WASHINGTON â€” President Donald Trump said Sunday that he was reversing an administration directive to vaccinate top government officials against COVID-19, while public distribution of the shot is limited to front-line health workers and people in nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
Trump made the announcement hours after his administration confirmed that senior U.S. officials, including some White House aides who work in close proximity to Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, would be offered coronavirus vaccines as soon as this week under federal continuity of government plans.
â€œPeople working in the White House should receive the vaccine somewhat later in the program, unless specifically necessary,â€ Trump said in a tweet. â€œI have asked that this adjustment be made. I am not scheduled to take the vaccine, but look forward to doing so at the appropriate time.â€
It was not immediately clear what the scale of the vaccination program was supposed to be, according to two people briefed on the matter, or what effect Trumpâ€™s tweet would have on the governmentâ€™s efforts to protect top leadership.
News that White House staff would receive the vaccine early drew criticism on social media. Trump and his aides have consistently flouted the COVID-19 guidelines issued by his own administration, including hosting large holiday parties with maskless attendees this December.
Officials said earlier Sunday that doses of the newly approved vaccine from Pfizer would be made available to those who work in close quarters with the nationâ€™s top leaders. They said the move was meant to prevent more COVID-19 spread in the White House and other critical facilities. Trump was hospitalized with the virus for three days in October.
â€œSenior officials across all three branches of government will receive vaccinations pursuant to continuity of government protocols established in executive policy,â€ National Security Council spokesperson John Ulyot had said. â€œThe American people should have confidence that they are receiving the same safe and effective vaccine as senior officials of the United States government on the advice of public health professionals and national security leadership.â€
The two people briefed on the matter spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. The New York Times first reported that top U.S. officials would get early access to the vaccine.
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Family doctors start offering vaccine in England
LONDON â€” Family doctors in England are set to start COVID-19 inoculations this week, in the latest stage of the U.K.â€™s mass vaccination program.
The National Health Service said hundreds of general medical clinics across England are taking delivery of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine on Monday, and some will start offering the shots by the afternoon. The majority, though, will begin on Tuesday, it said.
Priority will go to people who are 80 and older, as well as staff and residents of care homes.
Britain launched its vaccination program this month after becoming the first country to give emergency approval to the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine, and authorities plan to dispense 800,000 doses in the first phase.
Thousands of health service workers and vaccinators have already received the shot. In Scotland, elderly residents of nursing homes are also due to start getting the vaccine on Monday, officials said on the weekend.
Germany angered over EU delay in vaccine appoval
BERLIN â€” Germanyâ€™s health minister has expressed impatience Monday that the European Union is still waiting for its regulatory agency to approve a coronavirus vaccine, while other officials urged Germans to forgo Christmas shopping two days before a new hard lockdown will close schools and shut most stories.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and the governors of Germanyâ€™s 16 states agreed Sunday to step up the countryâ€™s lockdown measures beginning Wednesday and running to Jan. 10 to stop the exponential rise of COVID-19 cases. Merkel said existing restrictions imposed in November failed to significantly reduce the number of new infections. Germany has been hitting records of new daily infections and virus deaths in recent weeks.
Health Minister Jens Spahn said in a series of tweets that Germany, which has built up more than 400 vaccination centers and has activated about 10,000 doctors and medical staff to start mass vaccinations as early as Tuesday, was hamstrung by the lack of regulatory approval.
The vaccine developed by Germanyâ€™s BioNTech and American drugmaker Pfizer has been authorized for use in Britain, the United States, Canada and other countries, but itâ€™s still waiting for approval by the European Medicines Agency, or EMA, and can therefore not be used in Germany yet.
Vaccinations in Spain to begin in January
MADRID â€” Health Minister Salvador Illa says that vaccination against the coronavirus in Spain could begin on Jan. 4 or 5 following the approval of the first vaccine by European drug regulators.
The European Medicines Agency has set Dec. 29 as the deadline for ruling on the approval of the vaccine developed by Germanyâ€™s BioNTech and its U.S. partner Pfizer.
Speaking at an economy forum on Monday in Madrid, Illa said that the country has logistics ready for an incremental distribution of the vaccines nationwide.
The Spanish government has pledged to purchase 80 million vaccines in 140 million doses, enough to more than cover its 47 million population. Herd immunity could be achieved by the end of the summer, Illa said Sunday in an interview published by the PÃºblico news website.
New cases rose again in several of Spainâ€™s 19 regions and autonomous cities over the weekend, offsetting some of the gains of the past few weeks, when the rate of contagion slowed down. Spain has officially confirmed 1.73 million cases of COVID-19 and at least 47,624 deaths.
Eswatini prime minister dies of coronavirus
JOHANNESBURG â€” The government of Eswatini has announced on Twitter that Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini has died after testing positive for COVID-19.
The 52-year-old Dlamini, who had been prime minister since 2018, announced in November that he had tested positive for the virus and was being treated at a hospital in neighboring South Africa. The Eswatini government said he died on Sunday afternoon.
Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland, is a small mountain kingdom northeast of South Africa. It has recorded almost 7,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 127 deaths.
South Africa is experiencing a resurgence of COVID-19 and President Cyril Ramaphosa is scheduled to address the nation Monday evening on the countryâ€™s response.
New Zealand to open COVID bubble with Australia
WELLINGTON, New Zealand â€” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the country plans to open a travel bubble with Australia in the first quarter of next year.
That would mean people traveling from Australia to New Zealand would no longer need to go into quarantine for two weeks upon arrival. Australia is already letting New Zealanders skip quarantine.
The announcement Monday comes two days after New Zealand said it planned a similar bubble with the Cook Islands. The two arrangements would represent the first travel bubbles that New Zealand has agreed to since closing its borders when the coronavirus first hit earlier this year.
New Zealand has moved cautiously on restarting international travel after stamping out community spread of the virus. Ardern says there are some remaining logistical issues to overcome, including how it would deal with a large influx of returning travelers in the case of another significant outbreak in Australia.
The announcement comes as some relief to families separated by the virus and to tourism operators, many of whom rely on visitors from Australia.
First vaccine doses arrive in Canada
TORONTO â€” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the first of many freezer-packed COVID-19 vaccine vials have arrived in Canada.
Trudeau tweeted a picture of them being taken off a plane. Canadaâ€™s health regulator approved the vaccine made by U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and Germanyâ€™s BioNTech last Wednesday.
The Canadian government recently amended its contract with Pfizer so that it would deliver up to 249,000 doses this month. Trudeau says it is good news but he is urging Canadians to continue to wear masks, avoid gatherings and to download a government app that lets users know if theyâ€™ve come in contact with those who have tested positive.
Los Angeles breaks record again for virus hospitalizations
LOS ANGELES â€” Los Angeles County has again broken a record for coronavirus hospitalizations, fulfilling the county public health directorâ€™s dire predictions in just days.
Figures released Sunday afternoon show that more than 4,000 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 in the nationâ€™s most populous county.
That breaks the previous record set only the day before, with 3,850 patients in a hospital, and follows the trend of hospitalizations increasing nearly every day since Nov. 1.
The LA County health director warned on Monday, when hospitalizations were near 3,000, that the county could see the statistic to climb to 4,000 within two weeks.
Statewide coronavirus figures were not immediately available Sunday.
More than 325,000 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine are on their way to California.