Covid-19 and Vaccine News: Live Updates
As concerns grow over a rise in coronavirus cases driven by the highly contagious Delta variant, Germany will offer vaccine booster shots to older people and people with underlying health conditions starting in September, according to a draft plan that is expected to be announced on Monday.
Germany’s move came after a top European Union official criticized the bloc as falling far short of its promises to donate vaccine doses to Africa and Latin America. Many health experts say the priority should be inoculating high-risk people around the world, and scientists also still disagree on the need for booster shots.
The issue of booster shots has been hotly debated in richer countries as vaccination rates have slowed. But as the Delta variant has become dominant in much of the United States and Europe, more governments appear to be moving toward endorsing them.
In the United States, Biden administration health officials increasingly think that vulnerable populations may need additional shots even as research continues into how long the vaccines remain effective. Israel, an early leader in administering vaccines, began administering boosters to people 60 and over last week.
Under the German initiative, vaccination teams will be sent to care homes and other facilities for vulnerable people to administer Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna shots, according to the draft plan. Doctors and vaccination centers will be called on to provide the extra shots for eligible people outside care homes.
The boosters will also be offered to people who received AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson shots initially.
The guidelines cite studies that indicate “a reduced or quickly subsiding immune response after a full Covid-19 vaccination in certain groups of people,” notably those who because of age or pre-existing conditions have weakened immune systems.
Studies have indicated that immunity resulting from the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines is long-lasting, and researchers are still working to interpret recent Israeli data suggesting a decline in efficacy of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine months after inoculation.
Pfizer, which has begun making a case for booster shots in the United States, offered its own study last week showing a marginal decline in efficacy against symptomatic infection months after immunization, although the vaccine remains powerfully effective against severe disease and death.
Britain, which remains ahead of the European Union on vaccinations, has not yet formally announced plans for a booster shot program. But officials there have been planning for them ever since a committee of government advisers in late June outlined recommendations on how the shots could be administered.
Even as wealthier nations prepare to give booster shots, though, health experts say the focus should be on giving first doses to people in countries that remain largely unprotected, especially as the Delta variant spreads.
“Wealthy governments shouldn’t be prioritizing giving third doses when much of the developing world hasn’t even yet had the chance to get their first Covid-19 shots,” Kate Elder, the senior vaccines policy adviser at Doctors Without Borders’ Access Campaign, said in a statement.
Metropolitan Transportation Authority workers will be required to be vaccinated or face weekly testing, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York announced on Monday, the state’s latest effort to boost lagging vaccination rates amid the rapid spread of the Delta coronavirus variant.
The new requirement applies to 68,000 employees of the M.T.A., which operates New York City’s sprawling subway and bus system, as well as commuter rails that serve the city’s surrounding counties.
It will also apply to workers of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs La Guardia Airport, John F. Kennedy International Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport, as well as a broad network of bridges, tunnels and seaports.
Mr. Cuomo framed the new policy as a crucial step to not only help curb the spread of the virus — transit workers interact with millions of riders each day — but also to help improve confidence among riders concerned about their health and safety.
The policy goes into effect starting on Labor Day.
“If it spreads aggressively among the unvaccinated, numerically we would have a problem,” said Mr. Cuomo, a third-term Democrat. “Worst case scenario, a large number of unvaccinated get sick and even worse than that, the delta variant mutates into a vaccine resistant virus and now we’re back to where we started.”
Janno Lieber, the acting board chair and chief executive of the M.T.A., said that about 70 percent of the M.T.A. work force has already been vaccinated, but, “we can and have to do better.”
“Transit workers have carried the city and the region on their back,” Mr. Lieber said. “If we’re going to bounce back stronger than ever, we all have to step up.”
The policy shift comes less than a week after Mr. Cuomo announced the same requirement for the state’s 130,000 employees, following the lead of Mayor Bill de Blasio, who rolled out a similar mandate for the city’s 300,000 workers. The requirement has rapidly become a model across the nation: President Biden announced a similar policy for the nation’s millions of federal employees on Thursday, too, as other local governments weigh similar mandates.
New York State, just weeks after lifting most of its coronavirus restrictions on businesses and social gatherings, has seen a steady rise in cases as a result of the new variant, even as 75 percent of adults in the state have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
The state reported a seven-day average of 2,280 cases on Aug. 1, up from an average of just 328 a month ago on July 1. Hospitalizations have also ticked up, while the number of deaths has remained relatively steady, according to The New York Times coronavirus tracker.
At the same time, Mr. Cuomo said it was up to local governments, including New York City, to decide whether to adopt the new federal guidance recommending that vaccinated people wear masks indoors publicly in areas where cases are on the rise.
“It’s up to the local governments,” Mr. Cuomo said. “But local governments, you should adopt that C.D.C. mask guidance.”
The governor also urged private businesses, including bars, restaurants and venues, to require proof of vaccination from their clientele.
Mayor Bill de Blasio urged vaccinated New Yorkers to return to wearing masks indoors on Monday as the city battled a new wave of coronavirus cases, but he stopped short of issuing the sort of mask mandates adopted in other parts of the country.
“We want to strongly recommend that people wear masks in indoor settings even if you’re vaccinated,” Mr. de Blasio said.
States like Minnesota and Washington have taken a similar approach.
Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat in his final year in office, had resisted calls for New Yorkers to return to wearing masks indoors again and said he wanted to focus instead on vaccination.
But on Monday, the mayor said masks were necessary after the C.D.C.’s latest guidance, which said people in areas with surging cases should begin wearing masks indoors again. All of New York City exceeds the threshold of new cases outlined by the agency.
New Yorkers were already required to wear masks on public transit and in hospitals and schools. Now they are being asked to wear them in other public settings like grocery stores.
Across the country, some municipalities have been quick to reimpose mask rules; others have been adamantly opposed.
The Democratic mayors of Washington, D.C., Atlanta and Kansas City, Mo., have reinstated forms of mask mandates. So have the Democratic governors of Nevada and Kansas.
Many Republican governors have resisted the idea. Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas issued an executive order barring local governments and state agencies from mandating vaccination and reinforcing an earlier order that prohibited officials from requiring face masks.
Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida last week signed an executive order giving parents the power to decide whether their children wear masks in schools, after Broward County, the state’s second largest school district, voted to require masks.
“In Florida, there will be no lockdowns,” Mr. DeSantis said to cheers at a restaurant in Cape Coral, Fla., on Friday. “There will be no school closures. There will be no restrictions and no mandates.”
Federal recommendations call for students, teachers and parents to wear masks, regardless of their vaccination status. Both Florida and Texas are facing surges, according to a New York Times database.
Mr. de Blasio said it was important for people to wear masks indoors when they did not know if others around them were vaccinated. If they know that everyone is vaccinated, that’s a “better situation,” he said.
Mr. de Blasio said that vaccines were still the most important measure to end the pandemic. Last week, he announced that city workers must get vaccinated or face weekly testing and offered a $100 incentive for people who get vaccinated at city sites.
On Monday, he said the city had hit an important milestone — 10 million doses administered — and announced a new policy: a vaccine mandate for new city employees.
“Every single new person hired by the City of New York — before they report to work, they must provide proof of vaccination,” he said.
In an unusually public criticism of the European Union, its foreign policy chief has said that the bloc is falling radically short of its promises to donate Covid-19 vaccine doses to Africa and Latin America, creating a vacuum that China is filling.
Such donations are the responsibility of E.U. member countries. But the official, Josep Borrell Fontelles also singled out his boss, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, the bloc’s executive branch.
“The president of the Commission said we are going to give not 100, but 200 million doses to Africa,” Mr. Borrell said on Friday at a university summer course in Santander in Spain, his home country. “Yes, but when? The problem isn’t just the commitment, but the effectiveness.”
Mr. Borrell said that European countries had contributed about 10 million doses to Africa — a continent with a population of 1.5 billion. “It’s certainly insufficient,” he said.
In remarks cited by Politico Europe, Mr. Borrell said the issue was not just inequality, but also China’s efforts to expand its influence through vaccine donations.
“In Europe, we vaccinated 60 percent of our population, in Africa, they are at 2 or 3 percent,” he added. “Who’s the big vaccine supplier to Africa? China. Who’s the big vaccine supplier to Latin America? China.”
He said that Europe’s failure has “geopolitical consequences,” adding: “China’s expansion in Africa and Latin America should concern us and should occupy us a great deal.”
He also urged the European Union to move faster to approve association and trade agreements with Mexico and Chile, he said, “while China is landing in all parts of Latin America and occupying a predominant role.”
Mr. Borrell, 74, is a Commission vice president and former Spanish foreign minister. He has a particular interest in Latin America and Africa, and has been trying to persuade E.U. member states to respond more efficiently to crises in Libya, Ethiopia and Morocco, in part because of their impact on migration. He has also spoken often about how to do more for Cuba and Venezuela.
The Commission had no immediate comment. It has also been unwilling to identify how many doses have been donated to which countries.
Most European countries are still in the midst of their own vaccination campaigns, and the European Union has yet to define a bloc-wide strategy on vaccine donations. Italy said on Sunday that it had shipped 1.5 million doses to Tunisia, which has one of the world’s highest coronavirus death rates. Spain has promised to donate 7.5 million doses to Latin American countries. And France and Germany have each pledged to donate 30 million doses.
It is unclear how many of the doses promised have actually been delivered.
That compares with a pledge by the Biden administration to donate 80 million doses.
With the coronavirus spreading across the country and hospitalizations rising again, and public health officials warning that the Delta variant carries new risks even for vaccinated people, big businesses are rethinking their plans.
Some are delaying their plans to bring workers back to the office, and others are restoring mask requirements for customers. In the last week, several have also imposed vaccine mandates, after having held off on such a step for months.
The decision to require vaccines was endorsed on Sunday by the director of the National Institutes of Health. Speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Dr. Francis Collins said that asking employees for proof of vaccination or regular testing were steps “in the right direction.”
Here’s how some big businesses changed their plans in late July:
Delayed return to office:
Lyft pushed back its return-to-office date to February from September, Google extended its work-from-home policy to mid-October, and Apple said employees would not be expected to return to the office until at least Oct. 1, a month later than before.
Uber said that it would not require employees to return until Oct. 25, instead of its initial September date, and that a further delay was possible if cases kept rising.
Twitter shut its San Francisco and New York offices, putting a halt to reopening plans without a timeline in place.
The New York Times Company also indefinitely postponed its planned return to the office, telling employees that they would be given four weeks notice before being expected to return. The company, which employs about 4,700 people, had planned for workers to start to return for at least three days a week in September. Its offices will remain open for those who want to go in voluntarily, with proof of vaccination.
Endeavor, the parent company of the William Morris Endeavor talent agency, closed its recently reopened offices after Los Angeles County reimposed its indoor mask mandate. An Endeavor spokesman said the company had decided that enforcement would be too difficult and would hinder group meetings.
Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, with nearly 1.6 million workers, said vaccines would be mandatory for employees in its headquarters and for managers who traveled in the United States. The mandate does not apply to much of its work force — employees in stores, clubs, and distribution and fulfillment centers.
The Walt Disney Company said salaried and nonunion hourly U.S. employees at its sites must be fully vaccinated. Unvaccinated workers who are already on site will have 60 days to get the immunization, and new hires will be required to be fully vaccinated before starting work.
The Washington Post will require all employees to show that they are vaccinated against the coronavirus as a condition of employment, starting when workers return to the office in September.
Netflix said it would require the casts of all its U.S. productions to be vaccinated, along with anyone else who comes on set.
Facebook said it would require employees who work at its U.S. campuses to be vaccinated, depending on local conditions and regulations.
Walmart said it was reinstating mask requirements for associates in areas of the country with substantial or high transmission rates. The company recommended that customers wear masks in those areas, too. The retailer also doubled its reward to employees who get vaccinated from $75 to $150.
Starting Monday, the Florida-based grocery chain Publix will require employees to wear masks in all its stores regardless of their vaccination status.
Apple said employees and customers would have to wear masks regardless of their vaccination status in more than half its stores in the United States. Apple said the stores would be determined by the rate of coronavirus cases in the area. Apple also told its employees that they would have to wear masks when inside the company’s main offices in the United States, regardless of whether they were vaccinated.
Deaths from Covid-19 were surging across Africa in June when 100,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived in Chad. The delivery seemed proof that Covax, the United Nations-backed program to immunize the world, could get the most desirable vaccines to the least developed countries.
Yet five weeks later, Chad’s health minister said, 94,000 doses remained unused.
Nearby in Benin, only 267 shots were being given each day, a pace so slow that 110,000 of the program’s AstraZeneca doses expired. Across Africa, confidential documents from July indicated, the program was monitoring at least nine countries where it said doses intended for the poor were at risk of spoiling this summer.
The vaccine pileup illustrates one of the most serious unrecognized problems facing the immunization program: difficulty getting doses from airport tarmacs into people’s arms.
Covax was supposed to be a global powerhouse, a multibillion-dollar alliance of international health bodies and nonprofits that would ensure that poor countries received vaccines as quickly as the rich. Instead, it has struggled to acquire doses: It stands half a billion short of its goal.
Driven by a nonprofit funded by the Gates Foundation, Covax has gotten vaccines to poorer countries faster than was previously typical. It also developed a system to compensate people for serious post-vaccine reactions and protect vaccine makers from legal liability.
Still, the 163 million doses it has delivered — most free to poorer nations, with the rest to countries like Canada that paid their way — are a far cry from plans to have at least 640 million doses available by now.
Now, poor countries are dangerously unprotected as the Delta variant of the virus runs rampant, the very scenario that Covax was created to prevent. And the longer the virus circulates, the more dangerous it can become, even for wealthy countries.
By the Fourth of July, the tourist season in Provincetown, Mass., had built to a prepandemic thrum. Restaurants were booked solid, and snaking lines formed outside dance clubs. There were conga lines, drag brunches and a pervasive, joyous sense of relief.
“We really thought we had beat Covid,” said Alex Morse, who arrived this spring as town manager.
Mr. Morse didn’t think much of it, five days after the holiday, when the town’s Board of Health logged two new cases of coronavirus. A week later, though, the cluster of cases associated with gatherings in Provincetown was growing by 50 to 100 cases per day. Alongside the numbers was an unsettling fact: Most of the people testing positive were vaccinated.
Provincetown, a quirky beach community at the tip of Cape Cod, has provided a sobering case study for the country, abruptly tugging Americans back to the caution of winter and spring.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cited the cluster on Friday as key to its decision to issue new indoor mask guidance, saying viral loads among the vaccinated people there were found to be as high as among the unvaccinated.
The good news is that people infected in Provincetown were for the most part not seriously ill. The bad news is that the variant is extraordinarily contagious — as contagious as chickenpox, the C.D.C. said — and people with breakthrough infections may spread the virus to others.
YouTube has suspended the conservative news channel Sky News Australia for a week for breaching the platform’s coronavirus misinformation policy.
The broadcaster, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation and has nearly two million subscribers on YouTube, is not allowed to upload new videos for the duration of its suspension, which began on Thursday. Existing videos on its account can still be viewed.
In a statement to The New York Times on Monday, YouTube said it had removed Sky News videos and issued a strike against the broadcaster in accordance with policies “to prevent the spread of coronavirus information that could cause real-world harm.”
This is the first strike for Sky News. If it receives three strikes within 90 days, its YouTube channel will be permanently deleted.
The statement did not specify what content was removed.
Sky News said in a statement on its website on Sunday that the suspension had resulted from “a review of old videos published to the channel,” and that it “acknowledges YouTube’s right to enforce its policies.”
An opinion piece published by Sky News on Sunday criticized the suspension as an “assault on freedom of thought” and said that some of the removed videos had featured debates over the efficacy of masks and lockdowns.
Lockdowns have been a contentious topic in Australia, where two of the largest cities are under stay-at-home orders amid growing clusters of the more contagious Delta variant of the virus. Brisbane began a three-day lockdown on Saturday after six cases were discovered, and on Monday it was extended until Sunday. In Sydney, where an outbreak of the Delta variant has grown to more than 3,500 cases, 300 soldiers are patrolling the streets to enforce a lockdown that is in its sixth week.
Officials say the lockdowns are necessary because not enough Australians have been inoculated against Covid-19. Only 15 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, according to a New York Times database.
The Sky News suspension came on the same day it was reported that The Daily Telegraph, a Sydney tabloid that is also owned by News Corporation, had dropped a weekly column by the Sky News commentator Alan Jones.
In a segment on his Sky News show last month, Mr. Jones and Craig Kelly, an Australian lawmaker and conspiracy theorist, falsely claimed that the Delta variant was less deadly than the original form of the coronavirus and that people who had been vaccinated were more likely to die from the virus. Sky News subsequently retracted the segment and issued a correction.
As New York City strives to lure back tourists and office workers, it has undertaken an aggressive campaign to push homeless people off the streets of Manhattan.
City workers used to tear down one or two encampments a day. Now, they sometimes clear dozens. Since late May, teams that include sanitation workers in garbage trucks, police officers and outreach workers have cruised Manhattan around the clock, hitting the same spots over and over.
The sweeps are part of a broader effort by Mayor Bill de Blasio that includes transferring more than 8,000 people from hotels, where they had been placed to stem the spread of the coronavirus, to barracks-style group shelters.
The transfers are continuing despite the recent surge in the Delta variant, though the city told a judge that it would delay the moves on Monday to address concerns that it was not adequately considering people’s health problems and disabilities.
The city is also responding to months of complaints about homeless people blocking public spaces, menacing passers-by and committing assaults. On Wednesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, whose administration has slashed aid for addressing homelessness, cited the problem as one of the main hurdles to the city’s recovery.
The debate over how to tackle homelessness in New York City, where more than 2,000 people live on the streets and the subway, comes as cities across the country grapple with growing encampments.
On Wednesday, the Los Angeles City Council outlawed camping near parks, libraries and schools. On Saturday, a national eviction moratorium expired, spurring fears of a new surge in homelessness, though in New York the moratorium continues through Aug. 31.
As a wave of major U.S. employers said last week that unvaccinated workers would need to submit to regular coronavirus testing, it raised a thorny question: Who pays for those tests?
Doctors typically charge about $50 to $100 for the tests, so the costs of weekly testing could add up quickly. Federal law requires insurers to fully cover the tests when ordered by a health care provider, but routine workplace tests are exempt from that provision.
“It’s really up to the employer,” said Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms. “They can require employees to pick up the tab.”
Employers have taken a range of approaches, from fully covering the costs to having unvaccinated workers pay full freight.
The U.S. government will pay for its unvaccinated workers’ coronavirus testing, Karine Jean-Pierre, the deputy White House press secretary, said at a news briefing on Friday. Each federal agency will come up with a plan for testing its unvaccinated work force, she said, adding that the costs and procedures of each agency’s testing protocols will depend on the number of unvaccinated people they need to monitor.
The tide has begun to turn on corporate vaccine mandates, with large employers including the Walt Disney Company, Facebook, Google and Walmart introducing stricter requirements for employees returning to the workplace. But the policies come with some important caveats as executives juggle public health, labor relations and the bottom line, the DealBook newsletter reports.
So far, with the exception of the health care industry, corporate vaccine mandates tend to cover the white-collar workers that executives want back in the office, not the lower-income workers on the front lines who are less likely to be vaccinated.
Walmart’s vaccination mandate, for example, doesn’t cover the company’s most vulnerable employees: workers at its stores and warehouses. The retailer, the biggest private employer in the United States, announced mandatory inoculation for employees at its headquarters and for managers who travel domestically. For a sense of scale, about 17,000 of Walmart’s 1.6 million employees are expected to work in new headquarters in Bentonville, Ark.
One fear that companies have with broad vaccine mandates is that they could drive away employees at a time when workers are already in short supply, especially in industries like retail and restaurants. At the same time, not requiring vaccines may make other groups of workers anxious and more likely to quit.
“For Walmart, they have to weigh, I think which is a real concern about turnover, what the reputation would be to the frontline workers, against the value that they could parlay this into saying, ‘We’re a leader in public health now as a big employer,’” said Peter Berg, a professor of employment relations at Michigan State University.
“From Walmart’s calculus, they may say well it’s really not going to benefit us that much as an organization to do this,” he added.
For other companies, like airlines, negotiating mandates with unions, which are themselves mixed on the issue, adds complexity. As part of a deal reached in May between United Airlines and its union, the Air Line Pilots Association, for example, vaccinations will not be mandatory for pilots. But a deal agreed to among Hollywood’s major unions will allow studios to require everyone on a production set to be vaccinated.
“If you look at the divide of who is not vaccinated, it is people of lower income, it is people who are less likely to be insured, it is people in the states that reflect the politicization of the pandemic,” said Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, vice dean for population health and health equity at the University of California, San Francisco.
Companies that adopt partial mandates that “further widen” that gap, she said, would “only go so far” in achieving what the vaccination drives are meant to accomplish.
Facebook and other social platforms have in recent weeks attracted attention for vaccine misinformation as Covid cases surge from the more contagious Delta variant and U.S. vaccination rates slow. But smaller publications have also become powerful conduits for anti-vaccine messaging.
People who spread anti-vaccine content, including those who have been listed by the nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate as the “Disinformation Dozen,” have appeared in articles in local publications or as guests on local radio shows and podcasts, according to a review by The New York Times.
Some of their articles are regularly published by small-town newspapers or they are quoted as experts.
Their appearances in local media outlets can have an impact, since Americans are more likely to believe what they read and hear from local news outlets. A 2019 Knight-Gallup study found that 45 percent of Americans trust reporting by local news organizations “a great deal” or “quite a lot,” compared with 31 percent for national news organizations.
Many local media publications and stations have reported responsibly and factually on the pandemic. Gannett, the publisher with 100 daily newspapers and nearly 1,000 weekly publications across 43 states, has dedicated resources to fact-checking and teaching journalists that accuracy matters more than speed.
But as the local news industry has been hit by declining advertising revenues and cuts, some outlets have sometimes unknowingly run vaccine misinformation because they have fewer employees or less oversight than in the past.
Tokyo 2020 organizers on Monday reported 17 new infections among people credentialed for the Games, bringing the total number of reported cases connected to the Olympics to 281, including 27 athletes. None of the new cases on Monday were athletes.
Tokyo and the rest of Japan are experiencing the worst surge of the pandemic. On Saturday, officials in Tokyo reported more than 4,000 new infections, the first time the city’s daily count had surpassed that figure.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced on Friday that the government would expand a state of emergency to four areas besides Tokyo, and that the restrictions in the capital would be extended until the end of August — past the conclusion of the Olympics and into the start of the Paralympic Games.
With only 28 percent of the population fully vaccinated, the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus has taken root in Japan. More than three-quarters of cases in Tokyo are now being caused by the variant, according to the health ministry.
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