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Calif. expands vaccine eligibility; U.S. logs 5,400 new COVID-19 deaths

Workers hand out flowers near Mister Softee ice cream trucks covered in flowers in celebration of the upcoming Valentine's Day holiday at Rockefeller Center in New York City on Friday. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
Workers hand out flowers near Mister Softee ice cream trucks covered in flowers in celebration of the upcoming Valentine's Day holiday at Rockefeller Center in New York City on Friday. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 13 (UPI) -- California public health officials announced expanded eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine as the state reported nearly 10,000 new cases and 433 new deaths Saturday, according to public health officials.

On March 15, California residents aged 16 to 64 who are disabled or at high risk of dying from the virus will be eligible for the vaccine, but officials say it will be up to local providers to decide who gets the vaccine.

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This means between 4 million and 6 million more Californians will be eligible for the vaccine, but the state is still grappling with shortages in supply.

"Reprioritizing who gets doses does not get us more doses, and that's what we need," said Kat DeBurgh, executive director of the Health Officers Association of California.

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Medical workers, first responders, people 65 and over, teachers and other essential workers are all still vying for shots in the state, and some vaccination sites that were already slated to close Friday due to vaccine shortages ran out of doses sooner than expected and started turning people away Thursday.

California isn't alone in dealing with sporadic vaccine supply, a problem President Joe Biden has pledged to address by releasing more of the vaccine supply and by purchasing 200 million more doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

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California leads the country in the cumulative number of deaths -- 46,435, according to the California Department of Public Health. The state has also logged nearly 3.4 million cases of the virus.

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Overall the United States had recorded 27.54 million cases of the novel coronavirus. Of those, 482,933 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University's COVID-19 tracker. The country logged 99,511 new cases and 5,443 deaths Friday, marking the first time the daily death toll has surpassed 5,000.

On Saturday, the New England Journal of Medicine published a joint commentary by Food and Drug Administration officials Jeffrey Shuren and Timothy Stenzel saying the agency moved too quickly to allow the marketing of antibody tests for coronavirus without authorization in the spring.

Rather than individually review tests, the agency issued guidance, resulting in a spate of tests that did not work well, the authors wrote.

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"Knowing what we know now, we would not have permitted serology tests to be marketed without FDA review and authorization, even within the limits we initially imposed. Although other factors may have driven unauthorized products to flood the marketplace, our March 16 policy allowed it to happen," Shuren and Stenzel wrote.

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Meanwhile, a CDC official said Friday the agency is not recommending COVID-19 testing before domestic air travel -- something Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said federal officials could make mandatory.

"At this time, CDC is not recommending required point of departure testing for domestic travel," the agency said in a statement to CNN, and is recommending people don't travel at all if they can avoid it.

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"If someone must travel, they should get tested with a viral test 1-3 days before the trip," the agency said. "After travel, getting tested with a viral test 3-5 days post-travel and staying home and self-quarantining for 7 days, even if test results are negative, is a recommended public health measure to reduce risk."

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