A version of this story appeared in the March 19 edition of CNN’s Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction newsletter. Sign up here to receive the need-to-know headlines every weekday.
The United States is finalizing plans to send millions of doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine to Mexico and Canada, the White House said on Thursday. The move comes as the Biden administration scrambles to respond to a surge of unaccompanied migrant children on the Mexico-US border.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said the US was planning to share 2.5 million doses of the vaccines with Mexico and 1.5 million with Canada.
Tens of millions of doses of the vaccine have been stockpiled at US manufacturing sites. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has been approved for use in dozens of countries, including Mexico and Canada, but the shot has not yet been authorized by American drug regulators. Psaki said the doses to be sent to the two countries would be a loan, with the US receiving vaccines in return in future.
The agreement could be finalized as soon as Friday, CNN has learned. On Tuesday, Mexico’s foreign minister said an announcement could come by the end of the week.
The Biden administration has committed to having enough vaccines for all Americans before sharing doses, and if this agreement comes together it would be the first time the US has shared vaccines directly with another country. It would also likely give a major boost to vaccination efforts in Canada and Mexico, which are struggling with their vaccine roll-outs in comparison to the US.
Friday could mark another big milestone for President Joe Biden: 100 million shots since he took office. Biden had promised to hit that number within his first 100 days in office, but he has met the goal with weeks to spare.
Commenting on the pace of the rollout on Thursday, Biden said Americans still needed to be vigilant to prevent the spread of the virus – cases are still on the rise in several states.
“This is a time for optimism but it’s not a time for relaxation,” Biden cautioned. “I need all of you to do your part. Wash your hands, stay socially distanced, keep masking up as recommended by the CDC and get vaccinated when it’s your turn.”
More than 115 million Americans have been vaccinated since the first Covid-19 shot was authorized in December, according to the latest data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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YOU ASKED. WE ANSWERED.
Q: When will kids and teens be vaccinated against Covid-19?
A: States are pushing ahead with expanding Covid-19 vaccine access and rolling back restrictions on businesses and large gatherings as America seeks a return to normality.
But experts say two barriers stand in the way of reaching herd immunity and getting back to life as we knew it: Covid-19 variants and vaccine hesitancy.
“We’re neglecting the huge number of people in the middle who need, who want to get the vaccine but may have some concerns or just don’t have time to take time off of work or find child care,” emergency physician Dr. Leana Wen told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Thursday. “We need to make vaccination easy for those individuals and also really clearly demonstrate what is the benefit of vaccination, make clear the messaging that vaccines are the pathway back to pre-pandemic life.”
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WHAT’S IMPORTANT TODAY
AstraZeneca vaccine is ‘safe and effective’
The European Union’s medicines regulator said on Thursday that the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine was “safe and effective” to use after more than a dozen EU countries, including France, Germany and Italy, suspended shots following reports that they could be linked to blood clots. Denmark and Sweden said they will not restart their rollouts, despite the European Medicines Agency’s guidance.
But even when other countries resume rollouts, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that at their current pace, Europe’s vaccination campaigns aren’t yet slowing transmission of the coronavirus. The continent recorded more than 1.2 million new infections last week, and more than 20,000 people a week are dying of Covid-19. “The number of people dying from COVID-19 in Europe is higher now than it was this time last year, reflecting the widespread hold this virus has,” Dr. Hans Kluge, WHO’s regional director for Europe, said on Thursday.
Much of Western Europe is now in the throes of a third wave of the virus. France on Thursday announced a limited Covid-19 lockdown for Paris and several other regions to combat surging cases. And the pandemic is “moving eastwards,” Dr. Kluge said, with infection rates and deaths in Central Europe, the Balkans and Baltic states among the highest in the world.
As Covid-19 deaths soar in Brazil, Bolsonaro says there’s a ‘war’ against him
Brazil this week reported its highest daily death toll since the pandemic began, as the government appointed its fourth health minister in a year to deal with one of the world’s worst outbreaks of the virus. But Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro continues to dispute the gravity of the crisis, suggesting that his detractors are blowing the scale of the pandemic out of proportion to wage a “war” against him politically.
“Here it became a war against the President. It seems that people only die of Covid,” Bolsonaro, who wasn’t wearing a mask, told supporters outside the presidential palace on Thursday. “The hospitals are 90% occupied. But we need to find out how many are from Covid and how many are from other illnesses,” he said.
In the coastal city of Rio de Janeiro, intensive care units are 95% full. Fifteen other state capitals are similarly verging on collapse, with ICU occupancy over 90% – a deluge of hospitalizations that has accompanied a sharp rise in Covid-19 cases in the country. While Covid-19 cases are beginning to plateau or decline in many nations, Brazil is reporting record daily numbers. More than 45,000 people have been killed in Brazil in the last month alone, and the country recorded 90,303 new cases in a single day on Wednesday.
Cubans embark on treacherous sea journeys as economic crisis worsens
When Beatriz Jimenez closes her eyes, she sees her daughter Lisbethy and two young grandchildren – and they are alive. Jimenez’s family left the small seaside town of Cabarién, on Cuba’s north coast, on March 4, aboard a packed smuggler’s boat.
Jimenez said her daughter Lisbethy took the trip because she had been apart from her husband in Florida for more than a year, after the pandemic forced Cuba to cut most international flights. Lisbethy had been afraid to leave her daughter Kenna Mariana, 6 years old, and Luis Nesto, 4, behind in Cuba and risk a lengthy separation. Their boat capsized in Bahamian waters, according to the Cuban foreign ministry. Some 12 survivors and one dead body were found by a Royal Bahamian Defence ship, but Lisbethy and her children were not among them.
A worsening economic climate could push more Cubans like Lisbethy to make the desperate voyage, despite having lost their preferential status, Patrick Oppmann reports. In 2020, the economy shrank by 11%, according to Cuban government figures, as the island’s tourism industry was almost entirely shut down by the pandemic.
ON OUR RADAR
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- Pelotons and iPads: To keep employees happy amid the stress and exhaustion of the pandemic, some Wall Street banks are handing out toys, gifts and perks.
- After living in a camper for a year to keep her family safe, this doctor has finally moved back home.
- Hong Kong and Macao have suspended their BioNTech coronavirus vaccine rollouts due to a packaging defect, as a precaution after they received a letter from the company and its Chinese partner indicating an issue with the seal on individual vials in one batch.
Are you having more nightmares? You might be ‘quaradreaming’
The phenomenon started to be noted by physicians about a year ago, not long after lockdowns began around the world. Frontline workers were hard hit – a June 2020 study of 100 Chinese nurses found 45% experienced nightmares, along with varying degrees of anxiety and depression. But nightmares have continued as quarantines and lockdowns stretched on, experts say. One reason: an increase in “night owls.”
If you are having frightening nightmares that haunt you or lead to feelings of hopelessness and depression, reach out to a mental health professional. For those experiencing less stressful “quaradreams,” Sandee LaMotte has these tips.
“There is even evidence that social isolation and loneliness influences your susceptibility to viruses and the ability to respond to a vaccine.” – Julianne Holt-Lunstad, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah
Today on the podcast, we check out what one neighborhood in Brooklyn is doing to bring people safely together during the pandemic, and we check in with an expert on loneliness, Dr. Holt-Lunstad, about promising new research that shows the power of small acts of kindness. Listen now.