The Latest: WHO reviews Sputnik vaccine, Russia presses bid

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GENEVA — The World Health Organization says it’s still reviewing data about Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine as part of hopes that it can be approved for emergency use against the coronavirus, but no decision is imminent.

The clarification comes after Russia’s Health Minister Mikhail Murashko in recent days said administrative issues were the main holdup in the WHO decision-making process about whether to give an emergency use listing to Sputnik V — as it has for about a half-dozen other COVID-19 vaccines.

WHO spokeswoman Daniela Bagozzi said Tuesday only the WHO’s technical advisory group on emergency use listings — not the WHO director-general — has final say about whether a vaccine obtains emergency approval.

Such approval would be a show of international confidence in the Russian vaccine after a rigorous review process. It could pave the way for its inclusion into the COVAX program organized by WHO and key partners shipping COVID-19 vaccines to scores of countries around the world based on need.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— J&J seeks US clearance for COVID-19 vaccine booster doses

— AstraZeneca asks FDA to authorize COVID-19 antibody treatment

— Russia hit record for virus deaths for 3rd time this month

— US unveils guidance for federal vaccine mandate, exemptions

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See all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

DALLAS — Southwest Airlines has become the latest U.S. airline to require its employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Dallas-based company said its workers must be fully vaccinated by Dec. 8 to continue working at the airline. Employees can seek exemptions due to medical or religious reasons.

Southwest says it will mandate vaccines because of new rules from the Biden administration that companies with federal contracts must have a vaccinated staff. Southwest’s work for the government includes flying the military in emergencies and carrying mail for the U.S. Postal Service. Southwest has 54,000 employees.

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LISBON, Portugal — Portugal will start administering booster shots of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to people ages 65 and older starting next week.

That’s according to the Assistant Secretary of State and Health, António Sales.

The move follows a recommendation by the European Union’s drug regulator to use booster shots in adults, a decision the European Medicine Agency says it based on evidence that antibody levels rise in people aged 18 or older once they are given an extra dose at least six months after their last one.

The World Health Organization’s chief had urged wealthy nations not to use booster doses this year in a widespread way, calling for vaccines available in developing countries first. But some of the 27 EU member nations had already begun administering booster shots.

With 85% of Portugal’s 10 million residents fully vaccinated, it is leading the world’s vaccination charts.

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NEW YORK — New York state’s largest health care provider has announced that 1,400 employees have been terminated for refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Northwell Health officials says the terminations represent less than 2% of its total workforce. They say they regret losing any employees and their goal was to comply with the New York state mandate and to get people vaccinated.

A statewide vaccination mandate for all hospital and nursing home workers took effect on Sept. 27. It will be expanded Thursday to include home care, hospice and adult care facility workers.

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MOSCOW — Coronavirus deaths in Russia have hit a record for the third time this month, and cases have exceeded 25,000 a day as vaccination rates in the country remain low.

Russia’s state coronavirus task force reported 25,110 cases on Tuesday and 895 deaths.

Officials have blamed low vaccine uptake. Only 33% of Russia’s population of 146 million have received at least one shot of a coronavirus vaccine and just 27% have been fully vaccinated.

Russia’s vast, yet severely underfunded health care system has started to show signs of being overwhelmed by the outbreak. Russian media have reported long lines of ambulances once again forming in front of hospitals in St. Petersburg, the nation’s second-largest city. The Kremlin has said it’s not considering a nationwide lockdown or any other nationwide measures despite the surge.

Some Russian regions have limited attendance of mass events and restricted access to some public places, such as theaters, cinemas, restaurants and bars, to those who are vaccinated, recently recovered from COVID-19 or recently tested negative. Critics argue these measures aren’t enough to slow the surge.

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NEW YORK — A COVID-19 vaccine requirement for teachers and other staff members has taken effect in New York City’s million-plus-student public school system.

Mayor Bill de Blasio says 95% of the city’s roughly 148,000 public school staffers had received at least one vaccine dose as of Monday. The nation’s largest school system is one of the first in the country to require inoculations for all its staffers. A similar mandate is set to go into effect in Los Angeles on Oct. 15.

Some 43,000 doses have been administered since the mandate was announced Aug. 23, de Blasio says.

Vaccination rates rose in every school job category after the mandate was announced. District Council 37 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents some 20,000 city Department of Education employees, says 93% of those workers had provided proof of at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose as of Sunday, up from 68% at the start of September.

Roxanne Rizzi, who teaches at an elementary school in Queens, waited until Friday to get her first shot. The 55-year-old had resisted the vaccine because she contracted the coronavirus in November and believed natural immunity would protect her. She says she got the shot “for the finances of my family.”

The CDC says people should get vaccinated even if they have already been infected by the virus. The agency says COVID-19 vaccines offer better protection than natural immunity and help prevent getting infected again.

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BUCHAREST, Romania — Romania hit a record of more than 15,000 daily coronavirus cases as the country’s intensive care units reach capacity.

Last month, Romania had 1,000 daily cases. But it registered 15,037 new infections Tuesday, almost 3,000 cases more than its previous high.

The surge prompted authorities Monday to suspend non-emergency medical treatments for 30 days to try to ease pressure on hospitals. Raed Arafat, the head of Romania’s Department for Emergency Situation, says, “We do not yet see a trend of capping or falling.”

Romania is the second-least vaccinated nation in the European Union, with only 33% of adults fully vaccinated. It has registered more than 37,000 confirmed deaths since the start of the pandemic.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The Norwegian government recommended elderly over the age 85 and nursing home residents should get a third shot six months after having received the second dose of the coronavirus vaccine.

Health Minister Bent Hoeie says the Pfizer vaccine should be given, and those ages 75 to 84 and 65 to 74 should be next in line.

The announcement came after the Scandinavian country had said it would offer people with severe weakened immune systems a third dose of the vaccine. That group includes patients with immune deficiency diseases, organ transplants and cancer patients.

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WASHINGTON — Johnson & Johnson has asked U.S. regulators to allow booster shots of its COVID-19 vaccine as the U.S. government moves toward shoring up protection in more vaccinated Americans.

J&J says it filed data with the Food and Drug Administration on giving a booster dose between two to six months after vaccination. The U.S. government last month authorized booster doses of Pfizer’s vaccine in vulnerable groups.

A panel of FDA advisers meets next week to consider boosters for both J&J and Moderna vaccines. It’s part of a sweeping effort by the Biden administration to boost protection amid the delta variant and potential waning of vaccine strength.

The FDA is convening its outside panel of advisers next week to review booster data from both J&J and Moderna. It’s the first step in a review process that also includes sign-off from the leadership of both the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If both agencies give the go-ahead, Americans could begin getting J&J and Moderna boosters later this month.

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LONDON — Officials with drugmaker AstraZeneca have asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to authorize the emergency use of an antibody treatment to prevent COVID-19.

The company says the treatment, known as AZD7442, will be the first long-acting antibody combination to receive an emergency use authorization for COVID-19 prevention. AstraZeneca says the drug may help protect people whose immune systems don’t fully respond to vaccination.

U.S. demand for antibody treatments soared over the summer, particularly in Florida, Louisiana and Texas, where hospitalizations among unvaccinated patients threatened to overwhelm the health care system.

The drugs are lab versions of virus-blocking antibodies that help fight off infections. The treatments help the patient by supplying concentrated doses. The main antibody treatment used in the U.S. is Regeneron’s dual-antibody cocktail.

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WASHINGTON — The government is outlining procedures for federal employees to request medical or religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccinations.

The Office of Management and Budget released the new guidance Monday ahead of the Nov. 22 deadline for federal workers to be fully vaccinated, outlining specific medical conditions that would warrant an exemption. They also say federal agencies may deny medical or religious exemptions if they determine that no other safety protocol is adequate.

New testing guidance for those who are granted exemptions is expected to be unveiled in the coming weeks. The Biden administration is drawing on CDC guidance to determine approved medical exemptions, including a history of allergic reaction to the vaccines. Other conditions, including being treated with monoclonal antibodies or having a history of multisystem inflammatory syndrome, warrant a 90-day delay in vaccination, in accordance with CDC advice.

Meanwhile, private companies with more than 100 employees will be subject to a forthcoming rule from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration requiring all employees to be vaccinated or get tested weekly.

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