The Latest: Pfizer seeks FDA OK for vaccine booster dose – Associated Press

NEW YORK — Pfizer is seeking U.S. approval of a booster dose of its two-shot COVID-19 vaccine.

The drugmaker announced Wednesday it has started the approval process for a third dose of its vaccine for Americans ages 16 and older. The company says it expects to complete its application with the Food and Drug Administration by the end of this week.

U.S. health officials announced last week plans to dispense COVID-19 booster shots to all Americans to shore up their protection amid the surging delta variant of the coronavirus. Pfizer’s vaccine received full regulatory approval this week.

While health officials say vaccine protection against coronavirus infection wanes over time, the three vaccines used in the U.S. made by Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are still providing strong protection against hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19.

Earlier this month, U.S. regulators said transplant recipients or others with weakened immune systems can get an extra dose of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— Pfizer seeking FDA OK for COVID-19 vaccine booster dose

— WHO: Coronavirus origin window of opportunity stalled, ‘closing fast’

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— New NY governor adds 12,000 deaths to publicized COVID-19 tally

— Treasury Department reports only 11% of rental assistance distributed

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— Find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

ATLANTA — More than half of all Georgia public school students are required to wear masks in class, according to district announcements tracked by The Associated Press.

At least 55 of Georgia’s 180 traditional school districts are requiring masks in at least some schools, up from only a handful of districts before class started in August. The rules cover at least 945,000, or about 55%, of Georgia’s 1.7 million public school students.

The shift began in late July, when Atlanta and Gwinnett County schools joined DeKalb and Clayton counties in saying they would require masks. But many other districts tried to open their doors as mask-optional in early August. Some switched positions within days, while others held out for weeks.

During that time, infections leaped. More than 1% of school-age children in Georgia have tested positive for the coronavirus in the past two weeks. Children between the ages of 5 to 17 are now more likely than adults as a whole to test positive. The state Department of Public Health reported more than 30 infection clusters in schools statewide, the highest since the start of the epidemic.

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BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana’s higher education leaders say coronavirus vaccinations among college students are increasing as the state offers $100 cash cards for those who get the shots amid campus immunization requirements.

Presidents of Louisiana’s four public college systems spoke Wednesday at the Board of Regents meeting. They praised the governor’s “Shot for $100” campaign that has persuaded more than 2,000 students to get immunized against COVID-19.

Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed says those numbers are only expected to increase as 12 campuses started classes this week.

All of Louisiana’s four-year universities are requiring students get vaccinated, though the state has broad exemptions.

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LONDON — The international scientists dispatched to China by the World Health Organization to find out where the coronavirus came from say the search has stalled and warned the window of opportunity for solving it is “closing fast.”

In a commentary published in the journal Nature, the WHO-recruited experts say the origins investigation is at “a critical juncture” requiring urgent collaboration but has instead come to a standstill.

They noted among other things that Chinese officials are still reluctant to share some raw data, citing concerns about patient confidentiality.

In their analysis, published in March, the WHO team concluded the virus likely jumped to humans from animals, and they described the possibility of a laboratory leak as “extremely unlikely.”

But the WHO experts say their report was intended only as a first step, adding further delays “will render some of the studies biologically impossible.”

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ALBANY, N.Y. — New Gov. Kathy Hochul promised more government transparency on her first day in office.

By day’s end her administration had quietly delivered it by acknowledging nearly 12,000 more deaths in the state from COVID-19 than had been publicized by her predecessor, Andrew Cuomo.

New York now reports 55,395 people have died of COVID-19 in New York based on death certificate data submitted to the CDC, up from the roughly 43,400 that Gov. Cuomo had reported to the public as of Monday, his last day in office.

Federal prosecutors previously launched a probe examining his administration’s handling of data around deaths among nursing home patients. The state, under Cuomo, had minimized its toll of nursing home residents’ deaths by excluding all patients who died after being transferred to hospitals.

Cuomo used those lower numbers last year to erroneously claim that New York was seeing a much smaller percentage of nursing home residents dying of COVID-19 than other states.

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BOSTON — Only 11% of the tens of billions of dollars in federal rent assistance meant to help tenants around the country avoid eviction has been distributed, according to the Treasury Department.

The latest data from the department that oversees the program shows the pace of distribution increased in July over June and nearly a million households have been helped.

But with landlords challenging a federal eviction moratorium in court, there’s concern a wave of evictions will happen before much of the assistance has been distributed. Lawmakers approved $46.5 billion in spending on rental assistance and most states are now distributing the first portion of $25 billion.

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NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Johnson & Johnson says a booster shot of its COVID-19 vaccine appears to produce “a rapid and robust” increase in antibodies needed to fight the coronavirus.

The drugmaker says researchers saw an increase in antibodies nine-fold higher than levels seen about a month after the first dose of the vaccination was administered. The company cited early results from studies looking at people who received the booster after getting an initial dose of J&J’s single-shot vaccine.

J&J says researchers saw increases in antibodies in people ages 18 to 55 and in study participants 65 and older who received a lower booster dose.

U.S. health officials announced last week plans to dispense COVID-19 booster shots to all Americans to shore up protection amid the surging delta variant of the virus. Officials say the protection against infections wanes over time among various vaccines but remains strong at preventing hospitalizations and deaths.

J&J says it is talking with regulators in both the U.S. and Europe about booster shots.

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BERLIN — Germany says it has administered more than 100 million doses of coronavirus vaccine, while the delta variant has increased infections to the highest levels since May.

Germany’s national disease control center reported 11,561 new cases on Wednesday, the first time in three months more than 10,000 cases have been reported in a day.

Health Minister Jens Spahn hailed the vaccination “milestone” on Twitter Wednesday and described it “one of the greatest logistical achievements in our country’s history.”

Official figures showed 53.5 million people — or 64% of the population — have received at least one vaccine dose. And 49.4 million people, or 59%, are fully vaccinated.

While the vaccination drive has slowed, authorities are trying to persuade reluctant people to get shots.

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Just over half of Florida’s 2.8 million public school students face mandates to wear masks in classrooms.

More districts are defying Gov. Ron DeSantis amid a courtroom battle over the Republican’s efforts to leave such decisions to parents. The Orange County County School Board voted to tighten its mask mandate through October. That makes at least 10 of Florida’s largest districts who say they’re following federal public health recommendations to reduce coronavirus infections.

Meanwhile in Tallahassee, a three-day hearing is wrapping up on a lawsuit by parents who want strict mask rules to keep their kids safe.

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ATLANTA — Delta Air Lines will charge employees on the company health plan $200 a month if they fail to get vaccinated against COVID-19, a policy the airline’s top executive says is necessary because the average hospital stay for the virus costs the airline $40,000.

CEO Ed Bastian says all employees who have been hospitalized for the virus in recent weeks were not fully vaccinated.

The airline says it will stop extending pay protection to unvaccinated workers who contract COVID-19 on Sept. 30. It also will require unvaccinated workers to be tested weekly beginning Sept. 12, although Delta will cover the cost. They will have to wear masks in all indoor company settings.

Delta stopped short of matching United Airlines, which will require employees to be vaccinated starting Sept. 27 or face termination.

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SOFIA, Bulgaria — Bulgaria extended its emergency epidemic measures for three months, amid a surge of coronavirus infections and hospitalizations.

In early July, Bulgaria was recording a few dozen coronavirus infections per day, compared to nearly 2,000 cases in the last two days.

“The country is entering a new wave of the pandemic,” health minister Stoycho Katsarov says. “We are registering an increase in the number of infected people, in hospitalizations and this requires an extension.”

The government says wearing protective face masks and observing physical distancing measures is mandatory in closed public spaces, including public transportation, health care facilities, museums and churches.

Only 16% of Bulgaria’s population of 7 million have been fully inoculated against COVID-19, making it the European Union’s least vaccinated country behind Romania.

Bulgaria has registered more than 445,000 confirmed cases and 18,565 confirmed deaths since the start of the pandemic.

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WASHINGTON — Military service members must immediately get the COVID-19 vaccine, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says in a memo Wednesday, ordering service leaders to “impose ambitious timelines for implementation.”

Now that the Pfizer vaccine has received full approval from the Food and Drug Administration, the Pentagon is adding it to the list of required shots troops must get as part of their military service.

More than 800,000 service members have yet to get their shots, according to Pentagon data. As of Aug. 18, more than 1 million active duty, Guard and Reserve service members were fully vaccinated and nearly 245,000 more had received at least one shot.

The memo, which was obtained by The Associated Press, doesn’t dictate a specific timeline for completing the vaccinations. But it’s expected to be completed in weeks not months.

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DEARBORN, Michigan — Ford Motor Co. is again delaying a return to the office for white-collar workers who have done their jobs remotely since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

The automaker says its planned hybrid schedule of working some days at home and in the office has been pushed back until at least January 2022.

Chief People and Employee Experiences Officer Kiersten Robinson says the change is due to rising cases of the coronavirus delta variant largely in southeast Michigan, where most of its U.S. salaried workers are based. Previously, the company had planned a return to offices no earlier than Oct. 1.

About 18,000 U.S. Ford workers don’t need to be in an office and have worked from home since early 2020. Ford also says white-collar workers who work remotely can spend up to 30 days per year working from an area of the country not their home.

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TOKYO — Japan has expanded its coronavirus state of emergency for a second week in a row, adding eight more prefectures as a surge in infections fueled by the delta variant strains its health care system.

The government last week extended the state of emergency until Sept. 12 and expanded the areas covered to 13 prefectures from six, including Tokyo. With four new prefectures added to a separate “quasi-emergency” status, 33 of Japan’s 47 prefectures are now under some type of emergency measures.

Tokyo has been under the emergency since July 12, but new daily cases have increased more than tenfold to about 5,000 in Tokyo and 25,000 nationwide. Hospitals are nearly full and many people must recover at home, including some who require supplemental oxygen.

Japan has confirmed 15,600 deaths nationwide since the start of the pandemic. Its vaccination efforts lag other wealthy nations, with 40% of the population fully vaccinated.

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BEIJING — China went on the offensive ahead of the release of a U.S. intelligence report on the origins of the coronavirus, bringing out a senior official to accuse the United States of politicizing the issue by seeking to pin the blame on China.

Fu Cong, a director general in the Foreign Ministry, said at a briefing for foreign journalists that “scapegoating China cannot whitewash the U.S. If they want to baselessly accuse China, they better be prepared to accept the counterattack from China.”

China, the U.S, and the World Health Organization are entangled in a feud that centers on whether the virus that causes COVID-19 could have leaked from a lab in the city of Wuhan, where the disease was first detected in late 2019.

A joint WHO-China report this year concluded a lab leak was “extremely unlikely,” and China wants the investigation to move on to other possibilities. The most likely scenario, the report said, is the virus jumped from bats to another animal that then infected humans.

But the findings are not conclusive. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in late March that “all hypotheses are on the table and warrant complete and further studies.”

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GENEVA — The World Health Organization says the number of new coronavirus cases reported globally appears to be stabilizing at about 4.5 million infections after steadily rising for the past two months.

In its weekly assessment of the pandemic, the U.N. health agency says COVID-19 increased by about 20% and 8% in the Western Pacific and in the Americas, while rates of disease either remained the same or dropped in other regions.

The countries with the highest numbers of new cases were the United States, Iran, India, Britain and Brazil. The assessment says there were about 68,000 new deaths reported globally, with Europe and the Americas registering increases of about 10%.

WHO also noted several recent studies show licensed vaccines still provide protection against severe coronavirus disease, but that there is some evidence to show the shots are less effective at preventing people from becoming infected with the more contagious delta variant.

Previous research concluded the vaccines are most useful for preventing hospitalizations and deaths.

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The Latest: Pfizer seeks FDA OK for vaccine booster dose – Associated Press

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