Google to put Covid-19 vaccination sites on its search and map apps

Google said Monday that its search and map apps would soon display information about where to get Covid-19 vaccinations, beginning in four states. 

“In the coming weeks, Covid-19 vaccination locations will be available in Google Search and Maps, starting with Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, with more states and countries to come,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai said in a blog post

Information about vaccinations has been hard to come by in some places, and Pichai said searches for “vaccines near me” had increased fivefold since the beginning of the year. He said Google would rely on authoritative sources, such as government agencies and retail pharmacies, to gather the information. 

Google is contributing $150 million in advertising credits so that public health agencies and nonprofits can run announcements and information campaigns, Pichai said. He also said Google planned to make select buildings available as needed for vaccination sites. 

White House to hold Covid-19 briefings three times a week

White House press secretary Jen Psaki announced Monday that the Biden administration will hold “science-led” Covid-19 briefings roughly three times a week.

The briefings, featuring public health officials and members of the administration’s Covid-19 response team, will begin on Wednesday and continue regularly “for the foreseeable future,” Psaki told reporters.

She said the briefings will focus on bringing the public “key updates” on the virus and the federal government’s response to the pandemic.

Vaccine tourism on the rise as wealthy international tourists eye an opportunity in the U.S.

Shortly before the Covid-19 vaccine made its debut last month in the United States, an Indian travel agency called Gem Tours & Travels announced it was registering customers for an exciting new package: four-day trip from Mumbai to New York City with a coronavirus shot thrown in for about $2,000.

“Vaccine tourism,” Nimesh Shah, the company’s business development specialist, called it.

“We are only taking registrations of Indians with a valid 10-year U.S. visa,” Shah told ThePrint. “We are not taking any money but just collecting data for the moment. We are proud to have coined the term ‘vaccine tourism’.”

Soon, competitors like the Kolkata-based Zenith Holidays were registering customers for vaccination packages.

Pronab Sarkar, president of the Indian Association of Tour Operators, condemned the companies for peddling these junkets. But Zenith Holidays, which generally does not offer travel packages to the U.S., still has on its website a “Vaccine Tourism” tab where customers can fill out a registration form, click send, and within minutes an email from the company pops up in their inbox promising more information soon.

“Thank you for showing interest in our Holiday,” the email states.

Just how many Indians signed up for such a vaccination junket to the U.S. was not immediately clear because neither Shah nor anyone from Zenith Holidays responded to several emails from NBC News or an inquiry posed via the registration form.

But the very idea that somebody with money but no immediate access to the scarce Covid-19 vaccine could fly to another country to get a shot was raising both outrage and ethical questions.

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London police break up illegal party attended by hundreds of people

The Metropolitan Police broke up an illegal rave attended by 300 people on Saturday in defiance of Covid-19 regulations, the agency said in a news release

Officers were deployed to the east London neighborhood of Hackney around 1:30 a.m. after receiving reports of an unlicensed music event. They made multiple attempts to engage with the organizers who were uncooperative and at one point padlocked the doors to prevent police from entering the space.

After forcing their way inside, officers discovered 300 people packed in the small space. Seventy-eight attendees were issued £200 fines. 

“This was a serious and blatant breach of the public health regulations and the law in relation to unlicensed music events,” said Chief Superintendent Roy Smith, who responded to the incident. “Whilst we will always seek to engage and explain, the message to those who have a total disregard for the safety of others and breach the law so blatantly is clear, our officers will act swiftly and decisively”

London has been hit especially hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. The city has reported more than 628,000 cases and more than 12,000 deaths from the virus, according to data from Public Health England. 

California lifts regional coronavirus stay-at-home orders

California lifted its stay-at-home orders for all regions statewide Monday, citing improving coronavirus conditions, health officials announced.

The order had been in place for large swaths of the state, covering the San Joaquin Valley, the Bay Area and Southern California.

“Californians heard the urgent message to stay home as much as possible and accepted that challenge to slow the surge and save lives,” Dr. Tomás Aragón, director of the California Department of Public Health, said in a statement Monday. “Together, we changed our activities knowing our short-term sacrifices would lead to longer-term gains. Covid-19 is still here and still deadly, so our work is not over, but it’s important to recognize our collective actions saved lives and we are turning a critical corner.”  

The move means outdoor dining and personal services could now resume.

Statewide counties will return to a system of county-by-county restrictions that decide which activities and businesses are open, the statement said. The statement added four-week intensive care unit capacity projections for the three regions previously under the stay-at-home orders were above 15 percent, the threshold that allows regions to exit the order. 

With the order, California also ended a curfew limiting nonessential activities between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.

Budweiser will sit out Super Bowl, funnel marketing dollars to boost vaccine awareness

Budweiser will not be running a commercial during the Super Bowl for the first time in 37 years.

Instead, the Anheuser-Busch InBev beer will use the marketing dollars to support Covid-19 vaccine awareness and access.

Budweiser isn’t the only iconic brand sitting out the game. PepsiCo and Coca-Cola have said they won’t be running in-game ads for their namesake sodas. Pepsi is instead focusing on its sponsorship of the halftime show, which stars The Weeknd. PepsiCo’s other brands, including Mountain Dew and Frito-Lay, are planning on airing commercials during the game.

Last year’s Super Bowl drew about 100 million viewers, but attracting those eyeballs comes with a hefty price tag for advertisers. A 30-second commercial during the football game will set companies back about $5.5 million this year.

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U.S. goal to squeeze more Covid shots from Pfizer vials hampered by syringe production

The world’s largest syringe maker does not have the capacity to substantially increase U.S. supplies of specialty syringes needed to squeeze more doses from Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine vials in the coming weeks, an executive said in an interview.

The vaccine made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, one of two authorized for U.S. emergency use, is shipped in vials initially indicated to hold five doses. Six doses can be drawn with special syringes, called low dead space syringes, which minimize the amount of vaccine left in the syringe after use.

Syringe maker Becton Dickinson has contracted with the U.S. government to provide 286 million syringes for use with Covid-19 vaccines, including around 40 million low dead space syringes, and is fully prepared to deliver on that agreement, said Troy Kirkpatrick, the company’s senior director of public relations.

Low dead space syringes are a niche product and Becton Dickinson had not discussed plans with the U.S. government to substantially boost their output when they began preparing for the vaccine rollout last year, he said.

“We are ready to support the U.S. government but we are trying to make sure everyone understands that those devices are not something we have infinite capacity to produce and bringing up new lines does take time,” Kirkpatrick said.

The United States added 2,173 Covid-19 deaths, 146,379 cases Sunday

Another 2,173 new Covid-19 deaths were recorded across the United States on Sunday, according to NBC News’ tally.

The country also added 146,379 new cases.

While the daily total of new coronavirus cases has fallen 15 percent in the last two weeks, the number of daily deaths is up 12 percent.

Overall, there are more than 25.2 million confirmed Covid-19 cases and more than 420,000 deaths as of Monday morning.

No states set daily records Sunday.

N.Y.C. postponing the opening of Yankees Stadium, Citi Field vaccination mega sites

New York City is postponing the opening of Covid-19 vaccination mega sites at Yankees Stadium and Citi Field, home of the New York Mets, because there isn’t enough supply of doses, city officials told NBC New York’s Andrew Siff.

The city has 20,000 doses left this week, and only 100,000 fresh ones arriving. It needs some 200,000 to open the sites at the baseball stadiums.

Fauci says drop in Covid cases not due to vaccine: ‘We don’t want to get complacent’

Dr. Anthony Fauci on Monday said that a drop in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations in most of the country cannot likely be attributed to vaccines, meaning people should continue to be as cautious as possible.

“I don’t think the dynamics are what we’re seeing is significantly influenced, yet — it will be soon — but yet by vaccine,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on NBC’s “TODAY” show.

The chief medical adviser to the president said the drop was more likely due to a natural plateauing of cases following a spike after the holiday season.

“We don’t want to get complacent and think … ‘Oh, things are going in the right direction, we can pull back a bit, because we do have circulating in the country a variant from the U.K. that’s in over 20 states right now,” Fauci said, pointing out that the variant is more easily transmitted from person to person.

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