Pfizer Ahead in U.S. Booster Race; Tokyo Emergency: Virus Update

The U.S. is likely to begin its widespread booster campaign with only the Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech vaccine, as health regulators seek additional information from Moderna Inc, people familiar said. Moderna said Friday that it had completed its submission of data to the Food and Drug Administration for authorization of boosters.

Japan is reported to be readying to extend its state of emergency by around two weeks for Tokyo and three surrounding prefectures.

Reports said the U.K. is set to approve vaccines for schoolchildren as soon as next week, despite an advisory committee not recommending the move. 

Alabama School Cases Double (5:43 p.m. NY)

Alabama reported almost 9,200 cases over the last week among students and staff, up from about 4,330 the week before, state data released on Friday show. Among the counties reporting the most infections were Jefferson, the state’s most populous, and Mobile, in the southwest, the data show. 

The spike comes as Alabama hits record cases — 33,000 in the week that ended on Friday — and schools are reopening. Despite the lack of state mask mandate, most school districts require masking.  

On Friday, with hospitals overwhelmed, Governor Kay Ivey said she designated $12.3 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to attract traveling nurses.

Brazil Bars Coronavac Shots from Unapproved Plant (4:54 p.m. NY)

Brazil’s health regulator Anvisa prohibited the distribution and use of Coronavac vaccines batches bottled by the manufacturer Sinovac in a plant not inspected and not approved by the agency, according to a statement. 

The measure was taken to mitigate a possible health risk, the agency said.

Anvisa was informed by Butantan Institute that Sinovac sent 25 batches to Brazil totaling 12.1 million doses. Another 17 batches with 9 million doses were also bottled in a place not inspected by Anvisa and are in the process of being sent and released to Brazil.

Covid Claims 48% of ICU Beds in Part of U.S. (4:49 p.m. NY)

Use of intensive-care units to treat U.S. Covid-19 patients increased to 29% in the week through Tuesday, drawing closer to a peak of 31% reached in January, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

ICU capacity was tightest in a region comprising Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas, with 48% devoted to Covid patients. Ranking next at 44% was an eight-state bloc from Kentucky to Florida that includes much of the South. Intensive-care utilization was lowest at 9% in a group consisting mainly of New York and New Jersey, according to a regular CDC data set published Friday.

Hawaii Hospitals Face Oxygen Shortage (2:46 p.m. NY)

Hawaii is running out of oxygen and may have to ration care after Covid hospitalizations reached a record, the Honolulu Star Advertiser reported. With field hospitals being erected and federally supplied health-care workers deployed, the state could run short of oxygen as soon as Monday, the newspaper reported. 

The delta variant has pushed infections to the highest point of the pandemic. Almost 6,300 weekly cases were reported on Friday, more than triple the level of the end of July. 

Texas School Districts Close (1:23 p.m. NY)

At least 45 Texas school districts have stopped in-person learning because of Covid-19 cases, affecting about 42,000 students, the Texas Tribune reported, quoting the state’s Education Agency. 

Weekly cases statewide rose to almost 128,000 on Friday, the most since early February, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg. Children’s hospitals in the state have reported surging numbers of pediatric cases. 

Governor Greg Abbott is battling with local districts over his ban on mask mandates in schools, which the state isn’t enforcing amid legal challenges. 

Kentucky Hospitals Strained (11:38 a.m. NY)

Kentucky leads the U.S. in a measure of strain on hospitals from incoming Covid-19 patients, ahead of Georgia and Florida. The state had almost 38 confirmed admissions per 100 beds during the week that ended Tuesday, according to the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

On Friday, with new cases near a record, Governor Andy Beshear pleaded with residents to get vaccinated and wear masks indoors. “Right now is one of the most dangerous times we’ve had in this pandemic,” the Democratic governor said in a video posted on Twitter. “Folks, it is a scary time.”

FDA Pushes for Moderna Booster Shot Data (11:03 a.m. NY)

U.S. health regulators are seeking additional coronavirus booster shot data from Moderna Inc., as the Biden administration expects to begin a widespread booster campaign this month with only the Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech vaccine, people familiar with the matter say.

Moderna announced Friday that it had “completed” its submission of data to the Food and Drug Administration for authorization of boosters. The FDA has been seeking more data as Moderna’s submission rolled in, the people added.

In particular, the FDA is looking for more information on the efficacy of a 100-microgram dose — the same as the first two shots people received — not just the 50-microgram booster submitted by Moderna as a potential booster, one of the people said.

Ghana Gets Moderna Vaccines Via Covax (9:35 a.m. NY)

The country on Saturday received 1.2 million Moderna doses from the U.S. government via the Covax facility, which aims to provide vaccines for poor countries, the local U.S. embassy said.

That follows a delivery of about 245,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccines received earlier this week, Joy FM reported.

Philippines Eyes Granular Curbs for Metro Manila (7:06 a.m. NY)

Authorities plan to impose targeted restrictions instead of wider curbs in the capital region to balance containing the pandemic and supporting the economy, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said.

While guidelines are still being finalized, the idea is to allow jobs to return outside “small hot spot areas,” he said. The capital region, which accounts for about a third of the economy, is under the second-toughest movement restrictions until Sept. 7.

Germany to Give Vietnam Astra Doses (7 a.m. NY)

Germany will give Vietnam 2.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to support the Southeast Asian country during its coronavirus outbreak, news website VnExpress reported.

Japan, which previously committed to giving Vietnam 3 million vaccine doses, said it will provide the nation an unspecified additional number of doses, according to a post on the Vietnam government’s website. Vietnam, which is battling its worst virus outbreak, has fully vaccinated about 3% of its population, according to the health ministry.

Tokay Emergency to Be Extended (5:32 p.m. HK)

Japan is preparing to extend its Covid-induced state of emergency by around two weeks for Tokyo and three surrounding prefectures, Mainichi reported. Six other prefectures will also be considered for extensions of the emergency period from the current end date of Sept. 12.

The government will hold a meeting to make the decision around the middle of next week, the paper said. Prefectures including Ibaraki, Tochigi, Okayama and Hiroshima are considering lifting the state of emergency and potentially moving to less restrictive measures after Sept. 12.

U.K. to Approve Jabs for Children (4:40 p.m. HK)

Ministers are confident that England’s chief medical officer and other experts will approve the plan in the middle of next week, with the roll-out for 12- to 15-year-olds starting shortly, The Telegraph reported.

While a government advisory panel said Friday that the benefits of vaccination for healthy 12- to-15-year-olds were “marginally greater” than the potential known harms, it advised the government to ask the U.K.’s four chief medical officers to weigh in on the decision, taking into account the impact on schools and young people’s education.

Madagascar Ends 17-Month State of Emergency (3:15 p.m. HK)

Madagascar, the world’s biggest producer of vanilla, ended a 17-month health state of emergency as the number of coronavirus cases ebbed.

President Andry Rajoelina’s government on Friday said it took the step “in view of the development of the Covid-19 epidemic in the Republic of Madagascar, where the number of people infected with Covid-19 has dropped to a minimum,” it said in a statement on the presidency’s website.

Australia’s Most Populous State Hits Record (11:05 a.m. HK)

The number of people being treated for the virus in hospital rose above 1,000 for the first time and is expected to climb in the coming weeks. The state’s Premier Gladys Berejiklian said Friday she would outline a plan next week on how the health system would handle the surge. 

New South Wales’ ambulance service is making contingency plans to draft in police and firefighters to drive ambulances to help deal with increasing patient numbers, Brad Hazzard, the state’s health minister, told reporters Saturday. “I don’t think that’s been finalized yet, but that’s certainly a plan, and I support that plan.” Friday had been the second busiest day for the ambulance service in the state’s history.

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