University who sued to play sports without getting a COVID-19 vaccination because of their religion.

The court declined to stop a decision by a federal judge in Kalamazoo who said the WMU vaccine requirement likely violates the athletes’ constitutional right to follow their religion.

WMU athletes who sought vaccine exemptions still can be required to wear a mask at practice or be regularly tested, under the injunction signed by U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney.

The 16 athletes sought a vaccine exemption on religious grounds but were ignored or denied, the appeals court said.

“We do not doubt (WMU’s) good faith, nor do we fail to appreciate the burdens COVID-19 has placed on this nation’s universities. … But having announced a system under which student-athletes can seek individualized exemptions, the university must explain why it chose not to grant any to plaintiffs. And it did not fairly do so here,” the court said in a 3-0 opinion.

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NEW YORK — The U.S. is gearing up for the flu season on top of the continuing COVID-19 crisis.

Health officials urged Americans to get vaccinated against both the flu and coronavirus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a yearly flu vaccination for just about everyone, starting with 6-month-old babies.

Flu cases dropped to historically low levels globally over the pandemic, as restrictions designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus helped block other respiratory viruses. But with schools and businesses reopened, there’s no way to predict how bad a flu season the country might expect this winter.

“We certainly don’t want a ‘twindemic,’ both COVID and influenza,” said Dr. William Schaffner of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

Options for flu shots include regular vaccines, shots that aim to give older adults a little extra protection, and a nasal spray. All offer protection against four different flu strains that global experts predict are most likely to spread this year.

If people still need a COVID-19 vaccination — either first shots or a booster dose — they can get it at the same visit as a flu shot.

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BERLIN — German officials say the nation has vaccinated about 3.5 million more people against the coronavirus than previously counted.

That means almost 80% of adults in Germany are fully vaccinated and about 84% have received at least one shot, according to the disease control center.

Health Minister Jens Spahn says the discrepancy between the numbers was “due to the fact that some vaccinations may not have been reported.” He added that worker vaccinations at big companies and shots given by mobile vaccination teams in nursing centers may not have been completely reported.

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MADRID — Spanish authorities say the key 14-day infection rate of coronavirus cases per 100,000 people has dropped below 50 for the first time since July 2020.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez says in a tweet it’s “a crucial milestone” in the fight against the pandemic. The Health Ministry on Thursday reported 48 officially recorded cases per 100,000 inhabitants over two weeks.

Officials say a large part is due to the national vaccination rollout, which has fully inoculated 77% of Spaniards. Pressure on hospitals has fallen considerably to 2,000 people admitted to hospitals and 551 in ICUs.

The Health Ministry reported 1,807 new cases from the previous day, taking the total to 4.9 million. There were 23 reported deaths, bringing the confirmed total to 86,701.

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GENEVA — The U.N. secretary-general says a lack of equitable distribution of coronavirus vaccines between wealthy and poor countries “is not only a question of being immoral, it is also a question of being stupid.”

Antonio Guterres called vaccine inequality the “best ally” of the COVID-19 pandemic. He decried hoarding of vaccines by rich countries, as well as vaccine nationalism and vaccine diplomacy – by which some producer nations try to use their doses as leverage.

Guterres told a World Health Organization news conference Thursday that if the virus continues to spread “like wildfire in the Global South,” there’s a risk that new variants could emerge and potentially resist current vaccines doled out widely around world.

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GENEVA — A top World Health Organization official says legal issues holding up a review of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19 are “about to be sorted out,” a step that could relaunch a process toward an emergency use authorization for the jabs from the agency.

Dr. Mariangela Simao, a WHO assistant director-general, says other hurdles remain for the Russian application for an WHO emergency use listing – including a lack of full information in the dossier and inspections of manufacturing sites.

“But I’m happy to say that the process is about to be restarted,” says Simao, who heads WHO’s division on access to medicines and health products, referring to the review. She notes the review months ago was “put on hold due to the lack of some legal procedures.”

Simao didn’t provide any timetable about when Sputnik V might be considered for the emergency use listing.

Those receiving Sputnik V doses are eager to find out whether it gets WHO emergency use authorization because some countries may prevent them from entering until its granted.

Approval could pave the way for its inclusion into the COVAX program, which is shipping vaccines to scores of countries around the world.

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NEW YORK — Pfizer is asking the U.S. government to allow use of its COVID-19 vaccine in children ages 5 to 11.

If regulators agree, shots could begin within a matter of weeks. Pfizer already had announced that a lower dose of its vaccine worked and appeared safe in a study of the youngsters.

Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech on Thursday officially filed its application with the Food and Drug Administration. FDA’s advisers are scheduled to debate the evidence on Oct. 26. Until now, the vaccine was available only to those as young as 12, and many parents and pediatricians are clamoring for protection for younger kids.

Keeping children in school can be a challenge with the coronavirus still raging in poorly vaccinated communities.

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SEOUL, South Korea — The World Health Organization has started shipping COVID-19 medical supplies into North Korea, a possible sign that the North is easing one of the world’s strictest pandemic border closures to receive outside help.

WHO says it has started the shipment of essential COVID-19 medical supplies through the Chinese port of Dalian for strategic stockpiling and further dispatch to North Korea.

WHO representative told AP the items included emergency health kits and medicine. The country still claims to have a perfect record of fighting the virus and has reported no coronavirus cases. It recently turned down some Sinovac vaccines offered via the U.N.-backed program. It had severely restricted cross-border traffic and trade for the past two years despite the strain on its crippled economy.

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MOSCOW — The daily coronavirus death toll topped 900 for a second straight day in Russia, with a record 924 deaths reported Thursday.

The toll reached 929 deaths the previous day. Russian authorities have struggled to control a surge in new cases amid a slow pace in vaccinations and few restrictions.

The government’s coronavirus task force reported 27,550 new confirmed cases on Thursday. That’s a nearly 10% rise from the previous day. New infections in Moscow soared by nearly 50% to 5,404 cases.

Russia has Europe’s highest death toll in the pandemic at more than 213,000 fatalities, which is considered by many health experts an undercount.

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Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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