Connecticut data show COVID-19 vaccine effective
AP – HARTFORD, Conn. — Of the more than 1.4 million Connecticut residents who are now fully vaccinated, 242 later became infected with COVID-19, according to data released Friday from the state Department of Public Health.
Among the 242 so-called “vaccine breakthrough cases,” 109 people had no symptoms of the disease. DPH reported three deaths among vaccinated individuals who were confirmed to have had underlying medical conditions. They were between the ages of 55-64, 65-74, and 75 years and older.
Nationally, there have been 132 vaccine breakthrough deaths, DPH said.
“The main takeaway is that COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective and cases of infection after a person is fully vaccinated are very rare,” Dr. Deidre Gifford, the state’s acting public health commissioner, said in a statement. Cases of COVID-19 in fully vaccinated individuals in Connecticut is less than 0.1%, according to the DPH data.
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HELENA, Mont. — Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced that Montana will share COVID-19 vaccines with Canadian truck drivers from neighboring Alberta.
According to a memorandum of understanding signed Friday about 2,000 truck drivers from Alberta who transport goods from Canada to the U.S. will be eligible to be vaccinated at a highway rest stop near Conrad.
The vaccines will be available between May 10 and May 23. A similar program to vaccinate truck drivers from Canada began in North Dakota last month.
The Blackfeet tribe in northern Montana has given around 1,000 vaccines to their relatives and neighbors across the border.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The owner of a Northern California bar was arrested on suspicion of selling made-to-order fake COVID-19 vaccination cards to several undercover state agents for $20 each in what officials said Friday is the first such foiled operation they are aware of nationwide.
The plainclothes agents from California’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control were told to write their names and birthdates on Post-it notes. They say bar employees cut the cards, filled out the identifying information and bogus vaccination dates, then laminated the finished product.
Vaccination cards are being used in some places as a pass for people to attend large gatherings. The European Union is considering allowing in tourists who can prove they have been vaccinated.
Acting on an an anonymous tip from the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s office, four undercover agents went to Old Corner Saloon in the town of Clements several times in April and bought four fake laminated vaccination cards, officials said.
They returned to the small-town bar this week and arrested the bar’s owner. Agents say they found another two completed cards and 30 additional blank cards along with a laminator and cutting device.
It wasn’t immediately known if the bar owner, Todd Anderson, has an attorney who can speak on his behalf. No one answered the phone at the bar Friday.
DENVER, Colo. — A former Amazon warehouse worker has filed a complaint with the Colorado officials against Amazon over its COVID-19 policies and allegations that her firing was retaliatory.
Linda Rodriguez alleges Amazon fired her in 2020 because she raised concerns about the company’s COVID-19 policies that she said put workers at risk. Her complaint was sent Thursday to the state’s labor department.
An Amazon spokesperson in response to the complaint says Rodriguez was fired for timecard fraud that the company says was confirmed by time records and video footage. Amazon said the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration confirmed Rodriguez withdrew a complaint filed with the agency.
RALEIGH, N.C. — At a time when fewer and fewer North Carolinians are coming in for a COVID-19 vaccine, state health officials are examining ideas from other states to see what incentives might work to boost participation.
Among the proposals being actively discussed are savings account payments to younger adults. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, says that’s a group that has been less willing to get the vaccine.
North Carolina’s top public health official says that her team has looked into a new program in West Virginia, where the state’s Republican governor recently announced that residents between the ages of 16 and 35 would be eligible for a $100 savings bond if they get the vaccine or have already gotten it.
Cohen’s office says that it is also examining Detroit’s Good Neighbor program, which allows people to get $50 for every Detroit resident they sign up for a first vaccine dose and bring in for an appointment. The first $600 someone could earn from the program is nontaxable.
The development comes as North Carolina turns down tens of thousands of doses from the federal government, considers returning some of its supply to a federal pool for others to draw from and has nearly 1.2 million doses waiting for residents to take.
MEXICO CITY — More than three months after COVID-19 infections peaked in Mexico City, the local government announced Friday that the public hospital network dedicated to fighting the disease is experiencing its lowest rate occupancy of the pandemic.
One year after the country instituted a color-coded alert system for the pandemic, the capital for the first time moved from orange to yellow, another step down from the top category, red.
City officials placed occupancy rate in public hospitals dedicated to COVID-19 care at 16%, a welcome change from January, when a surge following the holiday season pushed some hospitals to their limits.
Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said there was no scientific certainty to say why Mexico City is in a much better place, but she listed a half-dozen possible factors including greater discipline by citizens, expanded testing, a vaccination campaign, improved weather and the fact that many people in the city have already been infected.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia will lift its statewide mask mandate on June 20 after state officials projected more than two-thirds of eligible residents will be vaccinated against the coronavirus by then, Gov. Jim Justice announced Friday.
And even if that target isn’t met, Justice said the mandate will still end on that date, also known as West Virginia Day, which marks the state’s admission into the union.
The state has attempted to turn around its sluggish vaccination drive for weeks after hesitancy led to plummeting demand. The Republican governor has already dangled the prize of a “patriotic” $100 savings bond for people aged 16 to 35 who get a shot. The state is also attempting to make walk-up vaccine clinics ubiquitous, holding them at state parks, fairs, businesses, schools and other high-traffic places.
Justice said he expects 65% of all residents aged 12 and older to be at least partially vaccinated by June 20.
OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma’s attorney general has secured a $2.6 million refund for the purchase of a malaria drug once touted by then-President Donald Trump as an effective treatment for COVID-19.
Attorney General Mike Hunter announced the agreement on Friday with California-based FFF Enterprises.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health purchased 1.2 million hydroxychloroquine pills in April 2020, at the start of the coronavirus outbreak. The drug has since been shown to have little or no effect on severe cases of COVID-19. A former state health official chalked up Oklahoma’s purchase to something that happens in “the fog of war.”
Oklahoma alleged that the price paid for the drug may have been excessive under the state’s Emergency Price Stabilization Act, which prohibits an increase of more than 10% for the price of goods and services after a declared emergency. Under the refund agreement, FFF Enterprises denies any accusations related to the pricing and delivery of the drug.
While governments in at least 20 other states obtained more than 30 million doses of the drug through donations from the federal reserve or private companies, Oklahoma and Utah bought them from private pharmaceutical companies. Utah later managed to secure a refund on the $800,000 no-bid contract it signed with a local pharmacy company that had been promoting the drugs.
MIAMI — Miami-based Norwegian Cruise Line is threatening to skip Florida ports because of the governor’s order banning businesses from requiring that customers be vaccinated against COVID-19.
The company says Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order conflicts with guidelines from federal health authorities that would let cruise ships sail in U.S. waters if passengers and crew members are vaccinated.
The CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, Frank Del Rio, says lawyers think federal law tops state law. The CEO says if Norwegian can’t operate in Florida, it can go to other states or the Caribbean.
Cruise lines have been barred from sailing in U.S. waters or stopping at U.S. ports since March 2020. Some are slowly resuming trips in other countries and requiring all passengers on those cruises be vaccinated.
The companies are pushing the CDC to let them return the U.S. this summer, although none of the major companies — Norwegian, Royal Caribbean Group and Carnival Corp. — have announced any U.S. cruises.
NEW DELHI — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi faces growing pressure to impose a strict nationwide lockdown.
On Friday, India reported a new daily record of 414,188 confirmed cases and 3,915 additional deaths. The official daily death count has stayed over 3,000 the past 10 days.
Many medical experts, opposition leaders and even Supreme Court judges are calling for national restrictions, arguing that a patchwork of state rules is insufficient to stamp out the surge.
Indian television stations broadcast images of patients lying on stretchers outside hospitals waiting to be admitted, with hospital beds and critical oxygen in short supply. People infected with COVID-19 in villages are being treated in makeshift outdoor clinics, with IV drips hanging from trees.
India has registered more than 21.4 million coronavirus infections and more than 234,000 confirmed deaths. Health experts says the tolls are undercounts.
GENEVA — A top official at the World Health Organization says the explosive number of coronavirus cases is only partly driven by the variants, warning countries that loosening control measures may worsen the pandemic.
WHO emergencies chief Dr. Michael Ryan says the virus has “huge kinetic energy” in certain countries and leaders who think vaccination alone will stop the epidemic are mistaken.
“It is being driven both by human behavior, by the emergence of variants and many other factors,” Ryan said. “We’re expecting the virus to slow down and we’re pushing the accelerators.”
He admonished some leaders to acknowledge “the brutal reality” of the situation. India has experienced a surge of cases and deaths.
“Some of you are not in a good place,” Ryan said. “You need to protect your health system. You need to get your oxygen supply sorted out.”
Ryan says while new virus variants may help spread COVID-19, the driver is “proximity between people.” He says crowds and the mixing of people without protection or handwashing are still potentially dangerous, even with the start of vaccination programs.
NEW YORK — A U.S. health official, who last year shook the nation with her frank assessment of the U.S. coronavirus pandemic, is resigning.
Dr. Nancy Messonnier announced the decision Friday in an email to her colleagues at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Messonnier, who joined the agency in 1995, led the CDC’s work on respiratory diseases for five years and she was an early leader in the agency’s COVID-19 response.
During a briefing with reporters in February 2020, Messonnier contradicted statements by administration officials that the virus was contained. Stocks plunged, and President Donald Trump was enraged.
Soon after, a White House task force moved to center stage and Vice President Mike Pence took control of clearing CDC communications about the coronavirus. Messonnier didn’t make more public appearances.
In her email Friday, Messonnier says she was taking a new job with the California-based Skoll Foundation.
At a White House briefing, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky praised Messonnier as “a true hero.”
LONDON — British residents can travel to countries including Portugal, Iceland and Israel later this month without having to quarantine on their return.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps says a blanket ban on overseas vacations is being replaced by a system classing countries as low, medium or high risk. He says it’s the first “tentative steps towards unlocking international travel.”
The “green list” of 12 low-risk territories also includes Gibraltar, the Faroe Islands and the Falkland Islands — but not major vacation destinations for Britons such as France, Spain and Greece. Britons traveling to those countries will have to self-isolate for 10 days on their return.
All but essential travel remains barred to countries with severe outbreaks, including India, Turkey and the Maldives.
The changes take effect May 17, the next date on the government’s road map out of lockdown. Pubs and restaurants in England can reopen indoor areas the same day, and venues including theaters and cinemas can open to limited audiences.
GENEVA — The head of the World Trade Organization says the U.S. administration’s call to remove patent protections on COVID-19 vaccines could help expand fair access to vaccines but might not be the most “critical issue.”
WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s comments Friday came as officials in Europe increasingly insisted that more vaccine exports are the more pressing priority. Activists and humanitarian institutions cheered the American reversal in policy Wednesday and urged others to follow suit to remove the intellectual property protections on the COVID-19 vaccines.
But some world leaders have taken the U.S. to task for not sharing more vaccines.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn says the main issue is not the question of patents but of production capacity. And producing vaccines like the one developed by German firm BioNTech and manufactured with Pfizer is complicated, he says.
Spahn stressed, as has the pharmaceutical industry, that developed countries whose vaccination campaigns are going well should export more shots.
MADRID — Spain will relax nationwide coronavirus pandemic measures this weekend, including travel restrictions, as the vaccine rollout continues to speed up.
However, some regional chiefs are concerned the six-month national state of emergency will be replaced by a patchwork of conflicting approaches.
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has refused to extend the sweeping order that gave legal coverage to curfews, social gathering curbs and travel bans across the country.
Each region was taking a different path, and the response from courts was also varied. Spain’s cases surged sharply in January but slowed in mid-March before mildly picking up again.
Madrid, whose lockdown-skeptic regional chief was re-elected this week, announced there will be no more curfews or travel restrictions in and out of the region starting Sunday. The operation of bars and restaurants can be extended from the current 11 p.m. limit to midnight. Read more COVID-19 news