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Biden: Vaccine tax credit can be taken

By MINLU ZHANG in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-04-22 11:03

US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the COVID-19 response and the state of vaccinations at the South Court Auditorium of Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, DC on April 21, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

President Joe Biden on Wednesday called on all US employers to use a tax credit to give employees time off to get vaccinated as the country is headed toward meeting his goal of giving 200 million vaccine shots in his first 100 days in office.

"Every employee should get paid leave to get a shot, and businesses should know that they can provide it without a hit to their bottom line," Biden said in a speech at the White House. "There's no excuse for not getting it done."

The tax credit for companies with fewer than 500 employees will offset the cost of giving employees paid time off to get their shots and recover from any potential side effects of vaccination.

The tax credit, part of the COVID-19 aid package Biden signed into law last month, applies to nearly half of all private-sector employees, according to the White House.

The tax credit will cover paid leave for up to $511 per day for up to 10 workdays, or 80 work hours, taken between April 1 and Sept 30, 2021.

More than 50 percent of adults have received at least the first dose, and about 26 percent of the US population is fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

More than 80 percent of Americans over the age of 65 will have received at least one coronavirus vaccine dose by Thursday.

But the vaccination rate has dipped slightly from a peak of 3.4 million reported shots per day on April 13 to just more than 3 million Tuesday, despite every US adult becoming eligible for a COVID-19 shot as of Monday.

Biden urged everyone 16 years and older to seek out the vaccine. "If you've been waiting your turn, wait no longer," Biden said. "Now is the time."

Meanwhile, the US State Department has added 116 countries this week to its "Level Four: Do Not Travel" advisory list, putting the UK, Canada, France, Mexico, Germany and others on the list, citing a "very high level of COVID-19".

The State Department has already classified 34 countries as Level Four – meaning avoid all travel, which includes Austria and the United Arab Emirates. The State Department now lists 150 countries out of about 200 countries at Level Four. In total, about 80 percent of the world is raised to the level.

The State Department said Monday the move doesn't imply a reassessment of current health situations in some countries, but rather "reflects an adjustment in the State Department's Travel Advisory system to rely more on (CDC) existing epidemiological assessments".

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said Wednesday that a Baltimore factory contracted to make Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine doses was unsanitary and unsuitable to manufacture the shots, resulting in contamination of material that was going to be put in the vaccines.

"The firm has failed to adequately train personnel involved in manufacturing operations, quality control sampling, weigh and dispense, and engineering operations to prevent cross-contamination of bulk drug substances," the FDA investigators wrote in a 13-page report released Wednesday.

Other problems cited in the inspection report were peeling paint, black and brown residue on floors and walls in the factory, and inadequate cleaning.

The FDA asked Emergent Biosciences, which ruined millions of the J&J doses last month, to temporarily stop producing materials for the vaccine while an inspection initiated earlier this month proceeds.

The facility has not been authorized by the FDA to manufacture or distribute J&J's vaccine, and none of the doses made at the Baltimore site have been distributed for use in the US. The nearly 8 million doses of J&J vaccine given in the US came from Europe.

J&J said in a statement Wednesday that it will ensure that all of the FDA's observations are "addressed promptly and comprehensively".

"The Company will also redouble its efforts as it continues to work toward securing Emergency Use Authorization in the US for drug substance manufactured at Emergent Bayview as quickly as possible, so that the Company can help bring an end to this global pandemic," the company said.

The use of the J&J vaccine is still on hold in the US as government health officials investigate its possible connection to rare blood clots.

Agencies contributed to this story.

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