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Pfizer vaccine gets FDA OK for 12-15 age group; US infections falling; Fauci says indoor mask rule could be eased: Live COVID-19 updates

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The U.S. is now averaging about 40,000 new coronavirus cases per day, down more than 40% from less than a month ago and just one-fifth of what the nation was facing at the start of the year.

And the fight against the pandemic just added another weapon Monday when the Food and Drug Administration gave emergency use authorization to the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccine for adolescents 12-15 years old.

Still, the race for herd immunity that could help put the pandemic in the nation's rear-view mirror is not going entirely smoothly. Some states want the federal government to withhold staggering amounts of vaccine this week amid plummeting demand for shots. Concern over waning interest in vaccination has prompted President Joe Biden to schedule a meeting Tuesday with six governors aimed at regaining momentum.

Biden's goal: 70% of the nation's adults vaccinated with at least one dose by Independence Day.

More than 58% of U.S. adults -- and 46% of the population -- has received at least one jab, and nearly 35% of the country is fully vaccinated. However, the pace of first-dose vaccinations has fallen 60% in just the last month, a USA TODAY analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows.

The U.S. reported administering fewer than 5.1 million first doses in the week ending Sunday, down from 12.3 million first doses in the week ending a month earlier. States such as Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming have seen weekly first-dose vaccination totals drop more than 80% compared to their best weeks.

– Mike Stucka

Also in the news:

►Organizers of a New Orleans vaccination event on Thursday will offer a free shot in the arm – and a free pound of boiled crawfish.

►Publix pharmacies are now accepting walk-ins for the COVID-19 vaccine at all locations across seven states – Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

►The number of days working-age Germans called in sick during the first three months of 2021 hit a 13-year low as hygiene and distancing rules prevented the spread of other illnesses, a major insurer says.

►Variant infections boomed in Florida following spring break, making Florida home to the most variant COVID-19 cases in the nation, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported based on data from the Florida Department of Health.

►Israel and Seychelles, an Indian Ocean island nation of fewer than 100,000, are the only nations that have fully vaccinated more than half their population, according to Our World in Data. The United Kingdom is among a small number that have partially vaccinated more than half their populations.

📈 Today's numbers: The U.S. has more than 32.7 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 582,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: Over 158.4 million cases and 3.29 million deaths. More than 329.8 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and more than 261.5 million have been administered, according to the CDC. More than 115.5 million Americans have been fully vaccinated – 34.8% of the population.

📘 What we're reading: A Kaiser Family Foundation analysis found that among 43 states, white people are vaccinated at 1.6 times the rate of Black people and 1.5 times higher than the rate of Hispanics. More needs to be done to reach minority populations, experts say.

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.

FDA authorizes Pfizer vaccine for those 12-15

Summer camps and the beginning of the next school year look a lot less worrisome now.

The Food and Drug Administration on Monday granted emergency use authorization to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which became the first inoculation to receive that kind of clearance in the U.S.

Many parents had been eagerly awaiting for the authorization as they made summer plans and hoped for the next academic year to be conducted fully in person.

President Joe Biden said last week that his administration would be “ready to move immediately’’ once the FDA gave its OK to the vaccine, which has been deemed safe and extremely effective after trials on adolescents.

Making it available to children as young as 12 at this point would help the administration reach its goal of having 160 million Americans fully vaccinated by July 4th. The figure would represent an increase of 45 million over the current total.

Biden, 6 governors to chat about regaining vaccination momentum

President Joe Biden will talk with three Democratic and three Republican governors Tuesday about innovative ways to get more people vaccinated, USA TODAY has learned. Biden will meet virtually with the leaders of Ohio, Utah, Massachusetts, Maine, Minnesota and New Mexico to share best practices as the administration moves toward its goal of getting 70% of adults at least partially vaccinated by July 4.

More than half of all residents in Massachusetts, Maine and New Mexico have gotten at least one shot, ranking among the top 10 states. Ohio and Utah are in the bottom half of states for vaccination rates.

Maureen Groppe

British PM unveils 'single biggest step' in loosening of COVID restrictions

In what he called England's "single biggest step'' toward normalization, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday announced the lifting of several coronavirus-mitigation measures.

Starting May 17, Brits will be allowed once again to gather indoors in groups of up to six from two households. In addition, pubs and restaurants will be able to serve indoors, movie theaters and museums will reopen and weddings will be permitted to have up to 30 people in attendance.

Britain, once the European hotspot for the coronavirus, has made remarkable progress thanks to a vaccination program that has administered at least one shot to two-thirds of adults. England, Scotland and Northern Ireland combined reported zero COVID-19 deaths Monday, while Wales had four.

At Dracula's castle, single shots instead of double fangs

Romanian doctors are sinking their teeth into the country's vaccination campaign, offering COVID-19 shots at Dracula's castle and free admission to its torture rooms. Still, they promise to merely deliver single injections and not to leave any fang marks.

In an attempt to encourage Romanians to get the inoculation, authorities are holding vaccination sessions every May weekend on the periphery of Transylvania's Bran Castle, purportedly the inspiration for Dracula’s home in Bram Stoker’s 19th-century gothic novel “Dracula.”

Those who get the shots will receive a “vaccination diploma,” illustrated with a fanged medical worker brandishing a syringe.

“We wanted to show people a different way to get the (vaccine),” Alexandru Priscu, the marketing manager at Bran Castle, told The Associated Press.

Novavax vaccine delayed by production issues

Novavax, the Maryland-based biotech firm whose vaccine has performed well in clinical trials in the U.K. and South Africa, expects to release data about its U.S. study "in a few weeks'' but won't be ready to seek regulatory approval until sometime in the second half of the year.

CEO Stanley Erck told USA TODAY that Novavax has been addressing production issues that have prevented the company from manufacturing the vaccine to scale, and that it remains "on track" to file a request for emergency use authorization with the FDA.

In a quarterly report released Monday, Novavax said it intends to seek that clearance and also the OK from European regulatory agencies by the third quarter. The company also revised down its anticipated capacity to 100 million doses per month by the end of September.

Novavax has a production and manufacturing deal with the Serum Institute of India and its vaccine is widely anticipated in developing countries.

Country music group to provide 4 million meals

The Country Music Association and Feeding America will help provide 4 million meals in more than a dozen U.S. cities, many "heavily populated with music industry professionals," CMA said. The live music industry has been hammered by the pandemic, and CEO Sarah Trahern said more than 50,000 music professionals have been affected in Tennessee alone. Cities getting the meals include Atlanta, Austin, Texas; Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, Tennessee; New Orleans, New York, Orlando, Florida; Philadelphia, Portland, Oregon; Seattle and Washington, DC.

"We see firsthand the ongoing need for critical resources, including food supply, here in Nashville," Trahern said. "But there are hundreds of thousands of individuals in cities all around the country who continue to suffer."

Pandemic do-over: Graduation ceremonies being held a year late

Scores of colleges and universities are offering last year’s graduates a chance to experience the in-person commencements that were canceled because of the pandemic. Some are inviting them to join in Class of 2021 ceremonies, others are hosting separate commencements for them this spring or special events later this year. North Carolina’s Queens University of Charlotte held its belated ceremony at a baseball stadium this month.

“We definitely wanted to honor that 2020 just had a heck of a senior year, and we wanted to try to acknowledge that in a positive way,” said Sarah Fatherly, the provost and vice president for academic affairs.

New York, once global hot spot, has lowest positivity test rate in 7 months

New York state's positivity rate fell to its lowest level since before Halloween, and new cases fell 26% last week compared with the prior week, state and federal records show. New York added 17,578 new COVID cases in the week ending Sunday, a drop of 6,177 cases from the previous week. New York ranked 19th among the states in the rate of coronavirus transmission on a per-person basis, Johns Hopkins University data showed.

At one point New York was one of the world's leading hot spots for COVID-19. More than 2 million people in the state have tested positive for the coronavirus, and 52,688 people have died from the disease, the second in the nation most behind California.

On May 19, New York plans to end most capacity limits on restaurants and venues, requiring them to only limit occupancy based on social distancing guidelines.

– Joseph Spector and Mike Stucka

Flu season was almost nonexistent thanks to COVID measures

A year full of social distancing, mask wearing, hand washing and staying at home to prevent coronavirus spread rendered the 2020-2021 influenza season practically non-existent. Public health and clinical laboratories reported 2,038 flu cases during the season from Sept. 27, 2020 to April 24, 2021, according to the CDC. The agency estimates about 38 million people were sick with the flu during the 2019-2020 season.

“It’s been an amazing year,” said Dr. John Swartzberg, a professor emeritus of infectious diseases at the University of California-Berkeley. “In all my years of being a flu watcher … I’ve never seen anything like this.”

– Adrianna Rodriguez

Fauci says it's about time to start easing indoor mask rules

White House coronavirus adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci says it's about time to start relaxing indoor mask requirements. "I think so," he said when asked on ABC News. "I think you're going to probably be seeing that as we go along, and as more people get vaccinated."

Fauci also said wearing masks could become a seasonal habit for some people trying to avoid respiratory diseases such as the flu. And he predicted that the U.S. will reach President Biden's goal of 70% vaccination for adults by Independence Day. As vaccinations increase, even at a slower rate, and new cases fall, the CDC will be updating its guidance, said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

"We do need to start being more liberal as we get more people vaccinated," he added.

Contributing: Adrianna Rodriguez, USA TODAY; The Associated Press.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID: Fauci says indoor mask mandates could ease; infections fall

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