Covid News: Biden Urges Companies To Impose Vaccine Mandates – The New York Times

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Biden Urges Private Employers to Require Covid VaccinesPresident Biden encouraged large private companies to mandate coronavirus vaccinations for their workers, arguing that the existing requirements his administration put in place have proved effective against Covid-19.The Labor Department is going to shortly issue an emergency rule, which I asked for several weeks ago, and they’re going through the process, to require all employees with more than 100 people, whether they work for the federal government or not, this is within the purview of the Labor Department, to ensure their workers are fully vaccinated or face testing at least once a week. In total, this Labor Department vaccination requirement will cover 100 million Americans, about two-thirds of all the people work in America. And here’s the deal. These requirements are already proving that they work. Starting in July, when I announced the first vaccination requirement for the federal government, about 95 million eligible Americans were unvaccinated. This was mentioned a little bit earlier. Today, we’ve reduced that number to 67 [million] eligible Americans who aren’t vaccinated. And today, we released a new report outlining effective vaccination requirements that are already proving their worth. I’m calling on more employers to act. My message is require your employees to get vaccinated. With vaccinations, we’re going to beat this pandemic finally. Without them, we face endless months of chaos in our hospitals, damage to our economy and anxiety in our schools and empty restaurants, and much less commerce. Look, I know that vaccination requirements are a tough medicine, unpopular with some, politics for others, but they’re life-saving and game-changing for our country.

President Biden encouraged large private companies to mandate coronavirus vaccinations for their workers, arguing that the existing requirements his administration put in place have proved effective against Covid-19.CreditCredit…Doug Mills/The New York TimesPresident Biden on Thursday appealed to private companies to mandate coronavirus vaccinations for employees, asking them to take initiative as an effort that he announced last month to require 80 million American workers to get the shot undergoes a lengthy rule-making process and may not go into effect for weeks.

The president, delivering remarks at a construction site outside Chicago, said that encouraging Americans to get vaccinated had helped, but it had not gone far enough to address the pandemic.

“Even after all of these efforts, we still have more than a quarter of the people in the United States who are eligible for vaccinations but didn’t get the shot,” Mr. Biden said. “That’s why I’ve had to move toward requirements.”

He said mandates had not been his first instinct, but the requirements were “already proving that they work.”

Mr. Biden said in September that he would use the full force of his presidency to push some 80 million American workers to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, reaching into the private sector to mandate that all companies with more than 100 workers require vaccination or weekly testing. He ordered the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to draft a new rule that would make those requirements enforceable, a process that White House officials said at the time would take at least three or four weeks.

The president said on Thursday that the rule would be put in place quickly, but officials familiar with the process said it was likely to take several more weeks.

In the meantime, Mr. Biden sought to shift responsibility toward companies, which he said would help lead the United States out of the pandemic: “Businesses have more power than ever before to change the arc of this pandemic and save lives.”

Mr. Biden chose to visit the Chicago area in part because it is the home of United Airlines, one of the first major carriers to require shots for its 67,000 U.S. employees. Other airlines have followed with similar requirements, including American Airlines, Southwest, JetBlue and Alaska Airlines. The president spoke at a site controlled by Clayco, a construction company that has required vaccines and testing for its employees.

Amethyst, 5, and a portrait of her father, Erin Tokley, a Philadelphia police officer who died from Covid-19 in March.Credit…Laurence Kesterson/Associated PressOver a 15-month period of the pandemic, more than 120,000 children in the United States had a parent or caregiver die from Covid-19, a loss that more severely affected racial minorities, according to a modeling study published in the medical journal Pediatrics on Thursday.

The study estimated that for every four Covid-19 deaths between April 1, 2020, and June 30, 2021, one child lost a parent or caregiver. The finding suggested that the ongoing pandemic, which has claimed more than 700,000 American lives thus far, could leave tens of thousands of children dealing with trauma for generations to come.

“It’s not just one of 500 are dead; one of 500 American children have lost their mommy or daddy or grandparents who took care of them,” Dr. Susan Hillis, the lead author and a researcher and epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an interview.

In addition to the 120,630 children who were estimated to have lost a primary caregiver — a parent or grandparent responsible for providing housing, basic needs and care — 22,007 lost a secondary caregiver, or a grandparent providing housing but not most basic needs, the study projected. Dr. Hillis said the loss of such grandparents could lead to homelessness.

The new findings aligned with research that has repeatedly demonstrated that racial minorities have been disproportionately vulnerable to the pandemic.

According to the study in Pediatrics, one of every 168 American Indian/Alaska Native children, one of every 310 Black children, one of every 412 Hispanic children, and one of every 612 Asian children have lost a caregiver, compared to one in 753 white children.

The Armani Privè nightclub in Milan.Credit…Diana Bagnoli/Getty ImagesROME — The Italian government announced on Thursday that it would lift one of the country’s last coronavirus restrictions by permitting dancing in nightclubs, bringing relief to a sector of the economy that has lagged behind in Italy’s reopening.

“It’s a new beginning,” said Sergio Maria Ortolani, a publicist for several music venues in Rome, who welcomed the decision. This summer, the police shut down one club for five days after a group of customers danced to techno music. “It was a horror movie,” he said.

Starting on Monday, club owners can take down “Dancing Forbidden” signs, and bouncers will no longer need to rebuke patrons for moving with the music.

About this data 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 government banned dancing in nightclubs in the summer of 2020 after several coronavirus outbreaks were linked to partying and unmasked teenagers. As Italy gradually lifted its second lockdown this spring, nightclubs, dance halls and theaters were allowed to serve drinks, host concerts and play music, but dancing remained prohibited.

At clubs, Italians nervously nodded to the music and tapped their feet as they sat in front of D.J. booths. Some invented sit-down choreographies in their chairs. Others tried to convince dubious bouncers that they just had a spirited way of walking.

Mr. Ortolani — whose business lost about 95 percent of its income during the pandemic — said he and his partner had glued down tables to clog up the dance floors in their nightclubs. They lowered the music’s tempo to make it less danceable and instructed security guards to “tackle” whoever would dance. When the guards couldn’t keep up, they stopped the music, to the crowd’s jeers.

“We tried to stop them in every way,” he said. “It was a war.”

The government’s announcement on Thursday followed similar decisions by Germany and France to allow fully vaccinated patrons, or those who have recovered from the coronavirus, to dance in nightclubs. In Britain, club patrons are not required to show the country’s Covid passport to enter.

The Italian government will require proof of vaccination, proof of recent recovery from the virus, or a negative swab test to enter nightclubs. Indoor venues will be limited to half of their capacity and those that are outdoors to 75 percent. Guests will be required to wear a mask when they are not dancing.

“Without #vaccines and with winter at the door we could have just dreamed of this,” Nino Cartabellotta, a prominent public health researcher, tweeted on Thursday.

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U.N. Secretary General Calls Vaccine Inequity ‘Stupid’António Guterres, the United Nations secretary general, assailed the imbalance of Covid-19 vaccine distribution between rich and poor countries as he sought $8 billion to help narrow the divide.We have no power to force companies to license or to make countries accept that the — the trips will not apply. We cannot force countries to organize their vaccination programs in order to take into account also the vaccination programs of other countries. If we leave it going on, and we allow for the virus to go on spreading like wildfire in the global south, there is a risk that when they, and that they can be very soon, there will be not Delta — it will be another variant that will be able to resist vaccines, and all the vaccination efforts made in developed countries, who vaccinated the whole of their population one, two or three times, all that effort will fall apart. And these people will not be protected. So not to have equitable distribution of vaccines is not only a question of being immoral. It is also a question of being stupid.

António Guterres, the United Nations secretary general, assailed the imbalance of Covid-19 vaccine distribution between rich and poor countries as he sought $8 billion to help narrow the divide.CreditCredit…Pool photo by John MinchilloThe leader of the United Nations sought $8 billion on Thursday to help narrow the yawning divide between rich and poor nations in Covid-19 vaccinations, assailing the imbalance in uncharacteristically blunt terms as both immoral and shortsighted.

The funding sought by Secretary General António Guterres from member states and other sources is part of a new vaccine strategy undertaken with the World Health Organization to ensure that 40 percent of the world is vaccinated by year’s end and 70 percent by mid-2022.

“Instead of global coordinated action to get vaccines where they are needed most, we have seen vaccine hoarding, vaccine nationalism and vaccine diplomacy,” Mr. Guterres said, speaking at a news conference about the new strategy with the director general of the W.H.O., Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Mr. Guterres’s frustration over vaccine inequity has become a defining theme of his tenure. Speaking to the United Nations General Assembly last month, he said that vaccine surpluses in wealthy countries and empty vaccine shelves in others amounted to a “moral indictment of the state of our world — it is an obscenity.”

His anger was more evident on Thursday in describing how the failure to vaccinate the developing world could spawn virus variants that are resistant to vaccines, putting the inoculated at risk as well.

“And all the vaccination effort made in developed countries to vaccinate the whole of the population, one, two or three times — all that effort will fall apart. And these people will not be protected,” he told reporters. “So, not to have equitable distribution of vaccines is not only a question of being immoral — it is also a question of being stupid.”

Mr. Guterres exhorted the Group of 20 wealthy nations to make good on their vow to “get the world vaccinated” when they convene for a summit meeting on Oct. 30 in Rome.

According to the Global Dashboard for Vaccine Equity, a database maintained by the United Nations Development Program, nearly 61 percent of people in high-income countries have received at least one dose of vaccine, while less than 4 percent in low-income countries have received at least one dose.

The W.H.O. plan calls for highly vaccinated countries to let deliveries of further doses to go first to poorer countries where they are more urgently needed, through the Covax global-sharing program and other distribution efforts.

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C.D.C. Urges Vaccines Ahead of Flu SeasonDr. Rochelle P. Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that because flu infections were low last year, immunity was likely to be diminished, making it doubly important to get inoculated.I get my flu vaccine each year to protect myself. I’ve had flu, and I don’t want it again. I’ve always gotten the vaccine to protect the patients I’ve cared for in the hospital, and I want to protect my family. I certainly wouldn’t want to bring disease into our home. The low level of flu activity last season could set us up for severe season this year. Why? Well, because of so little disease last year, population immunity is likely lower, putting us all at increased risk for disease this year, especially among those most vulnerable, including our children. This is why it is doubly important this year that we build up community immunity with flu vaccination as we head into the fall and winter.

Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that because flu infections were low last year, immunity was likely to be diminished, making it doubly important to get inoculated.CreditCredit…Joe Raedle/Getty ImagesLockdowns helped keep last year’s flu season historically mild in both the United States and around the world, but U.S. officials fear a more serious season this fall and winter, with unmasked people out and about far more, and nearly half of adults in a new survey saying they are unlikely to get a flu shot.

At a news briefing to release the survey data on Thursday morning, top health experts said they were particularly concerned that, with the coronavirus still coursing around the country, nearly one in four people at higher risk for flu-related complications indicated they did not intend to get the flu vaccine.

Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, noted that while experts did not yet know how severely the flu would hit the United States this fall, other respiratory infections had already returned, including RSV, a common cause of pneumonia and bronchitis in babies and a serious threat to older adults. The C.D.C.’s latest weekly flu report shows that only one state, Wyoming, had reached a “moderate” level of flu cases.

Because the flu was almost nonexistent last year, Dr. Walensky noted, people do not have the protective immunity they might have acquired if they had gotten sick, and she urged that everyone age 6 months and older be vaccinated. “The Covid-19 pandemic is not over, and the risk of both flu and Covid-19 circulating could put additional strain on hospitals and frontline health care professionals,” she said.

The survey was commissioned by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, a nonprofit organization. Its medical director, Dr. William Schaffner, said that overall vulnerability to flu could be higher this year, “with relaxed Covid-19 mitigation strategies, increased travel and the reopening of schools.”

For the survey, more than 1,110 respondents 18 and older from all 50 states and the District of Columbia answered questions in mid-August that explored attitudes about the flu; Covid-19; pneumococcal disease, which can cause pneumonia, sepsis and meningitis; and vaccination intentions.

The answers revealed a tension between beliefs about the value of the flu vaccination and the intention to get one: 61 percent of respondents agreed that a shot was the best protection against the flu, but 44 percent said they were either unsure whether they would get one or did not intend to do so.

The coronavirus pandemic, however, has had a positive effect on behaviors that could help lessen the impact of the flu. Nearly half of those surveyed said that because of the pandemic, they were more likely to stay home from work or school if they were sick, and 54 percent said they would wear a mask at least sometimes during the flu season.

But there were racial disparities: 73 percent of Black respondents and 62 percent of Latinos said they would wear a mask during flu season, compared with only 46 percent of white respondents. Black and Latino respondents were also more likely to be worried about being infected with Covid and the flu simultaneously than white respondents.

Dr. Walensky said that the flu vaccination rate nationally had held steady over the year before, at about 52 percent, but criticized what she called a “disparity gap” in flu vaccination: 56 percent for white people versus 43 percent among Black people.

Patsy Stinchfield, a nurse practitioner at Children’s Minnesota, a pediatric health care system, and the president-elect of the infectious disease foundation, said that it was safe for people to get flu and Covid shots — including boosters — at the same time.

Dr. Walensky also raised alarms about a decline in the flu vaccination rates among young children, to 59 percent from 64 percent the year before. In the 2019-2020 season, she said, 199 children died from the flu, about 80 percent of whom were not vaccinated.

A 9-year-old getting the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine during a clinical trial for children at Duke Health in Durham, N.C.Credit…Shawn Rocco/Duke Health, via ReutersWASHINGTON — Pfizer and BioNTech said on Thursday morning that they had asked federal regulators to authorize emergency use of their coronavirus vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, a move that could help protect more than 28 million people in the United States.

The companies have said they were submitting data supporting the change to the Food and Drug Administration. The agency has promised to move quickly on the request and has tentatively scheduled a meeting on Oct. 26 to consider it. A ruling is expected between Halloween and Thanksgiving.

Parents across the United States are anxiously awaiting the regulator’s decision, which could affect family life and the operation of schools. Clearance depends not only on the strength of the companies’ clinical trial data, but on whether they can prove that they are able to properly manufacture a new pediatric formulation.

Dr. Janet Woodcock, the acting F.D.A. commissioner, said last week that children might require “a different dosage or formulation from that used in an older pediatric population or adults.”

Pfizer has proposed giving children one-third of the adult dosage. That might require adding more diluent to each injection or using a different vial or syringe. The company was expected to describe the method it intended to use in its submission to the F.D.A.

Medical personnel briefing people waiting for Covid vaccination last month outside Gqeberha, South Africa.Credit…Jerome Delay/Associated PressJOHANNESBURG — Moderna said on Thursday that it planned to build a vaccine manufacturing facility in Africa, news that was welcomed for the long-term but that does not address the continent’s immediate need for Covid-19 vaccines.

The company said that a new “state of the art” facility would eventually produce up to 500 million doses a year of Moderna’s mRNA vaccine, which has shown an efficacy rate of more than 90 percent in preventing Covid-19. The plant will, in time, also produce other Moderna vaccines, the company said.

However, Moderna gave no time frame, and said it was only now beginning the process of identifying which country would host the plant.

Building vaccine manufacturing sites in Africa will increase the continent’s future access to the drugs. But that does not answer calls from African leaders and activists to waive patent laws that would give more drugmakers access to details on how coronavirus vaccines are produced. It also does not address the continent’s immediate Covid-19 vaccine shortages.

“It doesn’t necessarily solve our problems today,” Dr. John Nkengasong, the director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a regular news briefing on Thursday. “The problems we have are quick access to vaccines, redistribution of vaccines, making sure that certain licenses are provided so that manufacturing can start regionally.”

Moderna’s announcement comes amid mounting pressure on biotech firms to share their expertise with manufacturers in countries that desperately need more coronavirus vaccine doses.

The drug makers Pfizer and BioNTech said in July that they had partnered with Biovac, a public-private partnership pharmaceutical company in Cape Town. In Gqeberha, the South African coastal city formerly known as Port Elizabeth, Johnson & Johnson has partnered with Aspen, a local manufacturer, in a fill-and-finish manufacturing process.

Moderna said that it expected to invest up to $500 million in its future site, and that its facility would manufacture the doses with fill-and-finish capacity, in addition to packaging facilities.

“While we are still working to increase capacity in our current network to deliver vaccines for the ongoing pandemic in 2022, we believe it is important to invest in the future,” said Stephane Bancel, Moderna’s chief executive.

African leaders had already established the Partnerships for African Vaccine Manufacturing, which works within an existing “ecosystem” of Africa’s vaccine needs. Launched in April, it has political backing from the continent’s leaders, including Presidents Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa and Paul Kagame of Rwanda.

Moderna, an American drug company, developed its coronavirus vaccine with billions of dollars in taxpayer money and received initial research and development funding from Covax, the vaccine sharing facility supported by the global vaccine alliance Gavi and the World Health Organization.

San Francisco is set to ease mask mandates in limited settings for vaccinated people.Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York TimesSan Francisco plans to ease face-mask requirements in limited settings, health officials announced on Thursday. The change, set to take effect on Oct. 15, is dependent on coronavirus cases and hospitalization rates remaining stable or declining.

In settings such as offices, gyms, fitness centers, religious gatherings and college classes, people will be permitted to remove their mask if everyone present is vaccinated and their status has been verified. The new rule applies only to gatherings that do not exceed 100 people.

The employer or host is also required to ensure proper ventilation, verify there have been no recent Covid-19 outbreaks and make sure that no children under 12 are present, among other safety measures.

California is among the states with the lowest number of newly reported coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents, according to a New York Times database. In San Francisco County, 74 percent of all residents age 12 and older are fully vaccinated.

“I’m excited that we’re once again at a place where we can begin easing the mask requirements, which is the direct result of the fact that we have one of the highest vaccination rates in the country, our cases have fallen, and our residents have done their part to keep themselves and those around them safe,” said Mayor London Breed.

Ms. Breed called the eased restrictions “yet another milestone in our recovery” and said that “the City feels like it is coming alive again” on Twitter.

Indoor mask mandates remain in place for most other public settings, including retail stores and other common areas like building elevators, lobbies and restrooms, and masks continue to be required at bars and restaurants except when patrons are eating or drinking.

Proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test has been required to go indoors at bars, restaurants, clubs, gyms, and large indoor events in San Francisco since late August.

“Vaccines continue to be our path out of the pandemic, but masks have blunted the Delta-driven surge and protected our vital hospital capacity, while allowing businesses to remain open and children to return to school,” said Dr. Susan Philip, the city and county’s health officer.

A protest against vaccination mandates at Staten Island University Hospital in New York in August.Credit…Yana Paskova for The New York TimesOne week after requiring more than 650,000 hospital and nursing home workers to get at least one dose of the vaccine, New York State’s pioneering mandate for health care workers is moving into a second and likely more difficult phase: requiring at least 250,000 home health care workers to get at least one dose of the vaccine before Friday or face the threat of losing their jobs.

While the first phase of the mandate was widely viewed as successful in pressuring thousands of nurses, doctors, technicians and orderlies to get the vaccine, many industry officials say they fear this second phase will result in thousands of workers simply quitting their jobs and finding new work in restaurants, retail or other industries. Most home health care aides, many of them immigrants, are paid about minimum wage and could find jobs paying similar wages elsewhere.

Without enough workers to go around, patients recovering from stints in the hospital or older New Yorkers who rely on long-term aides for assistance with everything from grocery shopping to bathing could find their care reduced or ended. The shortage could also exacerbate patient backlogs at hospitals, which often discharge patients with the support of in-home care.

“Even a small percentage of home care workers no longer working will impact thousands of homebound individuals,” said Dan Savitt, the president and chief executive of the Visiting Nurse Service of New York. “The rough math here is for every 1 percent of full-time aides unavailable, there are about 1,500 Medicaid members that will be impacted.”

Schools have embraced a range of different preventive measures to keep children safe. Above, middle school students having lunch in Miami.Credit…Scott McIntyre for The New York TimesWith schools fully reopened last month, the Delta variant drove many worries: Would crowded classrooms run up infection rates? Would outbreaks keep many schools closed? Could there be a normal academic year — the first since the pandemic began?

The news so far has been reassuring: The vast majority of the nation’s 50 million public school students have been in classrooms, full time and mostly uninterrupted, this fall — whether students are masked or unmasked, teachers vaccinated or not. In fact, infection rates declined 35 percent nationally through the month of September, as many schools opened their doors.

Still, it hasn’t always been pretty. Parents protested at school board meetings over mask mandates, or the lack of them. Families had to scramble because of stay-at-home orders. And virus-infected students and teachers prompted worries about the possibility of a spread in schools.

Yet in the sometimes chaotic reopening, there has been dramatic progress. Virus-driven school closures declined steeply from the end of August to late September, from about 240 a week to about 25 a week, according to a survey by Burbio, a company that has monitored district responses to the pandemic. Many districts have relaxed quarantine guidelines, allowing more students to remain in classrooms. And three-quarters of the nation’s 200 largest school districts began October with a mask mandate.

More progress may be made, given that Pfizer and BioNTech asked federal regulators on Thursday to authorize emergency use of their vaccine for children ages 5 to 11.

Now schools face the question of what comes next. In conservative areas like Wyoming, with fewer safety measures, some schools want to figure out how to encourage more people to get vaccinated. In parts of Georgia that have started requiring masks in schools, there is debate over how much it will help. And in liberal districts like Boston, where infection rates are low, some parents are beginning to question how long masking will be necessary.

These debates reflect a larger societal question: How should we live with Covid, since it appears to be here to stay?

Global Roundup

Disinfecting a department store before opening in Pyongyang last year. North Korea has reported no Covid-19 infections, but its leader has spoken of a “great crisis.”Credit…Jon Chol Jin/Associated PressThe World Health Organization said on Thursday that it had resumed shipments of medical supplies to North Korea to help its Covid-19 response, in what appears to signal a relaxation of the closed-border policies enforced by Pyongyang early in the pandemic.

The agency said its shipments of medical supplies, together with other international supplies destined for North Korea, had become stranded in China after Pyongyang sealed the country’s borders in January 2020 when Covid-19 was declared a public health emergency of international concern.

North Korea’s Ministry of Public Health told the agency several months ago that it would allow the stranded supplies to be transported through the northern Chinese port of Dalian, a W.H.O. spokesman, Tarik Jasarevic, said in an emailed statement.

As a result, the agency had sent some of the medical supplies and equipment to the North Korean port of Nampo, he said.

North Korea has not reported any Covid-19 infections, and it turned down several offers of vaccines, including ones from the United Nations-backed Covax facility and from Russia. But North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, said in June that lapses in his country’s anti-pandemic campaign had caused a “great crisis” that threatened “grave consequences,” according to the state media. He did not clarify whether he was referring to an outbreak within the country.

The W.H.O. said its shipments to North Korea included health kits, medicines and other medical supplies that would support essential health services at primary health care centers.

The agency said it had been told that these supplies remained under quarantine in Nampo.

In other news from around the world:

The authorities in France announced that, as of Oct. 15, coronavirus screening tests would no longer be free for unvaccinated people, signaling a new phase in the government’s strategy to encourage inoculations. The change means that unvaccinated people will bear the financial burden of meeting the proof of coronavirus status required by a law enacted this summer before they can enter cafes, restaurants, theaters and many other indoor venues.

The 14-day average of new daily coronavirus cases in Spain dropped below 50 per 100,000 people on Thursday for the first time in more than a year, Reuters reported. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez called the return to low-risk status “a crucial milestone on the road to recovery” on Twitter.

Starting on Saturday, Greece will begin a two-week test of lifting some pandemic restrictions in regions where coronavirus cases have been the highest, but for the most part, only vaccinated people will be able to enjoy the heightened freedom. The restrictions — notably a curfew from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m. and a ban on music in bars and restaurants — were imposed last month in “red areas” across much of the country’s north and parts of its center, as a way to fight a fourth wave of the virus. But unvaccinated people who cannot prove that they recently recovered from Covid remain barred from indoor venues like bars, cafes and restaurants.

Even as parents in the United States wrestle with difficult questions over vaccinating their children against the coronavirus, families in other countries have been offered a novel option: giving children just one dose of the vaccine. Officials in Britain, Hong Kong, Norway and other countries have recommended a single dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children ages 12 and older — providing partial protection from the virus, but without the potential harms occasionally observed after two doses. On Wednesday, Sweden and Denmark announced that adolescents should get only one jab of the Moderna vaccine.

The British government said Thursday that international travel restrictions will be further relaxed next week by removing the hotel quarantine requirement for arrivals to England from 47 countries, including South Africa, Mexico and Thailand. The change comes into effect on Monday, and only seven countries will remain on the “red list” of visitors required to to enter hotel quarantine for 11 nights.

New figures by the Robert Koch Institute show that Germany has vaccinated 3.5 million more people against the coronavirus than previously thought. The country’s health minister said Thursday that some vaccinations, particularly of employees at big companies or those given by mobile vaccination teams, may have not been fully reported.

Flags on the lawn of the Loussac Library in Anchorage by the nonpartisan group Anchorage Action in September, representing the 535 Alaskans who have died from Covid.Credit…Ash Adams for The New York TimesThe coronavirus seems to be in retreat in the United States, with instances of hospitalization and death both falling.

Although some states, such as Alaska, Maine and New Hampshire, are still seeing high figures, the number of virus cases across the country is down about 25 percent compared with a couple of weeks ago.

So, what stage is the country in with the pandemic? And how will developments such as a new antiviral treatment and the availability of booster shots affect things?

Listen to ‘The Daily’: The State of the PandemicWhat can the U.S. expect from the coronavirus this fall? And what do we know about booster shots and a possible new treatment?transcript

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Listen to ‘The Daily’: The State of the PandemicWhat can the U.S. expect from the coronavirus this fall? And what do we know about booster shots and a possible new treatment?astead herndonFrom The New York Times, I’m Astead Herndon in for Michael Barbaro. This is The Daily.

As Covid cases continue to drop in much of the country, I spoke with my colleague, Apoorva Mandavilli, about what to expect this fall and what we know about booster shots and the possible new treatment for the virus. It’s Thursday, October 7.

OK, so before we get too far into the Covid questions, can you tell me the landscape? Where are we at in terms of cases in the United States right now?

apoorva mandavilliThis is the one time that I can give you some good news. The cases are actually going down. And hospitalizations, deaths— we’re seeing decreases across the board. And that’s really welcome news, because we had been seeing these numbers go up for weeks and weeks. And it seems like we’ve finally turned the corner. I don’t want to speak too soon and say that we’re going to go all the way down. We may plateau. Other countries have done that. But at the moment, it’s looking pretty good.

There are some states still that are seeing some high numbers and increases— Maine, New Hampshire, Minnesota. And things are pretty bad still in some places like Alaska. But for the most part, most states, including the Southern ones that had really big waves are seeing a downturn.

astead herndonWhen you say down, what do we mean specifically? What are those numbers?

apoorva mandavilliSo across the United States, we are seeing something like 100,000 cases a day. And that’s about a 25 percent drop from a couple of weeks ago. So that’s really good. And hospitalizations are down, too. They’re down about 20 percent.

And the best part I think, is that the deaths have gone down. We were at a high of something like 2,200. And we’re now at 1,800, which is still a lot. But it is on the decrease. So that’s really nice to see.

astead herndonYeah. Yeah. I feel like I’ll take all the Covid good news I can get.

apoorva mandavilliExactly, right?

astead herndonYou know, I’m soaking this in. Is this just because of vaccinations? Is it just more Americans are getting vaccinated, therefore cases are going down? Is this just one-to-one causation or is there something else happening here?

apoorva mandavilliYeah, so this is a very interesting and very complicated question. Why are the cases going down? I don’t think we really know. The virus seems to go up and down in these waves. A lot of the time, though those are in two or three-month cycles. Sometimes they’re longer.

There are a lot of different explanations that I think probably contribute. Like almost everything else in this kind of science, it’s not one thing, right? Maybe it’s that people change their behavior when they see the cases going up, and they hear about packed hospitals and I.C.U. units. Maybe people start being more careful when they know that their kids are going back to school.

We also don’t know as much about the virus as we think we do. There’s something about the Delta variant and about this virus in general, where it seems to need a certain number of people to infect before it really takes off. And maybe it’s that it doesn’t find quite as many people, and so it dies out, and then comes back again later when people stop being careful. So all these things have to sort of play together for the virus to go up or down.

astead herndonDo we know anything more about the Delta variant now? Have we learned anything about how it operates?

apoorva mandavilliWe’re learning more about how this virus operates in general and about how some of the newer variants seem to be working. So recently, there were these couple of studies that were super interesting. They basically said that the virus seems to be evolving to be better at airborne transmission. And I want to be careful when I say the word evolve. I don’t mean that the virus is smart and knows what it’s doing and is heading towards something. It’s more that when there’s a variant that is very good at something, there’s a higher chance that that will get selected and become the dominant variant. And it seems like with Alpha, the scientists were able to show that Alpha is much better at being transported through these tiny little aerosols, which is what keeps the virus afloat for a long time in indoor spaces.

And they think that Delta may be even better at that. And what that means is basically, we should all be wearing better masks in certain situations, especially in sort of crowded, indoor spaces. This study looked at different kinds of masks. And it said a thin cloth mask or a surgical mask only cuts the virus levels by about half. So at least in some crowded indoor spaces, we might need to be wearing something a little bit better than that, like an N95 that will really filter out almost all of the virus in order to stay safe.

astead herndonI’ll probably have to drop my favorite fashion mask based on this new understanding.

apoorva mandavilliThey do have some very fashionable masks with filters in them. Those work very well, too.

astead herndonOh, maybe my outfits are back on. OK, another question I had was to seek some updates on the tools we’ve been using to combat the virus. Last week, it seemed, from my very unscientific, untrained eye, that we got some good news about a potential pill that you could take to treat infections. Can you tell me more about it?

apoorva mandavilliYeah, this is a pill from the company Merck. And it’s an antiviral, meaning unlike the vaccine, it’s for people who already have Covid. And early an infection, if they take this pill, it really cuts down their risk of getting severely sick. The name of the pill— I’m not even going to really try to pronounce. It sort of molnupiravir. But the cool thing about it—

astead herndonA for effort. I appreciate it.

apoorva mandavilliI tried. But the cool thing about it is that it’s named for the hammer that’s wielded by Thor, the Norse God.

astead herndonOh.

apoorva mandavilliSo they were really going for some symbolism here. And I think that in that way, it actually is a game changer. It’s the first of these antiviral pills that we’re going to see that will really change the way that Covid is treated, especially in parts of the world where the vaccine hasn’t really made it yet.

astead herndonSo this is the first treatment that has shown promise in terms of mitigating Covid infections once someone gets sick that’s in a pill form?

apoorva mandavilliRight. It cuts down their risk of both hospitalization and death by half, but when given to high-risk people. And it has to be given early an infection. So there are some caveats. But you know, those are usually the people who end up in the hospital. So it just gives them another option.

And it may also be an option for people who have been vaccinated already, have a breakthrough infection, and ended up in the hospital again because they are much older, or they have weak immune systems. This gives them another option beyond monoclonal antibodies, which is the thing that we’ve all known about for months. That one is a little harder to give to people. You have to be hooked up to an IV. And this is a pill, so that makes a big difference.

astead herndonSo when will we know if this pill will be approved? And when will it actually be available for doctors to give to patients who have Covid?

apoorva mandavilliWell, so these are just the clinical trial results that Merck announced last week. And so Merck still has to apply to the F.D.A. for emergency use authorization. And then once the F.D.A. authorizes it, it can start to be prescribed.

Most countries are not waiting for that. The U.S. has already put in an order for 1.7 million doses. And Australia has bought a bunch of doses. And Thailand has bought a bunch of doses. There’s kind of a mad scramble to buy as many of these doses, even before the drug has gone through the approval process.

But this is really just another tool for us. You know, this is mainly also for high-risk people who might get really sick. It’s not that anybody who gets Covid is immediately going to be able to go get a pill. It may not do much for them.

And you also have to get it pretty early on in the illness. So there are some caveats.

And vaccination is still really the best long-term strategy for any person, or for any whole society to keep this virus at Bay.

[music]astead herndonWe’ll be right back.

Apoorva, let’s talk about booster shots. What’s the status of the F.D.A.‘s approval on booster shots? And who qualifies for the extra jab right now?

apoorva mandavilliRight now, the only booster that is authorized is Pfizer. And it is only authorized for certain groups of people, so older adults, people who have high-risk conditions one kind or another, and for people who are in certain high-risk jobs, like if the job puts them at heavy exposure of the virus.

What is not yet authorized is the Moderna booster or the J&J booster. So for people who got Moderna or J&J the first time around, the C.D.C. has asked them to wait, but not for long. Moderna and J&J have both applied to the F.D.A. for authorization. And those conversations are happening next week. So it’s possible that if everything goes well, those boosters will be authorized within a week or so. And then, people who got Moderna and Johnson & Johnson can also go get a booster.

But the other thing that’s happening next week that I think is really interesting is that the F.D.A. advisors are going to hear results of some studies that the N.I.H. did on what it looks like when people mix and match vaccines. So like, if somebody’s got Pfizer the first time around, and now they want to go and get Moderna, or they got J&J the first time, and now they want a Pfizer booster— next week, they’re going to discuss these new results. And it’ll be really interesting to see what they say. There is some evidence that mixing and matching vaccines might actually be a good idea.

astead herndonI feel like we have heard so consistently about just the different types of vaccines. And I’ve heard very little about that question of mixing and matching. You’re saying it’s a real possibility that when it comes to these booster shots, someone who got Pfizer could get a Moderna booster, or someone who got a Moderna could get a Johnson & Johnson booster?

apoorva mandavilliIt’s a real possibility. I mean, we don’t know what these results look like next week. But you know, it’s already happening in the U.K. and in some countries in Europe, where they gave AstraZeneca to begin with. They are now authorizing Pfizer boosters, so people who got AstraZeneca are getting Pfizer.

And there’s reason to think that that works well. There was a study that looked at what happens when you combine Pfizer and AstraZeneca. And people did very well. And we’ll find out next week when we look at what it looks like when you mix Pfizer with J&J, or J&J and Moderna, and all those combinations that we have here in the United States.

astead herndonOK, so we’ve been talking about vaccinations and booster shots for adults. But there’s a big chunk of the population that haven’t gotten vaccinated, which is kids 12 years old and under. What is happening on that front? And where are we in the process of getting full approval for kids to take the vaccine?

apoorva mandavilliWe will get emergency authorization for the Pfizer vaccine for kids 5 through 11 probably in a few weeks. Pfizer already came out and announced that the results look really good. And usually, it takes a few weeks after that for the F.D.A. to look at all the data and make a ruling. So we will probably see something fairly soon. For kids even younger than that, it’s probably going to be later this year, maybe even early next year for us to see vaccines.

astead herndonWill kids need to get two shots like adults do?

apoorva mandavilliKids may need to get two shots like adults do, yeah. That’s the plan at the moment. There are countries that are offering just one dose to kids 12 and older. And the thinking there is that they want to wait and see what the safety data look like a little bit longer term for the second dose.

You may have heard that some people seem to have heart problems after getting the second dose of the vaccine. It’s super, super rare. But it’s been seen mostly in young men. And so what these countries are saying is, we don’t have very high rates of Covid right now. And we don’t think that our kids are at very high risk of Covid. And so we’re going to give them one dose, which still gives some protection. And we’ll wait to see about the second one.

Obviously, the situation is very different here in the U.S., because we’ve had very high rates of Covid. And we’ve had a lot of kids get infected. And we’ve had 500 kids die of Covid.

The C.D.C. looked at all of the available data couple of months ago and decided that the benefit far outweighs the risk. And the risk of getting heart problems from Covid is a lot higher. So here, I think the C.D.C. will probably still come down on the side of, for us, two doses is the safest option. And a couple of experts I talked to also pointed out that we don’t really know that the one dose does a lot— that it is effective, or how long that protection lasts.

astead herndonWhile we’re peppering you with questions that have been on our minds about Covid, I wanted to ask about the upcoming flu season. Last year, there was talk about a “twindemic,” that you could have the double whammy of flu and Covid hitting the country at the same time. And that never really transpired. We had a pretty mild flu season. What’s the expectation for this year?

apoorva mandavilliWe might not be so lucky this year.

astead herndonHmm, why’s that?

apoorva mandavilliSo we didn’t really see a “twindemic” last year, because a lot of us were still social distancing, not really going out, wearing masks, really terrified of the virus. But this year, that’s different. A lot more people are vaccinated. We are back to being much more social. A lot more people are going back into work, and schools are open.

So all of those things mean that the flu virus also has more chances to spread. And so the doctors that I’ve spoken to are all recommending that people do go and get the flu vaccine this year.

astead herndonSo Apoorva, with all of these developments, we are still going into the winter— a time when people are indoors more, and the time that I know inspires a lot of fear among some public health officials— what can we expect over the next few months?

apoorva mandavilliI know you guys always want me to predict on this show. And I really can never do it. What I will say is that we shouldn’t be so excited about these numbers going down that we think this is the end of Covid for us. We’ve done that so many times, and we’ve been wrong every time.

We still have something like 70 million people who are unvaccinated in this country. So there is plenty of room for the virus to still get around. And if we stop being careful, if we move indoors, we stop wearing masks, we start socializing heavily again, the virus will probably come back. A lot of experts I’ve spoken to have said we should expect to see the numbers go up in the winter like we did last year, although of course, the peaks hopefully, will not be anywhere near as high as what we saw last year.

astead herndonBut if you are in an area that has high vaccination rates, low case rates, and you are vaccinated, can you sort of go on with your lives as is? It seems like in some places, there is a real moment of respite from the virus.

apoorva mandavilliAnd I think that’s real. You know, that respite is justified. If you are vaccinated, and you’re wearing a mask in crowded indoor spaces, you’ll probably be OK. And as we’ve seen for most people, the vaccines are still really powerful for preventing hospitalization or death.

So unless you are in a very high-risk category, there’s no reason to go back to the way we were living last year. But I would just say we probably still need to continue to be careful in some places, continue to wear a mask in some situations, continue to meet people outdoors as much as possible. Just do these little things that we know go a long way towards keeping ourselves and everyone around us safe.

astead herndonThank you. I appreciate your time.

apoorva mandavilliThanks.

astead herndonWe’ll be right back.

[music]Here’s what else you need to know today.

archived recordingAs some of you may know, I started my career as a malaria researcher. And I longed for the day that we would have an effective vaccine against this ancient and terrible disease. And today is that day, an historic day.

astead herndonOn Wednesday, the director general of the World Health Organization announced the approval of the first malaria vaccine, a long-awaited breakthrough in the fight against the disease.

archived recordingUsing this vaccine in addition to existing tools to prevent malaria could save tens of thousands of young lives each year.

astead herndonMalaria kills about half a million people each year, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa. And among them, 260,000 children under the age of five. The W.H.O.‘s endorsement is the first step to worldwide distribution of the vaccine.

archived recordingWe still have a very long road to travel. But this is a long slide down that road.

astead herndonAnd congressional Democrats and Republicans are working on an agreement to temporarily raise the debt ceiling to avert a high-stakes fight over the country’s ability to pay its debts. Democrats received an offer from Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell to pass a short-term increase of the debt ceiling into December, delaying the deadline for the U.S. to default on its debt.

The deal gives Democrats more time to focus on passing President Biden’s ambitious agenda before finding a permanent solution for the debt ceiling. Economists warn that if the U.S. is unable to pay its debts, there will be dramatic consequences for the global and domestic markets.

Today’s episode was produced by Jessica Cheung, Rachelle Bonja and Eric Krupke. It was edited by M.J. Davis Lin and Lisa Chow and engineered by Chris Wood and contains original music by Dan Powell and Marion Lozano. Our theme music is by Jim Brunberg and Ben Landsverk of Wonderly.

That’s it for The Daily. I’m Astead Herndon. See you tomorrow.

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