ECONOMY

Biden Blames Trump; Australia to Roll Out Vaccines: Virus Update

President Joe Biden slammed Donald Trump for failing to secure enough Covid-19 shots as he toured a Michigan facility where Pfizer Inc. is manufacturing its vaccine. The company said it could double its output.

Snow and freezing temperatures have led to a backlog of 6 million Covid-19 vaccine doses in the U.S. after a three-day delay in shipping, the White House said. New York City can boost indoor dining capacity to 35%.

Group of Seven nations are giving a major boost to Covax, the global initiative to fund vaccinations in lower-income countries, indicating that momentum is building toward a coordinated effort to address the pandemic. Australia starts its vaccination rollout on Monday.

  • Global Tracker: Cases exceed 110.6 million; deaths pass 2.4 million
  • Vaccine Tracker: More than 193 million shots given worldwide
  • U.S. Spotlight: Texas blackouts lead to a record vaccination drop
  • Cuomo’s grip on N.Y. starts to crack in furor over Covid deaths
  • A U.S. vaccine surge is coming, with millions of doses promised
  • Can I be required to get vaccinated?: QuickTake

Subscribe to a daily update on the virus from Bloomberg’s Prognosis team here. Click CVID on the terminal for global data on cases and deaths.

Argentina Minister in Vaccine Scandal (6:01 a.m. HK)

Argentine President Alberto Fernandez told Health Minister Gines Gonzalez Garcia to step down after a veteran journalist revealed he received a Covid-19 vaccine ahead of schedule by personally asking the minister for help.

Reporter Horacio Verbitsky told a radio station he’d received a vaccine at the health ministry following a personal request to Gonzalez Garcia. Local newspaper Clarin reported that other government allies had also received a vaccine ahead of schedule.

Australia to Roll Out Vaccines Monday (5 a.m. HK)

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said authorities will start giving vaccinations from next week.

“We’re ready to go,” Morrison posted on Facebook early Saturday. “Our vaccine program is on track and the rollout starts Monday.”

Ireland Reports First Cases of Brazil Variant (4:49 p.m. NY)

Irish authorities identified the so-called Brazilian variant in the country for the first time, the latest strain to appear there. The three cases of the P1 variant that have been found were all associated with travel, the health ministry said in a statement.

The B.1.1.7 strain, which is often referred to as the U.K. variant, accounts for about 90% of cases in Ireland now, and authorities believe its increased transmissibility is contributing to a slowing reduction in case numbers.

Biden Blames Trump Over Vaccines (4:21 p.m. NY)

President Joe Biden on Friday slammed Donald Trump for failing to secure enough Covid-19 shots as he toured a Michigan facility where Pfizer Inc. is manufacturing its vaccine.

“My predecessor — as my mother would say, God love him — failed to order enough vaccines,” Biden said, repeating criticism he’s repeatedly made of his predecessor. “Failed to mobilize the effort to administer the shots. Failed to set up vaccine centers.”

In remarks delivered at the facility, Biden sought to reassure the public that the shots are safe and described efforts by his administration to increase supplies and vaccination sites.

Dutch Curfew Is Backed by Lawmakers (4:14 p.m. NY)

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte won parliamentary backing for a contested nighttime curfew to contain the coronavirus, capping a roller-coaster week that tested his popularity less than a month before a general election.

The legislation passed by the Senate late Friday in The Hague means the nighttime curfew, which began on Jan. 23 and triggered riots in Dutch cities, can stay in place through early March. The vote blunts a court order to lift the curfew after a judge said the situation didn’t constitute an extreme emergency, such as a break in the country’s dike system.

Pfizer Head Says It Will Double Output (4:01 p.m. NY)

Pfizer Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla said Friday that the company will expand manufacturing and work with new suppliers to ramp up production of the Covid-19 vaccine it developed with BioNTech SE.

Appearing at a Pfizer plant in Michigan with President Joe Biden, Bourla said the company will employ additional capacity at its Kalamazoo site to produce the shot’s formulation as well as a component of the vaccine, known as lipids, which help deliver the genetic material into the body. The drug giant also will increase lipid production capabilities at its plant in Groton, Connecticut, and add on so-called fill-finish capacity at its site in McPherson, Kansas.

He said he expects the number of doses, which average 5 million a week, “to more than double.”

Texas Blackouts Lead to a Record Vaccination Drop (3:27 p.m. NY)

Winter weather and power outages had a chilling effect on Texas’s vaccination effort, one large enough to drag down inoculation trends nationwide.

On Thursday alone, the state administered 118,417 fewer doses than on the same day a week earlier, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker. The seven-day average plummeted 31% in the past week to 89,324, the sharpest drop of the pandemic, the data show. At its Feb. 12 peak, Texas was giving an average 134,688 doses a day.

South Africa Passes 1.5 Million Cases (3:10 p.m. NY)

Infections in South Africa surpassed 1.5 million on Friday, with almost 50,000 dead, the health ministry said. The country began issuing its first vaccines this week — single-shot doses from Johnson & Johnson – with 6,524 people inoculated in the first three days of the rollout.

California Targets Vaccines at School Reopening (3:03 p.m. NY)

California will set aside 10% of vaccination first doses for teachers and child-care workers in an effort to speed up the reopening of schools, Governor Gavin Newsom said.

The decision means that starting March 1, at least 75,000 doses per week will be reserved for educators, whose unions have largely opposed in-person classes until their members are vaccinated. Newsom, who faces the threat of a recall election over his handling of the pandemic, is pushing to reopen schools soon, with the youngest grades starting first.

Toronto Lockdown Extended (2:58 p.m. NY)

Ontario’s government has scrapped plans to allow more businesses to reopen in Toronto after city officials warned it would be a deadly mistake.

Stay-at-home orders will remain in place until at least March 8 in Canada’s largest city and financial center, as well as two other regions of the province. Toronto had been expected to return to less-stringent measures on Feb. 22, allowing for limited opening of some retail businesses that have been closed to in-person activity since November.

G-7 Leaders to Help Fund Vaccine Access (2:30 p.m. NY)

Leaders from the U.S., Germany, the European Commission, Japan, and Canada have committed $4.3 billion in new investments to fund the development and equitable rollout of coronavirus tests, treatments and vaccines needed to end the acute phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a WHO statement.

Cuomo Steps Up Defense as AOC Joins List Seeking Probe (2:15 p.m. NY)

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he should have been more aggressive in calling out what he called his critics’ lies and misinformation about the nursing-home residents who died of Covid-19.

Cuomo said he made a mistake in being “complacent” and not responding earlier to critiques of his administration’s handling of information about nursing-home fatalities. “I saw them and dismissed them as false agendas and partisan politics,” the governor said Friday during a virus briefing.

The governor faces growing scrutiny. The FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York have launched an investigation. Some state lawmakers are seeking an early end to emergency powers they awarded Cuomo at the start of the pandemic. Members of Congress, including Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Republican Senator Charles Grassley, have called for federal investigations.

Biden Agencies Pitch Covid Testing Hubs (2 p.m. NY)

The Biden administration envisions a nationwide network of Covid-19 testing hubs to boost capacity and enable K-8 schools to reopen, a public notice released Thursday shows.

The effort by the Army and the Department of Health and Human Services would create four centers to organize laboratory networks and prioritize schoolchildren. Each hub location could report as many as 25 million test results per month.

Moderna, Pfizer Deals Will Cover All Americans (1:50 p.m. NY)

The Biden administration has ordered enough Moderna and Pfizer vaccines to vaccinate the entire public, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a press conference today.

Idaho Reports Case of South African Variant (1:38 p.m. NY)

Idaho health authorities confirmed the state’s first known infection with the B.1.351 variant of SARS-CoV-2 discovered in South Africa. The patient, an adult male who resides in southwest part of the state, traveled abroad and “is thought to have been exposed before returning to Idaho,” according to the state’s Department of Health and Welfare.

Including the Idaho case, the variant has now been found in at least 11 U.S. states and in 22 people, according to data from the CDC. The strain is considered more transmissible, and existing vaccines have shown a reduced efficacy against them.

Cuomo Boosts NYC’s Indoor Dining Capacity (1:15 p.m. NY)

New York City can boost indoor dining capacity to 35%, to make restaurant rules consistent with neighboring New Jersey, Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

Restaurants in the most populous U.S. city are currently limited to 25% capacity. Covid-19 data continue to improve, allowing New York to continue on a path toward reopening, Cuomo said Friday at a press briefing. Cuomo also urged local governments to vaccinate teachers, saying students deserve in-class teaching.

Covid hospitalizations statewide are at 6,155, down from more than 9,000 in January. Of 249,248 tests reported Thursday, 8,710 or 3.49% were positive.

U.S. Has Backlog of 6 Million Doses Amid Winter Storms (12:23 p.m. NY)

Snow and freezing temperatures have led to a backlog of 6 million Covid-19 vaccine doses in the U.S. after a three-day delay in shipping, Andy Slavitt, a senior White House adviser on the virus, said Friday at a Covid-19 task force briefing.

There are 2,000 vaccination sites in places without power and the U.S. is holding doses initially bound for those sites until power is restored, Slavitt said. The weather has kept delivery workers home and closed roads across the U.S. as Texas and the East Coast experienced snow and ice. Slavitt said he expects the backlogged doses to be delivered next week at the latest.

Germany Joins in Push to Give Vaccines to Poorer Countries (12:21 p.m. NY)

Germany pledged to donate 1.5 billion euros ($1.8 billion) to global efforts to combat the pandemic, with most of that money for increasing supplies of Covid-19 vaccines in developing countries.

Funds will also go toward increasing access to Covid diagnostics and therapies around the world, Germany’s foreign office said in a statement Friday. The country previously pledged 600 million euros to the “Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator,” a global partnership forged in April connected with the World Health Organization.

Germany’s following similar moves this week by France and the U.K. to shore up vaccine supplies in the developing world.

CDC Calls Vaccines Safe (11 a.m. NY)

A month of safety monitoring indicated “reassuring safety profiles” for the two coronavirus vaccines cleared in the U.S., according to a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. The analysis follows 13.8 million doses administered through Jan. 13. One CDC monitoring system recorded fewer than 7,000 reports of adverse events, and of those, 90% were not serious, with known side effects like headache, fatigue and dizziness among the most common.

The severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis occurred in 4.5 cases for each million doses administered, similar to levels associated with other widely used vaccines. The CDC received reports of 113 deaths through Jan. 13, largely among the 1 million long-term care residents vaccinated in that period. The causes and rates of deaths were consistent with the overall level of mortality, and “did not indicate any unexpected pattern that might suggest a causal relationship with vaccination,” the CDC said.

Pfizer Asks FDA to Approve Easier Storage (7 a.m. NY)

Pfizer and BioNTech asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to allow their vaccine to be stored for two weeks at temperatures found in normal pharmaceutical freezers, a change that could simplify distribution for the shot.

The partners submitted new data showing stability when the vaccine is stored at minus 25-to-minus 15 degrees Celsius (-13°F to 5°F), they said in a statement on Friday. Current protocol is for storage for up to six months in an ultra-cold freezer at temperatures of -80ºC to -60ºC and shipping in a special thermal container.

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