Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today
This is the Coronavirus Briefing, an informed guide to the pandemic. Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.
Egypt imposed a vaccine mandate for all government workers and university students.
More than 100 Washington State police officers lost their jobs as vaccine mandates kicked in.
F.D.A. approves Moderna and J.&J. boosters
The F.D.A. announced highly anticipated decisions on vaccines today: The agency authorized boosters of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, and also allowed for the strategy of mixing and matching doses.
The mix and match strategy would allow physicians to administer a different Covid-19 vaccine as a booster than the one patients initially received. The regulators did not recommend one shot over another as a booster or indicate whether it is preferable to stick with the same vaccine.
Tomorrow, the C.D.C.’s vaccine advisory panel is scheduled to issue recommendations for Moderna and J.&J. boosters, and it may give guidance on switching to a different vaccine for the booster. If the C.D.C. agrees with the F.D.A.’s decision, booster shots could be offered as soon as next weekend.
While the F.D.A. authorized boosters for both Moderna and J.&J., the eligibility criteria are different:
For Moderna recipients, a half-dose booster would be offered at least six months after a second dose. Those eligible include people over 65 as well as younger adults at high risk of severe Covid-19 because of medical conditions or workplace exposure. (The criteria is identical for Pfizer recipients, who became eligible for a third shot last month.)
In the case of J.&J., all recipients 18 years and older would be eligible for a second shot at least two months after the first.
Even as a key F.D.A. advisory panel unanimously supported the extra doses last week, its experts raised concerns about unverified data in the companies’ applications. In the case of J.&J., the company’s study on booster shots included just 17 volunteers, and the F.D.A. said it didn’t have time to verify some of its evidence.
For many recipients of the J.&J. shot, however, the debate over the company’s data may not matter: The F.D.A.’s decision to allow mixing and matching boosters may lead them to choose a Moderna or Pfizer shot, which have been shown in studies to be more protective.
Regulators seemed interested in streamlining the recommendations to avoid public confusion. Dr. Peter Marks, the F.D.A.’s head vaccine regulator, has argued for “a harmonized approach” for all three vaccines.
Next week, the F.D.A.’s independent vaccine committee is set to review whether Pfizer’s vaccine should be authorized for children ages 5 to 11 — and a decision could follow in the coming weeks. Later this fall, regulators may also look to lower the age eligibility for booster shots.
More on vaccines:
The Biden administration laid out its vaccination campaign for children, in anticipation of an approval of a vaccine for 5- to 11-year olds.
A surge in Britain
Britain is once again experiencing a surge in virus cases and now has one of the highest rates of new reported cases in the world. But despite the worsening situation, the British government rejected calls today to reimpose some restrictions, saying the rollout of booster shots would contain the problem.
Analysts believe cases are rising because large numbers of children are unvaccinated and schools do not require face coverings. Mask wearing is also less prevalent among adults than in some other parts of Europe, where they are often required indoors and where cases per capita are much lower.
Health professionals have recommended the reintroduction of some measures — like mandatory mask wearing in some locations — that were swept away in July, when England lifted almost all of its legal restrictions on what the tabloid media called “freedom day.”
Sajid Javid, the health secretary, said that the government may reimpose some restrictions if the situation deteriorates. He urged people to meet outdoors when possible and wear masks in confined spaces, warning that cases could rise to 100,000 a day.
But at the moment, the government is arguing that vaccinations have kept hospitalizations to a manageable level, addressing its main concern: preventing Britain’s stretched health service from being overwhelmed.
Russia shuts down
President Vladimir Putin of Russia announced new restrictions in the country, including closing workplaces for a week, to combat a surge of deaths from the virus. Recently, the death toll has climbed above 1,000 a day for the first time.
In the past, the Kremlin has been hesitant to impose unpopular restrictions because of economic fears and widespread public nonchalance about the pandemic.
The “non-working week” is a new and vaguely defined concept. It is not a full lockdown. Nonessential workers are encouraged to stay home, while their employers are encouraged to pay them at least the minimum wage to do so.
The last time the Kremlin announced a similar non-working week was in May. Putin said it was possible the week would grow.
“We only have two ways to get through this — get sick or get vaccinated,” Putin said in a news conference. “But it’s better to get vaccinated. Why wait for an illness or its serious consequences?”
Only 45 million of the country’s 146 million people have been fully vaccinated.
What else we’re following
Some U.S. nursing homes have been slow to vaccinate staff, igniting fear and frustration among residents.
Hospitals in Singapore are strained as daily new cases hit a record high, Bloomberg reports.
Latvia reimposed lockdown measures, the first European country to do so as a new wave hits the continent, The Guardian reports.
Brazil’s pandemic panel had second thoughts about the provability of homicide and genocide charges against the president, and instead accused him of “crimes against humanity.”
The Gates Foundation pledged $120 million to help get Covid pills quickly to poor countries.
A subway rider in New York City asked two police officers to wear masks in accordance with local policies. They kicked him out.
The Olympic torch arrived in Beijing under a cloud of protests and Covid fears.
NPR has a map to see if you need to wear a mask indoors where you live.
What you’re doing
At 75 with an immunodeficient condition, I’m scared spitless about getting Covid. I carry antiseptic wipes, gel and replacement masks in my car at all times, and use them after any outside transaction. Anyone and everyone’s a vector. I stay away from my friends and talk more over the phone and social media in order to keep us both safer. Unlike pre-Covid times, I tell those who are close to me how much I love them and how much they’re important to me in my life. I have learned to be at peace with being by myself.
— Gail R. Campbell, Eugene, Ore.
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