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3M sues Tampa Bay company over sale of fake N95 masks

The suit alleges that MM Medical Supply sold tens of thousands of counterfeit 3M masks to a hospital system.
This December 2020 image provided by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement shows a counterfeit N95 surgical mask.
This December 2020 image provided by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement shows a counterfeit N95 surgical mask. [ AP ]
Published Apr. 9
Updated Apr. 9

BOSTON — Product manufacturer 3M has filed a trademark and fraud lawsuit against a Florida company that’s accused of selling counterfeit surgical N95 masks to a Massachusetts hospital.

The suit alleges that MM Medical Supply sold tens of thousands of counterfeit 3M masks to South Shore Health System this year. The company led the hospital to believe it was an official 3M distributor, the suit says, and sold the masks at “exorbitantly inflated” prices.

The suit was filed March 31 in federal court in Florida. It says the issue came to the attention of 3M after a worker at the Weymouth hospital noticed that the masks seemed off. He contacted 3M, which confirmed that the masks were fakes.

A message seeking comment was left with MM Medical Supply, which is based in Tarpon Springs.

The suit accuses the company of “pandemic profiteering,” saying it “not only jeopardizes the health and safety of those fighting the pandemic on the front lines, but also seeks to divert precious public and other funds from the purchase of genuine personal protective equipment.”

3M is seeking to have MM Medical Supply barred from selling fake products and to turn over all profits from fraudulent sales. The suit says the money would be donated to COVID-19 relief efforts.

It’s one of more than 30 similar suits 3M has filed during the pandemic.

HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING IN REGARD TO THE PANDEMIC:

NEW ORLEANS -- Last call is coming later at New Orleans bars. The city announced Friday that bars and restaurants in the city can sell alcoholic beverages until 1 a.m.

The later hours represent the latest easing of COVID-19-related restrictions in New Orleans. The previous shutdown-time for alcoholic drink sales had been 11 p.m.

The city has recently eased restrictions on building occupancy, the size of public gatherings and live music. Officials say new confirmed cases in New Orleans are averaging below 50 per day, and the rate of positive tests is running under 1%.

Also, 37% of the city’s residents have received at least one vaccine dose with 25% considered fully vaccinated.

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LOS ANGELES — The Hollywood Bowl will reopen for the 2021 season with a limited-capacity audience due to COVID-19 concerns.

The Los Angeles Philharmonic Association announced Friday that concerts will resume in May with capacity for about 4,000 people based on current public health guidance. The association said it expects the number to increase later in the summer as guidelines evolve.

The reopening will begin with four free concerts for healthcare workers, first responders and essential workers.

The Philharmonic said its other outdoor venue, The Ford, will also open with a 15-week run beginning in late July.

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CUMMMING, Georgia -- Health officials in the U.S. state of Georgia are temporarily stopping use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at one site in north Georgia after eight people experienced “adverse reactions” on Wednesday.

At least three other states — North Carolina, Iowa and Colorado — have reported adverse reactions in people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at some locations.

One of the eight people at the vaccination site in Cumming, Georgia, was evaluated at a hospital and released, the Georgia Department of Public Health said Friday. The others were monitored and sent home.

Georgia health officials have not said what the adverse reactions were. In North Carolina, health officials have said that multiple people fainted after receiving the vaccine.

The state is putting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on pause in Cumming “out an abundance of caution,” health officials said in a statement.

There’s no reason to believe there is anything wrong with the vaccine, and people who have received it should not be concerned, said Dr. Kathleen Toomey, Georgia’s health commissioner.

The agency is looking into what may have caused the reactions, “including the conditions at the fairgrounds such as heat and the ability to keep the site cool,” Toomey said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating the incidents in Georgia, Iowa, Colorado and North Carolina, health officials said.

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MEXICO CITY -- Many private-practice doctors, dentists and health care workers in Mexico are protesting that they have not been prioritized in the government-run coronavirus vaccine program even though they are exposed to possible infection at work.

The private health care workers blocked Mexico City’s streets while staging protests this week. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador defended the vaccination program on Friday, saying it had to focus on people over 60 years old to prevent deaths.

As he often has done in the past, López Obrador attributed the protests to a “very perverse” campaign by private media outlets against him.

“Let them wait...until we all get it,” López Obrador said, referring to the country’s age-based vaccination system.

That means private practice doctors would have to wait for their age group to get shots. The president said vaccines for people between 50 and 60 should start this month.

The president also said the next stage will be to vaccinate the country’s 3 million teachers, regardless of whether they teach at public or private schools.

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LANSING, Mich. — Faced with the highest rate of new coronavirus infections in the United States, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is strongly urging a two-week suspension of in-person high school classes, all youth sports and indoor restaurant dining.

Whitmer stopped short of ordering restrictions Friday, instead asking for voluntary compliance to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“We have to do this together. Lives depend on it, " she said said during a news conference, again urging residents to be vaccinated. “We’re going to have some tough weeks ahead. So I’m asking everyone — please, take this seriously.”

The Democratic governor also renewed her call for the federal government to send additional vaccines. The Biden administration will provide extra resources but not doses.

As of Thursday, Michigan had the worst rate of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. over the previous two weeks. Related hospitalizations had more than quadrupled in a month and were 88% of the statewide peak from a year ago.

The governor has resisted reinstating past restrictions such as a stay-at-home order or bans on indoor dining, in-person instruction and youth contact sports that were criticized by Republican lawmakers and others.

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ROME — Italian prosecutors formally accused a top World Health Organization official of lying to them about a spiked U.N. report into Italy’s coronavirus response, revealing private communications Friday that are likely to embarrass WHO.

Prosecutors in Bergamo placed Dr. Ranieri Guerra, WHO’s assistant director general, under investigation for allegedly making false declarations to them when he voluntarily agreed to be questioned in November.

Guerra was WHO’s liaison with the Italian government after Italy became the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in Europe last year.

Prosecutors are investigating the huge COVID-19 death toll in Bergamo and whether Italy’s lack of preparedness going into the pandemic played a role. Their probe expanded to include the related scandal over the spiked WHO report into Italy’s virus response because it revealed that the Italian government hadn’t updated its pandemic preparedness plan since 2006.

The U.N. health agency pulled the report from its website May 14, a day after it went up, and never republished it. Its disappearance suggested that the WHO removed it to spare the Italian government criticism, embarrassment and liability.

When asked at the time whether Guerra or the Italian government had intervened to spike the report, WHO said it was removed by its regional office in Copenhagen because it contained “factual inaccuracies.”

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ATHENS, Greece — Greece’s national vaccination committee has announced it is recommending the AstraZeneca vaccine continue to be administered to people 30 and older, saying the risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19 far outweighs that of someone developing an extremely rare blood clotting disorder due to the vaccine.

The committee’s announcement adds to the varying advice regarding the AstraZeneca vaccine coming from different European countries. The European Medicines Agency has not advised on setting any age restrictions on use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The vaccination committee in Greece said Friday it was recommending “the continuation of the vaccination program with every available vaccine, including the AstraZeneca vaccine, in people aged 30 and over.”

Greece has reported a record number of new daily cases several times in recent weeks, but has also been conducting a record number of tests.

But hospital admission rates have been increasing as well, and intensive care units in many parts of Greece are at or over capacity, despite the country being under lockdown-type measures since early November.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told North Carolina health officials that it’s safe to continue administering Johnson & Johnson vaccines at three vaccination sites that said they’d stop giving out the doses due to an increase in reports of adverse reactions.

As of 11 p.m. Thursday, one of the more than 2,300 people who received a shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at PNC Arena in Raleigh earlier that day remained in the hospital, while three other people hospitalized were released. Fourteen more people experienced minor reactions that were able to be treated on-site.

The CDC performed vaccine lot analyses in North Carolina and said it did not find reasons for concern.

Wanting to inform over 2,000 people with Friday appointments which vaccine they would receive, Wake County public health officials said they would administer the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at PNC Arena and allow those who prefer the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot to reschedule their appointments.

Two UNC Health clinics plan to resume appointments for the J&J vaccine on Saturday after the CDC informed them on Friday morning that it “found no evidence of a safety concern for the J&J vaccine after looking at cases in NC and other parts of the country.”

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GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization said that over 87% of the more than 700 million doses of coronavirus vaccine that have been administered worldwide have been given in wealthier countries.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that on average, one in four people in rich countries have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, compared to only one in 500 people in low-income countries.

“There remains a shocking imbalance in the global distribution of vaccines,” Tedros said during a media briefing Friday.

He called COVAX, the U.N.-backed initiative to distribute vaccines fairly, “a strong mechanism that can deliver vaccines faster and more efficiently than any other mechanism.” He noted that COVAX so far has delivered about 38 million doses worldwide, or enough to cover about 0.25% of the global population.

Tedros criticized countries that plan to donate vaccines directly to other nations instead of going through COVAX.

“These bilateral arrangements run the risk of fanning the flames of vaccine inequity,” he said, without explaining why donations that bypass COVAX were problematic.

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MADRID — A senior Madrid region health official is blaming “confusion” over who should have AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine for a drop in the number of people showing up for their jab appointments.

Antonio Zapatero said authorities planned to vaccinate around 32,000 people Friday after opening a third mass vaccination center in the Spanish capital, but only 45% of them had confirmed by Thursday night that they would show up.

On Thursday, fewer than 11,000 of the 29,000 called to two mass vaccination centers received their shots, Zapatero said.

Spanish health authorities said Wednesday night that they would give the AstraZeneca vaccine only to people over 60-years-old, due to possible links between the shot and extremely rare blood clots in people younger than 60.

On Thursday night, officials announced that people between 60 and 69 would get the jab.

Zapatero blamed the uncertainty for the low turnout.

He belongs to Spain’s opposition Popular Party, which is competing in a regional election next month. Among its opponents is the Socialist Party, which runs Spain’s government and sets national health policy.

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PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron acknowledged the U.S. “won the bet” on coronavirus vaccines by investing massively and moving fast with experimental treatments.

He urged his compatriots to join a “national war effort” to administer and make vaccines. Macron visited a French factory Friday that started bottling and packaging Pfizer vaccines this week. He promised France would produce 250 million vaccine doses this year for domestic and global use.

Amid frustration in France that no French company has produced a leading vaccine so far despite a powerful pharmaceutical industry, Macron pledged “24/7” efforts to boost vaccine development and production at sites like the Delpharm plant he visited west of Paris.

France is under a month of new restrictions to ease strain on hospitals fighting a new surge of virus patients. Macron stressed the importance of speeding up vaccine injections and wants “all our country mobilized for vaccines, morning, noon, evening and night.. to administer doses but also to produce them. It’s really collective, national war effort.”

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BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokeswoman says Germany will draw up legislation to ensure that restrictions are imposed uniformly in regions with high coronavirus infection rates.

In highly decentralized Germany, the 16 state governments have far-reaching powers to impose and lift restrictions. Merkel complained recently about what she saw as some states’ backsliding on previously agreed to restrictions in places where infections are rising.

Germany, like many other European countries, has seen a resurgence of confirmed cases as a more contagious variant first detected in Britain has taken hold.

Even as new infections and hospital admissions rise sharply, some state governors have continued to back limited reopening steps, while others advocate a stricter shutdown.

Merkel spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer said Friday that the federal and state governments have agreed to draw up nationwide legislation spelling out what restrictions have to be imposed in areas where there are more than 100 new cases per 100,000 residents over seven days. She said Merkel’s Cabinet will consider the legislation on Tuesday.

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TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian officials said the daily death toll from COVID-19 rose by 155, putting the country’s total at 64,039 as of Friday.

Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari said 22,478 new confirmed cases were registered since a day earlier, bringing Iran’s total in the pandemic to 2,029,412.

At least 2,567 people were hospitalized with the virus, she added.

On Saturday, Iran will start to impose 10 days of restrictions in 257 cities. The closures include all parks, restaurants, beauty salons, malls and bookstores.

Iran has more than 800 cities and towns. Only 11 cities are considered entirely safe in terms of infections and have no restrictions, while the rest have varying degrees of restrictions.

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey has posted record daily numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases for the past 10 days, including 55,941 new infections reported late Thursday.

Keen to minimize the pandemic’s repercussions for Turkey’s ailing economy, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan eased infection-control measures in early March. The recent spike forced him to announce renewed restrictions, such as weekend lockdowns and the closure of cafes and restaurants during Ramadan, starting on April 13.

Turkish medical groups say the reopening in March was premature and that the new measures won’t go far enough to curb the surge. They have called for a full lockdown during the holy Muslim month.

“Every single day the number of cases is increasing. Every single day the number of death is increasing. The alarm bells are ringing for the intensive care units,” Ismail Cinel, head of the Turkish Intensive Care Association, said.

The Health Ministry has said that around 75% of the recent infections in Turkey involve the more contagious variant first identified in Britain.

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PARIS — France says people under age 55 who received a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine should get a different vaccine for their second shot because of an extremely rare risk of a blood clotting disorder.

At the same time, French authorities insisted Friday that the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe, and they continued recommending it for older populations, as the country’s hospitals battle a new surge in virus patients.

“It’s an effective vaccine,” Dominique Le Guludec of France’s High Authority for Health told reporters. “If we want to win the battle against the virus, we must use all weapons at our disposition.”

More than a half-million French people under 55 received a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine before reports of rare blood clots emerged. Since March 19, France has only offered the vaccine to those over 55.

France’s High Authority for Health said Friday that younger people who have already received the first dose should get booster shots from Pfizer or Moderna vaccines instead.

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistani authorities will restrict inter-city transportation on weekends starting at midnight Friday as part of measures aimed at containing coronavirus cases and deaths.

Bus terminals in the capital, Islamabad, and elsewhere in Pakistan will remain closed for inter-city transport on Saturday and Sunday.

The restriction will not apply on cargo, ambulance service and supply of medical equipment.

On Friday, Pakistan reported 105 virus-related deaths and 5,312 new confirmed cases in 24 hours,, one of the highest daily case numbers in recent months.

Pakistan is in the middle of a third wave of infections. The country has reported a total of 15,229 deaths among 710,829 confirmed cases.

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