Two elderly people in a Queensland nursing home have accidentally received overdoses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine. An 88-year-old man and a 94-year-old woman were given more than the recommended dose, but both are ‘doing well’, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt says.
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A World War II survivor and Prime Minister Scott Morrison are among the first people in Australia to receive the COVID-19 jab in a surprise early start to the nation’s vaccine rollout this morning.
An upbeat Mr Morrison donned an Australian flag-themed face mask as he rolled up his sleeve for the injection just before 11.30am today.
He is one of a small number of people to receive the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine at a medical clinic in Castle Hill in Sydney’s north-west, before the large-scale rollout across Australia commences tomorrow.
He was asked questions about his medical history and his health on the day before receiving the shot in his left arm.
The very first person in Australia to receive the first Pfizer dose was aged care resident and World War II survivor Jane Malysiak, who sat alongside Mr Morrison for what the PM called an “historic day for Australia”.
The 84-year-old was one of two aged care residents to receive the vaccination today, along with aged care staff and disability care staff and residents.
Mr Morrison told the media he had elected to lead the way in receiving the Pfizer vaccine in order to boost public confidence.
“I have, by my own example today, joined by the Chief Nurse of Midwifery and the Chief Medical Officer of our country, together with those Australians who are in the top priority of this vaccination program, to say to you, Australians, it’s safe, it’s important,” Mr Morrison said.
He said that the country had “made its Australian way” through the pandemic and would continue to do so as the vaccination program progressed.
“Greg (Hunt) talked about putting shoulders to the job,” he said.
“Today I put my shoulder to the job and that is what I am asking Australians to do, in joining me and all of their fellow Australians as we continue on the successful path we have been on.”
The first Pfizer doses had been officially scheduled to be begin tomorrow but Health Minister Greg Hunt told the ABC’s Insiders program this has been brought forward by a day.
Mr Hunt says “there was a very strong focus on the need for key leaders, not the Parliament, not the Cabinet, not even the leadership group, but a cross-party group, to provide that confidence [in the vaccine]”.
He added that the opposition leader, two other members of the opposition and Greens leader Adam Bandt had also been invited to receive the vaccine over the next few days.
“This is a cross-parliamentary view where parliamentarians don’t have any special status,” Mr Hunt said.
“The research shows that people want to see that if we believe it’s safe, then that will give them greater confidence.
“Many people are worried that this has been too quick and we have to show that it has been through a full, thorough assessment and that we believe in the safety ourselves.”
Phase 1A of the vaccination program is set to begin in full tomorrow, with up to 1.4 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine to be given to hotel quarantine workers, frontline healthcare workers and aged care staff and residents in the coming weeks.
Speaking at a press conference following today’s vaccinations, Mr Hunt said he hoped to see 60,000 vaccinations across Australia in the next week.
These would incorporate people from 240 aged care centres and 90 towns and suburbs nationwide, “from Alice Springs to Albany to Altona and so many others”.
Larger volumes of the AstraZeneca vaccine will become available in March for Phase 1B of the rollout, when the vaccine becomes available to people aged over 70, high-risk workers such as Defence Force personnel and police, and the disabled and vulnerable.
Around 4000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine are due to arrive in Sydney today, with the state aiming to vaccinate around 12,000 frontline workers in the next three weeks.
Three vaccination hubs operating out of the Royal Prince Alfred, Westmead and Liverpool Hospitals will aim to vaccinate 1100 people every day, with border workers, hotel quarantine staff and frontline health workers the first in line.
This includes staff at the three hospitals, with 480 Westmead workers set to get the jab tomorrow.
In Victoria, which has faced numerous outbreaks within its quarantine hotels, the hotels will have their own dedicated vaccination clinics.
The first doses of the Pfizer vaccine are due to land at The Alfred hospital in Melbourne today.
The vaccine rollout will be coordinated from the Alfred, with thousands of doses distributed to the state’s ten quarantine hotels and two health hotels.
A vaccine centre will also be set up at Melbourne Airport to vaccinate flight crew, customs workers and other airport staff.
The state is set to receive 11,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine every week, with Phase 1A expected to take around 8 to 10 weeks to complete.
A third Adelaide hospital has been fast-tracked to open as a vaccine hub for South Australia’s vaccination roll out.
Meanwhile in Queensland, hotel quarantine workers, border staff and frontline health workers will be informed of their eligibility for vaccination via text message.
Around 100 of the first in line are expected to receive a text message today, telling them to attend the Gold Coast University Hospital to get the vaccine tomorrow.
The hospital is the state’s first vaccination hub, with some of the staff delivering the vaccines to be among the first to receive the jab.
Chief Health Officer Dr Jeanette Young has flagged that she is hoping the start of the vaccination program will signal the end of the state’s recurring border closures which have wrecked havoc on Queensland’s struggling tourism industry.
However, the vaccination rollout has not been without its detractors.
Yesterday, thousands across the nation’s capitals held rallies to protest the arrival of the vaccines.
In Victoria, where the state has just emerged from a snap five-day lockdown, pepper spray was deployed and a number of arrests were reportedly made.
Protesters gathered in Fawkner Park in South Yarra yesterday afternoon before marching down St Kilda Road.
Video shows a number of people being arrested, and some people in the crowds were pepper sprayed.
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The federal government has revealed the who, what and where of Australia’s initial vaccine rollout, but there are fears the nation’s supply is at risk due to a worldwide shortage of suitable syringes.
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“You think about a city as sophisticated and amazing as my home city of Sydney and what Sydney, in particular, has been able to achieve when you compare it to places like New York, London, Paris and so many of the great cities of the world.”
After watching how NSW residents will receive the vaccine at the RPA hub from Monday, the Prime Minister said he was most impressed by how “sympathetic” the workers and process was.
“I know, for many, this may be a very anxious process and I think the plans here have taken that into account: to reassure, to calm, to encourage, to observe, to make sure everybody is OK,” he said.
Reflecting on the past year of pandemic management, Mr Morrison said the national vaccination program worked to alleviate the early fears of the pandemic: that hospitals would be overrun with the seriously ill and Australia would be faced with a high death toll.
“This vaccination deals with that risk and as a result, that changes how we can confidently go ahead managing the virus in Australia into the future.”
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The government has set aside Sh53 million to boost muguka farming in Embu County.
The funds will be advanced to the small-scale farmers in Mbeere North and South sub-counties as soft loans at an interest rate of three per cent for purchase farm inputs to increase production.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture Chief Administrative Secretary, Anne Nyaga, the money will be released to the farmers through their saccos in three weeks’ time.
Speaking on Tuesday at Muraru village during the official opening of a Sh5.6 million muguka market constructed by the government, Ms Nyaga said muguka played a key role in improving the livelihoods of farmers.
She noted that lack of farm inputs had hampered productivity.
Muguka is a variety of miraa (khat), which produces a mild high when chewed. It is hardy and endures long spells of drought.
Farmers will get Sh10,000 and Sh100,000 in loans to improve their farming activities.
“Muguka farmers should be funded to improve their farming productivity,” said Ms Nyaga.
However, she cautioned drivers transporting muguka to markets against speeding to prevent road fatalities.
“These drivers are reversing the gains brought by muguka farming and they stop speeding,” she said.
Mbeere South deputy county commissioner Charles Igiha noted that muguka had become the backbone of the area’s economy and that the government fully supported it.
Since farmers started to grow muguka, he added, Mbeere residents no longer beg money to buy food and educate their children.
“Muguka has transformed the lives of residents from this arid area and we are encouraging as many residents as possible to venture into it,” he said.
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Boris Johnson is expected to announce the measure this week along with the very slight relaxation of rules for adults, The Times reports.
Two people from different households meeting outside may be able to sit on a park bench or have a picnic next month.
This is a change from the current rules which state people can only meet for exercise while standing up.
Mr Johnson’s expected announcement goes against the advice of some scientists who have urged a more cautious approach.
It comes as over 65s are set to be offered a coronavirus vaccine from Monday as the rollout enters a new phase.
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Lockdown-sceptic Tories have piled pressure on Boris Johnson, calling on him to commit to a timetable for lifting coronavirus restrictions with a complete end to controls by the end of April.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, the leaders of the Covid Recovery Group (CRG) said the “tremendous pace” of the vaccination rollout meant restrictions in England should begin easing from early March.
They said ministers must produce a cost-benefit analysis to justify any controls that remain in place after that date, with a “road-map” stating when they would be removed.
The letter was organised by the CRG chair and deputy chair, Mark Harper and Steve Baker, and was said to have the backing of 63 Conservative MPs in all.
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US Capitol Officer Eugene Goodman has been singled out for his efforts to save politicians during the January 6 riots, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she will sponsor legislation awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to officers.
US Speaker Nancy Pelosi says officers who protected the Capitol should be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal
The medal is the highest expression of national appreciation given by the US Congress
Officer Eugene Goodman has been a focal point of praise with multiple videos displaying his heroism during the Capitol riots
Ms Pelosi said officers who protected the Capitol deserved to be awarded the honour, as they were “martyrs for our democracy”.
Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick was one of five who died after the January sixth attack, and more than 70 other officers were injured.
Congress commissions gold medals as its highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions.
At least two-thirds of the House and Senate must co-sponsor Congressional Gold Medal legislation before it is considered in a committee.
“Their accepting this award brings lustre to this medal,” Ms Pelosi said.
The legislation comes after another video of Officer Goodman’s heroism during the riots was made public during the impeachment trial of former-president Donald Trump.
Officer Goodman became a national hero after video shot by Huffington Post reporter Igor Bobic showed his response to rioters climbing the stairs near an entrance to the US Senate chamber.
With no other officers to be seen, he guided rioters away from the chamber.
The mob followed him into a room where other officers were waiting.
New footage has now show Officer Goodman guiding Republican senator Mitt Romney out of harm’s way.
Mr Romney said seeing the images of police officers fighting off violent insurrectionists brought tears to his eyes.
“That was overwhelmingly distressing and emotional,” he said.
Asked about the video in which Officer Goodman tells Mr Romney to turn around, the senator said he did not know the identity of the officer until footage was shown during the impeachment trial.
“I look forward to thanking him when I next see him,” he said.
“I was very fortunate indeed that Officer Goodman was there to get me in the right direction.”
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France, Italy Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic received their first shipments of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Saturday.
Austria, France and Germany are going to restrict the jab to the under 65s because they have safety concerns following the vaccine”s trials.
Austria received 36,000 doses, public broadcaster ORF reported.
For Hungary it’s the fourth vaccine that has arrived after the Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and Sputnik V formulations.
According to the government, it will be enough to vaccinate 20,000 people.
“The European Union reserved 300 million doses of this vaccine, and from this more than six million will arrive in Hungary in installments, on a weekly basis,” said Antal Feller, Hungaropharma Chief Executive.
Frane has received 273,600 doses and they are all reserved for health professionals.
“This vaccine has an advantage over the previous one. We can keep it just in a refrigerator and not in the freezer like the previous one,” Dr. Brigitte Bonan, the head Pharmacist at Foch Hospital said.
France is currently restricting the vaccine to those ages 50 to 64, despite guidance from the European Medicines Agency that it could be used for all adults.
It gives France a third vaccine and helps bolster a promise by President Emmanuel Macron that all French who wish will be vaccinated by summer’s end.
It gets the second batch of 304,800 doses next week. So far, about 1.8 million people had been vaccinated.
France remains under a 12-hour curfew starting at 6 p.m., with restaurants and cultural venues closed for months and a full border closure with countries outside the EU.
It has now registered 3.5 million confirmed cases and more than 78,700 confirmed deaths.
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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced this week that the state’s oldest inmates are now eligible for the coronavirus vaccine.
The state Corrections Department said Thursday it is preparing to vaccinate the 1,075 people in custody who are 65 and older.
An announcement by Corrections spokesperson Thomas Mailey reversed a previous policy that allowed vaccines for prison staff but not for prisoners, according to Gothamist.
New York is currently vaccinating those in Phase 1a and 1b: health care workers; residents of congregate care facilities; frontline workers, such as police, teachers and grocery store employees; and people who are 65 and older. Beginning Feb. 15, people with underlying health conditions that put them at greater risk will also be eligible for vaccination.
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The state is currently facing a lawsuit on behalf of two men at Rikers Island who are under the age of 65 and have been denied the vaccine. They say they should be eligible because they are housed in a congregate setting.
Asked at his Friday press briefing why prisons were not lumped in with other congregate settings, such as nursing homes, Cuomo said: “I don’t know the specific definition of ‘congregate.'”
He said the state was treating those inside prisons the same as the general population. “We are doing 65-plus and medically frail. It’s the same set of rules for both.”
Since the start of the pandemic, over 5,000 New York prisoners have contracted COVID-19 and 31 have died.
A group of public defenders and advocacy groups said Friday that the governor’s order did little to right the injustice they saw in denying any incarcerated person a vaccine.
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“Today’s announcement that New York will begin moving toward offering the vaccine to elderly people in prison — who have been eligible for the vaccine now for weeks — has little to do with the patently illegal and immoral practice challenged in court today,” they said in a statement posted by the New York Civil Liberties Union.
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“COVID-19 is a danger for incarcerated people of all ages because of the unique risks that the [prison] setting creates. That danger is borne overwhelmingly by people of color. Every single person incarcerated in New York state needs access to the vaccine.”
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Florence Saperstein smiled underneath her bright pink face mask as she waved off her husband, who had offered to hold her hand while she got her coronavirus vaccine.
She’s not a big fan of needles. Thankfully, the shot only took a second.
“Well, I lived right through it!” the 89-year-old said afterward, throwing up her hands.
Her 86-year-old husband, Rudy, had already gotten his dose. He didn’t feel a thing.
The newlyweds were among many of Nashville’s older residents receiving their long-awaited vaccine on Saturday. They sat apart from the bustling crowd at Metro Public Health Department headquarters in Nashville as they were monitored in case they had a bad reaction to the vaccine.
As they waited, they chatted about how their love story unfolded in the middle of a pandemic otherwise marked by isolation and loneliness.
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When Rudy met Florence
Rudy Saperstein was as nervous as a teenage boy when he dialed up his now wife for their first date. Somehow, he and a group of his friends had “come up with her phone number” after he met her in a play.
“My hands were shaking,” he said.
He invited her to join him at the symphony, and she said yes. He wasn’t the only one with the jitters, though.
“I must’ve tried on 10 outfits,” Florence Saperstein said. “I felt like a kid.”
Rudy Saperstein had lost his wife of about 60 years, while Florence – then Wittenstein – had been married before but single for over 30 years. She swore she’d never get married again, but something shifted for her as time went on.
“I feel safe with Rudy,” she said. “Never say never.”
The pair dated for a few years and got married in a small, brief ceremony at their synagogue in October. Florence Saperstein wondered what future generations would think of the masks they wore.
“All we need is holsters and guns,” she joked.
The Sapersteins agreed navigating the pandemic with heightened risks because of their age has been no small task.
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Navigating COVID-19 has been ‘a double-edged sword’
While Florence Saperstein is a people person, her husband admits he is more of a loner. They’ve learned to balance out and support one another, but the pandemic has taken its toll.
“COVID has been demoralizing,” Florence Saperstein said. “This has not been easy. At one point, I thought, ‘I feel like I’m in prison.'”
She misses driving to different places, getting lunch with friends and taking her time at the grocery store. She also misses hugging her children and grandchildren.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” she said. “I want to get out, and I’m scared.”
Both husband and wife agreed they felt blessed to at least have each other.
“If I’d been sitting alone in my apartment, I don’t know what I would have done,” Florence Saperstein said.
Once the pandemic is over, she wants to visit her old home in New York City with her husband – just one destination on her long list of travel plans. But for now, she knows she needs to stay put. These days she’s better adjusted to how everything works.
Rudy Saperstein has an easier time accepting the pandemic’s limitations.
“You can’t change COVID, so you’ve got to make the best of it,” he said.
He misses his family, too, and folks dropping by their place. He also looks forward to sharing a nice meal out with his wife – something they have yet to do as a married couple.
The hope brought by the vaccine is part of what keeps him going. The pair are due back on Feb. 13 for their final shots.
“Life with Florence is good, so I want to keep living,” he said.
Battling loneliness and isolation
Beyond the immediate physical health risks, Dr. William Schaffner said, the psychological impact of COVID-19 has been top-of-mind for him when it comes to the elderly. He said the lack of simple human connections that come through seeing family and friends and even daily errands have been particularly difficult.
“There’s been a sense of removal, loneliness and even depression because their social interactions have been so limited,” said Schaffner, who is an infectious diseases expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
He also said the fear of catching COVID-19 has prevented many elderly patients from coming to the doctor for emergencies and even routine checkups and flu vaccines. There has also been an uptick in deaths from Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia as those suffering had their lives upended, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Now, with a massive national coronavirus vaccine campaign underway, the challenge is to get the elderly and high-risk populations to come in for their shots.
“They need reassurance that when they get to the vaccination site, everybody will be masked, there will be social distancing and things will be handled in a manner that’s safe,” Schaffner said.
Florence Saperstein had been worried the vaccine itself was unsafe. Her husband helped calm her fears, citing the research and trials behind it. She also said seeing President Joe Biden and other government officials take the vaccine made her feel more comfortable.
“If it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me,” she said.
While the vaccine will lower risks for people like the Sapersteins, it will take some time before they can get back to their normal lives, Schaffner said. He said it’s important to stay vigilant with masks, social distancing and other precautions in the months ahead while vaccinations continue.
“Once you’re vaccinated, you can think carefully about some activities to undertake that you wouldn’t have before,” he said. “Even then, continue to take care until the whistle blows or until we get scientific information that demonstrates the vaccine prevents not only disease, but infection.”
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