WASHINGTON — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to authorize Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 12 and older by next week, according to a federal official and a person familiar with the process, setting up shots for many before the beginning of the next school year.
The announcement is set to come barely a month after the company found that its shot, which is already authorized for those ages 16 and older, also provided protection for the younger group.
The federal official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to preview the FDA’s action, said the agency was expected to expand its emergency use authorization for Pfizer’s two-dose vaccine by early next week, and perhaps even sooner. The person familiar with the process, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters, confirmed the timeline and added that it is expected that the FDA will approve Pfizer’s use by even younger children sometime this fall.
The FDA action will be followed by a meeting of a federal vaccine advisory committee to discuss whether to recommend the shot for 12- to 15-year-olds. Shots could begin after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention adopts the committee’s recommendation. Those steps could be completed in a matter of days.
The New York Times first reported on the expected timing for the authorization.
Meanwhile, air travel in the U.S. hit its highest mark since COVID-19 took hold more than 13 months ago, while European Union officials are proposing to ease restrictions on visitors to the continent as the vaccine sends new cases and deaths tumbling in more affluent countries.
The improving picture in many places contrasts with the worsening disaster in India.
In the U.S., the average number of new cases per day fell below 50,000 for the first time since October. And nearly 1.67 million people were screened at U.S. airport checkpoints on Sunday, according to the Transportation Security Administration, the highest number since mid-March of last year.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation giving him sweeping powers to invalidate local emergency measures put in place during the outbreak. While the law doesn’t go into effect until July, the Republican governor said he will issue an executive order to more quickly get rid of local mask mandates.
“I think this creates a structure that’s going to be a little bit more respectful, I think, of people’s businesses, jobs, schools and personal freedom,” he said.
Las Vegas is bustling again after casino capacity limits were raised Saturday to 80% and person-to-person distancing was dropped to 3 feet. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that New York City’s subways will begin running all night again and capacity restrictions on most businesses will end statewide in mid-May.
And Los Angeles County reported no coronavirus deaths on Sunday and Monday, some of which may be attributable to a lag in reporting but was nevertheless a hopeful sign that could move the county to allow an increase in capacity at events and venues, and indoor-service at bars.
EU officials also announced a proposal Monday to relax restrictions on travel to the 27-nation bloc this summer, though the final decision is up to its member countries.
“Time to revive EU tourism industry and for cross-border friendships to rekindle — safely,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said. “We propose to welcome again vaccinated visitors and those from countries with a good health situation.”
In Greece, restaurants and cafes reopened their terraces on Monday after six months of shutdown, with customers flocking to soak up the sunshine. In France, high schools reopened and a ban on domestic travel was lifted.
The once hard-hit Czech Republic, where cases are now declining, announced it will allow people to remove face coverings at all outdoor spaces starting next Monday if they keep their distance from others.
But with more-contagious variants taking hold, efforts are underway to boost vaccination efforts, which have begun to lag. The average number of doses given per day fell 27% from a high of 3.26 million on April 11 to 2.37 million last Tuesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In Detroit, teams from the city’s health department have knocked on nearly 5,000 doors since the weekend to persuade people to get immunized. And Massachusetts’ governor announced plans to close four of seven mass vaccination sites by the end of June in favor of a more targeted approach.
“My plea to everyone: Get vaccinated now, please,” President Joe Biden said in Norfolk, Virginia. He stressed that he has worked hard to make sure there are more than 600 million doses of vaccine — enough for all Americans to get both doses.
“We’re going to increase that number across the board as well so we can also be helping other nations once we take care of all Americans,” the president said.
Brazil, once the epicenter of the pandemic, has been overtaken by a surge in India that has overrun crematoriums and made it clear the pandemic is far from over.
As the U.S. and other countries rushed in aid, India reported nearly 370,000 new cases and more than 3,400 deaths Monday — numbers that experts believe are vast undercounts because of a widespread lack of testing and incomplete reporting.
In Germany, Bavarian officials canceled Oktoberfest for a second year in a row because of the safety risks. The beer-drinking festivities typically attract about 6 million visitors from around the world.
And in Italy, medical experts and politicians expressed concern about a possible spike in infections after tens of thousands of jubilant soccer fans converged on Milan’s main square Sunday to celebrate Inter Milan’s league title.
After a brief closure it looks like Stock+Field in Portage will re-open under new management this month.
Driving past Stock+Field in Portage, the parking lot is empty, there are multiple signs on the front doors stating “Store Closed.” However, new owners and management are planning a re-opening of a majority of the Stock+Field locations.
Stock+Field at 2935 New Pinery Road was open for just two years before shutting their doors at the end of March.
In January 2021, the former Stock+Field, Tea Olive I, LLC of Eagan, Minnesota, owners filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection with the District of Minnesota U.S. Bankruptcy Court in St. Paul. All 25 Stock+Field locations than began promoting liquidation sales until they closed the doors.
Then in March, R.P. Acquisition Company, a wholly-owned subsidiary of R.P. Lumber Co., a family-owned retail chain with 72 hardware stores in Illinois, Missouri, Wyoming and Iowa, announced its acquisition of the assets of the Stock+Field family of stores.
Tom Rezabeck with R.P. Lumber Co. confirmed the Portage location will re-open in May.
“We are working hard to hire staff, merchandise the shelves, and reopen the Portage location in May, but we currently do not have a firm date,” Rezabeck said.
A total of 23 of the 25 Stock +Field stores across Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin are scheduled to re-open in May under new ownership and new management.
“Our goal is to be the retail destination Midwesterners rely on to gather the mission-critical products they need to keep working, providing for their families, and pursuing hobbies traditional to a rural lifestyle,” a statement on the Stock+Field website said.
The new ownership group for Stock+Field have stated former employees will need to re-apply for their jobs.
Rezabeck added they are accepting applications for all positions on their website, www.bigr.com. Customers can also go their website to ask questions about the new ownership group of Stock+Field.
LODI — Two meetings could help the Lodi School District make decisions for the next five years.
The district seeks community input for developing a five-year strategic plan May 25 and June 2 in the Lodi High School Commons, where as many as 150 people may attend and must RSVP for the meetings at lodi.k12.wi.us.
“What kind of school district do we want?” Superintendent Vince Breunig said. “Finishing a year that’s unprecedented in so many ways, we really want to hear from our community.”
School Board President Adam Steinberg said the district wants the community’s input now because the world is changing fast.
“A of group of seven people or a group of 100 people just could never keep up with all of it,” Steinberg said of changes in technology alone. “Thinking of our freshmen in high school, the jobs available today will be totally different four years from now and we want them to be prepared for that.”
The meetings will mark the first strategic planning meetings open to the public during Steinberg’s nine years on the board, but he expects the district will hold them on a regular basis for years to come.
“Any time you have a collective voice, you’re going to make better decisions,” Steinberg said of the push for public input.
Bruenig said 12 community members who make up the strategic planning coalition as well as the community members who attend the meetings will drive discussion points — not the school board or administration — but the topics might include student mental health and how the district plans to move forward in the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I would be surprised if social-emotional learning and mental health are not addressed in the meetings,” Bruenig said. “They’re such a big part of academic achievement.”
This school year the district increased mental health training among its teaching staff and launched homeroom periods to start the day for middle school students so they could connect with their teachers and peers at the start of every school day, Breunig said. The district hopes to get input regarding other ways the district can improve mental health among students.
The district has held virtual parent-teacher conferences this school year and expects to keep that option for parents going forward as well as other virtual platforms.
“We look forward to virtual open houses and virtual meetings with our parents and students and teachers because it gets everybody involved,” Bruenig said. “For some, it’s just so convenient in terms of scheduling and you can really see why parents wouldn’t want to give it up.”
This school year, Lodi went completely virtual for instruction until it switched to a hybrid model in late January. Although Bruenig hopes and expects that Lodi will return to in-person instruction for five days a week in 2021-22, teachers will be encouraged to keep the features of virtual instruction that worked well for them.
“When a teacher creates a video of instruction, students can refer back to that video if they missed school for any reason,” Bruenig said as an example of what teachers might keep doing next school year.
The district expects to keep an automated system that notifies parents when their children are missing assignments, which also started under the virtual format.
“Anything that increases communication with the parents is a good thing and we’ll keep it,” Bruenig said. “We can’t take this partnership (with parents) for granted. We need to build on it.”
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Monday formally raised the nation’s cap on refugee admissions to 62,500 this year, weeks after facing bipartisan blowback for his delay in replacing the record-low ceiling set by former President Donald Trump.
Refugee resettlement agencies have waited for Biden to quadruple the number of refugees allowed into the United States this year since Feb. 12, when a presidential proposal was submitted to Congress saying he planned to do so.
But the presidential determination went unsigned until Monday. Biden said he first needed to expand the narrow eligibility criteria put in place by Trump that had kept out most refugees. He did that last month in an emergency determination. But it also stated that Trump’s cap of up to 15,000 refugees this year “remains justified by humanitarian concerns and is otherwise in the national interest,” indicating Biden intended to keep it.
That brought sharp pushback for not at least taking the symbolic step of authorizing more refugees to enter the U.S. this year. The second-ranking Senate Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois, called that initial limit “unacceptable” and within hours the White House made a quick course correction. The administration vowed to increase the historically low cap by May 15 — but the White House said it probably would not hit the 62,500 Biden had previously outlined.
In the end, Biden returned to that figure.
Biden said he received additional information that led him to sign the emergency presidential determination setting the cap at 62,500.
“It is important to take this action today to remove any lingering doubt in the minds of refugees around the world who have suffered so much, and who are anxiously waiting for their new lives to begin,” Biden stated before signing it.
Biden said Trump’s cap “did not reflect America’s values as a nation that welcomes and supports refugees.”
But he acknowledged the “sad truth” that the U.S. would not meet the 62,500 cap by the end of the fiscal year in September, given the pandemic and limitations on the country’s resettlement capabilities — some of which his administration has attributed to the Trump administration’s policies to restrict immigration.
The White House insisted it was unable to act until now because the administration was being taxed by a sharp increase in unaccompanied young migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras arriving at the southern U.S. border, though any link between the border and the government’s decision on refugees was not immediately clear. Refugee advocates, including Durbin, accused Biden of playing politics.
Biden said Monday it was important to lift the number to show “America’s commitment to protect the most vulnerable, and to stand as a beacon of liberty and refuge to the world.”
It also paves the way for Biden to boost the cap to 125,000 for the 2022 fiscal year that starts in October.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said work is being done to improve U.S. capabilities to process refugees in order to accept as many of them as possible under the new cap. Since the fiscal year began last Oct. 1, just over 2,000 refugees have been resettled in the U.S.
Travel preparations are being made for more than 2,000 refugees who were excluded by Trump’s presidential determination on Oct. 27, 2020.
Refugee resettlement agencies applauded Biden’s action.
“We are absolutely thrilled and relieved for so many refugee families all across the world who look to the U.S. for protection,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, head of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, one of nine resettlement agencies in the nation. “It has a felt like a rollercoaster ride, but this is one critical step toward rebuilding the program and returning the U.S. to our global humanitarian leadership role.”
Biden has also added more slots for refugees from Africa, the Middle East and Central America and ended Trump’s restrictions on resettlements from Somalia, Syria and Yemen.
Some 35,000 refugees have been cleared to go to the United States, and 100,000 remain in the pipeline. Resettlement agencies that closed more than 100 offices during the Trump administration said the cap needed to be raised to unleash resources.
“The way you rebuild capacity is by setting ambitious commitments that signal to domestic and international stakeholders that U.S. leadership is back,” said Nazanin Ash of the International Rescue Committee.