BERLIN — The leaders of Austria, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Latvia and Bulgaria are calling for talks among European Union leaders about the distribution of vaccines within the 27-nation bloc.
Austrian media reported Saturday that the five leaders wrote a joint letter to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel. That came after Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz complained on Friday that, even though the EU had agreed on distribution of the vaccines on a per-capita basis, some countries were receiving considerably more than others.
The letter asserted that “if this system were to carry on, it would continue creating and exacerbating huge disparities among Member States by this summer.”
Officials elsewhere have noted that countries have wanted differing amounts of various vaccines and have not always taken up their full allocation.
Austria’s health ministry — which is run by Kurz’s junior coalition partner — was among those rejecting Kurz’s criticism. Oe1 radio reported that its general secretary, Ines Stilling, said negotiations on distributing the vaccines had been “balanced and transparent.”
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Biden boosts US vaccine stockpile as world waits
— IRS says new round of COVID relief payments on the way
— Most of California to reopen as vaccine eligibility expands
— COVID-19 deaths falling but Americans ‘must remain vigilant’
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
AMMAN — Jordan has become the first country in the Middle East to receive coronavirus vaccines through the global COVAX initiative.
A plane carrying 144,000 shots of AstraZeneca vaccine landed in Amman’s airport late Friday and was greeted by representatives of the agencies supporting the COVAX program — the United Nations, the World Health Organization and the European Union.
The COVAX alliance aims to share COVID-19 vaccines with more than 90 lower and middle-income nations. However, the program is facing delays, underfunding and limited supply.
The EU has allocated 8 million euros to support Jordan’s purchase of vaccines. A second shipment from COVAX is expected in April.
Jordan launched its vaccination drive in mid-January with plans to inoculate over 4 million residents in 2021, according to Health Minister Nathir Obeidat.
The kingdom, home to nearly 10 million people, has approved five vaccine types, including Russian and Chinese ones. The vaccination campaign also targets some of the 650,000 Syrian refugees.
The country is struggling to contain the surge of infections. It has reported over 465,000 cases and more than 5,200 deaths.
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka: Sri Lankan health authorities said on Saturday that they will continue to use the AstraZeneca vaccine and that health workers have begun inoculating people over 60.
Sri Lanka has so far received 1.264 million doses of the vaccine and, by Saturday, 760,765 Sri Lankans had received a shot.
The Health Ministry said on Saturday that it is continuing to use the AstraZeneca vaccine despite it being suspended in some countries, including Denmark.
According to State Minister Channa Jayasumana who oversees pharmaceutical production, supply and regulation, Sri Lanka has not yet taken a decision to suspend the vaccine.
Sri Lanka received 500,000 doses of the vaccine from India as a donation, while the island nation bought the same number again from the Serum Institute of India. It received another 264,000 doses from the COVAX facility.
Sri Lanka has also planned to purchase some 13 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines directly.
By Saturday, Sri Lanka’s total positive cases stood at 87,285, with 525 fatalities.
RENO, Nevada — Health officials have confirmed the first northern Nevada case of a COVID-19 variant that originated in the United Kingdom, and they’re trying to determine if the infection linked to a large gathering in Washoe County may have spread to others.
At least eight cases related to the U.K. variant have already been confirmed in southern Nevada. The first was in the Las Vegas area in late January.
The new one confirmed in Washoe County — which includes Reno and Sparks — involves a woman in her 30s whose infection is linked to a gathering of more than 60 people from multiple states, county health district officer Kevin Dick announced late Friday.
Seventeen additional COVID-19 cases have been linked to the same event, although not all of the people who have tested positive are from Washoe County and it’s not yet known whether they are infected with the UK variant, Dick said.
Additional genomic sequencing is underway, but many specimens are not available for genomic sequencing, he said.
ISLAMABAD — The provincial government in Pakistan’s largest province, Punjab, has announced the shutting of 15 famous shrines, including that of the Sufi saint famously known as Data Ganj Bakhsh in Lahore, amid the third wave of the coronavirus.
Federal authorities earlier announced the closing of educational institutions for two weeks in seven cities in Punjab and some in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Pakistan has reported 602,536 cases, including 13,476 deaths.
WASHINGTON — U.S. health officials are warning health professionals about the risk of false positive results with a widely used laboratory test for COVID-19 and flu.
The Food and Drug Administration issued the alert to Friday for health facilities using Roche’s cobas test for coronavirus and seasonal flu. The agency warned that problems with the test’s processing tubes could result in false diagnosis in people who are not actually infected.
Roche’s testing system is widely used to screen large batches of patient samples in hospitals and laboratories.
The FDA recommends health workers test samples multiple times to help assure accuracy. If the test delivers conflicting results it may indicate a problem and use should be discontinued, the agency says.
LAS VEGAS — Nevada’s top coronavirus official didn’t guarantee the state can meet President Joe Biden’s goal of offering a vaccination to every adult who wants a shot by May 1, but he said it gives everyone something to work toward.
COVID-19 Task Force chief Caleb Cage says everything depends on vaccine allocations. Seventeen new COVID-19 deaths were reported statewide Friday, bringing the pandemic total in Nevada to almost 5,100.
The number of cases statewide is nearing 300,000, while Nevada also passed the 575,000 mark in vaccines initiated.
State officials say almost 324,000 Nevadans, or more than 10% of the state population, are now fully vaccinated.
DES MOINES, Iowa — More than 1 million doses of coronavirus vaccine have been administered in Iowa, even as residents who qualify struggle to make appointments for a shot.
The Iowa Department of Public Health said Friday that Iowa has administered 1.03 million doses.
The milestone reflects significant increases in vaccine supplies but it’s unclear how the state will handle surging demand as more adults become eligible in the coming months. Iowa has no centralized system for people to secure a vaccine appointment.
Gov. Kim Reynolds dismissed an early plan to pay Microsoft to set up a statewide registration and appointment scheduling program. Instead, the state set up a website that offers information about where to get vaccines but leaves scheduling to individuals.
President Joe Biden said Thursday evening that he expects the nation to have sufficient vaccine supply by May 1 so anyone who wants a vaccine will be able to schedule an appointment. Reynolds said Iowa could beat that deadline if vaccine supply increases and remains stable.
It’s unclear whether Iowa is prepared to handle such a volume of people when there already appears to be a bottleneck setting up appointments.
WASHINGTON — Former White House coronavirus coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx is joining the George W. Bush Institute as a senior fellow.
Birx, who was tapped by former Vice President Mike Pence to manage the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic, clashed with President Donald Trump and other officials who moved to set aside science and promote “reopening” the country. Birx, who initially was interested in a job in the Biden administration, faced criticism for not speaking out more forcefully against the former president’s guidance.
The former U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, Birx had previously overseen the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and led the government’s engagement with international partners on addressing other communicable diseases.
Birx will work on the institute’s public health work, as well as policy efforts to study “how to better position our country to tackle health disparities in the future based off the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
SAN FRANCISCO — California on Friday announced it has administered 2 million vaccine doses to people in vulnerable, low-income ZIP codes.
This will allow counties to more quickly reopen activities such as indoor dining and indoor gyms at reduced capacity.
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced last week that he would set aside 40% of vaccine for residents of some 400 ZIP codes the state deems most vulnerable. The point is to tie reopening standards to ensure that the people most impacted by the pandemic are protected against the virus.
By hitting the 2 million mark, the state will reassess counties and allow them to move to the red tier within 48 hours instead of waiting until Tuesday.
Los Angeles County, the nation’s most populous with 10 million residents, said the earliest it would allow museums, gyms, movie theaters and restaurants to open indoors at limited capacity is Monday.