Most unvaccinated adults don't want the shot; Biden touts free Uber/Lyft rides; bodies buried in India's Ganges River: Live COVID-19 updates

·9 min read

Vaccine hesitancy has become the predominant mindset of Americans who have not yet been inoculated, making the drive for herd immunity ever more elusive.

Just 11% of American adults who remain unvaccinated for COVID-19 say they definitely will get the shot, while 34% say they definitely won’t, according to a new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Another 27% say they probably will and 27% say they probably won’t.

The vaccination rush has slowed, and President Joe Biden met virtually with six governors Tuesday to discuss how to revive momentum. Biden wants 70% of American adults at least partially vaccinated by the Fourth of July. That's about what some experts say is needed to get the pandemic under control. Right now less than half of Americans have received at least one shot.

Getting kids vaccinated could help the numbers. The Food and Drug Administration on Monday granted emergency use authorization to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children 12-15, and a few cities offered shots less than 24 hours later, but most are waiting for a federal advisory committee that meets Wednesday to sign off on the move.

Biden said last week that 20,000 pharmacy locations are ready to begin vaccinating adolescents once the necessary approvals come through.

Older teens, 16 and 17, have been allowed to get the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine since it was authorized in December. The other two vaccines authorized for use in the USA, from Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, have not been available to minors because studies are still underway.

Also in the news:

►Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, under investigation for his government's response to the pandemic, has committed more than $1 billion to producing and distributing COVID-19 vaccines. Brazil has reported more than 425,000 coronavirus deaths, second in the world behind the U.S. In March, Bolsonaro told the country's residents to stop "whining'' and "crying.''

►San Diego Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., one of baseball's top young stars, will be sidelined for at least 10 days after testing positive for the coronavirus.

►U.S. employers posted a record number of available jobs in March, the most recent data available, as businesses struggled to find new workers in the recovering economy.

►America’s non-tribal casinos took in over $11.1 billion in the first three months of this year, matching their best quarter ever as customers continued returning amid the COVID-19 pandemic and internet and sports betting money helped boost revenue.

►Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said Tuesday that she is cutting, effective June 12, federal unemployment insurance benefits that were created at the start of the pandemic last year. Reynolds believes the increased payments are holding back the economy. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey says she will end Alabama's participation in federal unemployment programs on June 19.

📈 Today's numbers: The U.S. has more than 32.7 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 582,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: Over 159 million cases and 3.3 million deaths. More than 334 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and more than 263 million have been administered, according to the CDC. More than 116.5 million Americans have been fully vaccinated – 35.1% of the population.

📘 What we're reading: A year full of social distancing, mask-wearing, hand washing, and staying at home to prevent coronavirus spread rendered the 2020-2021 influenza season practically nonexistent. Read more here.

Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates. Want more? Sign up for our Coronavirus Watch newsletter for updates to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

Taking vaccines to the people: Governors share success stories with Biden

As the federal government reaches out to the tens of millions of Americans who haven’t received a COVID-19 vaccine, even offering free transportation to get the shots, President Joe Biden listened to a handful of governors Tuesday about what has worked in their states.

One common theme: Convenience matters.

To that effect, Biden announced a deal with ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft to take people to and from vaccination sites for free from May 24-July 4.

Biden, who suggested the CDC would soon issue new guidance on what vaccinated people can do, is aiming for 70% of the nation's adults to have gotten at least one dose by Independence Day.

During his call with the Republican governors of Ohio, Utah and Massachusetts, along with the Democratic governors of Maine, Minnesota and New Mexico, Biden was told meeting people where they are goes a long way toward persuading them to get vaccinated. The state leaders emphasized the importance of mobile units, pop-ups and walk-ins to make the jabs more easily available.

“It’s going out, it’s trying to be innovative, trying to figure out how do we take it directly to people,’’ said Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, adding that there's been a lot of interest in the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. "They want that one shot and to be done.''

Missouri attorney general sues to end restrictions in St. Louis County

Republican Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed suit challenging St. Louis County’s pandemic restrictions, citing the impact on religion, education and personal freedoms. Schmitt says vaccines are widely available to all adults, making the restrictions unnecessary. The suit, filed against Democratic County Executive Sam Page, the county’s health department and its director, seeks an injunction to end the restrictions.

“From requiring a mask outdoors to subjecting citizens to government pre-approval for private events, enough is enough,” Schmitt said in a statement. “The seemingly unending control over people’s lives must end."

In India, scores of bodies found floating on Ganges River

More than 70 dead bodies have been found floating down the Ganges River in eastern India as the country battles the world's most severe coronavirus crisis. Images on social media prompted outrage and speculation that COVID-19 was the cause of death, although authorities said post mortems could not confirm it because of the bodies' decomposition.

Indian health care and funeral facilities have been overwhelmed in recent weeks as hospitals run out of oxygen and crematoriums operate 24 hours a day. Surinder, a resident of Ghazipur who uses one name, told the Associated Press that villagers didn’t have enough wood to cremate their dead on land.

“Bodies from around 12-13 villages have been buried in the water,” he said.

Schools scramble to get high school seniors on pace to graduate

There isn’t data available yet on how the pandemic has affected the nation’s overall dropout rate, and many school officials say it’s too early to know how many students who stopped logging on for distance learning don’t plan to return. But soaring numbers of students who are failing classes or are chronically absent have experts fearing the worst, and schools have been busy tracking down wayward seniors through social media, knocking on their doors, assigning staff to help them make up for lost time and, in some cases, even relaxing graduation requirements.

The pandemic’s effects could erase gains the U.S. made in reducing its dropout rate, which fell from 9.3% in 2007 to 5.1% in 2019, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

“If we lose a student, it is going to be after kicking and screaming and fighting tooth and nail for them,” said Troy Pitsch, who supervises high school principals in Kansas City, Kansas.

What level of antibodies protect against COVID? It's not yet known

Fifteen months after the pandemic shut down most of the world, researchers are still trying to determine how much of a specific type of antibodies a person needs to avoid serious illness, hospitalization or death. It's something scientists the world over would find extremely useful as more vaccines, and possible boosters, are created. The information would help to quickly show if a vaccine was effective enough, without the need for large-scale, lengthy trials.

“All you’d have to do is vaccinate people with a new vaccine, measure their antibodies and you’re done,” biostatistician Dr. Peter Gilbert says. “And you could do it with maybe 400 people instead of 40,000.”

Elizabeth Weise

Education Department to fund college retainment

The Education Department will release $36 billion to colleges nationally to help universities and students struggling during the pandemic. The funds are a part of the American Rescue Plan, and half of the funding is meant to go directly to students.

In addition to the direct grants, the department said colleges can use the money to retain students or help re-enroll those who dropped out because of the pandemic. Colleges could also use the money to help vaccinate students or prevent the spread of the coronavirus on campus. Public and private nonprofit universities can use some of the funding to offset costs related to the pandemic such as lost revenue, expenses tied to providing online education or faculty and staff training. For-profit colleges must direct all the money they receive to students.

International students and DACA recipients excluded from previous emergency funding under former President Donald Trump are included in the program, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said.

Novavax plans to present US data on its vaccine soon

Novavax, the Maryland-based biotech firm whose vaccine has performed well in clinical trials in the U.K. and South Africa, expects to release data about its U.S. study "in a few weeks'' but won't be ready to seek regulatory approval until sometime in the second half of the year. CEO Stanley Erck told USA TODAY that Novavax has been addressing production issues that have prevented the company from manufacturing the vaccine to scale, and that it remains "on track" to file a request for emergency use authorization with the FDA.

In a quarterly report released Monday, Novavax said it intends to seek that clearance and also the OK from European regulatory agencies by the third quarter. The company also revised down its anticipated capacity to 100 million doses per month by the end of September. Novavax has a production and manufacturing deal with the Serum Institute of India and its vaccine is widely anticipated in developing countries.

Contributing to this column: Karen Weintraub, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID: 12-15 year-olds could qualify for vaccinations this week