Covid Live Updates: Pfizer Says Its Antiviral Pill Is Highly Effective

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Credit…Bebeto Matthews/Associated Press

Pfizer announced on Friday that its pill to treat Covid-19 had been found in a key clinical trial to be highly effective at preventing severe illness among at-risk people who received the drug soon after they exhibited symptoms.

The antiviral pill is the second of its kind to demonstrate efficacy against Covid. It appears to be more effective than a similar offering from Merck, which is awaiting federal authorization.

Pfizer’s pill, which will be sold under the brand name Paxlovid, cut the risk of hospitalization or death by 89 percent when given within three days of the start of symptoms.

Pfizer said an independent board of experts monitoring its clinical trial had recommended that the study be stopped early because the drug’s benefit to patients had proved so convincing. The company said that it planned to submit the data as soon as possible to the Food and Drug Administration to seek authorization for the pill to be used in the United States.

“The results are really beyond our wildest dreams,” said Annaliesa Anderson, a Pfizer executive who led the drug’s development. She expressed hope that Paxlovid “can have a big impact on helping all our lives go back to normal again and seeing the end of the pandemic.”

The treatment could become available in the next few months, though supplies are likely to be limited at first. The Pfizer and Merck pills are both geared toward patients regarded as high-risk, such as those above the age of 60 or with conditions like obesity that make them more susceptible to severe consequences from Covid.

President Biden said on Friday that the pill would be “another tool in our toolbox to protect people from the worst outcomes of Covid,” but he emphasized that the best approach was to prevent infections through vaccination.

Credit…Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

The attorneys general in 11 states filed a lawsuit on Friday in an effort to prevent the Biden administration from requiring large companies to mandate coronavirus vaccinations, the latest sign of growing pushback against the federal government’s biggest effort yet to enlist private businesses in combating the virus.

“This mandate is unconstitutional, unlawful, and unwise,” the court filing says. Attorney General Eric Schmitt of Missouri led the group that brought the lawsuit, which was joined by private and nonprofit groups.

The Biden administration on Thursday set Jan. 4 as the deadline for large companies to mandate coronavirus vaccinations or start weekly testing of their workers.

The new rule, applying to companies with 100 or more employees, is expected to cover 84 million workers, roughly 31 million of whom are unvaccinated.

Also on Friday, Gov. Kay Ivey of Alabama signed into law employment protections for workers who claim a religious or health reason for not getting vaccinated against Covid-19. In addition, she signed a law that requires parental consent for vaccinating minors against the coronavirus.

The lawsuit on Friday was filed in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit by Missouri and was joined by Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. The office of Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, a Democrat, also joined in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit came a day after the attorneys general of Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio sued to stop the vaccine mandate for federal contractors from going into effect.

The requirement on large private businesses is the most far-reaching and politically controversial measure in the government’s efforts to fight the pandemic. Attorneys general in at least 24 states have threatened to sue. Republican governors and some industry trade groups have come out against the requirement, and the 20 percent of U.S. adults who remain unvaccinated may oppose the mandate as well.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

In an effort to bolster coronavirus vaccinations among younger children, Mayor Lori Lightfoot of Chicago and Chicago Public Schools announced that classes would be canceled next Friday to allow families more time to inoculate eligible students.

The move comes as coronavirus vaccinations of children ages 5 to 11 began in the United States this week after federal regulators on Tuesday endorsed Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine for use in children in that age group.

“While you don’t have to wait until that day to get your child or yourself vaccinated, we’re taking these special steps to ensure people have the time to get it done and encourage other institutions and private businesses to follow the city’s example,” Ms. Lightfoot said in a statement on Friday.

In addition to closing schools on Nov. 12, Chicago will also permit city employees to leave work two hours early that day to get vaccinated, officials said. The city has stipulated that municipal employees must be fully vaccinated by Jan. 1 unless they receive a medical or religious exemption.

On Monday, a judge in Chicago blocked the city from enforcing a Dec. 31 vaccine mandate for police officers until the issue can be addressed in arbitration, a ruling seen as a blow for Mayor Lightfoot.

Officials in cities across the nation have turned to both carrots and sticks in efforts to increase vaccinations among children and public workers. On Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York announced that a $100 incentive offered to city residents for getting a first dose would be extended to parents and guardians if they vaccinate their children at a city-run site or at their schools.

Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times

The Times is holding a live chat with reporters at 5 p.m. Eastern time on Monday about the coronavirus vaccine and children. You can submit questions to be covered now:

Credit…Lauren Justice for The New York Times

Aaron Rodgers on Friday spoke publicly for the first time since news broke that he was not vaccinated against the coronavirus and had tested positive, lashing out at the news media and saying he was a victim of a “woke mob” and “cancel culture.”

Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers’ starting quarterback and the N.F.L.’s reigning Most Valuable Player, confirmed news that rocketed around the sports world on Wednesday: that he had tested positive for the virus. He will miss Green Bay’s game on Sunday against Kansas City and, like all unvaccinated players in the league who test positive, must quarantine for 10 days and test negative in order to return. Vaccinated players can return within 24 hours after they test negative twice, according to protocols jointly agreed upon by the N.F.L. and the N.F.L. Players’ Association.

Rodgers’s comments came on The Pat McAfee Show, a program he attends weekly. During the lengthy interview, Rodgers advocated for personal choice for people’s bodies and criticized vaccine mandates.

“I’m not some sort of anti-vax, flat-earther,” Rodgers said. “I believe strongly in bodily autonomy and the ability to make choices for your body, not to have to acquiesce to some sort of woke culture or crazed individuals who say you have to do something.”

Rodgers in August told reporters during training camp that he had been “immunized” against the virus, a term that the journalists did not press further. On Friday, he said he did not want to take the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines because he had an allergy to an ingredient. He was also hesitant about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because the Food and Drug Administration recommended to temporarily pause the company’s shot in the spring because of rare instances of blood clots. He also said he was wary of potential effects on fertility, a theory that most medical experts have said is false.

Unvaccinated N.F.L. players are subject to more stringent requirements inside and outside of team facilities. They are not supposed to leave hotels when traveling for games, they work out individually in the weight room, and cannot use the sauna or eat with teammates. Rodgers said he was also forced to wear a yellow wristband to identify his status.

“Some of the rules are not based in science at all,” Rodgers said. “They’re based purely in trying to out and shame people.”

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The festival of lights, one of the country’s major holidays, seemed to be back in full as India reported its lowest number of daily coronavirus cases since February.CreditCredit…Rajesh Kumar Singh/Associated Press

When a devastating second wave of coronavirus infections hit India in the spring, hospitals were overwhelmed with sick patients and crematories struggled to bury the dead as the bodies piled up.

Now India is celebrating one its most important holidays — Diwali, the festival of lights — and many fear another wave of infections as millions gather for the celebrations.

“We let our guard down on this Diwali,” said Dr. Thekkekara Jacob John, a former head of clinical virology at Christian Medical College in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. “Despite government and health experts’ warnings, people think the virus is gone — it is not.”

The holiday began on Thursday, and there is no data yet on what impact the festivities might be having on the country’s battle to curb the spread of the virus. But epidemiologists said that they already had concerns.

People have been thronging markets with little social distancing, and hundreds of thousands traveled around the country this week to celebrate the holiday with their family members.

“For this Diwali, people almost forgot the virus is still here and killing people,” said Dr. Prakash Singh, a virologist in New Delhi, India’s capital.

Last year’s festival was observed without the usual fanfare of group prayers and fireworks. Then, the authorities deployed police officers in residential areas to restrict large gatherings. Hundreds of people in New Delhi were fined for breaching coronavirus restrictions.

Before this year’s gatherings, health officials in India had already been warning of a possible third wave of infections, even though the second wave has at best only leveled off. A relaxed attitude — combined with the holiday festivities — could hamper the country’s fight against the virus, they said.

During the second wave in the spring, the country experienced one of the world’s worst coronavirus surges, reaching a tragic peak in early May of more than 400,000 cases reported per day, with 4,500 daily deaths.

But as vaccinations picked up after a slow and chaotic initial rollout, India saw cases plummet. More than three out of four adults have now received at least one vaccine shot, according to government data. And Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government recently lifted an eight-month ban on vaccine exports.

More than 680,000 people flew from airports across the country on Monday in the lead-up to the festival, government officials said.

The surge in travel was an apparent sign of confidence in the country’s inoculation campaign, with 54 percent of the population having received at least one shot and 25 percent having been fully inoculated, according to the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford.

During a strict lockdown from late March to late May last year, most of India’s Covid-19 cases were concentrated in urban areas. But as restrictions on interstate travel were eased, many people started moving from the cities to rural areas, bringing the virus with them. That is what experts fear might happen this time.

On Friday, a throat-burning cloud settled over New Delhi, swallowing national monuments, as the air quality deteriorated to the “severe” category a day after Diwali. Despite a government ban, people had celebrated the holiday by setting off fireworks.

Amit Tandon, a businessman in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh whose wife died during the second wave of infections in April, said that he was pained by the scenes of people celebrating the holiday while ignoring health restrictions.

“When I saw people mixing together without masks and bursting firecrackers, my blood boiled,” he said. “Only those who lost their loved ones know how this disease can destroy families and lives.”

Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The southwestern Chinese city of Ruili is small, remote and largely unknown internationally. It is also, when it comes to the coronavirus, perhaps the most tightly regulated place on earth.

In the past year, it has been locked down four times, one lasting 26 days. Homes in an entire district have been evacuated indefinitely to create a “buffer zone” against imported cases. Schools have been closed for months, except for a few grades — but only if those students and their teachers do not leave campus.

Many residents, including 59-year-old Liu Bin, have gone months without income, in a city that relies heavily upon tourism and trade with neighboring Myanmar. Mr. Liu, who ran a customs brokerage before cross-border movement essentially stopped, estimated he had lost more than $150,000. He is tested on a near-daily basis. He borrows cigarette money from his son-in-law.

“Why do I have to be oppressed like this? My life is important too,” he said. “I’ve actively followed epidemic control measures. What else do we normal people have to do to meet the standards?”

As the rest of the world shifts to a strategy of living with the coronavirus, China has remained the last country chasing full elimination, for the most part with success. It has recorded fewer than 5,000 virus-related deaths, and in parts of the country without confirmed cases, the outbreak can feel like a hazy memory.

But the residents of Ruili — a lush, subtropical city of about 270,000 people before the pandemic — are facing the extreme and harsh reality of living under a “Zero Covid” policy when even a single case is found.

Credit…Saul Loeb/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The U.S. federal government has canceled its contract with a troubled Covid-19 vaccine manufacturer that ruined millions of doses and had to halt production for months after regulators raised serious quality concerns.

The decision marks a stark reversal of fortune for the politically connected contractor, Maryland-based Emergent BioSolutions, and an abandonment by the government of a deal that was supposed to be a centerpiece of Operation Warp Speed.

Early in the pandemic, the government decided to bank on the company to be the sole domestic manufacturer of the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines. But this March, testing found that a batch of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine had been contaminated, and Emergent agreed to pause manufacturing after an inspection uncovered a host of problems at its facility in the Bayview area of Baltimore.

The termination of the contract, disclosed on Thursday by Emergent executives during a call with investors, was the result of negotiations that began after the government this year stopped making payments under the deal, which was awarded in May 2020 and was worth more than $600 million. Emergent will now forgo roughly $180 million of that amount, according to company disclosures.

The company said that it would continue working with Johnson & Johnson to produce its vaccine in Baltimore because the arrangement with that company, while endorsed by the government, was not financed under the $600 million deal. While the site has not yet won regulators’ approval, it has resumed operations, and the Food and Drug Administration has allowed roughly 100 million doses to be released for potential use.

The contract cancellation also brings an abrupt end to a nearly decade-old effort by the government that was intended to better prepare for a pandemic. In 2012, the Department of Health and Human Services gave Emergent a $163 million contract to expand the Baltimore site and make it ready to rapidly produce vaccines in response to a novel virus.

The cancellation will likely have no impact on the availability of coronavirus vaccines in the United States. The contract only involved production of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which is not authorized for distribution in the United States.

But the manufacturing problems at the Bayview site have affected immunization efforts outside the United States, delaying the distribution of vaccines in Canada, the European Union and South Africa.

Sharon LaFraniere and Sheryl Gay Stolberg contributed reporting.

Credit…Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

Japanese officials said on Friday that they would reduce the length of quarantine for vaccinated business travelers from 10 days to three, reflecting the incredible turnaround in the country’s control over the coronavirus.

Travelers with vaccination documents recognized by Japanese health officials “will be allowed to go out for their necessary businesses or training, or use public transportation” after quarantining for three days with a negative test for the virus, Seiji Kihara, Japan’s deputy chief cabinet secretary, said.

He added: “We will examine the situation if we can allow group tourists to visit again, aiming at by the end of the year.”

Japan has virtually closed its borders since the start of the pandemic, and the easing of rules comes as cases decline significantly. While new daily cases rarely went below 10,000 a day in August, peaking at 25,851 on Aug. 20, they have steadily declined to below 310 in the past week, according to data provided by the Health Ministry.

The change, which will take effect on Monday, will be part of a broader easing of travel rules in Japan, the world’s third-largest economy. Japan will also start letting in international students and issue long-term visas to business travelers, Mr. Kihara said.

But Japan’s border restrictions remain some of the strictest in the region despite about 73 percent of the country’s population having been fully vaccinated, according to data from the University of Oxford.

So far, only visitors with visas have been able to enter, and they needed to quarantine for 14 days. The authorities shortened that period to 10 days in October for those with full doses of Pfizer, Moderna or AstraZeneca vaccines. Recipients of Sinovac and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, and unvaccinated travelers, have been stuck with the 14 days.

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