Arizona COVID-19 updates: FDA gives Pfizer nod to provide vaccine to younger teens

Arizona Republic

Arizona reported 448 new COVID-19 cases and 2 new known deaths on Sunday as trends remained similar to previous weeks. 

The state's seven-day average for new reported COVID-19 cases rose to 939 on Sunday. The average had reached as high as 9,800 in January, according to state data. 

Arizona's seven-day death rate ranked 33rd in the nation as of Friday, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Here's the latest:

Follow coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic by Republic and USA TODAY Network reporters here.

2:35 p.m. Monday: FDA gives Pfizer nod to provide COVID vaccine to younger teens

A COVID-19 vaccine made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech is safe and effective enough to give to younger teens, the Food and Drug Administration said Monday in authorizing its use.

The decision means adolescents aged 12 to 15 could qualify for shots within days.

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

Shots also will be available soon through pediatricians' offices, the president said. "And if teens are on the move this summer, they can get their first shot in one place and a second shot elsewhere."

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

— USA Today

8 p.m. Sunday: Is Facebook winning war on COVID-19?

The nation's leading social media companies pledged to put warning labels on COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccines posts to stop the spread of falsehoods, conspiracy theories and hoaxes that are fueling vaccine hesitancy in the USA.

With the exception of Facebook, nearly all of them are losing the war against COVID-19 disinformation. That's the conclusion of a new report shared exclusively with USA TODAY.

As the pace of the nation's immunizations slows and public health agencies struggle to get shots in arms, Advance Democracy found that debunked claims sowing unfounded fears about the vaccines are circulating largely unfettered on Twitter and TikTok, including posts and videos that falsely allege the federal government is covering up deaths caused by the vaccines or that it is safer to get COVID-19 than to get the vaccine.

Twitter began labeling tweets that include misleading or false information about COVID-19 vaccines in March. It also started using a "strike system" to eventually remove accounts that repeatedly violate its rules.

Yet none of the top tweets on Twitter using popular anti-vaccine hashtags like #vaccineskill, #novaccine, #depopulation and #plandemic had labels as of May 3, according to Advance Democracy, a research organization that studies disinformation and extremism.

— Jessica Guynn, USA TODAY

5:15 p.m. Sunday: After losing their moms to COVID-19, some would rather Mother's Day not 'exist at all'

They all cry, naked in their grief.

One woman can't speak without weeping. Another said she didn't expect to get emotional, but when she begins to talk about her mother she asks for a moment to right herself under the unsteadying weight of loss. Another remembers the last time she saw her mom, separated by glass, anguish braiding the breath that catches in her throat. 

For people who lost their mothers to COVID-19, this Mother's Day is a reminder of a freshly gaping void. Some won't celebrate the day at all. Others will mark it quietly. 

"Before this year, I always joked with my children and said Mother's Day was the most important day of the year," said Ashlyn Fox, whose mother and grandmother died of COVID-19 six days apart. "This year, I don't want it to exist at all. I want to pretend it doesn't exist."

— Alia E. Dastagir, USA TODAY

10:30 a.m. Sunday: Arizona reports 448 new COVID-19 cases, 2 new known deaths

Arizona reported 448 new COVID-19 cases and two new known deaths on Sunday, as trends of relative plateaus continue from previous weeks. 

Arizona's seven-day case rate per 100,000 people ranked 40th on Saturday among all states and territories after ranking first and second for much of January, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's COVID Data Tracker.

The states and districts with a lower case rate over the past seven days were Virginia, South Dakota, Idaho, the District of Columbia, South Carolina, Nebraska, Texas, Kansas, Arkansas, Hawaii, Mississippi, Oklahoma, California and Alabama. Arizona ranked 51st among 60 states and territories on March 28, but its rank has fluctuated.

Arizona's seven-day death rate per 100,000 people ranked 33rd in the nation as of Saturday, according to the CDC.

— Chelsea Curtis

5 p.m. Saturday: Vaccine-themed concert marks surreal pandemic moment

Rockstars, movie stars and politicians came together for a vaccine-themed concert and fundraiser set to air Saturday night — an affair that signals a unique and surreal moment in the pandemic.

"Vax Live: The Concert to Reunite the Word" will celebrate COVID-19 vaccines and feature President Joe Biden urging Americans to take them. It also aims to persuade world leaders and corporations to make COVID-19 vaccines available worldwide. 

The event was filmed in Southern California — one of the largest concert gatherings there since the beginning pandemic, a sign of the state's success in beating back the virus with vaccines and restrictions.

But even as performers celebrate a return to normalcy in a country where vaccine supply is quickly outpacing demand, other speakers will mourn the deadly surge of COVID-19 in India and advocate for worldwide vaccine equity.

— Bill Keveney, USA Today

4 p.m. Saturday: NYC still storing COVID-19 victims in refrigerated trucks

New York City is still using refrigerated trucks to store bodies of coronavirus victims, more than a year after they were first set up as temporary morgues as deaths surged at at the height of the pandemic.

The city’s medical examiner’s office said Friday that 750 bodies are being kept in long-term storage in refrigerated trailers at a Brooklyn pier while family members sort out plans for their final resting places.

Dina Maniotis, a deputy commissioner with the Office of Chief Medical Examiner, told a city council committee on Wednesday that many of the bodies held at the 39th Street Pier could end up buried in the city’s potter’s field on Hart Island.

— USA Today

10 a.m. Saturday: Arizona reports 939 new COVID-19 cases and 16 new known deaths, with over 2.4M fully vaccinated

Arizona reported 939 new COVID-19 cases and 16 new known deaths on Saturday, as trends of relative plateaus continue from previous weeks

Arizona's seven-day case rate per 100,000 people ranked 42nd on Friday among all states and territories after ranking first and second for much of January, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's COVID Data Tracker.

The states and districts with a lower case rate over the past seven days were Virginia, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Texas, Arkansas, Hawaii, Kansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, California and Alabama. Arizona ranked 51st among 60 states and territories on March 28, but its rank has fluctuated.

Arizona's seven-day death rate per 100,000 people ranked 31st in the nation as of Friday, according to the CDC.

Percent positivity, which refers to the percent of COVID-19 diagnostic tests that are positive, varies somewhat based on how it's measured.

Last week, Arizona's percent positivity remained at 6% for the third week in a row, following six weeks at 5%, according to the state, which has a unique way of calculating percent positivity. Weekly percent positivity statewide peaked at 25% in December.

— BrieAnna J. Frank

6:30 a.m. Friday: Pfizer-BioNTech seeks full FDA approval for COVID-19 vaccine

Pfizer and its German collaborator BioNTech on Friday submitted an application to the Food and Drug Administration for full approval of their COVID-19 vaccine.

They announced that they will be submitting data to the FDA on a rolling basis over the coming weeks, with a request for priority review. It's not clear how long that review will take.

Like other vaccines available in the U.S., Pfizer-BioNTech have been providing their vaccine under an "emergency use authorization," which allowed them to provide safety and effectiveness data after tracking trial participants for an average of two months instead of the usual six months.

In the middle of a pandemic, it was more important to get vaccines to people faster, the FDA said, and vaccine side effects generally occur within the first 4 to 6 weeks after a shot.

But some people have said they aren't comfortable getting vaccinated because that longer-term data wasn't available.

Now, Pfizer-BioNTech, whose vaccine has been available since mid-December, has that information and has shown through trials and 134 million shots to Americans that the vaccine can be used safely and effectively to prevent COVID-19. 

No additional safety issues have cropped up with Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine since it was authorized, according to the companies and periodic safety reviews by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We are proud of the tremendous progress we’ve made since December in delivering vaccines to millions of Americans, in collaboration with the U.S. government,” Albert Bourla, Pfizer's CEO, said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the FDA to complete this rolling submission and support their review, with the goal of securing full regulatory approval of the vaccine in the coming months.”

The approval would cover people ages 16 and up. Although the companies expect the FDA any day to allow them to begin providing their vaccine to children 12-15, they will only ask for full approval for that age group once they have six months of data.

— Karen Weintraub, USA Today

9:30 a.m. Thursday: Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine effective against two major variants

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is effective at protecting against severe disease caused by two variants rapidly spreading around the U.S., according to two studies published Wednesday. The vaccine protects against severe illness caused by both the variant first identified in the U.K. and the variant first discovered in South Africa, the studies show. One was published in the New England Journal of Medicine and the other in The Lancet.

There have been 20,915 cases of the U.K. variant in the U.S., Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows. In April, CDC Director Rachelle Walensky announced it had become the dominant strain in the U.S., and in January British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that the variant might be 30% more deadly than previous versions of the disease. But The Lancet study showed that in Israel, where the variant accounted for nearly 95% of all coronavirus cases, the two doses provide more than 95% protection against COVID-19 infection, hospitalization, and death.

— USA Today

5:10 p.m.: Arizona Diamondbacks to remove seating restrictions, put more single-game tickets on sale

The Arizona Diamondbacks will start selling single-game tickets for the rest of their home games this season to the public on May 17, the team announced in a release.

Only tickets through May 16 are currently on sale by the team.

The team is also removing COVID-19 seating restrictions to allow season ticket holders to return to their original seats starting May 25, the Diamondbacks announced, but the club "will continue to adhere to Major League Baseball’s mask mandate while encouraging appropriate distancing."

“We continue to hear from our season ticket holders that they want to return to their original seats and we feel that they can do so safely,” Diamondbacks President and CEO Derrick Hall said in a statement. “While the seating restrictions will no longer be in place, we believe seat selection for the majority of games should still allow fans to spread out. We continue to work very hard to provide a safe and comfortable environment for fans and will monitor their feedback throughout the season.”

Right before the season, the Diamondbacks increased capacity at Chase Field from 12,000 to 20,000.

The decision came days after Gov. Doug Ducey loosened COVID-19 restrictions in the state.

According to the team, the Diamondbacks' attendance average is 11,499 per game through the first 11 games, which ranks it 10th in the league.

Diamondbacks tickets can be purchased at dbacks.com/tickets.

— Jeremy Cluff

5:10 p.m.: CDC eviction moratorium still in place in Arizona after federal judge strikes it down

The national moratorium on evictions enacted last year to help struggling renters during the pandemic is illegal, a federal judge ruled Wednesday. But Arizona renters are still protected — at least for now. 

U.S. District Judge Dabney L. Friedrich of the District of Columbia ruled Wednesday the federal government overreached in enacting the ban and ordered the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eviction moratorium be thrown out. 

The Department of Justice announced it would fight the judge's decision.

"The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a notice of appeal to the DC Circuit of this morning’s ruling vacating the CDC’s eviction moratorium. Also we seek a stay of the decision, pending appeal," Justice Department spokesperson Anthony Coley said via tweet.

While the court process plays out, renters will remain protected in Maricopa County, county justice courts spokesman Scott Davis said. 

Davis called the court's decision "significant and not wholly unexpected given that other, lower courts have found similarly," but said "no change will take place immediately, if at all."

"It would be imprudent to suddenly reverse course without considering a myriad of implications to renters and landlords who have cases pending," Davis said. 

He said the justice courts will continue operating in compliance with the CDC moratorium unless the Arizona Supreme Court or other, higher authority instructs them otherwise.

— Jessica Boehm and Catherine Reagor

2:50 p.m. Wednesday: Nearly half of eligible Maricopa County residents received 1 dose of vaccine

About 48% of Maricopa County residents age 15 and older have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to this week’s county data as of Tuesday.

Across the county, more than 1.3 million residents were fully vaccinated against COVID-19, meaning that about 30% of the county’s entire population has been fully vaccinated.

Vaccine rates are high in older individuals: About 82% of those 75 and older have received at least one dose and about 80% of those 65-74, according to the Tuesday data. About 61% of county residents ages 55-64 have received at least one shot, up from 60% last week.

Forty-six percent of those ages 45-54 have received at least one dose, up from 44% last week; about 41% of those ages 35-44, up from 39% last week; 33% of those ages 25-34, up from 32% last week; and 25% of those ages 15-24, up from 24% last week.

Demand and vaccination rates have slowed. Appointments are now relatively easy to come by and some sites allow walk-ins and same-day appointments. County officials expect demand will increase again when teens ages 12-15 are approved to get the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Race breakdowns show similar disparities as previous weeks’ data. About 36% of white residents 15 and older have received at least one shot, compared with about 28% of Black adult county residents. Two groups were above the countywide average: About 59% of American Indian or Alaska Native adult residents have received at least one shot, and about 57% of Asian or Pacific Islander adults. 

About 18% of Hispanic/Latino county residents older than 15 have received at least one shot, up from 17% last week, but ethnicity data is unknown for 51% of all vaccinated individuals.

Of those vaccinated, about 54% have been female and 46% have been male, a statistic similar to what’s seen nationally as well. About 51% of females age 15 and older in the county have received at least one dose, compared with 45% of men 15 and older.

County residents age 16 and older can sign up for vaccine appointments at a range of pharmacies, health clinics and large state-run sites, which also allow walk-ins. County officials continue to coordinate smaller community-based events. More information is available at Maricopa.gov/covid19vaccine.

— Alison Steinbach

9:30 a.m. Wednesday: Walmart accepting walk-ins for COVID-19 vaccine

Officials with Walmart and Sam's Club say they are now offering COVID-19 vaccines at all 122 of their Arizona pharmacies.

Vaccines are being administered to walk-ins, in addition to those who have scheduled appointments

“Now that supply and eligibility have expanded, it’s even more important for us to reach underserved and vulnerable populations to ensure equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine,” Dr. Cheryl Pegus, the company's executive vice president of health and wellness, said in a statement.

“Widespread vaccination is the only way we will eventually end the pandemic and help our country reopen, and we don’t want anyone to get left behind as we enter this new chapter in our fight against COVID-19.”

— Stephanie Innes

 8:30 a.m. Wednesday: CVS pharmacies now doing walk-in vaccines

CVS Health announced Wednesday that COVID-19 vaccinations are available without appointments at CVS pharmacies, including at 190 Arizona locations. Same-day scheduling, including appointments as soon as one hour from the time of scheduling, is also available at CVS.com.

The COVID-19 vaccine scheduler is updated throughout the day to account for cancellations. 

As of this week, CVS is providing vaccinations in more than 8,300 stores across 49 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.

— Anne Ryman

11:15 a.m. Tuesday: AZ included in campaign to build vaccine trust among Latinos

Phoenix and Yuma are two of eight Latino communities in three states included in a national effort to increase COVID-19 vaccination coverage.

UnidosUS, formerly known as the National Council of La Raza, has an "Esperanza Hope for All" educational campaign through May 23 in communities that the organization has identified as places where health resources are lacking or difficult to access. The three states included in the effort are Arizona, California and Texas.

A recent poll conducted by UnidosUS in partnership with Univision News found that 22 percent of registered Latino voters are still unsure about the vaccine and plan to wait a while before getting it. Twenty-eight percent say they have no idea how to register or they tried and failed.

The educational campaign puts outreach workers at Hispanic grocery stores, strip mall centers, food banks, flea markets and current and former Melrose Family Fashions locations to speak one-on-one with Latino community members about the benefits of getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

In Arizona, data on COVID-19 vaccine uptake is unknown for 14% of those who have received vaccines. The state's databases show 13% of Arizonans who have received the vaccine are Hispanic/Latino, though Hispanic/Latino people accounted for 30% of the state's COVID-19 cases, 28% of deaths and comprise 32% of the overall population.

Some people want tools to convince their family members and friends to get the vaccine, and others need a little bit of convincing themselves, said Janey Pearl Starks, director of equity, diversity and engagement at Mountain Park Health Center in Phoenix.

Pearl Starks has recently worked with the Esperanza Hope for All campaign at the Phoenix Park N' Swap, 3801 E. Washington St. What she's often finding are people who say why they are fearful of the vaccine and are curious to hear the counterargument about why they should get it.

"There's no doubt how much COVID has devastated communities, especially Black and Brown communities," she said. "At this point, nobody can doubt that. There is a lot of inherent mistrust about vaccines and particularly in Black and Brown communities."

In addition to Phoenix and Yuma, other Latino communities included in the campaign are Houston; Dallas/Fort Worth; the Rio Grande Valley; and El Paso, Texas; and Coachella Valley and the Fresno/Stockton areas of California.

UnidosUS says it is the nation's largest Latino civil rights and advocacy organization.

“Latinos are more likely to require hospitalization or even worse die from COVID-19 since they face greater exposure to the virus because of their overrepresentation as essential workers," UnidosUS President and CEO Janet Murguía said in a statement.

"That is why it is imperative that we foster trust in the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines and combat vaccine misinformation and disinformation."

— Stephanie Innes

7 a.m. Tuesday: Pfizer vaccine for adolescents to get FDA approval

The Food and Drug Administration is likely to authorize the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for adolescents within the next week, according to the New York Times and CNN.

So far, the vaccines have been approved only for use in adults and older teens. The FDA authorization would allow the Pfizer-BioNTech shots to be given to 12- to 15-year-olds for the first time, once the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also signs off.

Many parents have been eagerly awaiting vaccines for their children, hoping for protection and to return school and social lives to something more normal. 

— Karen Weintraub

7 p.m. Monday: Navajo Nation to donate cloth masks to India as cases surge

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez announced in a virtual town hall last week that the tribe would donate its surplus of cloth masks to India as it experienced a surge in COVID-19 infections. 

India over the weekend broke another record with more than 400,000 daily new cases, and its daily death toll doubled over the course of 10 days, between April 19 and 29. Independent reporting suggests deaths are vastly undercounted.

The Navajo Nation at one point had the highest COVID-19 infection rate in the U.S., prompting thousands of donations from around the world, including Ireland. The tribe has since been applauded for its dwindling number of new daily cases and excelling vaccination rollout. 

"Let's help out our brothers and sisters on the other side of the world as well because they're going through a difficult time right now," Nez said during the town hall. 

It's unclear when or how many cloth masks the Navajo Nation plans to donate. Nez during the town hall explained that the cloth masks being donated to India were initially refused by Navajo citizens who said they owned plenty. 

A tweet from New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof about the Navajo Nation's plans to donate to India garnered more than 10,000 retweets as of Monday. 

— Chelsea Curtis

5 p.m. Monday: Arizona will again require people to look for work to receive unemployment benefits

People who want to collect unemployment benefits in Arizona will once again need to actively search for work to get them following an executive order Gov. Doug Ducey issued Monday.

In March 2020, Ducey waived the so-called "work search" requirement because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which made it hard or impossible for people to find work as businesses largely shut down.

But with employers having trouble filling some jobs and the relative ease of obtaining a COVID-19 vaccination today, people will again need to be in the job market to collect public benefits in Arizona.

The Arizona Department of Economic Security will enforce the reinstated requirement the week of Sunday, May 23, according to the Governor's Office. The department said Monday it will reach out to people receiving benefits to let them know when they need to begin meeting the job search requirements.

— Ryan Randazzo