The Latest: New York state health commissioner resigns

NEW YORK — New York Gov. Kathy Hochul says state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker has submitted his resignation. Hochul said Thursday that Zucker has agreed to stay on until the state names a new commissioner.

Zucker was appointed by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo as state health commissioner in 2015. He has faced heated criticism over the state’s COVID-19 response, particularly in nursing homes.

Data released by the state earlier this year show 15,800 people living in nursing homes and other long-term care homes in New York have died of COVID-19.

Zucker has defended a since-rescinded March 2020 directive that said nursing homes couldn’t refuse to admit patients solely because they had COVID-19.

Zucker also faced criticism from health care workers who said the state failed to ensure hospitals and nursing homes had adequate personal protective gear and staffing during the peak of the pandemic in New York.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— Vaccine inequity comes into stark focus during UN gathering

— FDA backs Pfizer COVID-19 boosters for older adults, people at high-risk

— Success of Portugal’s vaccination drive noticed abroad

— Experts say delta variant poses more of a risk to children

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See all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

FOND DU LAC, Wis. — A 26-year-old Fond du Lac police officer has died of COVID-19 complications, according to his department.

The death of Officer Joseph Kurer on Wednesday came a day after his second child was born, according to a statement from Chief Aaron Goldstein.

Kurer joined the Fond du Lac Police Department in August 2018 and was a member of the Tactical Field Force Team, the Honor Guard Unit, Domestic Violence Intervention Team and was certified as a field training officer.

Kurer also was a member of the Wisconsin National Guard, according to his department.

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HELENA, Mont. — Medical providers and Montana residents with compromised immune systems are challenging a state law that prevents employers from mandating vaccines for employees.

They argue the law passed by the 2021 Legislature violates federal requirements for safe workplaces and reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities and want a federal judge to rule it doesn’t apply to hospitals and other medical providers.

The Montana Medical Association, private physician groups, a Missoula hospital and seven individuals filed the complaint in U.S. District Court in Missoula on Wednesday. The complaint names Attorney General Austin Knudsen and Commissioner of Labor and Industry Laurie Esau as defendants.

Montana’s Republican-controlled Legislature passed a law that said requiring vaccines as a condition of employment is discriminatory and violates the state’s human rights laws. Montana is the only state with such a law.

The complaint argues the new law prevents medical providers from taking steps to protect employees and patients who have compromised immune systems and violates Occupational Safety and Health Act provisions that require employers to provide workplaces free from hazards.

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LISBON, Portugal — Portugal is scrapping many of its remaining COVID-19 restrictions, after becoming the world leader in the vaccination rollout.

Portugal has fully vaccinated nearly 85% of the population, according to Our World in Data.

The government announced Thursday that on Oct. 1 it will remove limits on how many people can be in cafes and restaurants, weddings and baptisms, shopping malls, concerts and cinemas. Bars and discos will reopen, although only for vaccinated people and people with negative coronavirus tests.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa said some restrictions need to stay in place. The wearing of face masks will still be mandatory on public transportation, in hospitals and care homes, and shopping malls. People arriving from abroad by air or sea must still show a vaccine certificate or a negative virus test.

“The pandemic isn’t over,” he said. “The risk is still there.”

Naval Rear Adm. Henrique Gouveia e Melo, with his team from the three branches of the armed forces, took charge of the vaccine rollout in February.

Tiago Correia, an associate professor in international public health at Lisbon’s New University Institute of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, credits the traditional consenting attitude in Portugal toward national vaccination programs. Its vaccination rate for measles, mumps and rubella is 95% —one of the EU’s highest — and there’s no significant anti-vaccination movement.

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LONDON — The pharmaceutical company Novavax and the Serum Institute of India say they’ve submitted an application to the World Health Organization for their coronavirus vaccine to be granted an emergency use listing.

That would allow the shot to be used as part of a global vaccine-sharing program. In a statement on Thursday, Novavax and its partner the Serum Institute say their request for the COVID-19 vaccine to the U.N. health agency is based on a previous submission to Indian regulators.

The Novavax shots are easier to store and transport than some other options. They’ve long been expected to play an important role in increasing supplies in poor countries desperate for more vaccine. In June, the company said their vaccine was about 90% effective against symptomatic COVID-19.

Novavax, based in Maryland, signed a deal this year with the vaccine alliance Gavi to provide 350 million doses to the U.N.-backed COVAX program, most of which are intended to be made by the Serum Institute. A previous non-binding agreement said Novavax would provide up to 1 billion vaccines.

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TOPEKA, Kan. — A Kansas education official says a middle school student has died of COVID-19.

The child’s death is the first reported COVID-19 death of someone age 10 to 17 in Kansas and only the third reported for someone under 18.

Education Commissioner Randy Watson said Wednesday that state health officials told him the child died this week. State health officials said they are investigating the report.

Meanwhile, state health officials reported 11 new COVID-19 clusters at schools. Data from the department showed there are now 72 active school outbreaks across Kansas, resulting in 537 coronavirus cases and one hospitalization.

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NEW YORK — The inequity of COVID-19 vaccine distribution will come into sharper focus Thursday as many of the African countries whose populations have little to no access to the life-saving shots step to the podium to speak at the U.N.’s annual meeting of world leaders.

Already, the struggle to contain the coronavirus pandemic has featured prominently in leaders’ speeches. Countries slated to give their annual speeches include Zimbabwe, Uganda and South Africa.

On Wednesday, President Joe Biden announced that the U.S. would double its purchase of Pfizer’s COVID-19 shots to share with the world to 1 billion doses, with the goal of vaccinating 70% of the global population within the next year.

“In Africa, fewer than 1 in 20 people are fully vaccinated. In Europe, one in two are fully vaccinated. This inequity is clearly unfair,” Norway’s Prime Minister, Erna Solberg, said in a prerecorded speech Wednesday.

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LAGOS, Nigeria — The director of Africa CDC has criticized Britain’s decision to subject some travelers who had been fully vaccinated to quarantine upon their arrival in England.

Dr. John Nkengasong says the Africa CDC will call for a review of the policy that “doesn’t speak to solidarity and cooperation” and are “the cornerstone” to defeat the pandemic.

Britain had pledged to share 100 million vaccines with the rest of the world by June 2022, with 30 million doses to be sent to various countries in 2021, including in Nigeria where it donated 1.2 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in August.

But its new policy taking effect Oct. 4 means some people who got those vaccines are still not recognized as fully vaccinated. That is because the U.K. government recognizes those fully vaccinated against COVID-19 based on certain terms, including that travelers must have received a U.K.-authorized shot from an approved health body. None of the bodies in Africa made it to the list.

“If in the same token, you send us vaccines and we use those vaccines, and you say you don’t recognize people that have been immunized with those vaccines, it sends a very challenging message for us … a message that creates confusion within our own population,” Dr. Nkengasong said Thursday.

He added it is “clearly not acceptable” for Britain to put incoming travelers fully vaccinated “on the list to create stigmatization” and criticized the policy and similar positions “not backed by science or any evidence.”

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STOCKHOLM — The Nobel Prize ceremonies will be reined in for a second year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Sweden-based foundation behind the coveted prizes says the laureates will receive their medals and diplomas in their home countries. The traditional glittery ceremonies on Dec. 10 to honor the winners, will be a mixture of digital and physical events.

The Norwegian committee behind the Peace Prize is keeping open the possibility of welcoming the winner or winners to Oslo, the Norway capital. They plan to announce the format of its festivities in mid-October.

”I think everybody would like the COVID-19 pandemic to be over, but we are not there yet,” said Vidar Helgesen, the head of the foundation.

The winners of this year’s prizes in chemistry, literature, physics, medicine and economics, as well as the Nobel Peace Prize, will be announced the week of Oct. 4.

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. has moved a step closer to offering booster doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to seniors and others at high risk from the virus.

The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday signed off on such shots to shore up protection in people with underlying health conditions and high-risk jobs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has yet to weigh in on who it believes should get boosters and when.

A panel of advisers to the agency will make more specific recommendations about who should get the extra shots.

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TIRANA, Albania — The Albanian Parliament decided Thursday to make the coronavirus vaccination mandatory for all lawmakers.

Taulant Balla of the governing Socialist Party said the leaders of every parliamentary group had agreed to make vaccines mandatory and also for most legislative committee hearings to be held online.

Vaccination is already mandatory for Albania’s medical personnel, teachers, professors, and students. Health officials said another surge of infections could follow the start of the school year next week.

Public health measures, including an overnight curfew, indoor mask requirements and crowd limits for sports and cultural events have been extended.

Albania saw a significant increase of daily virus cases in August. About one third of the country’s 2.8 million population has been fully vaccinated.

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she doesn’t want to use lockdowns in the future and sees vaccinations as the “golden ticket” to navigating the pandemic.

Her remarks came as Auckland remained in a sixth week of lockdown following an outbreak of the coronavirus’ delta variant.

New Zealand has taken an unusual zero-tolerance approach to the virus and is trying to completely eliminate the outbreak in its largest city through drastic measures, at least until vaccination rates improve. Fifteen more local transmissions were reported Thursday.

Ardern says she sees a hopeful path in using vaccinations coupled with public health measures to prevent widespread hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19. About 62% of New Zealanders have had at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine.

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SYDNEY — The Australian state of Victoria is reporting its biggest daily increase in coronavirus cases since the pandemic began as an outbreak in the city of Melbourne continues to grow.

Police in Melbourne are preparing for more protests against the pandemic lockdown, although the situation remains relatively calm Thursday afternoon.

Victoria reported a record 766 cases as well as four deaths from COVID-19.

The city of Sydney in New South Wales state is also dealing with a large outbreak. Officials report more than 1,000 new daily cases in the state and six COVID-19 deaths.

Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews says the state will ease lockdown rules by the end of the month, to allow people to return from Sydney and quarantine at home if they are fully vaccinated.

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