The Latest: Taiwan sets 60% of population vaccination goal

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A medical worker takes samples from a man during a COVID-19 testing at a makeshift clinic in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. South Korea was opening dozens of free COVID-19 testing sites in the greater Seoul area, as the country registered additional more than 700 new cases Monday amid a surge in infections. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwan has set a goal to vaccinate 60% of its population with a COVID-19 vaccine, or 15 million people, a health official said Tuesday.

Taiwan has signed an agreement with COVAX to purchase a COVID-19 vaccine, but is also actively in talks with vaccine companies who have candidates in phase 3 trials for a potential bilateral agreement as well, said Jing-Hui Yang, a deputy director at the Central Epidemic Command Center. COVAX, a global plan to distribute vaccines equally, has not yet started sending out shipments of vaccines.

The island will prioritize frontline health workers and essential personnel to receive the vaccine first, Yang said. Later on, the immunization campaign will target the elderly as well as those who have existing chronic illnesses.

Officials expect the vaccines to arrive early next year. Still, an immunization campaign will take time, and will not be finished in just a month or two, Yang warned.



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SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korea has reported another new 880 cases of the coronavirus as it slipped deeper into its worst wave of the pandemic yet.

That brought the country’s caseload to 44,364 on Tuesday, which was the 38th consecutive day of triple-digit daily increases. More than 10,000 infections have been reported in the last 15 days alone, mostly from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area where health workers are struggling to stem transmissions tied to various places, including hospitals, long-term care facilities, restaurants, churches and schools.

The death toll was at 600 after 13 COVID-19 patients died in the past 24 hours. The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said 205 among 11,205 active patients were in serious or critical condition as fears grow over possible shortages in intensive-care units.

Critics say the country’s viral resurgence underscores the risk of encouraging economic activity when vaccines are at least months away. The government had lowered social distancing restrictions to the lowest tier in October out of concerns about sluggish growth rates despite experts warning of a viral surge during winter when people spend longer hours indoors.

The government restored some restrictions over the past weeks, such as shutting down nightclubs, halting in-person school classes and requiring restaurants to provide only deliveries and take-outs after 9 p.m.


CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice became one of the first top elected officials in the country to receive a coronavirus shot on Monday evening, even though the state’s rollout is supposed to prioritize giving the highly sought-after vaccines to health care workers and people in long-term care centers.

The 69-year-old Republican governor said he wanted to demonstrate confidence in the vaccine’s safety.

“It’s as safe as can be,” Justice said at the statehouse room where he hosts regular news conferences. Wearing a mask, he received a jab in his right arm from a state pharmacy board official and promptly received an adhesive bandage — and a sticker. Four other top state officials, including the health officer and head of the National Guard, next rolled up their sleeves and also received shots live on camera.

“Don’t hesitate, you’ve got to get this vaccine,” Justice added.

Many other governors are waiting for health care workers, patients and emergency responders first.


DES MOINES, Iowa — The state of Iowa is returning $21 million of federal coronavirus aid money it planned to spend on upgrading state information technology systems, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said Monday.

Reynolds said in a statement she has directed the Iowa Department of Management to return the money to the state’s virus relief fund by Friday.

The funds were initially allocated for payments related to the state’s contract with Workday, a cloud-based human resources, finance, and planning system being implemented to modernize the state’s IT infrastructure. Of the allocation, $4.45 million had already been spent.

Reynolds said U.S. Treasury officials initially assured the state the Workday project was an allowable expense but has now determined the payments were not allowed expenditures under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

Reynolds said the state has spent all but $47.3 million of the $1.25 billion Iowa received from the federal virus relief fund, which must be allocated by Dec. 30.

She confirmed the money will be allocated by the deadline but said an extended deadline would be helpful to “allow time to use the funds to create additional programs and support other needs among Iowans.”


CAIRO - Egypt on Monday reported its highest daily confirmed cases in months, with 511 new cases. The Health Ministry also added 23 fatalities to its death tally from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

The increase came amid repeated warnings by the government about a second wave in the pandemic. Authorities have been urging people to stick to preventive measures participle face masks and social distancing.

Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country with more than 100 million people, has reported more than 122,086 confirmed cases, including 6,943 deaths.

However, the actual numbers of COVID-19 cases, like elsewhere in the world, are thought to be far higher, in part due to limited testing.


OKLAHOMA CITY -- An Oklahoma City emergency room nurse has become the first person in the state to be vaccinated with Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine.

Hannah White, 31, laughed before the vaccination and again afterward as she hugged the person who injected her at Integris Baptist Medical Center while showing no reaction as the needle entered her arm.

“I don’t have any burning at the site, I have no pain. I didn’t feel it,” White said, and encouraged others to receive the vaccination as they become eligible based on the state’s four-phase plan.

The first 33,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived Monday in the state, according to state health commissioner Dr. Lance Frye.

The plan developed by the state health department calls for frontline healthcare workers to be the first vaccinated. Long-term care providers and residents, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, and pharmacy staff who will administer the vaccine in long-term care facilities are also to be among the first inoculated.

White was the first of 10 Integris employees who each volunteered to receive the vaccine, said hospital CEO Timothy Pehrson. “


SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Rep. Karen Bass of California, who previously worked in a hospital as a physician assistant, said the vaccine distribution should be concentrated in the areas that have been hardest hit by the pandemic.

“Let’s take Alabama, for example,” she told the AP on Monday. “It would be a travesty if in Alabama the vaccine were distributed equally. It needs to be distributed equitably, because you have extreme disproportionate infection and death rate in certain communities.”

Bass, who is Black, said its important for people to know that a Black woman scientist was central to the vaccine’s development.

“Having trusted messengers from community organizations, from the faith community, from the medical community talking to people in the African American community is the way to increase the utilization of the vaccine,” she said.


WASHINGTON — Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Surgeon General Jerome Adams stressed the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness, while raising issues of social equity.

The officials spoke Monday at a George Washington University Hospital event Monday to launch the vaccination of health care workers in the nation’s capital.

Adams, who is Black, said it would be a tragedy if the disparate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color got worse because of hesitancy to get the vaccine. “We know that lack of trust is a major cause for reluctance, especially in communities of color,” said Adams.

Azar said the vaccines bring hope, but “all of that hope doesn’t matter if we don’t bridge to that point” where widespread vaccination puts and end to the pandemic. So he called on Americans to double down on practicing responsible behaviors such as avoiding travel and gatherings, maintaining social distance, wearing masks and washing their hands frequently.


TORONTO — Canada has administered its first doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

Five front-line workers in Ontario are among the first Canadians to receive the vaccine at one of Toronto’s hospitals.

Three personal support workers, a registered nurse, and a registered practical nurse who work at the Rekai Centre nursing home are among the first to receive it.

Ontario received 6,000 doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine Sunday night and plans to give them to about 2,500 health-care workers.

Residents of two long-term care homes Quebec will be the first to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in that province.


PARIS — Restaurant and bar owners, hoteliers, waitresses, and other employers and workers from France’s world-famous catering and service industries have protested in Paris for the right to work again during the pandemic.

The government has indicated that restaurants and bars might be allowed to reopen from Jan. 20 if infections don’t surge anew.

But the economy minister said Monday that he couldn’t guarantee that that date would hold.

About 1,000 people protested in Paris, pleading for more financial aid and the right to reopen eateries and watering holes that have been forced to close to curb infections.

Among them, retired chef Michel Solignac fretted that the restaurant that he spent decades developing before handing it over to his son could go under if they can’t reopen soon.

“We have to cling on,” he said. “Psychologically, I don’t know how I would react if I was obliged to shut down. It really would hurt.”


LONDON — Britain’s health secretary says London and surrounding areas will be placed under the highest level of coronavirus restrictions starting Wednesday as infections rise rapidly in the capital.

Matt Hancock said Monday that a new variant of the virus may be to blame. He added that the government must take swift action after seeing “very sharp, exponential rises” in Greater London and nearby Kent and Essex. He said that in some areas, cases are doubling every seven days.

He told lawmakers that the surge of COVID-19 cases in southern England may be associated with a new variant of coronavirus. He didn’t provide details about the virus variant, but stressed there was nothing to suggest it was more likely to cause serious disease, or that it wouldn’t respond to a vaccine.

“We’ve currently identified over 1,000 cases with this variant predominantly in the south of England although cases have been identified in nearly 60 different local authority areas,” he said. “And numbers are increasing rapidly.”

Hancock said officials are assessing the new strand of the virus, and that the World Health Organization has been notified.


TAMPA, Fla. — A 31-year-old nurse at Tampa General Hospital rolled up her left shirt sleeve on Monday and became one of the first people in Florida to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

The vaccination was held during a news conference at the hospital, with Gov. Ron DeSantis looking on. “This is a really, really significant milestone in terms of combatting the coronavirus pandemic,” he said of vaccinations getting underway in Florida.

Florida joined other states across the country to start administering the vaccination.

Earlier Monday, DeSantis and others watched as a FedEx truck pulled up to the hospital with the Pfizer vaccine, which was just approved by the FDA for emergency use last week. The governor signed for the shipment and watched as the vaccines were placed in a deep freeze storage unit, at a temperature of minus 79 degrees. The hospital received 3,900 vials on Monday. Each vial has five doses.

“This is 20,000 doses of hope,” said John Couris, president and chief executive officer, Tampa General Hospital. --- This entry has been corrected to show that the nurse in Tampa was among the first to be vaccinated in Florida, but not the first.


NEW ORLEANS — Louisiana administered its first coronavirus vaccines Monday at a New Orleans area hospital.

Workers at the facility who regularly encounter COVID-19 patients got the vaccine as Gov. John Bel Edwards watched the immunizations.

Dr. Leonardo Seoane, chief academic officer for Ochsner Health, was one of the first employees to get vaccinated. A Cuban American, Seoane called it “a privilege” and urged “all of my Hispanic brothers and sisters to do it. It’s OK.”

Louisiana’s first shipments of an estimated 39,000 Pfizer vaccines this week all will go directly to hospitals to administer. Other hospitals around Louisiana expect to receive their first doses later in the week. Edwards traveled to Jefferson Parish to see the vaccines being administered in person.

“Today is the beginning of the end because I just saw some shots going into arms here,” the Democratic governor said in the livestreamed video.


SAN DIEGO -- A San Diego strip club is still open despite a vow from California’s attorney general vowing to take legal action if it does not close to comply with the state’s stay-at-home order that was issued earlier this month.

The lawyer for Pacers Showgirls International said Monday that a court order issued last month makes it clear the business is protected from restrictions issued by San Diego County and state officials.

A hearing in the case is scheduled for Wednesday. The judge is expected to decide whether the preliminary injunction the issued last month allowing two strip clubs to remain open extends to the new stay-at-home order.


NEW YORK — Coronavirus vaccinations have begun in New York.

A nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens got what Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the first shot given in the state’s campaign to vaccinate front line health care workers.

“I feel hopeful today. Relieved,” said critical care nurse Sandra Lindsay after getting a shot in the arm.

The head of the hospital system, Michael Dowling, stood over Lindsay as a doctor, Michelle Chester, administered the dose. Cuomo watched via a livestream.

All four applauded after the shot was given. “This is the light at the end of the tunnel. But it’s a long tunnel,” Cuomo said.


TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas health care workers have begun receiving the first of the state’s coronavirus vaccines amid an ongoing fall surge in cases that has left hospitals stressed.

Spokeswoman Roz Hutchinson said Monday that five employees of the Via Christi Ascension health care system received shots at its St. Francis hospital in Wichita, including a critical care nurse, a housekeeper for a COVID-19 unit and a respiratory therapist.


BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbia has tightened border entry rules ahead of Christmas and New Year holidays fearing further surge in new coronavirus infections when thousands arrive from abroad.

Epidemiologists said Monday that starting next week foreign citizens coming to Serbia will need a negative test for the virus while Serbia’s citizens will have to self-isolate for ten days upon arrival or provide the negative test.

The measure aims to prevent additional rise in infections in the Balkan country whose health system is already suffering under the burden of thousands of daily new cases.