President Joe Biden on Thursday praised the country's progress and vaccination efforts in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic as case and hospitalization rates continue to decline.
"It's working. We're making progress," Biden said in a White House address. Daily cases have declined 47% and hospitalizations are down 38% over the past six weeks, Biden said.
Biden's comments came a few hours before a federal advisory committee unanimously supported booster shots of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine for people 65 and older, as well as younger adults with certain medical conditions or jobs that put them at increased risk for infection. The booster would be half the regular dose, given at least six months after the second shot.
If the panel's decision is verified by a second advisory group and by top officials at the Food and Drug Administration, Moderna's booster will be the second one to receive emergency use authorization. The Pfizer-BioNTech extra shot was authorized late last month.
A booster shot of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be considered Friday, but it's unclear whether the committee will have sufficient data to approve it. About 8,000 people were studied after receiving a second dose two months after their first, and only 17 were tracked after getting a second shot at six months. The panel will also hear information Friday about getting a different vaccine as a follow-up.
Around 66 million eligible Americans remain unvaccinated, which Biden said was a "still unacceptably high number," and he urged them to get the shots.
"Now's not the time to let up. We have a lot more to do. We're in a very critical period as we work to turn the corner on COVID-19," he said.
Also in the news:
►Anyone age 12 and older will have to provide either proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a recent negative test to attend large events in Washington state starting Nov. 15. The order announced Thursday by Gov. Jay Inslee applies to indoor events with 1,000 or more attendees and outdoor events that have more than 10,000, including concerts and sporting matches.
►President Joe Biden will meet with Pope Francis later this month to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic, among other topics, as part of a larger trip to Italy and the United Kingdom, the White House said Thursday.
►India has resumed exports of coronavirus vaccines after halting them during a devastating surge in domestic infections in April. A country of 1.4 billion people, India has given at least one vaccine dose to nearly 70% of its eligible population.
►New Hampshire's Executive Council on Wednesday rejected $27 million in federal funds for vaccination outreach. The money would have allowed the state to hire a public health manager and a dozen workers to promote COVID-19 vaccines and address concerns about it.
►About 800 San Francisco city workers have asked for medical or religious exemptions to avoid a looming deadline for them to get vaccinated against the coronavirus or lose their jobs. So far, the city has not approved a single request.
📈 Today's numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 44.7 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 721,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 239.5 million cases and 4.88 million deaths. More than 188.3 million Americans – 57% of the population – are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
📘 What we're reading: Parents have already been weathering a shortage of child care providers – the workforce is down about 10% from pre-pandemic levels. Vaccine mandates could make it that much harder for day care providers to hire otherwise qualified staff.
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New York state lost 3.5% of health workers because of vaccine requirement
New York state lost tens of thousands of health care workers because of its COVID-19 vaccination requirement, but not nearly as many as some expected.
New state data shows about 34,000 employees in the health field were either terminated or placed on leave because they failed to comply with the mandate, a 3.5% reduction in the workforce. More than half of them – 20,500 workers – were from the home health sector, which took an 8% loss.
“The vast majority of (health care workers) are on their jobs, despite what we have been told by everyone early on, that it's just going to be impossible to implement this,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said of the requirement, which prompted about 55,000 workers to get the vaccine in the final week before the Sept. 27 deadline.
-- David Robinson
CNN's Gupta fails to sway podcaster Rogan about vaccines, but glad he tried
Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent, thought maybe he could convince popular podcast host and COVID-19 vaccine skeptic Joe Rogan to get the shot.
So Gupta agreed to appear on Rogan's podcast and spent more than three hours debating the topic and dispelling COVID misconceptions. He did not convince Rogan but found out something surprising about him: Rogan had an appointment to get vaccinated a few months ago but did not keep it because of logistical issues.
He has continued sowing mistrust of the vaccines since then, and announced in September that he had contracted the coronavirus. Rogan said he pursued a number of treatments, including the anti-parasite drug ivermectin -- which the FDA and CDC have warned against for COVID -- and monoclonal antibodies, which have proven effective.
Despite being unable to change Rogan's mind, Gupta said he was still glad he participated in the long discussion. "If just a few of his listeners were convinced,'' Gupta wrote, "it will have been well worth it.''
Florida Gov. DeSantis vows to challenge Biden's vaccination mandate
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state will challenge the Biden administration's upcoming vaccination mandate in federal court, predicting it "will go down."
The federal requirement, expected to be released this month, would apply to hospitals that treat Medicare and Medicaid patients and employers with 100 or more workers.
DeSantis has been promoting early treatment of COVID-19, with therapies such as monoclonal antibodies, over requiring vaccines, which are designed to prevent the illness.
-- Frank Gluck, Fort Myers News-Press
U.S. sending 17 million more doses of COVID vaccine to African Union
The United States is donating an additional 17 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine to the African Union, President Joe Biden announced Thursday.
The doses, which will be delivered in the coming weeks, will be on top of 50 million single shots the Biden administration already has donated to the African Union. Women are particularly vulnerable in Africa, where experts believe widespread misinformation and vaccine skepticism has made them the least vaccinated population in the world.
Biden made his announcement during an Oval Office meeting with Uhuru Kenyatta, president of the Republic of Kenya.
– Michael Collins and Courtney Subramanian
Study finds Pfizer or Moderna boosters may be best for J&J vaccine
The best booster for the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine may be either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna shot, according to a National Institutes of Health study posted Wednesday.
The study, which included nearly 500 people, found that the J&J shot followed by one of the mRNA vaccines as a booster produced a stronger immune response than two doses of J&J. For people who got either the Pfizer or Moderna two-dose series, a booster dose of either mRNA vaccine was effective.
"The Mix and Match was a big study people were waiting for, it gave a lot of new data, and there hadn't been any about Johnson & Johnson with an mRNA booster before," said Dr. Eric Topol, vice president for research at Scripps Research in La Jolla, California, and a national expert on the use of data in medical research.
– Elizabeth Weise
Chicago police union pushes back against vaccination reporting requirement
The head of Chicago’s police union is encouraging members to “hold the line” and not to report their vaccination status ahead of a deadline Friday for city employees to do so through an online portal.
John Catanzara, president of Chicago’s police union, encouraged officers to submit vaccination exemption requests instead. Employees who aren’t vaccinated will be required to get tested twice weekly.
“If we suspect the numbers are true and we get a large number of our members to stand firm on their beliefs that this is an overreach, and they’re not going to supply the information in the portal or submit to testing, then it’s safe to say the city of Chicago will have a police force at 50% or less for this weekend coming up,” he said in a video message.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot encouraged officers to get vaccinated, noting four Chicago police officers have died of COVID-19. More than 400 U.S. law enforcement officers have died of the disease, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, making it the number one cause of duty-related deaths in 2020 and 2021.
– Grace Hauck
Children, like adults, are capable of carrying high levels of infectious coronavirus, study shows
Infants, children and teens are equally capable of carrying high levels of the coronavirus in their respiratory secretions, much like adults are, according to research published Thursday in the Journal of Infectious Diseases that builds on earlier, similar findings.
Researchers at several Boston institutions – the Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard – studied 110 children two weeks to 21 years of age who tested positive for COVID-19.
The researchers found the high levels of virus correspond with live, infectious virus and that both symptomatic and asymptomatic children were most infectious within the first five days of illness. The researchers found no correlation between the age of the children and the amount of their viral load, and no correlation between the viral load and the severity of disease in the kids.
“Kids with COVID-19, even if asymptomatic, are infectious and can harbor SARS-CoV-2 variants,” Lael Yonker, a study author and pediatric pulmonologist at Massachusetts General, said in a statement. “The implications of this study show that masking and other public health measures are needed for everyone – children, adolescents and adults – to get us out of this pandemic.”
– Grace Hauck
Study: Americans drank and smoked more, exercised less during pandemic
Americans drank more, smoked more, exercised less and spent more time in front of a computer or television compared to pre-pandemic levels, a study led by UCLA researchers found.
Across those surveyed, researchers found that alcohol consumption increased by 23% and cigarette smoking by 9%. Smoking, especially, could have adverse effects on those who contract COVID-19: Current and former smokers are 2.4 times more likely to need intensive care unit support or die from the disease compared with non-smokers, the study showed.
Exercise decreased by almost a third and screen time increased 60%, the researchers found. Other countries such as Canada, Italy, Brazil and Poland have observed similar behaviors during the pandemic.
Dr. Liwei Chen, lead author of the study and UCLA epidemiology professor, said restrictions on non-essential activities and stay-at-home orders have negatively impacted some behaviors in American adults – especially in minorities.
Hospitals weigh COVID vaccine mandates for patients in need of lifesaving organ transplants
After a recent uproar over a hospital requiring a Colorado woman to get a coronavirus vaccine before being considered for an organ transplant, several high-profile health systems are also considering rules to add COVID-19 vaccines to the required list of immunizations.
Hospitals that transplant hearts, livers, lungs or other organs have strict requirements and prioritize patients based on a range of factors, including medical need, suitability and likelihood of success.
“Organs are a scarce resource,” said Deepali Kumar, president-elect of the American Society of Transplantation. “We have a duty to make sure that gift is protected.”
Studies have shown people with an organ transplant are more likely to die if they contract COVID-19 compared to the general population. In addition, vaccines are less effective in post-transplant patients who must take anti-rejection medications.
– Ken Alltucker
World Health Organization: Global cases decline 7% in last week
The World Health Organization said the number of global coronavirus cases fell in the last week, continuing a downward trend that began in late August.
In its latest weekly assessment of the pandemic published Wednesday, the U.N. health agency said there were about 2.8 million new cases and 46,000 confirmed deaths in the last week, a drop of 7% and 10%, respectively. Europe reported a 7% rise in cases, while all other world regions reported a decrease.
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden touts progress; FDA panel supports Moderna COVID booster shot