Covid Live Updates: C.D.C. Panel Is Meeting on Pfizer and Moderna Boosters for All Adults

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Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

After weeks of contradictory statements and confusing guidelines about which Americans need booster shots of coronavirus vaccines, federal health officials are poised to recommend them to everyone over 18.

An advisory panel to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is meeting on Friday to weigh the pros and cons of recommending the boosters to all adults. But the discussion is not expected to turn up any surprises, and the final recommendations from the agency itself are likely to align with President Biden’s promise that all adults would be eligible for extra doses. (Watch the meeting here.)

Desperate to dampen even a dim echo of last winter’s horrors, the Biden administration is betting that booster shots will shore up what some have characterized as waning immunity among the fully vaccinated. The Food and Drug Administration authorized boosters of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for all adults on Friday.

Research suggests that the shots may help forestall at least some infections, particularly in older adults and those with certain health conditions.

After an all too brief respite, coronavirus infections are inching up again, particularly in parts of the country where cooler weather is hustling people indoors.

At the C.D.C. panel meeting, Dr. Doran Fink, a key F.D.A. regulator, said that the impact of broadening booster eligibility would be clear “on the individual level,” offering protection against breakthrough cases of Covid-19. But he said the “greatest impact on a population level is still dependent on increasing vaccine uptake among” the unvaccinated.

The C.D.C.’s decision will land just as Americans are poised to travel, likely in record numbers, to spend the holidays with family and friends. Given the roughly 100 million Americans who have yet to receive a single dose of vaccine, holiday travel and get-togethers could send cases skyrocketing, as they did last year.

Several European countries are also offering boosters to all adults in a bid to contain fresh waves of infections. France has gone so far as to mandate booster shots for those over age 65 who wish to get a health pass permitting access to public venues.

“Look what other countries are doing now about adopting a booster campaign virtually for everybody,” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the Biden administration’s top Covid adviser, said at a conference on Tuesday. “I think if we do that, and we do it in earnest, I think by the spring we can have pretty good control of this.”

But many experts, including some who advise federal agencies, are skeptical that boosters alone can turn the tide. While the extra shots can strengthen immunity in older adults, they are unlikely to offer much benefit to adults under 65, who remain protected from severe illness and hospitalization by the initial immunization, the experts said.

It is also unclear whether booster shots can significantly slow the spread of the virus. The limited evidence available suggests that vaccines can blunt transmission, but only to a limited extent and for a limited period.

Many pandemic-weary Americans, too, seem unmoved by the administration’s push for boosters. More than 85 percent of the adult population is already eligible, but only about 17 percent has chosen to get them. And those may not be the people most in need of extra protection.

As with the initial shots, fully vaccinated white people are more likely to have lined up for a booster shot, compared with other racial and ethnic groups, according to data compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

So far, the people who have opted for boosters “tend to be of higher socioeconomic status and more highly educated, and have more access in general to medical care,” said Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist at Bellevue Hospital Center.

“That’s not necessarily who’s actually at risk of severe disease, hospitalization or death, and so I think you’re going to have limited public health impact.”

Noah Weiland contributed reporting.

Credit…Leonhard Foeger/Reuters

Austria on Friday became the first Western democracy to announce that it would mandate Covid vaccinations for its entire adult population as it prepared for a nationwide lockdown starting Monday.

The extraordinary measure by Austria, which only days ago separated itself from the rest of Europe by introducing a lockdown for the unvaccinated, who are driving a surge of infections, made for another alarming statement about the severity of the fourth wave of the virus in Europe, now the epicenter of the pandemic.

But it also showed that increasingly desperate governments are losing their patience with vaccine skeptics and shifting from voluntary to obligatory measures to promote vaccinations and beat back a virus that shows no sign of waning, rattling global markets at the prospect that still tentative economic recoveries will be undone.

Some European countries, including Germany, which once seemed a model of how to manage the virus, are now facing their worst levels of infections in the nearly two years since the pandemic began. The surge, health authorities say, is being driven by stubborn resistance to getting vaccinated in deep pockets of the population, cold weather driving people indoors, loosened restrictions and possibly waning immunity among those previously vaccinated.

Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. The daily average is calculated with data that was reported in the last seven days.

“For a long time — maybe too long — I and others assumed that it must be possible to convince people in Austria to voluntarily get vaccinated,” Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg of Austria said on Friday. “We therefore have reached a very difficult decision to introduce a national vaccine mandate.”

With its latest move, Austria significantly moved ahead of other European countries that have inched up to, but not crossed, a threshold that once seemed unthinkable. The announcement drew an immediate threat of violent protest this weekend by leaders of anti-vaccine movements and the far-right Freedom Party, which compared the government’s latest mandates with those of a dictatorship.

Many European countries have already instituted mandates in all but name only — requiring strict health passes as proof of vaccination, recovery from infection or a negative test to partake in most social functions, travel or to go to work. Many already require children to be vaccinated against measles and other illnesses to attend school.

The notion of requiring vaccination in adults against Covid was a line that Europe had seemed unwilling to cross, however, with leaders often contrasting their respect for civil liberties with authoritarian-styled countries.

But just as lockdowns have become a fact of life, vaccine mandates are increasingly becoming plausible. German lawmakers in Parliament voted on Thursday to force unvaccinated people going to work or using public transit to provide daily test results. The country’s vaccination rate among adults is about 79 percent, one of the lowest in Western Europe.

On Friday, Jens Spahn, the acting health minister in Germany, was asked whether a general lockdown was possible for the country. “We are in a position where nothing should be ruled out,” he said.

The specter of a lockdown in Germany, Europe’s largest economy, sent jitters through European markets hungering for economic recovery and sales during the Christmas shopping season.

Austria’s new vaccine mandate will take effect in February, in the hopes that as many people as possible will be motivated to sign up for their initial inoculations, but also booster shots, Austria’s health minister, Wolfgang Mückstein, said.

It also gave leaders time to formalize legal guidelines for the mandate, he said, adding that there would be exceptions for people who are not able to be vaccinated.

Correction: 

An earlier version of this briefing item incorrectly described the nature of Austria’s planned nationwide lockdown. It will be among the first in Europe since the spring, not the first.

Credit…Christof Stache/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

As Austria prepares to go into a national lockdown next week, the health minister in neighboring Germany suggested on Friday that a similar measure remained an option for his far larger country as coronavirus cases there continue to reach record levels.

“We are in a position where nothing should be ruled out,” the minister, Jens Spahn, told a news conference in response to a reporter’s question about a lockdown for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

His remarks came one day after lawmakers in Parliament voted to force unvaccinated people going to work or using public transit to provide daily test results. The country’s vaccination rate among adults is about 79 percent.

Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. The daily average is calculated with data that was reported in the last seven days.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and state governors also agreed on Thursday night to require proof of vaccination or recovery from coronavirus infection for people entering restaurants, bars and hair salons or attending events in states where hospital beds are becoming scarce.

But some German states are going it alone.

On Friday, the governor of Bavaria, which has some of the country’s worst hot spots, announced measures including the cancellation of all Christmas markets and the closing of bars, clubs and nightclubs until at least Dec. 15. The celebrated Christmas market in the state’s capital, Munich, was canceled earlier this week.

Theaters, cinemas, operas and spectator sports will be allowed to remain open at 25 percent capacity for people who are vaccinated or who have recovered from the virus and show a negative test result. Restaurants will close at 10 p.m.

Districts with high infection rates will close down completely, leaving only essential shops, day cares and schools open.

“We are facing a corona drama,” the state’s governor, Markus Söder, said. “The numbers are exploding in the shortest time span and the beds are full,” he added, referring to overwhelmed hospitals. Some patients there are being moved to less crowded hospitals in northern Germany.

The governor of Saxony also announced new restrictions on Friday. Starting on Monday, a ban will be introduced on some events and larger gatherings regardless of the inoculation status of those attending.

Credit…Mike Kai Chen for The New York Times

The Food and Drug Administration on Friday authorized booster shots of both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for everyone 18 and older, opening up eligibility to tens of millions more fully vaccinated adults.

The move simplifies eligibility, fulfills a pledge by President Biden to offer the shots to every American adult and formally allows a practice already in place in at least 10 states. Fearful that waning protection and the onset of winter will set off a wave of breakthrough infections, a growing number of governors had already offered boosters to everyone 18 and older ahead of the holidays.

The agency said the expansion was justified by currently available clinical trial data as well as real-world evidence. In a statement, Dr. Peter Marks, who leads the F.D.A. division that regulates vaccines, added: “Streamlining the eligibility criteria and making booster doses available to all individuals 18 years of age and older will also help to eliminate confusion about who may receive a booster dose and ensure booster doses are available to all who may need one.”

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious disease expert, has argued relentlessly over the past month for booster shots for all adults, a position shared by most of Mr. Biden’s other health advisers. Public health experts who argue that healthy younger adults do not need them, he has said, are ignoring the risks of symptomatic Covid-19.

“Enough is enough. Let’s get moving on here,” he said at an event Wednesday night. “We know what the data are.”

If the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agrees, all adults who received a second shot of either Pfizer or Moderna at least six months ago will most likely be able to get a booster shot by the weekend. A meeting of the agency’s outside advisers is scheduled for Friday.

At a White House briefing on Wednesday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the C.D.C. director, promised that the agency would “quickly review the safety and effectiveness data and make recommendations as soon as we hear from F.D.A.”

The F.D.A.’s action came after months of fierce debate within the administration and the scientific community about who needed booster shots, and when. Some outside advisers to the F.D.A. and C.D.C. repeatedly expressed discomfort with how quickly the administration was moving to offer the shots.

Credit…Carlos Osorio/Reuters

Canada approved the use of Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 on Friday, adding more than 2.8 million young people to those eligible for a shot.

Some provinces, including Ontario and Saskatchewan, have already announced plans to start scheduling appointments for young children as soon as the doses arrive.

“Overall, this is very good news for adults and children alike,” Dr. Supriya Sharma, chief medical adviser at Health Canada, the agency responsible for drug authorization in the country, said at a news conference. “It provides another tool to protect Canadians and, to the relief of many parents, will help bring back a degree of normality to children’s lives, allowing them to more safely do the things that they have missed during the last 20 months.”

Pfizer’s is the first coronavirus vaccine to be approved in Canada for children ages 5 to 11. Health Canada based its approval on a clinical trial comprising 4,600 children, Dr. Sharma said, with 3,100 children receiving two doses of the vaccine spaced three weeks apart and 1,500 receiving a placebo.

There were four adverse reactions unconnected to the vaccinations, and none of the children experienced heart inflammation or severe allergic reactions.

Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. The daily average is calculated with data that was reported in the last seven days.

The pediatric doses — each one-third of the adult dose — will be stored in vials with an orange cap, and the cartons’ labels will have orange borders, to differentiate them from the adult vials, Christina Antoniou, a spokeswoman for Pfizer Canada, said in an email.

The reduced dose for children results in antibody levels comparable to those from the larger dose in adults, said Dr. Jeffrey Pernica, an infectious diseases specialist at McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton, Ontario. For parents wondering if they should wait until their child turns 12 to get the larger dose, Dr. Pernica noted, the immune response produced by the pediatric vaccine is just as strong.

“I don’t think waiting would have any significant benefit,” he said.

Nearly 75 percent of all Canadians, or more than 28.5 million people, are fully vaccinated.

More than 16,800 coronavirus cases have been reported in Canada in the past seven days, according to national public health data, with the highest per capita rates in Yukon and the Northwest Territories. First Nations reserves are also experiencing high per capita infection rates.

While the number of severe cases has declined nationwide, hospitals in some areas are inching closer to capacity limits, said Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer. She added that newly reported cases were highest among children.

Credit…Merck & Co Inc/Via Reuters

BRUSSELS — The European Union’s drug regulator on Friday recommended the use of a pill, developed by Merck, that was found in a clinical trial to halve the rate of hospitalizations and deaths in high-risk Covid patients who took it soon after infection.

The drug, molnupiravir, has yet to be authorized by E.U. countries, but in recommending its administration, the European Medicines Agency paved the way for its use within the next few months.

Several E.U. countries, including France and Italy, have already placed orders for supplies of the drug.

Britain became the first country this month to authorize the use of the pill. Its regulator authorized it for vaccinated and unvaccinated people who have Covid, and are at high risk of becoming severely ill. The treatment could be authorized in the United States as soon as early December.

The European Medicines Agency said the drug could be taken by adults who do not require supplemental oxygen and who are at increased risk of developing severe coronavirus cases. The pill “should be administered as soon as possible after diagnosis of Covid-19 and within five days of the start of symptoms,” the agency said in a news release.

The agency also said on Friday that it had begun reviewing a similar drug developed by Pfizer, called Paxlovid.

Scientists and government leaders have called the drugs game changers in the fight against the pandemic if their efficacy in clinical trials holds up in the real world. Unlike monoclonal antibodies, which are typically administered by health care professionals at a hospital or clinic, the pills would be dispensed at pharmacies and taken at home, providing a cheaper and easier way to treat coronavirus infections, including in poorer countries.

Merck has agreed to let other manufacturers make and sell its pill in 105 developing nations, including many where vaccination rates are critically low. It has also licensed eight large Indian drug makers to produce generic and cheaper versions of Merck’s pill.

In the United States, Pfizer applied to the Food and Drug Administration this week to authorize Paxlovid, and the Biden administration plans to buy a stockpile of the pill that could be administered to as many as 10 million people.

Credit…Charly Triballeau/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Japan’s government agreed on Friday to spend $490 billion on stimulus measures, a move by its prime minister to boost an economy battered by coronavirus restrictions and by a supply chain crunch that has affected the country’s largest manufacturers.

Japan announced a partial easing of border restrictions this month and has lifted virtually all restrictions on its economy amid a falling virus caseload. And its rate of fully vaccinated people — 76 percent of the population, according to a New York Times tracker — is one of the highest among rich nations. But a ban on international tourists continues to weigh on economic growth.

Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. The daily average is calculated with data that was reported in the last seven days.

The stimulus package, Japan’s largest to date, accounts for about 10 percent of the country’s economic output, officials said. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Friday that it could increase economic output about 5.6 percent.

“I want to bring Japan’s economy, which has been severely damaged, onto a trajectory of recovery,” he told reporters.

The package includes aid to struggling businesses and hospitals, money for strengthening semiconductor supply chains, and programs to encourage domestic tourism and investment in a nationwide university endowment fund.

It also includes a one-time cash handout of 100,000 yen, or $878, per child under 18 for households where the highest-earning parent is paid less than about $84,300 a year. About nine in 10 households with children are eligible.

The cash handouts to young families are not especially popular. Critics have questioned the need for them in a country with an aging society.

Last spring, the government sent stimulus checks to every resident, but they did little to raise inflation or consumer spending. Analysts estimate that about 70 percent of the handouts went to household savings.

Mr. Kishida’s cabinet approved the stimulus package on Friday, less than two months after he won a runoff election for leadership of the country’s governing Liberal Democratic Party. Japan’s economy is the world’s third largest after those of the United States and China.

Credit…Tang Chhin Sothy/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Cambodia reopened for fully vaccinated tourists from overseas this week without quarantine after a nationwide campaign succeeded in achieving one of the world’s highest vaccination rates.

The move was welcomed by desperate tourism operators and workers, who have struggled to make a living since the start of the pandemic.

“I rejoice at and fully support the news of reopening the country to vaccinated tourists without quarantine,” said Chhay Sivlin, the president of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents. Tourism directly accounted for more than 12 percent of the country’s economy in 2019 and provided jobs to 630,000 people, she said.

Last month, the Southeast Asian nation of about 16 million announced plans to let fully vaccinated foreign tourists begin entering the country at the end of November if they first quarantined in selected areas for five days.

Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. The daily average is calculated with data that was reported in the last seven days.

But citing the rapid pace of inoculations and a vaccination rate of 88 percent, Prime Minister Hun Sen accelerated that plan and said that fully vaccinated tourists could arrive without quarantine, effective on Monday.

“This is a big step towards reopening the entire country,” said Mr. Hun Sen, an authoritarian leader who came to power in 1984. “I hope our compatriots enjoy our reopening. It is widely due to the country having achieved such an outstanding rate of vaccination.”

While the prime minister put the fully vaccinated rate at 88 percent based on a population of 16 million, The New York Times database puts the rate at 80 percent, based on a population of nearly 16.5 million.

More than two million people have received a third dose.

About 90 percent of Cambodia’s vaccines came from China, including more than nine million doses of Sinovac and nearly four million doses of Sinopharm.

Under the new rules, travelers arriving from abroad can skip quarantine if they are fully vaccinated, test negative for the virus before departure and test negative again on arrival. Travelers who are not vaccinated must still spend 14 days in quarantine.

Ms. Sivlin said that tourist bookings were beginning to pick up and that airlines were working to increase the number of flights to Cambodia.

Some flights are scheduled to the capital, Phnom Penh, but none for Siem Reap, the town near the ancient city of Angkor that is one of the most popular destinations in Southeast Asia.

Like many of its neighbors, Cambodia reported relatively few virus cases in 2020 but faced a deadly surge this year. Still, its overall numbers have remained relatively low, with about 120,000 total cases and 2,900 deaths.

Credit…Mark Schiefelbein/Associated Press

A court in a southern Chinese border region said this week that it had given a man a two-year suspended prison sentence for lying when he entered the country about whether he had been exposed to the coronavirus or developed symptoms.

The move is the latest sign of China’s efforts to chase full elimination of the virus through stringent “Covid zero” measures, even as the rest of the world looks to open up.

The man, who was identified only by his surname, Cao, was convicted of lying on a health declaration form when he crossed China’s border with Vietnam in late April, the court said on its Weixin social media account.

He concealed that he had been staying in a hotel in Vietnam where some people with coronavirus infections were also staying, the court said. Then he obtained cold medicine and hid a fever and other symptoms consistent with a coronavirus infection.

Once in China, he also sneaked out of his quarantine room to meet friends, the court said. Mr. Cao could not be reached for comment.

Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. The daily average is calculated with data that was reported in the last seven days.

The court in Pingxiang, along the Vietnam border in China’s Guangxi region, posted the announcement to its Weixin account on Wednesday. It said it had fined Mr. Cao $31,000.

The court statement and a report by the official Xinhua news agency said that Mr. Cao had symptoms consistent with the coronavirus, but did not say whether he had tested positive for the disease. Huang Qinmei, the deputy mayor of Chongzuo, the city of which Pingxiang is part, said at a news conference in May that Mr. Cao had tested positive.

Because Mr. Cao concealed information about his Covid exposure and apparent symptoms, the court said, 459 people who came in direct or indirect contact with him were also quarantined at a cost to the government of about $100,000. Another 29 customs staff members had to stay in their homes for 14 days.

Some social media users posted comments on the Xinhua report contending that the punishment was not harsh enough.

Li You contributed research.

Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

About a third of people in the United States and Britain think their countries have suffered damage to their global reputations over their responses to the pandemic, according to a survey released on Friday, while Canadians rated their country’s response more positively.

Respondents to the poll, which was conducted by the Policy Institute at King’s College London, were split in the United States and Britain on whether their countries should cooperate internationally to quash the virus moving forward or whether they should work independently.

“The public in the U.K. and the U.S. seem in two minds on whether each country should hunker down and protect themselves or reach out to the rest of the world,” said Bobby Duffy, the director of the institute that conducted the survey.

“But it’s actually an understandable response,” he added. “People feel like we should think of ourselves first in the current crisis but work with others to help prevent future global health challenges.”

Source: State and local health agencies. Daily cases are the number of new cases reported each day. The seven-day average is the average of a day and the previous six days of data.

The United States and Britain have experienced two of the worst Covid outbreaks among wealthy nations.

New cases have been rising in the United States as colder winter temperatures and the holiday season approach, with nearly 95,000 additional infections recorded daily.

Britain is reporting an average of nearly 40,000 daily virus cases. And despite a surge in cases this fall, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has opposed introducing preventive measures such as mask mandates and health passes.

Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. The daily average is calculated with data that was reported in the last seven days.

The survey, an online poll conducted in October and November, found that about 38 percent of respondents in the United States believed the country’s handling of the pandemic has damaged its global reputation, 21 percent said its impact had been positive and 25 percent said they felt it had no effect.

In Britain, about 36 percent said the government’s mishandling of the health crisis had damaged the country’s global standing, 21 percent said it had improved it, and 31 percent said they considered the impact insignificant.

Only 19 percent of people in Canada said their country’s reputation had taken a hit, while 33 percent said it had improved amid the government’s pandemic response and 37 percent said it had made no difference.

The poll included 1,099 adults in the United States, 1,129 people aged 16 to 75 in Britain, and 1,088 adults in Canada.

It follows a highly critical 151-page parliamentary inquiry into Britain’s initial response to the coronavirus, which ranked it as “one of the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced” and charged that it had cost thousands of lives.



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