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Health Highlights: Feb. 19, 2021

By Robert Preidt HealthDay Reporter

U.S. to Provide $4 Billion for International COVID-19 Vaccine Program

The United States will soon start providing $4 billion for COVAX, an international program to buy and distribute coronavirus vaccines to poor countries.

White House officials said President Joe Biden will make the announcement Friday at a G-7 meeting, and will also encourage other members of the group to make good on their pledges to the World Health Organization (WHO) initiative, the Associated Press reported.

The $4 billion in funding was approved by Congress in December and will be doled out through 2022.

Former President Donald Trump refused to take part in COVAX, but soon after his inauguration, Biden said the United States would participate in the WHO program, the AP reported.

The United States is committed to working through COVAX to ensure "equitable distribution of vaccines and funding globally," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Thursday.

The COVAX program has already missed its own goal of beginning coronavirus vaccinations in poor countries at the same time that shots were rolled out in rich countries, the AP reported. WHO says COVAX needs $5 billion in 2021.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Wednesday that 130 countries have not received a single dose of the vaccine and declared that "at this critical moment, vaccine equity is the biggest moral test before the global community."

Pfizer to Begin Clinical Trial of COVID-19 Vaccine in Pregnant Women

The first U.S. participants in a large-scale clinical trial to test the safety and efficacy of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in pregnant women have received their shots, the company announced Thursday.

The goal is to enroll about 4,000 pregnant women in the worldwide trial, which the company believes will be completed by January 2023, CBS News reported.

Without vaccination, research suggests pregnant women face a higher risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19. One study published in January found a COVID-19 mortality rate among pregnant women that was 13 times higher than other similarly aged patients, CBS News reported.

"I recommend highly that all pregnant women be immunized, from initial discovery of the pregnancy right up to term," Dr. Bob Lahita, a professor of medicine New York Medical College and chairman of medicine at St. Joseph University Hospital, told CBS News recently.

He said there is "no evidence" that the vaccine "has any effect on the placenta, on the fetus, on the mother. Except if one gets the infection, the COVID, and you are pregnant, you run the risk of becoming very, very sick."

The only other COVID-19 vaccine to so far receive emergency use authorization in the United States is from Moderna, which has created a registry to keep tabs on pregnant women who receive the vaccine.

Recently, leading scientists at the U.S. National Institutes of Health called on COVID-19 vaccine developers to boost their research into pregnant women, who have an increased risk of severe COVID-19 illness but have lacked clear guidance on vaccination, CBS News reported.

Pfizer also said it plans to start trials of their vaccine in younger children over the coming months, and recently began trials in teens.

Research to assess the vaccine in people with weakened immune systems is also planned, CBS News reported.

Water Problems Plague Texas Hospitals After Storm

Some hospitals in Texas are struggling with water problems and have moved patients to other facilities due to power outages caused by deadly winter weather that slammed the state this week.

In a statement to CBS News on Thursday, St. David's HealthCare said that its South Austin Medical Center lost water pressure and was restricting water usage.

Bottles and jugs of water are being distributed to patients and employees for drinking and hand washing. Heating at the hospital was also under threat because water feeds its boiler.

The center is working with the city to find a solution and trying to find "a transportation solution to get patients who are medically able to be discharged home safely," according to the statement, CBS News reported.

Water pressure problems led Dell Children's hospital in Austin to ask patients not to take showers and to use hand sanitizer for cleaning their hands, according to radio station KUT. It also reported that the hospital issued a letter to patients saying toilets can't be flushed and linens will be changed only as needed, CBS News reported.

A spokesperson for Ascension Seton hospitals in Austins aid "extreme weather conditions have caused intermittent water issues" at several facilities, according to the Texas Tribune.

Two major hospitals in the city of Arlington -- Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital and Medical City of Arlington — were experiencing water pressure issues, CBS DFW reported Wednesday.

In a statement, Texas Health Arlington Memorial President Blake Kretz said the hospital was providing boiled water to patients and staff.

Medical City of Arlington said in a statement to CBS DFW that it had "several days' supply of bottled water on-hand for our patients and staff," and was working with the city and fire department for additional water supplies.

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