Health authorities are continuing to offer incentives for residents to get the COVID-19 vaccine as U.S. vaccination rates slow, requiring agencies to work harder to get shots in arms.
The latest efforts are lotteries in New York and Maryland for vaccinated residents, following a similar program in Ohio where vaccinated residents are eligible for $1 million prizes and college scholarships.
On Thursday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo introduced the $5 million “Vax and Scratch” program, which offers lottery scratch tickets to anyone who gets a COVID-19 vaccine at select state-run vaccination sites next week.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan also announced a “$2 million Vax Cash promotion”. Every Marylander 18 and over who gets vaccinated will be entered into a daily drawing to win $40,000 from the Maryland State Lottery — culminating in a $400,000 drawing on July 4.
“If you’ve not been vaccinated yet, the sooner you do so, the sooner you get your shot, the more lottery drawings you will be eligible for,” the governor said.
Meanwhile, the University of Virginia is joining a growing list of universities requiring vaccinations. At least 389 colleges across that country have required vaccinations for at least some students or faculty, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Students will be required to provide proof of vaccination by July 1 but can request medical or religious exemption to the requirement, according to a Thursday statement.
Vaccination for employees is “strongly encouraged” but not yet required, the statement said. University leaders said they will monitor employee vaccination rates and consult with public health experts as they consider whether to require employees to get vaccinated at a later date.
Also in the news:
►For the first time since March 2020, the 7-day average for deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. has fallen below 500, White House coronavirus response senior adviser Andy Slavitt tweeted Friday.
►Two Republican lawmakers in the Nevada statehouse were punished Thursday for not complying with restrictions in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
►Pennsylvania marked a milestone on Thursday, with 50% of adults statewide now considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
►Actress Salma Hayek revealed to Variety that she battled a near-fatal case of COVID-19. “My doctor begged me to go to the hospital because it was so bad,” said Hayek, 54. “I said, ‘No, thank you. I’d rather die at home.’”
►There is no evidence to support that the COVID-19 vaccines cause temporary hearing loss, according to a study published Thursday.
►The Department of Homeland Security says the U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico will remain restricted through at least June 21, with only trade and essential travel allowed until then. The restrictions had been set to expire Friday.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 33 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 588,500 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 165.6 million cases and 3.43 million deaths. Nearly 352 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 279.4 million have been administered, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 126.6 million Americans have been fully vaccinated — 38.1% of the population.
📘 What we’re reading: To protect Americans and help the world, the U.S. needs to start giving more COVID-19 vaccine away more quickly, experts say.
Despite a recent drop in coronavirus cases, deaths and hospitalizations, Europeans should remain cautious because the threat of the coronavirus remains present, the World Health Organization said Thursday.
Europe has recorded a 60% drop in new coronavirus cases over the past month, said WHO regional director Dr. Hans Kluge. The news comes as the European Union eased travel restrictions for vaccinated visitors and any traveler from countries where COVID-19 is under control.
“Where vaccination rates in high-risk groups are highest, admissions to hospitals are decreasing and death rates are falling. Vaccines are saving lives, and they will change the course of this pandemic and eventually help end it,” Kluge said.
The European Union’s executive arm on Thursday finalized a third vaccine contract with Pfizer and BioNTech through 2023 for an additional 1.8 billion doses of their COVID-19 shot to share between the bloc’s countries except for Hungary, which opted out of the deal.
About 60% of the COVID-19 vaccine doses that have spoiled since Texas’ vaccination program began in December were wasted in the past two weeks, according to an analysis of state data.
According to a Houston Chronicle analysis of the roughly 60,000 vaccine doses spoiled since December, about 36,000 were lost in the past two weeks, indicating plummeting demand for the vaccine in Texas.
The number of wasted doses through spoilage of the highly perishable vaccine was still a minute fraction of the state’s vaccine allotment. The state is currently administering an average of about 144,000 vaccinations daily. Even so, that was less than half of the 290,000-vaccination-a-day peak last month.
Just one in three Texans were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Thursday, mostly with the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, while 42% have received at least one dose.
More than 51,000 people have died of COVID-19 in Texas during the 15-month pandemic out of the more than 3.2 million positive test results reported to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Five months into the U.S. vaccination campaign against the coronavirus, a clear geographic pattern has developed: the highest inoculation rates are in the Northeast and the lowest in the South.
Experts say the gap reflects several factors, including political leanings, religious beliefs, education, and income levels.
There are eight Northeastern states among the 10 in the nation with at least 54% of its population receiving one vaccine dose or more, leading with Vermont’s 64%. At the opposite end of the scale, eight Southern states are in the bottom 10, all under 40%, with Mississippi last in the country at 32%. The nationwide figure is 48.2%.
“Low vaccination rates will leave room for the virus to circulate, re-emerge and possibly form new variants,” said Tara Kirk Sell, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “High vaccination rates are critical to keeping the disease under control, especially when we get back to the fall and winter.”
The United States has yielded to India a dark statistic of the global pandemic — the country with the highest single-day death toll.
While daily U.S. infections, hospitalizations, and deaths slide, India’s Health Ministry reported 4,529 deaths Wednesday as the coronavirus spreads beyond cities into the vast countryside, where health systems are weaker. The number is considered an undercount by most health experts.
The U.S. held the previous record for daily deaths at 4,475 on Jan. 12, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. But struggles with near-record infections and an increasing death count have India reeling. Hospitals and morgues are overwhelmed. Dozens of bodies are found floating daily in the Ganges River as it flows through poor, rural states.
Contributing: Tamela Baker, the Herald-Mail; The Associated Press