WASHINGTON — At a moment of deep political polarization in America, support for President Biden’s pandemic response extends across party lines. Overall, 70 percent of Americans back the Democratic president’s handling of the virus response, including 44 percent of Republicans, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
Less than two months into his presidency, Biden has made the pandemic his central focus, urging Americans to follow stringent social distancing and mask guidelines and vowing to speed up distribution of critical vaccines. He’s also argued that until the spread of the virus is under control, the economy won’t fully recover.
To address financial shortfalls in the meantime, he’s asking Congress to pass a $1.9 trillion pandemic rescue plan that would provide direct payments to millions of Americans and surge funds into state and local governments.
France joins Italy in blocking exports of vaccine
BRUSSELS — Europe’s vaccine solidarity got a boost on Friday after France said it could emulate Italy’s move to block coronavirus vaccine exports outside the European Union if that’s what is needed to enforce the bloc’s own contracts with drugs manufacturers.
The European Union defended the Italian authorities’ decision to stop a large shipment of doses destined for Australia as part of a longstanding feud with drug manufacturer AstraZeneca.
The EU’s executive arm said the decision was not targeting Australia but that it had been taken to ensure that AstraZeneca delivers the number of doses it committed to dispatching to EU countries.
“The fact is that the European Union is a major exporter of vaccine doses,” said EU Commission chief spokesman Eric Mamer.
Faced with dose shortages during the early stages of the vaccine campaign, the EU announced in early January an export control mechanism halting deliveries of COVID-19 vaccines outside the bloc in a bid to force companies to respect their contractual obligations to the bloc first.
Since the mechanism entered into force on Jan. 30, the Commission said that 174 authorizations of vaccine exports to 30 different countries outside the EU have been approved.
The EU has been particularly upset by AstraZeneca because the company is delivering far fewer doses to the bloc than it had promised. Of the initial order for 80 million doses to the EU in the first quarter this year, the company will be struggling to deliver half that quantity.
Canada approves use of fourth vaccine
TORONTO — Canada is getting a fourth vaccine to prevent COVID-19 as the country’s health regulator has cleared a Johnson & Johnson shot that works with just one dose instead of two, officials said Friday.
Health experts are eager for a one-and-done option to help speed vaccination. Canada has also approved vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca; Health Canada is the first major regulator to approve four different vaccines, said Dr. Supriya Sharma, Health Canada’s chief medical adviser.
Like many countries, Canada does not have domestic production and has struggled with an immediate shortage of vaccines. The United States so far isn’t allowing locally made vaccines to be exported, so Canada — like the other US neighbor, Mexico — has been forced to get vaccines from Europe and Asia.
Canada has pre-purchased 10 million Johnson & Johnson doses, with options to buy another 28 million. It was not immediately clear when Canada would get its first shipment.
Countries struggling with shortage of vaccine syringes
As countries jostle to secure enough vaccine doses to help put an end to the pandemic, a new competition is unfolding: for syringes to administer them with.
There is simply not enough of them.
Officials in the United States and the European Union have said they need more. And in January, Brazil restricted exports of syringes and needles when its vaccination efforts fell short.
Further complicating the challenge, not just any syringe will do the trick.
Japan revealed last month that it might have to discard millions of doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine if it couldn’t secure enough syringes able to draw out a sixth dose from vials. In January, the Food and Drug Administration advised health care providers in the United States that they could extract more doses from the Pfizer vials after hospitals there discovered that some contained enough for a sixth — or even a seventh — shot.
“A lot of countries were caught flat-footed,” said Ingrid Katz, the associate director of the Harvard Global Health Institute.
The world needs between eight billion and 10 billion syringes for COVID-19 vaccinations alone, experts say.
In previous years, only 5 percent to 10 percent of the estimated 16 billion syringes used worldwide were meant for vaccination and immunization, said Prashant Yadav, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, a think tank in Washington, and an expert on health care supply chains.
Wealthier nations such as the United States, Britain, France, and Germany pumped billions into developing the vaccines, but little public investment has gone into expanding manufacturing for syringes, Mr. Yadav said.
The industry has ramped up to meet demand.
Becton, Dickinson and Company, which is the world’s largest manufacturer of syringes and is based in New Jersey, said it was producing 2,000 each minute to meet orders of more than a billion.
The United States is the world’s largest syringe maker by sales, according to Fitch Solutions, a research firm. The United States and China are neck and neck in exports, with combined annual shipments worth $1.7 billion.
NEW YORK TIMES
Pfizer factory cited for quality control violations
The factory that Pfizer plans to use to boost production of its COVID-19 vaccine for the massive US inoculation effort was cited by federal inspectors last year for repeated quality-control violations.
Food and Drug Administration inspectors visited the McPherson, Kan., plant at the end of 2019 into January 2020, according to an inspection report obtained by Bloomberg via a Freedom of Information request. They found the drug giant released medications for sale after failing to thoroughly review quality issues that arose in routine testing, the report shows.
Additionally, the report says inspectors found bacteria and mold in supposedly sterile areas, an issue seen in previous visits to the facility by regulators. And the plant failed to properly sample drug products to ensure they didn’t have excessive levels of certain toxins, the inspectors wrote.
The McPherson plant has previously drawn fire from regulators for drug-quality problems. The FDA sent Pfizer a warning letter, the agency’s strongest rebuke, concerning the factory in 2017 after the agency detected issues similar to those it found in 2020. The FDA concluded that Pfizer had addressed the violations in June 2018, a month before it returned to the facility and found more problems.
Pfizer said Thursday that following the January 2020 inspection, it immediately developed and implemented a “robust corrective and preventive action plan” to address the FDA’s findings.
USDA investigating its meatpacking inspections during pandemic
WASHINGTON — The inspector general for the US Department of Agriculture is reviewing the agency’s handling of inspections at meatpacking plants amid the coronavirus pandemic, in part to determine how it protected front-line meat inspectors, according to a letter obtained by The Washington Post.
The review comes in response to a call from Senator Michael Bennet, D-Colo., who asked the inspectors general of the USDA and Department of Labor in August to determine whether actions by the Trump administration helped spread the coronavirus among workers at the plants.
’'Early in the pandemic, meat processing plants saw some of the highest rates of COVID-19 infections, harming a workforce predominately comprised of immigrants, refugees, and people of color, and raising serious questions about any federal actions that may have contributed to the spread of the virus in these facilities,’' Bennet said in a statement to the Washington Post.
’'Hard-working Americans who are serving on the front lines during this crisis — and all meat processing plant workers — deserve answers. I’m glad the USDA Inspector General is making it a priority to get to the bottom of this.’'
Meat and poultry plants were some of the earliest coronavirus hot spots in the United States last spring. Workers in the plants process dozens of animals a minute, standing side by side for hours at a time, making the physical distancing recommended by public health experts to mitigate the spread of the virus impossible.
As of this week, more than 57,500 workers at meatpacking plants have tested positive for COVID-19, and 284 have died, according to data compiled by the Food and Environment Reporting Network. Federal data published last July showed that where information on race and ethnicity were available, 87 percent of the infections among meat and poultry workers occurred among racial or ethnic minorities.