California Hospital Crisis Worsens; Moderna EU Nod: Virus Update
Syringes with doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine. (Photographer: Eric Lee/Bloomberg)

California Hospital Crisis Worsens; Moderna EU Nod: Virus Update

Top U.S. health officials encouraged states to start vaccinating people more widely, acknowledging that the immunization rollout has been slower than anticipated. Moderna Inc.’s vaccine won European Union approval.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government pleaded for patience while pushing back against criticism of the vaccine rollout, as the country’s daily death toll exceeded 1,000. Britain, which reported the most deaths since April, is also racing to get shots to the most vulnerable after more than 1 million people were infected in England.

In Asia, Japan’s daily cases topped 5,000 for the first time as it prepares to declare a state of emergency, with critics calling for broader steps. The World Health Organization’s director-general complained about China’s delay in granting visas to a team seeking to investigate Covid-19’s origins.

Key Developments:

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California Hospital Crisis Worsens; Moderna EU Nod: Virus Update

Vaccine for Police Sparks New York Dispute (5 p.m. NY)

In the latest disagreement with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Governor Andrew Cuomo said police officers and firefighters are not yet eligible to get the Covid-19 vaccine.

De Blasio said Wednesday that police and firefighters can begin getting vaccinated this week. In response, Cuomo said that only police and firefighters who are also emergency-care providers are eligible. The rest will be able to get vaccinated when the state starts with its next tier.

“We need to get the health-care population done first, because they are the front line,” Cuomo said. “They have the greatest exposure, and we want to make sure they don’t get sick, because they would also be the super-spreaders and because we would then have diminished hospital capacity, which would mean we would have to close sooner.”

The city will continue to seek approval to vaccinate “more high-risk workers who are out there saving the lives of New Yorkers,” said de Blasio press secretary Bill Neidhardt. “It’s simple. We have the doses, let’s put it in their arms and help them save lives.”

California Reports Second-Highest Death Tally (2:38 p.m. NY)

California reported 459 daily virus deaths, the second-highest tally since the pandemic began, as the most-populous state continues to battle a surge of cases that has strained health-care facilities.

Virus hospitalizations climbed 1.5% from the prior day to a record 22,820 patients, according to state health-department data Wednesday. Intensive-care units in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley are at a surge capacity, while the San Francisco Bay area has less than 8% of its ICU beds available.

California has shown some signs of its outbreak easing, which may reflect a holiday lull, the effects of a lockdown and delays in reporting. The state reported 29,892 new cases Wednesday, below the 14-day average of about 37,000. Still, Governor Gavin Newsom warned this week that officials are girding for a “surge on top of a surge” following holiday gatherings.

States Urged to Widen Vaccination Pool (2:15 p.m. NY)

Top U.S. health officials encouraged states to start vaccinating people more widely, acknowledging that the immunization rollout has been slower than anticipated and opening the spigot for a broader range of Americans to begin getting shots.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar during a call with reporters Wednesday blamed the introduction of Covid-19 shots around the holidays and overly detailed state plans for hindering the vaccination campaign. He urged governors to vaccinate more seniors and other high-risk populations to prevent shots from sitting in freezers.

About 5.2 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines from Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE and Moderna Inc. have been administered in the U.S. since mid-December, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News. That represents a fraction of the number of doses distributed so far.

Colorado Vaccinating People Over 70 (2 p.m. NY)

Colorado has begun administering vaccines to residents ages 70 and older following last week’s decision to expedite shots to seniors, who account for 78% of the state’s Covid-19 deaths, Colorado Governor Jared Polis said during an online briefing.

Health officials also reported that the total number of confirmed cases of the mutation first detected in England stands at two. Colorado was the first state to report the faster-spreading mutation last week. Colorado has recorded 3,986 Covid-19 deaths since the pandemic swept into the U.S., Polis said.

CDC: Severe Allergic Reactions to Shots Are Rare (1:10 p.m. NY)

Roughly 1 in 100,000 people have had a severe allergic reaction to the first Covid-19 vaccine, a rate that’s higher than the flu vaccine but still quite rare, U.S. health officials said.

A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released Wednesday outlined 21 cases of anaphylaxis among the first 1.9 million recipients of Pfizer Inc.’s vaccine, a rate of 11.1 per million doses administered. No anaphylaxis deaths have been reported, the CDC said.

Warp Speed’s Slaoui Will Stay as Consultant to Biden (1:05 p.m. NY)

Moncef Slaoui, chief scientific adviser to the U.S. Operation Warp Speed effort to develop Covid-19 vaccines, will stay on as a consultant to the incoming Biden administration, he said Wednesday.

“I have been asked to become a consultant after the time comes when the transition happens, which I have accepted,” Slaoui said on a call with reporters.

Slaoui, a longtime pharmaceutical executive, had previously said he would consider returning to the private sector after two vaccines and two therapies were available. Operation Warp Speed has achieved that goal with vaccines from Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. authorized for emergency use, along with antibody therapies available to treat Covid-19 cases.

N.Y. Vaccination Rate Of Medical Workers Triples (12:15 p.m. NY)

New York’s vaccination rate of medical workers has tripled so far this week, but supply is still an issue, Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

The state has administered more than 31,000 doses a day for the past two days, compared with a daily rate of 10,809 over the past three weeks, Cuomo said.

New York is getting about 300,000 doses a week from the federal government. To date it has received 950,000 doses for 2.1 million health-care and nursing home staff and residents, Cuomo said.

“We don’t even have half the dosages that we need to do all the hospital staff and nursing home staff,” the governor said.

Once the state is done with the first vaccination tranche, it will move to the next tier, which includes 870,000 education workers, 207,000 first responders, 100,000 public safety workers, 100,000 transit workers and 1.3 million New Yorkers 75 and older, he said.

Cuomo also said the case of the U.K. strain found in Saratoga Springs was connected to U.K. travel, which means the case wouldn’t have reached the U.S. if travelers were pre-tested. The governor said he’s asking the federal government to allow U.S. Customs and Border Protection to test travelers coming from other countries.

Ireland Adds Extra Curbs (11:45 a.m. NY)

Ireland tightened restrictions in a bid to contain its worst virus outbreak yet, adding extra curbs to what’s already one of Western Europe’s strictest lockdowns.

The government will keep most students out of schools until at least the end of the month, Prime Minister Micheal Martin said in Dublin on Wednesday. Most construction will also halt, and click-and-collect services from non-essential stores will end. From Jan. 9, all passengers arriving at Irish airports and ports whose trip starts in Great Britain or South Africa will need evidence of a recent negative virus test result.

U.K. Tallies Most Deaths Since April (11:30 a.m. NY)

The U.K. reported 1,041 new coronavirus deaths within 28 days of a positive test on Wednesday, the highest daily increase since late April.

A further 62,322 positive coronavirus cases were also reported on the government’s dashboard, higher than a seven-day average of 55,945. More than 30,000 people are in hospitals with coronavirus as of Jan. 4, the government said.

The rising numbers come as the country is subject to a nationwide lockdown, in which schools have been closed, and non-essential shops shut.

NYC Seeks to Vaccinate People Over 75 (10:55 a.m. NY)

New York City pushed the state to open up vaccines to people over 75 years old in a bid to speed up a slower-than-expected rollout.

“Right now we’re not allowed to vaccinate them under state rules,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio in a Wednesday briefing. “We have got to reach this population urgently.” About 30% of hospitalizations and 58% of deaths occur in people 75 and older.

De Blasio said maintaining exclusivity on health-care workers isn’t working because “you can’t give the vaccine to someone who doesn’t want it.” About 30% to 40% of people offered the vaccine so far have been hesitant to take it, the mayor said.

New York City hospitalizations for Covid-19-like illness have exceeded 3,000 for the first time since May.

Moderna Shot Gains EU Approval (10:45 a.m. NY)

Moderna Inc.’s Covid-19 vaccine won European Union approval, opening the way for a second weapon in the bloc’s battle against a resurgent virus.

The European Commission granted marketing authorization to the vaccine on Wednesday, hours after a sign-off by the EU’s medicines regulator.

EU leaders are facing growing pressure to speed up clearance and deployment of vaccines to tame a surge of cases across the continent. The 27-nation bloc began immunizations last week with the vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE, but the pace of the rollout has been uneven, prompting unfavorable comparisons with the U.K. and U.S.

Zimbabwe Hospitals Overwhelmed (10:25 a.m. NY)

Hospitals in Zimbabwe, where the economy has all but collapsed, are reeling from a renewed surge in the coronavirus, with a shortage of beds and equipment threatening to overwhelm the public health system.

The Health Ministry on Tuesday reported a record 1,365 new cases of Covid-19 and 34 deaths. Authorities last weekend imposed a 30-day strict lockdown, closing all land borders and shuttering gyms, restaurants and bars. Government spokesman Nick Mangwana has repeatedly taken to Twitter to implore people not to get sick with the virus because hospitals can’t cope.

Romania Extends School Closings (10:20 a.m. NY)

Romania decided on Wednesday to extend school closures until Feb. 8, when the government hopes to allow children to attend classes in person, depending on infection rates, which have been stabilizing over the past few weeks, Education Minister Sorin Cimpeanu said.

“A decision whether to reopen schools will be made toward the end of January, based on an assessment of the infection rates after the winter holidays, the ongoing vaccination campaign and similar measures in other European states,” Cimpeanu said.

U.K. Urges China to Let WHO Officials In (10:08 a.m. NY)

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman Jamie Davies urged China to let World Health Organization officials into the country to examine the origins of Covid-19. On Tuesday, the World Health Organization’s director-general complained about China’s delay in granting visas to a team seeking to investigate the pathogen.

“It’s disappointing this vital research trip is being held up,” Davies told reporters in London on Wednesday.

Portugal Reports Record Number of Daily Cases (9:26 a.m. NY)

Portugal on Wednesday reported a record increase in confirmed virus cases. There were 10,027, more than the previous record of 7,627 announced on Thursday, taking the total to 446,606. The number of patients in intensive-care units has reached 513, according to government data. The country’s national health service has a capacity of about 960 beds in ICUs.

President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa has proposed extending a state of emergency until Jan. 15.

France to Speed Up Shots by Adding Hundreds of Sites (9:18 a.m. NY)

France is speeding up its vaccination campaign by enlarging the number of people targeted, and will add hundreds of vaccination sites in coming weeks, government spokesman Gabriel Attal said in a briefing following a cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

U.K. Cancels School Exams (8:45 a.m. NY)

The U.K. government confirmed that GCSE and A-level exams will be canceled this year due to the pandemic, with pupils instead being graded using teacher assessments.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told members of Parliament Wednesday it is right to “put our trust in teachers rather than algorithms” for generating grades. Earlier, Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised that England’s schools will be the first things to reopen after the national lockdown but warned that restrictions could last months.

Czech Cabinet to Debate Extending Lockdown (8:36 a.m. NY)

The Czech government will decide on extending lockdown restrictions at an extraordinary session on Thursday, according to an emailed statement. The country now has the world’s highest cumulative seven-day number of new cases per million people, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Switzerland May Extend Restrictions Through February (8:30 a.m. NY)

The Swiss government plans to keep restaurants, bars and leisure venues shut until the end of February. It will make a final decision after consulting with cantons, or states, on Jan. 13. The measures were announced in December and set to expire on Jan. 22. The government will also discuss potential further restrictions with the cantons, including the obligation to work from home.

Switzerland reported 4,808 new cases, with the seven-day average down 7% from a week ago.

Germany Urges Patience With Vaccine Rollout Under Fire (7:25 a.m. NY)

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government pleaded for patience as it pushed back against criticism that Germany bungled the rollout of a vaccine. A shortage of doses at the start of the campaign was expected and stems from production bottlenecks, Health Minister Jens Spahn said Wednesday in Berlin.

Additional production capacity will lead to a “massive” gain in output, he said. Moderna’s vaccine could further ease supplies. Distribution of the shot could start as soon as next week, Spahn said.

Germany’s daily Covid-19 deaths exceeded 1,000 for only the second time since the start of the pandemic. There were 1,009 fatalities in the 24 hours through Wednesday morning, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, bringing the total to 36,757. The number of infections has doubled since the end of November.

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