The Latest: W Virginia steps up prizes for vaccination

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia will step up its prizes for vaccines, enrolling all residents who have received a coronavirus shot into a lottery for the chance to win a college scholarship, an F-150 pickup truck or cash rewards.

Republican Gov. Jim Justice announced the plan for the new incentives Thursday, but more details are expected to be finalized next week. The governor has aimed to turn around a vaccination drive that drastically slowed down after a strong early start.

“We’re going to make a few West Virginians millionaires before this is over,” Justice said. The program is expected to be paid through federal pandemic relief funds.



— AMA Journal: 2 China vaccines appear safe and effective

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— Can employers make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory?


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BATON ROUGE, La. — A statewide “Shot for a Shot” campaign offering free drinks for people who get vaccinated against COVID-19 will begin in June, officials said Thursday.

Participating businesses will provide a free alcoholic or non-alcoholic drink to people who can prove they’ve been fully vaccinated within the previous seven days, the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control said.

Just under 31% of Louisiana residents have been fully vaccinated, compared to 40% nationwide, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Several bars and restaurants in New Orleans held “A Shot for a Shot” events in April. Establishments in Baton Rouge also have held such events.

The LA Wallet app or the state-issued vaccination card can be used as vaccination proof, the news release said.

No taxes will go toward the reimbursements, it said.

The state office will collect drink tallies from participating bars and restaurants for the Louisiana Restaurant Association, which will provide partial reimbursements.


BOISE, Idaho — With the governor out of the state, Idaho’s lieutenant governor issued an executive order Thursday banning mask mandates in schools and public buildings, saying the face-covering directives threatened people’s freedom.

Republican Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin is acting governor while Gov. Brad Little is at the Republican Governors Association conference in Nashville, Tennessee. He was expected to return Thursday evening.

Last week, McGeachin announced her run for governor, challenging the first-term incumbent Little. McGeachin is on the far right of the political spectrum in the conservative state, and her order could bolster her support as a candidate for governor.

Little’s office said McGeachin did not make him aware that she planned to issue the executive order. The office didn’t say what Little would do when he returned but it did say residents value local control. Little has never issued a statewide mask mandate, but some counties, cities and schools have. Many have been lifting the mandates as more residents are vaccinated against COVID-19.


This item has been updated to correct that the order bans mask mandates, not masks.

SALE, Morocco — About 300 inmates in a prison near the Moroccan capital have been vaccinated against COVID-19 as part of what authorities say is a commitment to protect a population considered especially vulnerable.

Inmates age 45 and older lined up Wednesday for AstraZeneca vaccine shots at Al Arjat 1 prison in Sale, where both men and women are incarcerated.

Prison authorities say about 4,400 of approximately 11,500 eligible inmates had been vaccinated as of Thursday. The entire prison administration staff also has been inoculated.

Morocco has about 85,000 inmates in 77 prisons, and their chronic overcrowding became a critical issue during the coronavirus pandemic since the virus spreads more easily in confined spaces.

The country has been at the forefront of vaccination campaigns among African nations. More than 8 million Moroccans had received a first jab of a vaccine while nearly 5 million had been fully vaccinated as of Wednesday night.


ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland has revised the number of COVID-19 deaths in the state by adding 517 deaths that were not properly classified by medical certifiers over the past year.

The state health department said Thursday the update brings the total number of deaths from COVID-19 in Maryland to 9,368. There were five more deaths over the past 24 hours.

The state also raised the number of probable cases with COVID-19 listed as the cause of death by 21. The total number of probable deaths due to the coronavirus is now 213.

The department says through maintenance exercises, the Vital Statistics Administration identified that some medical certifiers had miscoded the cause or probable cause of death. The department says the administration is in the process of reissuing guidance for coding protocols to medical certifiers.


TOLEDO, Ohio — After a year of coronavirus lockdowns, the start of summer beckons with vacation plans made possible by relaxed COVID-19 restrictions.

But labor shortages mean some travelers should expect delays and pack a little patience. Lifeguards and hotel housekeepers are in short supply. So are rental cars.

A survey of 4,000 travel and tourism workers this year showed many found jobs with higher pay, predictable schedules and more plan on leaving the industry soon, according to Peter Ricci, director of Florida Atlantic University’s hospitality and tourism management program.

Ricci says the travel sector as a whole faces a moment of change and will need to offer better wages and benefits and rethink how it treats employees.


MENLO PARK, California — Facebook says it will no longer remove claims that Covid-19 is man-made or manufactured from its apps.

The change comes “in light of ongoing investigations into the origin of Covid-19 and in consultation with public health experts,” Facebook says.

The company based in Menlo Park, California, has long battled a tide of coronavirus-related misinformation. It said in December it would remove vaccine-related misinformation.

“We’re continuing to work with health experts to keep pace with the evolving nature of the pandemic and regularly update our policies as new facts and trends emerge,” said Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice president of integrity, in a statement Wednesday.

Facebook doesn’t usually ban misinformation outright on its platform, instead adding fact-checks by outside parties, which includes The Associated Press, to debunked claims. The two exceptions have been around elections and COVID-19.

President Joe Biden recently ordered U.S. intelligence officials to “redouble” their efforts to investigate the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, including any possibility the trail might lead to a Chinese laboratory.


BERLIN — Germany plans to allow children age 12-15 to get vaccinated against COVID-19 starting June 7, stepping up its inoculation campaign.

Chancellor Angela Merkel says the European Medicines Agency is likely to approve the use of the Pfizer vaccine in the 12-15 age group. Germany already had decided to open vaccinations to all adults by that date.

Merkel says after consultations with Germany’s 16 state governors on Thursday, children age 12-15 can seek an appointment. She stressed safe schooling will be “completely independent of the question of whether a child is vaccinated or not vaccinated.”

Germany has given at least one vaccine shot to 41.5% of its population, while 15.7% of the population has been fully vaccinated.


TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel welcomed its first group of foreign tourists since largely shutting down air travel because of the coronavirus pandemic more than a year ago.

Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen welcomed a group of Christian theology students from Missouri, telling them: “Everything is open here, from restaurants to hotels, to resorts to holy places.”

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Israel has vaccinated around 85% of its adult population and has fewer than 500 active cases. Most places have reopened in recent months, including indoor dining, gyms and sporting and concert venues. But Israel has been hesitant to welcome foreign tourists, partly out of concern over new variants.

The group that arrived Thursday is part of a pilot program, with other groups set to arrive in the next two weeks. All visitors must show proof of vaccination and take a COVID-19 test before departure and upon arrival.

Flights were cancelled or rerouted during Israel’s 11-day war with Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers. A cease-fire that went into effect on May 21 has held so far.


BUCHAREST, Romania — Romanian authorities say another round of coronavirus relaxation measures will take effect next week, following a sharp drop in confirmed infections in the last month.

On June 1, bars and clubs will be able to reopen indoors at 50% capacity to fully vaccinated people, providing the coronavirus incident rate in a county is below 3 per 1,000 inhabitants. All 41 counties are currently below 1 infection per 1,000 people.

Cultural establishments such as theatres and cinemas can operate at 70% capacity with mandatory masks.

Romania — a country of more than 19 million — has administered 7.5 million vaccine doses, and 3.5 million are fully inoculated.


LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson has rejected claims by his former chief aide that he botched Britain’s coronavirus response and is unfit for office.

Johnson denies an allegation by Dominic Cummings that his government oversaw tens of thousands of needless deaths. The prime minister says, “at every stage, we’ve been governed by a determination to protect life, to save life.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock also hit back after Cummings singled him out for criticism in an excoriating attack on the government. Cummings accused Hancock of lying to the public, saying he “should have been fired.”

The U.K. has recorded almost 128,000 confirmed coronavirus deaths, the highest toll in Europe.


MOSCOW — UNICEF says it has signed a conditional supply agreement with the Russian Direct Investment Fund to procure up to 220 million doses of the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine by later this year.

The deal is contingent on the vaccine being approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization and on vaccines alliance Gavi signing a purchase agreement to buy vaccines on behalf of the U.N.-backed initiative known as COVAX.

Sputnik V is currently being assessed by the U.N. health agency for safety and efficacy. Research published in the journal Lancet this year suggested the vaccine is about 91% effective. The shot is currently used in numerous countries.

In a statement on Thursday, UNICEF says it is “ready to deliver as soon as regulatory milestones have been met.” The announcement could help bolster the amount of vaccines for the COVAX effort, which aims to distribute doses to developing countries.

The vast majority of COVAX vaccine supplies are from the Serum Institute of India, which is keeping most of its vaccines to deal with a coronavirus surge of cases and deaths.


JAKARTA, Indonesia — Two vaccines made by China’s Sinopharm appear to be safe and effective against COVID-19, according to a study published in a medical journal.

The report, published online in the Journal of the American Medical Association, concluded the two vaccines are about 73% and 78% effective, as Sinopharm has previously claimed.

Scientists have been waiting for more details about the two vaccines, even though they already are used in many countries and one recently won the backing of the World Health Organization.

Researchers from Sinopharm and its local partners in the Middle East say the trial involved 40,380 participants with the company’s two vaccines — one developed by the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products and the other by the Beijing Institute of Biological Products — and a placebo. The trial was carried out in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Jordan. However, the study provided data for just Bahrain and the UAE.

Health experts say there’s not enough data in the study to show whether the vaccines provide protection against severe disease. The study also involved many more men than women, which means there is not enough data to determine if there are safety concerns that impact women.


WOONSOCKET, R.I. — CVS Health is betting a chance to win a trip to the Super Bowl, a Bermuda vacation or cash prizes will bring in more customers for COVID-19 vaccinations.

The drugstore chain officials say they’ll launch a sweepstakes on June 1 with weekly drawings and more than 1,000 potential prizes for customers who get shots through CVS or register for them. Other prizes include cash giveaways, Target gift cards, trips to Miami and stays in Wyndham hotels.

Customers ages 18 and older can enter the sweepstakes, which will run until July 10.

The CVS Health announcement comes as the pace of vaccinations begins to lag nationally, and several states have created lottery prizes to entice residents to get shots.

President Joe Biden has set a goal of delivering at least one dose of vaccine to 70% of adult Americans by July 4 and fully vaccinating at least 160 million by then.


KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysia has procured more vaccines and aims to accelerate inoculations starting next month as the government struggles to contain a worsening coronavirus crisis.

The science minister says the government has bought an additional 12.8 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, bringing the total to 44.8 million doses, enough to cover 70% of Malaysia’s population.

More than 11 million people, or about a third of the population, have registered for vaccinations but only 1.7 million have received at least one dose.

The health ministry on Thursday reported 7,857 new infections, a record that pushed the country’s total confirmed cases above 541,000. It was the third straight day in which new cases soared above 7,000. Total deaths have spiked to nearly 2,500.