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The Biden administration will begin distributing COVID-19 vaccine doses directly to retail pharmacies in an effort to expedite vaccinations across the nation.
White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said the program will start with about 1 million doses sent to 6,500 pharmacies beginning next week. The number of pharmacies could ultimately each 40,000.
"This will provide more sites for people to get vaccinations in their communities," Zients said. "And it's an important component to delivering vaccines equitably."
Zients said 10.5 million doses will be distributed to states this week, up 5% from last week and a 22% increase in weekly doses since President Joe Biden took office Jan. 20.
COVID-19 has killed more than 445,000 Americans, and infections have continued to mount despite the introduction of a pair of vaccines late in 2020. USA TODAY is tracking the news. Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates. Sign up for our Coronavirus Watch newsletter for updates to your inbox, join our Facebook group or scroll through our in-depth answers to reader questions.
In the headlines:
►The CDC reported Tuesday that the nation's second case of the coronavirus' Brazilian variant has been identified in Minnesota. Three cases of the South African variant, two in South Carolina and one in Maryland, have also been detected recently in the U.S.
►The National Park Service will now require all visitors and employees to wear masks inside buildings and facilities and on lands "when physical distancing cannot be maintained." That includes busy and narrow trails.
►Miguel Romero, mayor of the Puerto Rican capital of San Juan, said on Twitter a fast antigen test he took for the coronavirus came back positive and he's awaiting the results of a molecular test. Romero is in isolation, as is Gov. Pedro Pierluisi after coming in recent contact with the mayor.
►Capt. Tom Moore, the British World War II veteran who shuffled into the hearts of his locked-down nation while raising money for health care workers, has died after testing positive for COVID-19. He was 100. The White House paid tribute to him in a tweet.
►Giving people who have had COVID only one dose of vaccine wouldn't negatively impact their antibody levels but would free up many urgently needed doses, a new study suggests.
📈 Today's numbers: The U.S. has more than 26.3 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 445,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 103.6 million cases and 2.24 million deaths. More than 52.6 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 32.7 million have been administered, according to the CDC.
📘 What we're reading: Studies suggest up to 80% of people who have COVID-19 symptoms experience a reduced or complete loss of smell or taste. Most survivors regain their senses in a few weeks. But some don’t, and researchers say they may go without them for the rest of their lives. Read the full story.
One dose of AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine reduces transmission, symptoms
A single shot of the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine reduced transmission of the coronavirus by 67% and provided substantial protection against COVID-19 for at least three months, according to preliminary data from three trials unveiled Tuesday.
If confirmed, the findings could provide at least a partial answer to one of the critical lingering questions about coronavirus vaccines -- whether they help prevent spread of the virus, not only symptoms. The high level of protection against symptoms from just one dose, 76%, is also an encouraging sign for nations scrambling for the limited vaccine supply.
A second dose is still required for the full effect of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, which was authorized for all adults by European Union regulators Friday but has not received clearance in the U.S. Results of the trials indicated the vaccine is actually more effective when the booster shot is delayed by three months, rather than administered within three or four weeks.
Quick dispensing of vaccines could curb spread of variants
Speeding up the rate of vaccinations across the nation could help curb the spread of newer, highly infectious forms of COVID-19, Dr. Anthony Fauci says. Fauci said that while current vaccines may not offer the same level of protection against the variants that they provide against the original virus, they can ease the impact of the disease, including hospitalizations and deaths. People need to get vaccinated "as quickly and as expeditiously as possible," Fauci said at a virtual news briefing with the White House COVID-19 response team.
"Viruses cannot mutate if they don't replicate. And if you stop their replication by vaccinating widely and not giving the virus an open playing field to continue to respond to the pressures that you put on it, you will not get mutations."
Andrew Yang, now a NYC mayoral candidate, tests positive for COVID-19
Andrew Yang, the entrepreneur turned presidential candidate who is now running for New York City mayor, has tested positive for COVID-19, he announced Tuesday. Yang said he had tested negative as recently as this weekend but then received a rapid test that had a positive result, he tweeted on Tuesday.
"I'm experiencing mild symptoms, but am otherwise feeling well & in good spirits," Yang tweeted.
Yang said he was quarantining. Among New York City mayoral candidates, he has been among the most prolific in-person campaigners in a race that has been otherwise forced online because of the pandemic. A staff member of his campaign had previously tested positive shortly after Yang announced his run. Yang said his campaign has begun contact tracing efforts to determine who he has been in contact with.
– Ryan Miller
Tanzania government opposed to vaccines
Days after President John Magufuli of Tanzania cast doubts without evidence on COVID-19 vaccines, health minister Dorothy Gwajima said the country doesn't plan to receive them.
Magufuli maintains that God has eliminated COVID-19 in Tanzania, an East African nation of 60 million that has not updated its number of coronavirus infections since April. Insisting that Tanzania is safe, Gwajima has merely encouraged people to improve hygiene practices, including the use of sanitizers
In its latest travel warning on Tanzania, the CDC says the country’s level of COVID-19 is “very high” and urges against all travel there.
Russia's vaccine appears effective in Phase III trial
Russia's entry into the global vaccine sweepstakes appears to be a winner, at least in early returns. The Sputnik V vaccine drew an effectiveness rating of 91.6% in a Phase III trial, according to a study published Tuesday in the British medical journal Lancet. The trial last fall involved about 20,000 Russians. The most commonly reported side effects were flu-like symptoms, pain at the injection site and fatigue; serious side effects were rare.
The vaccine was approved by the Russian government in August despite minimal testing. President Vladimir Putin at the time hawked the vaccine on national TV, boasting that one of his daughters had already been vaccinated. But a large-scale vaccination campaign didn't start until December; doctors and teachers were first in line. Outside Russia, Sputnik V has received authorization in over a dozen nations.
Rich, influential should not get first crack at vaccines
Vaccine rollouts in California, Washington state and elsewhere are sparking worry among health leaders, who warn that doses unfairly given to rich or influential people could cause critical supplies in the COVID-19 battle to be cut. The Washington state Health Department said in a statement Monday that “VIP scheduling, reserving doses for inequitable or exclusive access and similar practices are banned and will not be tolerated.” The Seattle Times reported that three medical systems in the region gave special vaccine access to big donors or foundation members. Two of the hospital organizations acknowledged they made a mistake in prioritizing influential people.
In California, some essential workers – teachers, first responders and food and farm workers – remain next in line for the shots. But after that, the state will primarily expand eligibility by age, likely people 50 and up. The goal: to speed up a chaotic vaccine rollout that consistently has California lagging behind many other states in distribution rates even as it had given roughly 3.3 million immunizations as of Monday.
Chicago, DC teachers balk at return to in-class learning
District of Columbia Public Schools went to court Monday for a temporary restraining order against the Washington Teachers’ Union to avoid a work stoppage that could delay reopening of some schools for in-person learning. In-person learning across the city was scheduled to start Monday, but winter weather delayed the opening. Schools were opening two hours late for in-person students on Tuesday. The union scheduled a news conference for Tuesday morning to discuss its position.
In Chicago, school district officials extended remote learning Monday for two more days and called for a “cooling-off period” in negotiations with the teachers’ union, citing progress but not a full agreement on COVID-19 safety plans for returning to schools. More than 60,000 students and about 10,000 teachers and staff in K-8 had been scheduled to return to school Monday for the first time since March, part of the district’s gradual reopening plans during the pandemic.
U.S.: No immigration enforcement arrests at vaccination sites
The U.S. government says it won’t conduct immigration enforcement arrests at vaccination sites around the country except in "extraordinary circumstances." In a statement Monday, the Department of Homeland Security said vaccine sites will be considered “sensitive locations” and will not be targeted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. DHS says it encourages everyone “regardless of immigration status” to get vaccinated when they are eligible under local rules.
ICE has previously included health care facilities as well as churches among the sensitive locations where arrests would generally not be carried out.
'No red flags' in vaccine safety data for pregnant women so far
Some pregnant women remain unsure about getting the COVID-19 vaccine as safety data is scarce and health agency guidelines are vague and in some cases contradictory. But Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, said Monday that about 10,000 pregnant women in the U.S. have been vaccinated since the Food and Drug Administration authorized two vaccines and so far there have been “no red flags.”
“We had a lot of pregnant women vaccinated, the FDA followed them and will continue to follow them,” he said during a media roundtable at the IAS COVID-19 Conference: Prevention. “Even though we don’t have good data on it, the data that we’re collecting on it so far has no red flags.”
The CDC guidelines say the decision is up to the mother in consultation with her health care provider. Fauci said Monday that the agency is sticking with that recommendation.
– Adrianna Rodriguez
Contributing: Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID news: One dose AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine; pharmacies; variants