The Latest: Switzerland OKs Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine

BERLIN — Switzerland has approved the COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer and German pharmaceutical company BioNTech.

The country’s health agency Swissmedic said in a written statement Saturday that the vaccine had been approved for the small Alpine country after a careful examination by expert teams. The agency did not say when vaccinations in Switzerland would begin.

The approval comes shortly after Britain, Canada, the United States and other countries allowed the use of the vaccine in their respective countries.

The director of Swissmedic said “Thanks to the rolling process and our flexible teams we could quickly decide and fully accommodate the three most important requirements security, efficacy and quality.”

Raimund Bruhin added that, “The safety of the patients is a required condition especially regarding the approval of vaccines.”

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

US clears Moderna vaccine for COVID-19, 2nd shot in arsenal

The World Health Agency was warned that pulling report on Italy’s handling of its coronavirus outbreak could damage its reputation and cost lives, but the report was yanked anyway

1 in 5 prisoners in the US has had COVID-19, 1,700 have died

Portugal calls out the army to help protect nursing homes from the coronavirus

Italy’s leader announces a partial lockdown nationwide for most of the Christmas holiday

— Doctors say increasingly desperate California hospitals are being “crushed” by soaring coronavirus infections. One Los Angeles ER doctor says the rationing of care is imminent.

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Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

LANSING, Mich. — Michigan lawmakers and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer have agreed to a $465 million pandemic spending plan, including relief payments to businesses and workers struggling to stay afloat because of the coronavirus and government restrictions to curb its spread.

The legislation received overwhelming Senate support late Friday and is expected to win House passage on Monday before legislators adjourn for the year. Nearly half of the funding would be used to continue, through March, a maximum 26 weeks of unemployment benefits in a year instead of 20 weeks.

The bill would provide $45 million in assistance to employees who have been laid off or seen their hours cut due to restrictions under a state health department order that has prohibited indoor restaurant dining and closed entertainment venues. A worker could get up to $1,650.

Small businesses affected by the recent orders would receive $55 million in grants — up to $20,000 if they had to close, $15,000 if they partially closed. Certain concert and other live-entertainment sites could qualify for $40,000 as part of a separate $3.5 million grant program.

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BOSTON — Massachusetts expects to receive 20% fewer doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine this year after the federal government reduced its allotment, state officials say.

The state joins more than a dozen others that have been told their vaccine shipments will be smaller than planned in coming weeks. Instead of receiving 180,000, Massachusetts now expects to get 145,000.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker said he hasn’t received an explanation for the cutback.

“We’re certainly frustrated,” Baker said at a COVID-19 briefing on Friday. “We’re working to get clarity on what this means, what happened and how that bump will be dealt with along the way.”

Baker said he expects to get more answers during a call with federal officials next week. Despite the reduced allotment, Baker said he expects the state to have “more than enough” doses in the first months of 2021.

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NEWARK — New Jersey will start to vaccinate its nursing homes a week later than other states because the state missed a deadline by a day with Operation Warp Speed, the state’s top heath official said Friday.

Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said the “sheer volume” of information required for over 650 facilities led the state to miss a Dec. 7 deadline. That means New Jersey won’t begin vaccinations at its long-term care centers until Dec. 28, she said.

New Jersey’s COVID-19 outbreak has ravaged nursing homes, with 7,430 deaths, including residents and staff. That’s about 46% of the overall death toll in the state.

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ISLAMABAD — Health authorities in Pakistan reported 87 new deaths and 3,297 cases of COVID-19 on Saturday amid partial or complete lockdowns in many neighbourhoods.

With new deaths, the country’s tally reached 9,250. The government says its coronavirus vaccination program will likely begin by March and frontline health workers and people who are above 60 years will get priority for the free shots.

The national body for controlling the virus urged people to keep social distancing and wearing masks.

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BEIJING — China says it will soon begin coronavirus inoculations for workers in health care, transport and border control.

The vice minister of the National Health Commission says the government is prioritizing those most at risk. Workers in logistics and in markets selling fresh meat and seafood would also be placed higher on the list of those receiving vaccines, along with the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions.

Vaccines produced by Chinese companies are now pending approval in Turkey, Indonesia and Brazil, as manufacturers continue testing the vaccines in more than a dozen countries including Russia, Egypt and Mexico.

The United Arab Emirates last week announced the vaccine was 86% effective in the first public release of such information.

Even before final market approval, more than a million people have received vaccine shots in a program critics say has not been transparent about safety, efficacy or scientific merit.

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NEW DELHI — India’s coronavirus cases have crossed 10 million with new infections dipping to their lowest levels in three months, as the country prepares for a massive COVID-19 vaccination in the new year.

Additional cases in the past 24 hours dropped to 25,152 from a peak of nearly 100,000 in mid-September. The epidemic has infected nearly 1% of India’s more than 1.3 billion people, second to the worst-hit United States.

A government health expert says India is keeping its fingers crossed as the cases tend to increase in winter months.

India is home to some of the world’s biggest vaccine-makers and there are five vaccine candidates under different phases of trial in the country. India aims to provide vaccines to 250 million people by July 2021.

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SEOUL, South Korea — Long lines are snaking from coronavirus testing sites in the South Korean capital of Seoul on Saturday as the country reports 1,053 more confirmed cases, the fourth straight day over 1,000.

Thousands are taking advantage of free tests being offered temporarily in the capital area. The government is struggling to decide whether to increase social distancing to maximum levels, which officials fear would further shock the economy.

The new cases brought the national caseload to 48,570. Nearly 7,000 of those cases have been added over the past week.

Fourteen COVID-19 patients died in the past 24 hours to bring the death toll to 659. There are concerns fatalities will continue to rise because of a shortage of intensive care beds in the Seoul area, which is being hit hardest by the virus.

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LOS ANGELES — Doctors in California say increasingly desperate hospitals are being crushed by soaring coronavirus infections.

One Los Angeles emergency room doctor is predicting that rationing of care is imminent.

Hospitals are on the brink of filling up and many emergency rooms already have been using outdoor tents to make more space. Hospitals in both Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley have no more ICU beds available for coronavirus patients.

The state’s death toll, meanwhile, topped 22,000 Friday. The most populous state reported more than 41,000 new coronavirus infections and 300 more deaths related to COVID-19, bring the toll for the pandemic to 22,160.

RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina is preparing to vaccinate workers in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities next week.

The state Department of Health and Human Services said Friday that it plans to receive 61,425 doses of Pfizer’s newly approved vaccine from the federal government next week.

If the Food and Drug Administration follows a key panel’s recommendation to approve Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine for emergency use, North Carolina will get 175,900 doses of it. The state health department said about 96,000 of its allotment from Moderna will go to long-term care facilities.

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska — Alaska officials say a second health care worker in the state has experienced a severe reaction after receiving the coronavirus vaccine.

In the latest, a worker identified only as a female clinician began experiencing probable anaphylactic symptoms about 10 minutes after receiving the shot Thursday in Fairbanks. Symptoms included tongue swelling, hoarse voice and difficulty breathing.

She received two doses of epinephrine at the emergency department at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital and was discharged about six hours later.

The hospital’s chief medial officer says that “allergic reactions, though uncommon, can occur with injections of medications and vaccines.”

A statement from the unidentified woman encourages everyone to get the vaccine. She says she has seen firsthand the suffering and death of COVID-19 patients, and her adverse reaction pales in comparison to that.

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WASHINGTON — Health and Human Services Alex Azar continues to test negative for COVID-19 after his wife contracted the coronavirus.

Azar told HHS staffers in an email Thursday that his wife Jennifer has mild symptoms, but overall is doing well and self-isolating at home. He and their children have tested negative.

Azar continues to work, after consulting with Dr. Robert Redfield of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as his own physician.

“I will be carrying out the duties of my office while strictly adhering to CDC guidelines for essential workers, continuing to practice social distancing, wearing a mask, and monitoring for any symptoms,” Azar said. He’ll be retested every day until the incubation period for the virus is over.

Jennifer Azar began isolating after experiencing her first symptoms. An initial instant COVID test was negative. But a more precise PCR test came back positive on Thursday.

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TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly is expressing little concern over a smaller-than-expected second shipment of a coronavirus vaccine for the state.

Kelly said Friday that the reduction in the state’s second shipment of a vaccine made by Pfizer is “more of a smoothing process” by the federal government to make sure health care workers who received the first of two doses this week can get the second in January. At least a dozen states have reported they will receive fewer doses next week than anticipated.

The governor’s comments came as the state Department of Health and Environment reported that Kansas has surpassed 200,000 confirmed and probable coronavirus cases for the pandemic, or about one for every 15 of its 2.9 million residents. The state also reported total 2,341 COVID-19 deaths, adding 88 to the tally since Wednesday.