NEW YORK — The push to inoculate Americans against the coronavirus is hitting a roadblock: A number of states are reporting they are running out of vaccine, and tens of thousands of people who managed to get appointments for a first dose are seeing them canceled.

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A nursing home resident receives the COVID-19 vaccine by a CVS Pharmacist at Harlem Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, a nursing home facility in Harlem neighborhood of New York, on Jan. 15. Yuki Iwamura/Associated Press

Karen Stachowiak, a first-grade teacher in the Buffalo area, spent almost five hours on the state hot line and website to land an appointment for Wednesday, only to be told it was canceled. The Erie County Health Department said it scratched vaccinations for over 8,000 people in the past few days because of inadequate supply.

“It’s stressful because I was so close. And my other friends that are teachers, they were able to book appointments for last Saturday,” Stachowiak said. “So many people are getting theirs in, and then it’s like, ’Nope, I’ve got to wait.’”

The reason for the apparent mismatch between supply and demand in the U.S. was unclear, but last week the Health and Human Services Department suggested that states had unrealistic expectations for how much vaccine was on the way.

In any case, new shipments go out every week, and both the government and the drugmakers have said there are large quantities in the pipeline.

The shortages are coming as states dramatically ramp up their vaccination drives, at the federal government’s direction, to reach people 65 and older, along with certain others. More than 400,000 deaths in the U.S. have been blamed on the virus.

President Biden, who was inaugurated on Wednesday, immediately came under pressure to fix things. He has made it clear that his administration will take a stronger hand in attacking the crisis, and he vowed to administer 100 million shots in his first 100 days.

Less than half of the 36 million doses distributed to the states by the federal government have been administered so far, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Public health officials have said the gap could reflect recordkeeping delays as well as disarray and other failings at various levels of government in actually getting shots into arms.

In a statement, HHS said that jurisdictions actually received about a 5% increase in vaccine allocations this week from what they got in the past couple of weeks.

Countries across Europe are also having problems getting enough doses to provide protection against a virus that is now appearing in new, more contagious variants around the globe.

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Europe beginning to require people in public to wear medical grade masks

BERLIN ­— Faced with new, more contagious, strains of the coronavirus and a winter surge in cases, European nations have begun to tighten mask regulations in the hope that they can slow the spread of the virus.

Germany on Tuesday night made it mandatory for people riding on public transport or in supermarkets to wear medical style masks: either N95s, the Chinese or European equivalent KN95 or FFP2s, or a surgical mask.

It follows a stricter regulation from the German state of Bavaria this week that required N95 equivalents in stores and on public transport. Austria will introduce the same measures from Monday.

Meanwhile in France, the country’s health advisory council on Monday discouraged the wearing of inefficient cloth and homemade masks, also arguing they may not offer sufficient protection against the more highly transmissible coronavirus variants.

“Since we don’t have any new weapons against them, the only thing we can do is improve the ones we already have,” Daniel Camus, a member of the council, told France’s public broadcaster.

The new European recommendations follow increases in supply since the early days of the pandemic, when there were concerns that the use of medical masks by the public would mean there would not be enough for front-line medical workers. But critics still point to the cost for families and the impact on the environment, while there are still debates over the helpfulness of such measures.

There is a growing body of scientific evidence that has indicated that mask use in general can help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. One study published in the Lancet medical journal in June compared transmission rates across 16 countries and found that “both N95 and surgical masks have a stronger association with protection compared with single-layer masks.”

Another, by Duke University in August, compared the efficacy of different face coverings and found that fitted N95 masks were the most effective. Normal surgical masks are about three times more effective than cloth masks in preventing the spread of virus droplets, according to a 2013 study.

Still, the World Health Organization advises that medical masks be restricted to medical workers, people who have coronavirus symptoms, those coming into contact with them, and those who are over 60 or at high risk. It recommends fabric masks for the general public.

Italy ponders suing Pfizer for vaccine delays

ROME — Italy’s virus czar is pressing ahead with plans to take legal action against Pfizer after the U.S. pharmaceutical company announced delays in delivering pre-ordered COVID-19 vaccines to Europe.

An elderly man receives the COVID-19 vaccine at a rest home in Rome on Jan. 2.  Associated Press/Alessandra Tarantino

Domenico Arcuri said he had secured unanimous backing from Italy’s regional governors to take civil or criminal action, where possible. In a statement late Tuesday, he said: “It was unanimously decided that such action will be taken in the coming days.”

Pfizer confirmed last week it would temporarily reduce deliveries to Europe and Canada while it upgrades production capacity to 2 billion doses per year at its Belgium plant. Arcuri said the delay would amount to a 29% reduction in upcoming deliveries to Italy.

In announcing the impending legal action, Arcuri said: “The health care of Italian citizens isn’t negotiable.”

As of Wednesday, Italy had administered more than 1.2 million vaccine shots, or 76% of the doses already delivered to Italian regions.

Vermont teachers petition for vaccine

Thousands of Vermont teachers want to be included in the state’s next phase of vaccinations.

More than 3,800 teachers and school staffers had signed an online petition by Wednesday morning.

“We the undersigned, petition Governor Phil Scott of Vermont to prioritize the COVID-19 vaccination for K-12 teachers and school staff, in accordance with the CDC and Federal guidelines,” the petition states, according to the Burlington Free Press.

Scott and Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine have said that they feel that teachers do not need to be prioritized because there is no evidence of community spread within Vermont schools, the newspaper reported.

Surveillance COVID-19 testing in schools is monitoring school exposure, state leaders have said.

But petitioners say that the opt-in surveillance testing of teachers doesn’t give a complete picture of the impact of the coronavirus on schools.

State officials said last week that Vermont had nearly completed giving coronavirus vaccines to residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities and to front-line health workers, including emergency responders, and will start vaccinating residents ages 75 and older starting next week.

The Vatican begins to vaccinate homeless people

ROME — The Vatican has begun offering COVID-19 vaccines to homeless people and says it plans to expand the program in coming days.

A preliminary group of 25 people who live in residences run by the pope’s chief alms-giver received the shots on Wednesday in the Vatican’s auditorium. They joined Pope Francis, emeritus Pope Benedict XVI and other Vatican employees and their families who began receiving the vaccines last week.

The Vatican, as a sovereign city state, arranged for its own vaccine deliveries and said its first jabs were the Pfizer-BioNTech shots. Italy has it’s own vaccine campaign under way but to date the national health care system is prioritizing health care workers and the elderly.

Francis has called for universal availability of the shots, especially for the poor and most vulnerable. He has also said it was ethically necessary to take the vaccine, expressing incredulousness at vaccine and virus skeptics, because “you’re playing not only with your health but the health of others.”

India sending vaccines to neighboring countries

NEW DELHI — India began supplying coronavirus vaccines to its neighboring countries on Wednesday, as the world’s largest vaccine making nation strikes a balance between maintaining enough doses to inoculate its own people and helping developing countries without the capacity to produce their own shots.

India’s Foreign Ministry said the country would send 150,000 shots of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, manufactured locally by Serum Institute of India, to Bhutan and 100,000 shots to the Maldives on Wednesday.

Vaccines will also be sent to Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and the Seychelles in coming weeks, the ministry said, without specifying an exact timeline. It added in a statement late Tuesday that regulatory clearances were still awaited from Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Mauritius.

Norwegian police double fines for breaking virus restrictions

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Police in the Norwegian capital are doubling fines for violating coronavirus restrictions, saying not respecting the limit of 10 people for private gatherings can lead organizers being fined 20,000 kroner ($2,326) while participants will be fined 10,000 kroner ($1,163).

“This increase in fine rates underlines the seriousness of breaking the coronavirus rules. Everyone has a responsibility to take care of infection control,” said Oslo chief prosecutor Beate Brinch Sand.

Earlier this month, Oslo imposed COVID-19 tests for all people entering the Scandinavian country from abroad to stop the spread of the coronavirus variant detected first in Britain.

Norway also has a nationwide ban on serving alcohol in restaurants and bars to prevent a virus resurgence and it raised fines for those violations too.

UK death toll soars

LONDON — The U.K. has recorded more than 90,000 coronavirus-related deaths, just ten days after it passed the 80,000 threshold.

Government figures Tuesday show that another 1,610 people were reported to have died in the 28 days after testing positive for COVID-19, taking the total to 91,470. The daily increase is the highest daily figure reported since the pandemic took root in the U.K.

Figures released Tuesday have invariably been higher throughout the pandemic because of weekend reporting lag effects.

Though the number of people dying is rising on a 7-day average, the number of people testing positive for the virus is clearly declining in the wake of the lockdown measures put in place across the U.K.

On Tuesday, the government recorded another 33,355 people were reported to have tested positive for the virus. That’s the lowest since Dec. 27.

The U.K., which is Europe’s worst-hit nation in terms of COVID-related deaths, recorded huge increases in cases around the turn of the year, with scientists blaming a new variant of the virus first identified around London and the southeast of England.


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