The Latest: Cuba begins commercial exports of local vaccines

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FILE – In this Aug. 28, 2021, file photo, Mayra Navarrete, 13, receives the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine from registered nurse, Noleen Nobleza at a clinic set up in the parking lot of CalOptima in Orange, Calif. With more than 40 million doses of coronavirus vaccines available, U.S. health authorities said they’re confident both seniors and other vulnerable Americans seeking booster shots and parents anticipating approval of initial shots for young children will have easy access. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

HAVANA — Cuba has begun commercial exports of its homegrown COVID-19 vaccines, sending shipments of the three-dose Abdala vaccine to Vietnam and Venezuela.

President Miguel Díaz-Canel announced the arrival in Vietnam on his Twitter feed Sunday. Cuba’s Center of Genetic Immunology and Biotechnology also announced that initial shipments of the Abdala shots were sent to Venezuela over the weekend.

Vietnam’s President Nguyen Xuan Phuc visited Cuba last week and toured the laboratory that produces the vaccine, announcing an agreement to buy at least 5 million doses.

Delcy Rodríguez, Venezuela’s vice president, announced in June that the country had agreed to buy $12 million worth of the Cuban vaccine, though officials have declined to say how many doses were involved.

Another Cuban-developed COVID-19 vaccine is being produced in Iran, which Cuba has asked the World Health Organization to approve in hopes to extend exports of its locally developed vaccines.

Cuban scientists have said the vaccines are more than 90% effective against illness, though — like all vaccines — less so against mere infection.

Cuba plans to fully vaccinate 90% of its population by the end of November — a key step to reopening an economy heavily dependent on tourism.

Cuba’s director of epidemiology, Francisco Durán, said Monday that the country of some 11 million people has registered 860,799 infections with COVID-19 and 7,279 deaths during the pandemic.

MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— U.S. has enough COVID-19 vaccines for boosters, kids’ shots

— Rowdy celebrations erupt in Norway as COVID restrictions end

— EXPLAINER: Who’s eligible for Pfizer boostershots in US?

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See all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A pharmacy owner in Puerto Rico has pleaded guilty to illegally vaccinating two dozen children against COVID-19 with shots that had not been approved as safe for that age group, federal authorities said Monday.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Liz Ann Banchs fully inoculated minors between the ages of 7 and 11 with the Pfizer vaccine from late May until late June.

The vaccine is currently approved for those 12 years and older, though Pfizer announced last week that a version of its vaccine, with much-reduced doses, is safe and works for children ages 5 to 11 and that it will soon seek U.S. authorization for that age group.

Authorities said the illegal vaccination occurred at Farmacia Gabriela, Inc. in the southern mountain town of Juana Diaz. They said Banchs faces up to five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.

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BUENOS AIRES — Argentina’s government opened some of its border to tourists from Chile and Brazil on Monday for a four-day test run as cases of COVID-19 have declined.

The measure applies to two crossings into the provinces of Mendoza, a wine-producing region that neighbors Chile, and Misiones, which borders Brazil hand has the famed Iguazu Falls.

Prior to the pandemic, thousands of people crossed daily over those borders.

Visitors will still need to show they have completed a full vaccine course at least 14 days before arriving, show a recent negative PCR test and accept a fast antigen test on arriving.

They won’t have to quarantine, but will required to have another PCR test if they stay beyond seven days — and those who test positive would then have to quarantine.

The announcement amounts to an early start on a gradual opening of land borders that already had been announced for citizens of neighboring countries that was to start on Friday. Fully vaccinated Argentines living abroad will no longer have to quarantine on arrival.

The country of about 45 million people has seen steadily improving levels of infection and hospital bed occupation after being hit hard by the virus. Overall, it has recorded 5.2 infections and more than 114,000 deaths.

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HARRISBURG, Pa. — Legislation that cleared a House committee on Monday would give Pennsylvania school districts the authority to decide whether student athletes must wear masks while playing.

The Republican-controlled House State Government Committee approved the measure 15-10 along party lines. It would give “exclusive authority” to schools, recreational clubs, community leagues and similar groups to set masking policy for youth athletes.

GOP leaders in the state House have promised to mount a legislative response to Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s statewide mask mandate for schools, which requires students, staff and visitors at K-12 schools and child care facilities to wear masks while indoors, regardless of vaccination status. The universal masking order has been met with fierce resistance by some school boards and ant-mask parents and students.

But so far, there has been no movement by majority Republicans on a wider bill to prevent the state from imposing a mask mandate on students and teachers in schools. The Wolf administration’s masking order already exempts youth athletes from having to cover their faces during practice or games.

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will receive his COVID-19 booster shot on Monday, days after federal regulators recommended a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine for Americans age 65 or older and approved them for others with preexisting medical conditions and high-risk work environments.

Biden, 78, got his first shot on Dec. 21 and his second dose three weeks later, on Jan. 11, along with his wife, Jill Biden. It was not immediately clear whether the first lady, who’s 70, would also receive the booster dose on Monday.

Speaking on Friday after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration authorized the Pfizer booster, Biden told reporters, “I’ll be getting my booster shot. It’s hard to acknowledge I’m over 65, but I’ll be getting my booster shot. ”

At least 2.66 million Americans have received booster doses of the Pfizer vaccine since mid-August, according to the CDC. About 100 million Americans have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 through the Pfizer shot. U.S. regulators recommend getting the boosters at least six months after the second shot of the initial two-dose series.

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Rhode Island’s vaccine mandate for health care workers takes effect Oct. 1, and it’s a hard mandate, meaning no shot, no job for workers at state-licensed facilities.

But the mandate is already facing a legal challenge from the local healthcare industry, which argues that it’s unconstitutional because it’s one of the few in the nation that doesn’t allow for religious exemptions.

Democratic Gov. Dan McKee’s administration has also granted some relief to hospitals fearing worker shortages, announcing last week that hospitals can allow unvaccinated health care workers to keep working 30 days past the Oct. 1 deadline in cases where firing them would compromise patient safety.

In Massachusetts, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker has issued a vaccine mandate for workers at rest homes, assisted living facilities, hospice programs and home care programs. Although the governor’s order says exemptions will be allowed for legitimate medical and sincerely held religious reasons, there is nothing in the order that allows for a regular testing alternative.

The deadline to get vaccinated for these workers is Oct. 31. The governor has not issued vaccine mandates for other health care settings, although most major Massachusetts hospital systems have issued their own employee vaccinate mandates.

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AMMAN, Jordan — Jordan’s royal palace says Crown Prince Al Hussein bin Abdullah II has tested positive for COVID-19 and is displaying “mild symptoms.”

The palace says in a statement that King Abdullah II and Queen Rania, his parents, have both tested negative but will self-quarantine for five days. It says the 27-year-old crown prince tested positive Monday after undergoing a routine examination.

All three members of the royal family have been vaccinated.

Jordan, a close Western ally in a volatile region, has reported more than 820,000 coronavirus infections, including 10,697 deaths. The country has vaccinated around a third of its population of 10 million.

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PORTLAND, Maine — A Maine organization has scheduled an event designed to help residents talk to their family members and neighbors about the importance of getting vaccinated against COVID-19.

Maine Community Action Partnership has slated the “Encouraging Vaccination” online event for Thursday at 6 p.m. Participants in the event will include Todd Phillips, an infection preventionist at Millinocket Regional Hospital; Elisabeth Marnik, a professor of molecular biochemistry at Husson University; and Dr. Gavin Ducker, co-president of the system medical group at Northern Light Health.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said the event will be about strategies for communicating accurate information about COVID-19 vaccines with unvaccinated people.

It’s important to spread the message that vaccines protect everyone in the community, Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said.

“And if enough people get vaccinated, even if the virus finds its way into a community, it’s really hard for it to spread onto people who haven’t been vaccinated,” Shah said.

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — The state of Minnesota is on the verge of selling off a refrigerated warehouse that it bought in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in case it was needed as backup morgue.

When the administration of Gov. Tim Walz announced the purchase of the former Bix produce building in St. Paul, it expressed worries, based on the experiences of New York City, that the state’s mortuaries could be swamped with pandemic victims. The state paid nearly $5.48 million for the facility, which could have held 5,100 bodies, but never stored corpses there, just personal protective equipment.

Now, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports, the St. Paul Port Authority board is preparing to vote Tuesday on whether to take the warehouse off the state’s hands for $5.65 million, the property’s current appraised value, giving the state a slight profit.

The Port Authority’s goal, according to board documents, is to flip the building as quickly as possible, with a goal of selling it by Dec. 1.

“The idea is to find a buyer who will bring jobs to the city of St. Paul,” Andrea Novak, a Port Authority marketing manager, told the newspaper. “There is no specific buyer in the wings. We will market this aggressively.”

The Democratic governor had come under criticism for the buying the facility from Republicans who saw it as wasteful spending.

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NEW YORK — Pfizer has started testing its potential COVID-19 treatment as a preventive medicine aimed at warding off the virus if a close contact gets it.

The drugmaker said Monday that it will study the pill it is developing in combination with a low dose of the HIV drug ritonavir in people who are at least 18 years old and live in the same household with someone who is infected.

Pfizer plans to enroll 2,660 people in the late-stage study. Those participating will get either the treatment combination or a fake drug orally twice a day for five to 10 days.

Researchers expect that the use of ritonavir will help slow the breakdown of the potential treatment so it remains active longer to help fight the virus.

“If successful, we believe this therapy could help stop the virus early – before it has had a chance to replicate extensively,” Pfizer Chief Scientific Officer Dr.Mikael Dolsten said in a statement from the drugmaker.

Pfizer Inc. also is studying its potential treatment in people who are already infected with the virus. It’s designed to be prescribed at the first sign of infection without requiring patients to be hospitalized. The drugmaker expects to see results from those studies by the end of the year.

The pill aims to block a key enzyme that the virus needs to replicate.

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LYON, France — French President Emmanuel Macron and the World Health Organization chief have kicked off construction of a multimillion-dollar “WHO Academy” that aims to educate health workers and others in-person and virtually, after COVID-19 has upended school systems across the globe.

The French leader and WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus launched a groundbreaking for the site in the southeastern city of Lyon on Monday ahead of a planned opening of the campus in 2024.

But before then, WHO Academy hopes to churn out 100 “major learning programs” by 2023 – through online classes – and use virtual reality, educational games and artificial intelligence to help WHO’s workforce and health care workers and educators globally. Major programs will include vaccine equity for coronavirus vaccines, universal health coverage and health emergencies – all key projects for WHO.

The WHO Academy aims to reach millions of people, not just those in the healthcare world, to help keep pace of the blistering pace of scientific change in health care.

The academy is headed by former French health minister Agnes Buzyn, and France has contributed more than 120 million euros ($140 million) to the project.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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