The Latest: Maine nears 70% vaccination level for residents

PORTLAND, Maine — Maine is approaching getting 70% of its eligible residents fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, and the director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention says he sees that figure as more of a floor than a ceiling.

Dr. Nirav Shah says he considers it too early to tell how high the state’s final number could be, but he intends to push for more.

Maine has been one of the most successful states at getting vaccines to residents. State officials say about 65% of people age 12 and older are fully vaccinated, and the number is nearly 75% for people age 40 and older.

The state has recorded 858 deaths from COVID-19.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— Russia struggles to improve vaccine uptake as cases surge.

— Japan vaccinates 1 million a day, but will it be enough as the Olympics approach?

— What should I know about the delta variant?

— “Scary” cluster blamed on the delta variant grows in Sydney

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

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

LANSING, Mich. — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has vetoed two bills that would let businesses seek refunds for taxes paid on personal protective equipment, disinfectants and plexiglass barriers during the coronavirus pandemic.

Whitmer said Friday that she instead favors creating a direct grant program with federal money. She says tax credits would be ineligible for reimbursement from Washington, a blow to the state budget.

The bills passed the Legislature with support from both parties.

The Detroit Regional Chamber, an influential business group, is disappointed. It says the bills “responded to the needs of businesses that were doing everything that Gov. Whitmer asked of them to keep employees and patrons safe.”

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GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization lamented the lack of coronavirus vaccines being immediately donated by rich countries to the developing world.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Friday that there was nothing to discuss during a recent meeting of an advisory group established to allocate vaccines.

In his words: “There are no vaccines to allocate.”

Tedros says concerns being raised by some donors that African countries don’t have the infrastructure to deliver vaccines or that there are vaccine hesitancy problems are inconsequential. He criticized rich countries that may be using that as a “pretext” not to donate vaccines.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Less than half of North Carolinians eligible for a coronavirus shot are fully vaccinated, even though there are more than 2.1 million doses waiting on shelves for residents to take.

In the two weeks since the state announced four $1 million prizes would be given out to vaccinated adults, less than 118,000 residents, about 1% of the state population, came in for a first dose.

North Carolina ranks 12th worst in the nation in vaccines administered per capita, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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LONDON — British officials say there were only 28 reported coronavirus cases among tens of thousands of people who attended mass-audience test events including soccer games, a snooker championship, a nightclub event, an outdoor rock concert and the Brit Awards ceremony.

The government said 58,000 people attended indoor and outdoor events in the Events Research Program in April and May, and there were “no substantial outbreaks” as a result.

But scientists cautioned that the results did not provide “direct evidence of the risk of coronavirus transmission at specific types of events.” That’s because only 15% of attendees reported the results of coronavirus tests taken both before and after the event, as they were meant to, and because infection rates in the U.K. were low at the time of the events.

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WASHINGTON — U.S. health officials have granted emergency use for another antibody-drug to help hospitalized patients with the most dangerous cases of COVID-19.

The Food and Drug Administration said late Thursday it authorized the drug Actemra from Roche for hospitalized patients who are already receiving steroid drugs, oxygen and other measures to fight COVID-19.

When added to those treatments, studies showed Roche’s drug reduced the risk of death and cut hospitalization time.

Actemra does not target the coronavirus directly but instead helps reduce inflammation, a driver of the disease. It is already approved for rheumatoid arthritis and several other diseases.

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka’s president says that the government will be vaccinating nearly all of its population of over 30 years of age for COVID-19 by the end of September.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said in a televised speech Friday that the government has laid out plans to import 17 million doses of vaccines from China and Russia over the next three months.

By September end 13 million out of the country’s nearly 22 million people would have been vaccinated, he said.

Sri Lanka is facing a spike in the number of COVID-19 patients and Rajapaksa is facing public criticism for allegedly mismanaging the pandemic.

Sri Lanka has reported 248,050 confirmed COVID-19 patients so far including 2,814 deaths.

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GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization said the COVID-19 variant first seen in India, also known as the delta variant, is “the most transmissible of the variants identified so far” and that it is now spreading in at least 85 countries.

At a press briefing on Friday, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the U.N. agency was concerned about it’s the increasing reach of the delta variant, particularly among unvaccinated populations.

“We are starting to see increases in transmission around the world,” Tedros said, adding that “more cases means more hospitalizations…which increases the risk of death.” WHO has previously said that two doses of the licensed COVID-19 vaccines appear to provide strong protection against the variant first seen in India, but warned the lack of access to vaccines in poor countries — which have received fewer than 2% of the billion doses administered so far — makes them extremely vulnerable.

Tedros also said the unchecked circulation of the coronavirus could lead to the emergence of even more variants.

“New variants are expected and will continue to be reported,” Tedros said. “That’s what viruses do. They evolve,” he said. “But we can prevent the emergence of variants by preventing transmission.”

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AMSTERDAM — The European Medicines Agency has approved a new manufacturing site for Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, in a move that should boost production of the one-dose vaccine across the 27-nation EU.

In a statement Friday, the EU drug regulator said the new site in Anagni, Italy, will finish manufacturing of the J&J vaccine, which was licensed for use in adults across Europe in March. Production problems have stalled J&J’s roll-out across the European Union in recent months and millions of doses made at a U.S. factory had to be thrown out after contamination issues.

The EU has ordered 200 million doses of the J&J vaccine and was expecting 55 million by the end of June; to date, fewer than 14 million doses have been distributed.

J&J’s vaccine roll-out was also stalled after the EMA concluded there was a “possible link” between the coronavirus shot and very rare blood clots and recommended that a warning should be added to the label. Health officials say the vaccine’s benefits still far outweigh the risks.

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JERUSALEM — Israel, a world leader in vaccinations, is once again requiring people to wear masks in indoor public spaces amid a coronavirus outbreak driven by the arrival of a new variant.

Israel rolled out one of the most successful vaccination campaigns in the world, inoculating some 85% of its adult population. In recent months, nearly all restrictions were lifted as the number of active cases plummeted.

But there has been a spike in recent days after weeks in which the number of new daily cases was in the single or low double digits. Dr. Nachman Ash, who is leading the coronavirus response, said 227 new cases were confirmed on Thursday, according to Israeli media.

The Health Ministry said masks must be worn indoors in public places starting midday Friday.

The outbreak appears to be driven by the arrival of the highly contagious delta variant, which spreads rapidly among unvaccinated individuals, including children. Vaccinated Israelis have reportedly been infected, but generally appear to have only minor symptoms.

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BERLIN — Germany’s health minister has lamented that European Union countries haven’t been able to agree a single set of rules for travelers from regions with high rates of coronavirus variant cases.

Chancellor Angela Merkel had raised the issue at a summit of EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday. Germany requires people arriving from so-called ‘virus variant’ areas such as Britain to quarantine for 14 days, even if they are fully vaccinated; other EU countries have shorter or no quarantine periods for vaccinated people.

Health Minister Jens Spahn told reporters in Berlin on Friday that he regretted better coordination among the bloc’s 27 members hadn’t been possible.

“It would have been better to find uniform rules for this,” he said. “If not, we will have to keep making our own to protect ourselves.”

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HONOLULU — Hawaii is dropping its testing and quarantine rules for vaccinated domestic travelers in two weeks.

Gov. David Ige says the state will drop the current travel restrictions for fully vaccinated U.S. mainland travelers on July 8.

The governor says he expects the state will reach a 60% vaccination rate among all residents by that time. Ige had previously set a 60% rate as a milestone for allowing more so-called vaccine passports.

Restaurants will also be able to seat up to 75% of their capacity.

People will still be required to wear a mask when gathering indoors. Masks are not required outdoors.

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SEATTLE — A Nigerian information technology worker has been indicted on federal wire fraud and identity theft charges after authorities said he and his co-conspirators filed false claims for pandemic-related unemployment benefits in 17 states.

According to an indictment unsealed Thursday in Seattle, Chukwuemeka Onyegbula was linked to at least 253 fraudulent filings for unemployment benefits.

The states paid out nearly $290,000.

Onyegbula has been detained in Nigeria, but prospects for his extradition to the U.S. were unclear.

Court documents did not list an attorney who might comment on his behalf.

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WASHINGTON — The White House says it will provide Afghanistan with 3 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine to help with a coronavirus outbreak fueled by the delta variant.

White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre made the announcement aboard Air Force One on Thursday as President Joe Biden flew to Raleigh, North Carolina, to encourage Americans to get vaccinated. The announcement also came a day before Biden meets with Afghanistan’s leaders at the White House on Friday.

Jean-Pierre says the Johnson & Johnson vaccines — only one shot is required — could be shipped as soon as next week.

The U.S. is also providing oxygen and other supplies to Afghanistan.

The 3 million doses are part of an overall donation of 55 million doses to the world that the White House announced earlier this week.

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COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signed a bill Thursday preventing people from suing companies over COVID-19.

The new law protects businesses and other groups as long as they follow guidelines to protect people from the virus. Dozens of other states have passed similar measures.

McMaster again said his decision to resist closing restaurants and other businesses as long as he could and allow them to reopen more quickly meant South Carolina suffered fewer economic problems.

The May unemployment rate in the state was 4.6%, down from the pandemic high of 11.5% in May 2020 and well below the national rate of 5.8% in May 2021, according to the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce.

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

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