Covid-19: Studies Indicate Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine Protects Against the Most Severe Outcomes of Some Virus Variants


Christy Zahrt receiving the Pfizer vaccine at California State University, Northridge, in Los Angeles on Tuesday.
Credit…Allison Zaucha for The New York Times

The Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine is extraordinarily effective at protecting against severe disease caused by two dangerous variants, according to two studies published Wednesday.

The studies, which are based on the real-world use of the vaccine in Qatar and Israel, suggest that the vaccine can prevent the worst outcomes — including severe pneumonia and death — caused by B.1.1.7, the variant first identified in the U.K., and B.1.351, the variant first identified in South Africa.

“This is really good news,” said Dr. Annelies Wilder-Smith, an infectious disease researcher at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “At this point in time, we can confidently say that we can use this vaccine, even in the presence of circulating variants of concern.”

Previous research suggested that B.1.1.7 is more infectious and more deadly than other variants but that vaccines still worked well against it. On the other hand, vaccines appeared to be less effective against B.1.351, according to earlier studies.

One of the new studies, which appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, is based on information about more than 200,000 people that was pulled from Qatar’s national Covid-19 databases between Feb. 1 and March 31.

In multiple analyses, the researchers found that the vaccine was 87 to 89.5 percent effective at preventing infection with B.1.1.7 among people who were at least two weeks past their second shot. It was 72.1 to 75 percent effective at preventing infection with B.1.351 among those who had reached the two-week point.

The vaccine was highly effective at protecting against the worst outcomes. Overall, it was 97.4 percent effective at preventing severe, critical or fatal disease from any form of the coronavirus, and 100 percent effective at preventing severe, critical or fatal disease caused by B.1.1.7 or B.1.351.

The second new study, which was published in The Lancet, was conducted by researchers at Pfizer and at Israel’s Ministry of Health. It is based on more than 230,000 instances of coronavirus infection that occurred in Israel between Jan. 24 and April 3. During that period, B.1.1.7 accounted for nearly 95 percent of all coronavirus cases in the country, which has vaccinated more than half of its population.

The researchers found that the vaccine was more than 95 percent effective at protecting against coronavirus infection, hospitalization and death among fully vaccinated people 16 and older. It also worked well in older adults. Among those 85 or older, the vaccine was more than 94 percent effective at preventing infection, hospitalization and death.

New York Yankees fans at a game in April.
Credit…Amr Alfiky/The New York Times

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York announced on Wednesday that baseball fans who have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus will soon be able to enjoy seating arrangements without social distancing at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, and that spectators who get vaccinated at either stadium during a game will get a free ticket.

Beginning on May 19, the same day the state is ending most capacity restrictions for businesses, fully vaccinated people will be allowed to sit in sections of the stadiums where every seat can be occupied, though they will have to wear masks. They can also be accompanied by children who are under 16 and unvaccinated, who must also wear masks.

People who have not been vaccinated will sit in sections where only one-third of the seats can be occupied, and will have to observe six-foot social distancing rules. Both Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, the home of the Mets, are mass vaccination sites, and both stadiums will offer a voucher for a free ticket to people who are vaccinated there on game days, as an incentive to receive the vaccine.

“You take a vaccine shot, get a voucher, you can go to that game,” Randy Levine, the president of the New York Yankees, said at Mr. Cuomo’s news conference. “If that game’s sold out, you can go tomorrow night, go to a game of your choice.”

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which only requires one shot, will be offered to game attendees, the governor said, so they will not have to schedule a follow-up appointment.

Social distancing, capacity rules and other safety measures vary significantly from one Major League stadium to another, because of differing local regulations and individual team decisions.

Mr. Cuomo also announced that Broadway shows would start selling tickets on Thursday for full-capacity shows with performances starting Sept. 14.

Broadway, home to 41 theaters with between 600 and 1,900 seats, drew 14.6 million people who spent $1.758 billion on tickets in 2019. The pandemic had forced them all to close since March 12, 2020, and reopening is clearly going to be far more complicated than shutting down.

With as many as eight shows a week to fill, and the tourists who make up an important part of their customer base yet to return, producers need time to advertise and market. They need to reassemble and rehearse casts who have been out of work for more than a year. And they need to sort out and negotiate safety protocols.

But the biggest reason for the delay is more gut-based: Individually and collectively, they are trying to imagine when large numbers of people will be likely to feel comfortable traveling to Times Square, funneling through cramped lobbies and walking down narrow aisles to sit shoulder to shoulder with strangers. (Most Broadway shows lose money even in the best of times, so producers say there is no way they can afford to reopen with social distancing, given the industry’s high labor and real estate costs.)

The governor said that the state’s coronavirus indicators were all trending downward, so reopening made sense, though the state would continue monitoring the situation carefully.

According to a New York Times database, the average number of new cases a day in the state had declined by 46 percent in the past 14 days, as of Tuesday. Thirty-seven percent of the state’s population was fully vaccinated, as of Wednesday.

The virus does appear to be ebbing in New York City. But the city still faces challenges from uneven vaccine coverage, the slowing pace of vaccinations and the growing prevalence of variants in the city.

Receiving a shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine in Harlem last month.
Credit…Mike Segar/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The coronavirus variant first discovered in New York City does not appear to be leading to more severe infections, or causing re-infections at a significantly higher rate than older forms of the virus, according to a new, preliminary analysis by city health officials that was published by the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention on Wednesday.

The findings are the latest sign that the city may have dodged a worst-case scenario with the variant, B.1.526, as the virus seems to be ebbing in the area. Two recent laboratory studies have also shown that antibodies stimulated by the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines work against the variant, which is among the most common versions found in genetically analyzed cases in New York City.

However, the study’s lead author underscored that the risks posed by the variant, along with other forms of the virus, including the variant first detected in Britain, B.1.1.7, remain serious, and that New Yorkers should not let down their guard even as restrictions on public life are lifted. In early April, the C.D.C. director said that the B.1.1.7 variant had become the most common source of new infections in the United States, and efforts to improve the U.S.’s ability to track variants have received a significant funding boost.

“The fact that the B.1.526 and the B.1.1.7 variants are circulating widely in New York City shows that they are able to compete with other variants and continue to make up a growing share of cases,” Corinne Thompson, co-lead of the epidemiology data unit for the city health department, said in an email. “It is critically important for New Yorkers to get vaccinated and follow public health precautions to minimize their exposure.”

The B.1526 variant was first discovered circulating in Upper Manhattan in November by researchers analyzing genomes of the virus. It initially spread rapidly, rising to about 40 percent of all cases genetically sequenced in New York City by late February.

That rapid pace led researchers to conclude that the variant was more contagious that original versions, but they remained unsure if it was more serious or lethal.

In recent weeks, however, the prevalence of the B.1.526 variant has plateaued in genetically analyzed cases, even as sequencing capabilities remain limited. But the percentage of cases that are variants that scientists do believe are more dangerous — including B.1.1.7, and P.1, the variant first discovered in Brazil — has continued to rise.

Researchers said they were glad to see signs that the B.1.526 variant appeared to be less worrisome than B.1.1.7.

“This is very reassuring, in that it is not worse than the more severe U.K. variant, in the most comprehensive analysis of our variant to date,” said Denis Nash, an epidemiologist with the City University of New York, who was not involved with the study

However, the news was not all good. On Wednesday, the city released new data showing that the B.1.1.7 variant had overtaken B.1.526 in New York City, accounting for 42 percent of cases sequenced in the week of April 19-25. The P.1 variant now makes up about 4 percent of city cases. (B.1.526 dropped to 37 percent of cases.)

The new analysis published by the C.D.C. underscored the additional danger of B.1.1.7. It found that nearly 6 percent of people who were infected with that variant in New York City had been hospitalized, among cases it analyzed, compared to just over 4 percent of people with B.1.526 and other versions.

The report analyzed roughly 10,000 virus specimens in New York City taken between January 1 and April 5. Although it amounts to the most complete real world study of the genetic balance of cases in New York City to date, researchers cautioned that the data remained preliminary and limited, as only about 3 percent of all cases in the city were genetically analyzed during that period.

The report called for further study and timely genetic analysis to get a better handle on the risks.

“Because relatively few specimens were sequenced over the study period,” the authors wrote, “the statistical power might have been insufficient to detect modest differences in rates of uncommon outcomes such as breakthrough infection or re-infection.”

Italian residents returned to Bergamo, Italy, on Monday from the northern Indian city of Amritsar after taking a charter flight. The United States government is urging its citizens to leave the country. 
Credit…Filippo Venezia/EPA, via Shutterstock

The State Department announced on Wednesday that it would approve the voluntary departure of nonemergency U.S. government employees in India as the country battles a second wave of coronavirus infections.

According to a travel advisory posted on the State Department’s website, the agency is urging U.S. citizens to take advantage of commercial flights out of India and has also approved the voluntary departure of family members of U.S. government employees.

According to a travel advisory posted on the State Department’s website, the agency is urging U.S. citizens to take advantage of commercial flights out of India.

India’s surge in Covid-19 cases has prompted other countries to take precautions concerning who is allowed within their borders. Earlier this week Australia began a travel ban, making it a criminal offense for its citizens in India to return home — a move some have condemned as overly harsh.

Last week, the Biden administration announced it would begin restricting travel from India to the United States, although restrictions will not apply to citizens or lawful permanent residents, their spouses, minor children or siblings as well as the parents of citizens or lawful permanent residents who are under 21.

Facing mounting pressure, the administration committed to exporting materials for vaccines to India along with therapeutics, rapid diagnostic test kits, ventilators and personal protective gear.




Vaccinated Teenage Campers Can Remove Masks Outdoors, C.D.C. Director Says

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said vaccinated adolescents would not need to wear masks outdoors at summer camps. Federal regulators are preparing to authorize use of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds.

So we have two sets of guidance. We have guidance for masking, and if you’re vaccinated or unvaccinated outdoors, and we also have this camp guidance. Certainly if we have authorization for 12 to 15-year-olds, and they can get vaccinated before going to camp, that’s what I would advocate for so that they can take their masks off outdoors. We also have guidance, the camp guidance and the outdoor guidance for individuals who are unvaccinated. So those who are 12 and under who are attending camp, and we have some availability of not wearing your mask outdoors in small groups, in groups with the other children who are vaccinated. What we’re really trying to avoid in this camp guidance is what we saw in outbreaks in camps last summer. So if you have five, 10-year-olds who are on a soccer field, all in front of the same soccer ball, we’re trying to make sure that they’re not a lot of heavy breathing around a singular soccer ball with five kids around it at the same time. But for spread out activities, our outdoor mass guidance for unvaccinated people — small groups — allows for those kids to be unvaccinated. And what we really are trying to do is ensure that all of these kids can have a really good camp experience and keep the camps open without any outbreaks.

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The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said vaccinated adolescents would not need to wear masks outdoors at summer camps. Federal regulators are preparing to authorize use of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds.CreditCredit…George Etheredge for The New York Times

As federal regulators prepare to authorize use of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine in adolescents aged 12 to 15, a top health official said Wednesday that vaccinated individuals in that age group will be able to remove their masks outdoors at camps.

The remarks by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, came after criticism that the agency’s recently issued guidance for campers was needlessly strict. That guidance had said children at camps should be masked except when eating, drinking, napping or swimming.

The Pfizer vaccine is now authorized only for people 16 or older, and the two other vaccines in use now in the United States are limited to those 18 or older. But federal regulators are expected to expand the Pfizer authorization to include adolescents as soon as this week.

Dr. Walenksy said on Wednesday that the agency’s guidance was intended to prevent a repeat of virus outbreaks last year that were traced to summer camps. She said that unvaccinated, unmasked children who engage in close-contact sports like soccer are at risk of transmitting the virus even when outdoors.

But she said vaccination would mitigate those risks. “If we have authorization for 12- to 15-year-olds, and they can get vaccinated before going to camp, that’s what I would advocate, so they can take their masks off outdoors,” she said.

The C.D.C. said last week that people in the United States who are fully vaccinated no longer need to wear masks outdoors while walking, running, hiking or biking alone, or when in small gatherings with members of their own households. Masks are still necessary in crowded outdoor venues like sports stadiums, the agency said.

If the Food and Drug Administration clears the Pfizer vaccine for broader use, an advisory panel of experts would be expected to meet within a few days to make recommendation to the C.D.C. about whether to go ahead with vaccinating adolescents. The F.D.A. and the C.D.C. have shared responsibility for vaccine use.

White House officials say that the federal government is poised to make shots available for adolescents through pharmacies, pediatricians’ offices and other sites as soon as the health agencies act. “We are prepared to move as quickly as we can after any kind of authorization,” Andy Slavitt, a White House pandemic adviser, said Wednesday.

“We know that kids want to go to camp this summer,” he said. “We know that parents want them to be safe. If they want that done without masks, vaccinations are the best answer.”

The Biden administration is recommending setting aside patent restrictions.
Credit…Carlos Osorio/Reuters

The Biden administration on Wednesday came out in support of waiving intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines, a breakthrough for international efforts to suspend patent rules as the pandemic rages in India and South America.

The United States had been a major holdout at the World Trade Organization over a proposal to suspend intellectual property protections in an effort to ramp up vaccine production. But President Biden had come under increasing pressure to throw his support behind the proposal, including from many congressional Democrats.

Katherine Tai, the United States trade representative, announced the administration’s position in a statement on Wednesday afternoon.

“This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures,” she said. “The administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for Covid-19 vaccines.”

Ms. Tai added that the United States would participate in negotiations at the W.T.O. over the matter, adding, “Those negotiations will take time given the consensus-based nature of the institution and the complexity of the issues involved.”

Activists have been pressing for the waiver but have also said that a waiver alone will not boost world supply of the vaccine; it must be accompanied by the process known as “tech transfer,” in which patent holders supply technical know-how and personnel.

“This is a start,” said Gregg Gonsalves, a Yale University epidemiologist and longtime AIDS activist who has been pressing for the waiver. “We need the writing of the text of this waiver now to be transparent and public, but as we have always said we need tech transfer now.”

Earlier Wednesday, members of the W.T.O. held another round of discussions about waiving intellectual property protections. Further discussions are expected in the coming weeks, as India and South Africa, which proposed the waiver, are preparing a revised plan for nations to consider.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the director general of the W.T.O., urged members to proceed with negotiations over the text of the plan.

“I am firmly convinced that once we can sit down with an actual text in front of us, we shall find a pragmatic way forward,” she said at a meeting of the organization’s General Council.

Activists gathered outside Brooklyn Borough Hall on Monday to call for an extension of New York’s moratorium on evictions.
Credit…Justin Lane/EPA, via Shutterstock

A federal judge on Wednesday struck down the nationwide moratorium on evictions imposed by the Trump administration last year and extended by President Biden until June 30, a ruling that could affect tenants struggling to pay rent during the pandemic.

The decision, by Judge Dabney Friedrich of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, is the most significant federal ruling on the moratorium yet, and follows three similar federal court decisions. The Justice Department immediately appealed, and will seek an emergency stay of the decision, potentially delaying a final resolution of the case past the moratorium’s planned June 30 expiration.

It remains unclear how wide an impact the decision will have on renters. It does not necessarily bind state housing court judges, who rule on eviction orders, and two other federal courts have upheld the moratorium, adding to the confusion about its fate.

“There are now numerous conflicting court rulings at the district court level, with several judges ruling in favor of the moratorium and several ruling against,” said Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a national tenants advocacy group.

Still, tenants’ rights groups said the decision on Wednesday could leave more low-income and working-class tenants vulnerable to eviction in coming weeks even as the Biden administration is beginning to disburse tens of billions of dollars in aid to help them catch up on unpaid rent.

Landlords said the decision validated their arguments that the legal basis for the federal moratorium was unsound and overstepped the government’s power.

The case was brought in November by the Alabama Association of Realtors and a group of real estate agents in Georgia who claimed the moratorium shifted the burden for rent payments from the tenants to landlords at a time when many owners have been struggling to meet their own expenses.

The moratorium has had a substantial effect. Despite the sharp economic downturn created by the pandemic, eviction filings declined 65 percent in 2020 over the usual annual rate, according to an analysis of court data by the nonprofit group Eviction Lab.

Housing analysts warned that Wednesday’s ruling could embolden more landlords to begin eviction proceedings against tenants before the federal government can disburse $45 billion in emergency housing assistance appropriated by Congress.

“It couldn’t come at a worse time,” said Mary K. Cunningham, who studies housing with the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan policy group. “This is happening just as communities are trying to beat the clock, waiting for the federal government to get its new housing subsidies out the door before the moratorium expires on June 30. It’s terrible news.”

Landlords and real estate agents downplayed concerns that lifting the moratorium will create an eviction crisis. “With rental assistance secured, the economy strengthening and unemployment rates falling, there is no need to continue a blanket, nationwide eviction ban,” a spokesman for the National Association of Realtors said in a statement.

The executive order covers any single renter making less than $99,000 a year and families making twice that much. About 8.2 million tenants reported that they had fallen behind in their rent payments during the pandemic, according to Census Bureau estimates.

Federal decisions, like the one issued Wednesday, are significant but serve as guidance rather than an order — although an unequivocal ruling from a prominent federal court is likely to sway some local judges, said Eric Dunn, director of litigation for the National Housing Law Project, a tenant advocacy group.

The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine being  administered at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas last month.
Credit…John Locher/Associated Press

A single dose of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine given as a booster rapidly increased the level of antibodies in people who had already been vaccinated, the company announced on Wednesday.

The antibodies produced by the booster were effective against the original form of the virus, as well as against the variants of concern first identified in South Africa and Brazil. A second booster specifically designed to counter B.1.351, the variant identified in South Africa, produced an even stronger immune response against that variant.

The results are from an early stage of Moderna’s trial of the boosters and have not yet been published or vetted by other scientists. Moderna plans to post the findings to the preprint server bioRxiv, the company said on Wednesday.

“We are encouraged by these new data, which reinforce our confidence that our booster strategy should be protective against these newly detected variants,” Stéphane Bancel, Moderna’s chief executive officer, said in a statement.

The boosters, tested in 40 participants, were administered as a third shot six to eight months after the two-shot immunization with the current vaccine. Antibodies from the initial vaccination were detectable in 37 of those people, but in about half the participants, the antibodies performed poorly against the variants that have pummeled South Africa and Brazil. The boosters raised the levels of the antibodies against both variants, although the boosters were still slightly less effective than against the original form of the virus.

The mRNA platform used in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines can be readily tweaked, enabling the companies to produce newer versions within weeks. Moderna began modifying its vaccine to combat the variant identified in South Africa, after reports emerged that the existing vaccines are slightly less effective against that variant. The variant carries a mutation that helps the virus sidestep the immune system.

Moderna is testing three strategies for enhancing the immunity produced by the current vaccine: using the current vaccine as a booster; using the booster designed specifically to combat B.1.351; and a combination of the two in a single vaccine.

Wednesday’s announcement refers to results achieved two weeks after immunization with either a booster of the original vaccine or of the booster modified for B.1.351. The company plans to release data from later time points, and from tests of the combination booster, as they become available.

There were road blocks, fires and riots in southern Bogotá on Tuesday after a week of protests and strikes over proposed tax reforms in Colombia proposed by the Colombian government.
Credit…Federico Rios for The New York Times

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — A teenager shot to death after kicking a police officer. A young man bleeding out on the street as protesters shout for help. Police firing on unarmed demonstrators. Helicopters swarming overhead, tanks rolling through neighborhoods, explosions echoing in the streets. A mother crying for her son.

“We are destroyed,” said Milena Meneses, 39, whose only son, Santiago, 19, was killed in a protest over the weekend.

Colombians demonstrating over the past week against the poverty and inequality that have worsened the lives of millions since the Covid-19 pandemic began have been met with a powerful crackdown by their government, which has responded to the protests with the same militarized police force it often uses against rebel fighters and organized crime. The clashes have left at least 24 people dead, most of them demonstrators, and at least 87 missing. They have also exacerbated the anger with officials in the capital, Bogotá. Protesters the government is increasingly out of touch with people’s everyday lives.

This explosion of frustration, experts say, could presage unrest across Latin America, where several countries face the same combustible mix of an unrelenting pandemic, growing hardship and plummeting government revenue.

“We are all connected,” said León Valencia, a political analyst, noting that past protests have jumped from country to country. “This could spread across the region.”

The marches began last week after Mr. Duque proposed a tax overhaul meant to close a pandemic-related economic shortfall, and since then, the crowds have only grown.

Demonstrators now include teachers, doctors, students, members of major unions, longtime activists and Colombians who have never before taken to the streets.

Then came the pandemic. Latin America was one of the regions hardest hit by the virus in 2020, with cemeteries filling past capacity, the sick dying while awaiting care in hospital hallways, and family members spending the night in lines to buy medical oxygen in an attempt to keep loved ones alive.

The region’s economies shrank by an average of 7 percent. In many places, unemployment, particularly among the young, spiked. And in the first few months of 2021, the Covid-19 situation has only worsened.

A health worker took a swab sample for a coronavirus test in Bangalore, India, on Monday.
Credit…Jagadeesh Nv/EPA, via Shutterstock

Members of the global Indian diaspora, nearly 17 million, have mobilized from afar to help back home, where the Indian health system is buckling under the weight of a devastating coronavirus wave. Here is one U.S. resident’s story.

One evening in late April, as the coronavirus was surging in India, Prarthana Sannamani, a Microsoft software engineer in Seattle, was growing increasingly worried about her parents, who live near the southern Indian city of Bangalore.

“Gosh, I’m so far away. What if my family gets sick and needs help?” she recalled thinking.

Ms. Sannamani, who is in her 20s and has lived in the United States for four years, began scouring the internet and compiling a document with phone numbers for ambulances and hospitals for her parents, in case they fell ill.

“But the list kept growing because I just started finding so much information, and then I thought, hey, I really want this to reach more people,” she said.

Ms. Sannamani planned to share the list on Twitter, until she realized that only a small fraction of India’s 1.3 billion people used the social network, she said. One night, she came up with the idea of building a website. By the time she went to bed six hours later, at 4 a.m., Ms. Sannamani had created, with contact information for hospitals and emergency services in Bangalore.

The next morning, she shared the website with her co-workers and asked her social media followers to contribute information. But, feeling that she needed to do more, Ms. Sannamani took the day off from work and spent the next 14 hours tracking down additional resources. She has since expanded the site to include emergency help lines and databases of available hospital beds, oxygen, medical treatments and other Covid-19 assistance in 12 cities and nine regions across India.

“The purpose is when something happens, you’re not in that mental state to go to Google and do that research,” Ms. Sannamani said. “What you really need is one place to go and at least have something to start with. India is just such a huge country, so those specific resources help save a lot of time if you know where to look.”

A woman with her twins in a health clinic in South Sudan, where a famine has affected tens of thousands of people.
Credit…Sam Mednick/Associated Press

The pandemic has contributed to soaring hunger and acute declines in maternal health care that threaten tens of millions of people, the United Nations said Wednesday, underscoring the disproportionate spillover effects on the world’s poor.

The number of people worldwide requiring urgent food aid hit a five-year high in 2020 — reaching at least 155 million — while the risk of maternal and newborn deaths surged because of a shortage of at least 900,000 midwives, or one-third of the required global midwifery work force, the United Nations said in a pair of reports produced with other groups.

The World Food Program, the anti-hunger agency of the United Nations, said in a statement that the key findings from the food report showed that its warnings of severe hardships during the pandemic had been validated, and that “we are watching the worst-case scenario unfold before our very eyes.”

The food report covered 55 countries and territories, including three — Burkina Faso, South Sudan and Yemen — where it said that at least 133,000 people were suffering famine, the most severe phase of a hunger crisis.

In 38 countries, at least 28 million people were one step away from famine, the report said.

While the report said violent conflict was the main driver of the hunger crisis, it said that economic shocks — often from the pandemic — had replaced weather disasters as another main cause of food insecurity.

In the second report, the United Nations Population Fund, the world’s leading provider of family planning services, said the pandemic had made a worldwide midwife shortage worse, “with the health needs of women and newborns being overshadowed, midwifery services being disrupted and midwives being deployed to other health services.”

It cited a study published in The Lancet medical journal in December, showing that alleviating the midwife shortage could avert roughly two-thirds of maternal and newborn deaths and stillbirths, saving 4.3 million lives a year.

Global Roundup

Health care workers administering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at a Sikh house of worship in Mississauga, Ontario.
Credit…Carlos Osorio/Reuters

Canada’s regulatory agency gave authorization on Wednesday for the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine to be used in people as young as 12. The agency said it lowered the minimum age from 16 following a review of data from clinical trials in the United States involving 2,000 adolescents.

Dr. Supriya Sharma, the chief medical adviser at the agency, Health Canada, said that the step should make it possible for students aged 12 to 15 to return to classrooms safely and to restart extracurricular activities.

“It will also support the return to a more normal life for our children, who have had such a hard time over the past year,” Dr. Sharma told reporters at a news conference.

The United States Food and Drug Administration is expected to make a similar announcement in the next few days.

Dr. Sharma said that about 20 percent of Covid-19 cases reported in Canada are in people under the age of 19. A small number of adolescents as young as 13 have died of the disease in Canada.

It remains unclear whether most adolescents in Canada will actually start receiving shots soon. On Wednesday, Jason Kenney, the premier of Alberta, said that 12- to 29-year-olds will be allowed to book vaccination appointments starting on Monday. No details were offered about when those inoculations would take place.

Canada relies entirely on imported vaccine supplies, which have been slow to arrive, though shipments have increased recently and the process is expected to accelerate over the next few weeks. Most provinces are still concentrating on giving the most vulnerable segment of the population, older adults, their first shots of the two-dose vaccine, with the second to be administered in the summer. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has set the end of September as a target for fully vaccinating all Canadians.

In other news around the world:

  • In Australia, the authorities in Sydney said they would limit indoor gatherings to 20 people and require masks indoors after a coronavirus case was found in the community, the first such case in more than a month. A man in his 50s, who had no known links to jobs or people considered at high risk for the virus, tested positive on Wednesday. On Thursday, authorities in Sydney linked his infection to a returned traveler who was isolating in a hotel, but have not established how the infection escaped hotel quarantine. The restrictions in Australia’s largest city, which will be in effect from Thursday evening through Sunday, also forbid singing and dancing in indoor venues.

  • Hong Kong said that regular flights from Britain would resume beginning on Friday, allowing hundreds of residents stranded there since December to return home. Hong Kong had imposed the flight ban as coronavirus cases surged in Britain late last year but said it was lifting the restrictions “having considered the stabilizing local epidemic situation and the relatively satisfactory vaccination rate.” A restriction on travel from Ireland, which was imposed in January, will also be lifted Friday. Only Hong Kong residents are allowed to travel to the territory, with arrivals from Britain and Ireland required to undergo coronavirus testing and 21 days of quarantine.

  • In Britain, more than one in five adults experienced some form of depression in the first months of this year during a strict lockdown, according to a national agency. The Office of National Statistics said on Wednesday that the figures were more than double the number of adults who experienced depression before the pandemic, which was 10 percent. Young adults, women, those in deprived areas, people with disabilities and the clinically vulnerable experienced higher rates of depression. “The picture is one of a rising toll on mental health, with many people not necessarily accessing medical help,” Theodore Joloza, a research officer at the agency, said in a statement.

Government officials at Lancaster House in London on Wednesday. Meetings this week were intended to lay the groundwork for a gathering of Group of 7 leaders in June.
Credit…Pool photo by Hollie Adams

India’s delegation to a meeting of Group of 7 foreign ministers in London was self-isolating on Wednesday after possible exposure to confirmed coronavirus cases, the country’s foreign minister said.

The event, intended to lay the groundwork for a gathering of Group of 7 leaders in June in England, had been heralded as the first major in-person diplomatic meeting since the pandemic began. It comes as India is experiencing a devastating surge in coronavirus cases.

Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, India’s foreign minister, who is in Britain for the event, said in a post on Twitter on Wednesday morning that he had learned of a possible exposure to a coronavirus case and decided to take part virtually.

Foreign ministers from the Group of 7 countries — the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada — also known as G7, met in London this week alongside representatives from Australia, India, South Africa, South Korea and Brunei. It is the first face-to-face G7 meeting in two years; a 2020 summit was canceled amid the pandemic.

Stringent masking, social distancing and daily testing protocols have been in place throughout the event, which began on Monday and continued on Wednesday despite the newly identified cases. Footage showed officials in a wide circle, separated by clear plastic barriers, on Tuesday.

The Indian delegation had yet to attend central events at Lancaster House but did participate in other meetings, including with Priti Patel, Britain’s home secretary. However, public health officials have determined that the risk to those in the meetings is low because of the mask and distance measures, and other delegates have not been advised to self-isolate.

A volunteer in Brussels participating in a study of the CureVac vaccine, a new RNA vaccine that could help meet that global need.
Credit…Yves Herman/Reuters

In early 2020, dozens of scientific teams scrambled to make a vaccine for Covid-19. Some chose tried-and-true techniques, such as making vaccines from killed viruses. But a handful of companies bet on a riskier method, one that had never produced a licensed vaccine: deploying a genetic molecule called RNA.

The bet paid off. The first two vaccines to emerge successfully out of clinical trials, made by Pfizer-BioNTech and by Moderna, were both made of RNA. They both turned out to have efficacy rates about as good as a vaccine could get.

In the months that followed, those two RNA vaccines have provided protection to tens of millions of people in some 90 countries. But many parts of the world, including those with climbing death tolls, have had little access to them, in part because they require being kept in a deep freeze.

Now, a third RNA vaccine may help meet that global need. A small German company called CureVac is on the cusp of announcing the results of its late-stage clinical trial. As early as next week, the world may learn whether its vaccine is safe and effective.

CureVac’s product belongs to what many scientists refer to as the second wave of Covid-19 vaccines that could collectively ease the world’s demand. Novavax, a company based in Maryland whose vaccine uses coronavirus proteins, is expected to apply for U.S. authorization in the next few weeks. In India, the pharmaceutical company Biological E is testing another protein-based vaccine that was developed by researchers in Texas. In Brazil, Mexico, Thailand and Vietnam, researchers are starting trials for a Covid-19 shot that can be mass-produced in chicken eggs.

Vaccines experts are particularly curious to see CureVac’s results, because its shot has an important advantage over the other RNA vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech. While those two vaccines have to be kept in a deep freezer, CureVac’s vaccine stays stable in a refrigerator — meaning it could more easily deliver the newly discovered power of RNA vaccines to hard-hit parts of the world.

“It’s gone largely under the radar,” said Jacob Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, D.C. But now, he added, “they look pretty well positioned to clean up the global market.”

A nurse broke a vaccine vial and replaced the injections with a medically useless saline solution.
Credit…Pool photo by Christian Charisius

A district in Germany is trying to find out which of its vaccinated residents are actually unvaccinated.

A nurse in Landkreis Friesland, a northern coastal district, mistakenly broke a vial of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at the community’s vaccination center on April 21. Instead of reporting the accident, she replaced the injections with a harmless but medically useless saline solution. Six people who came for coronavirus vaccines that day received it.

She admitted the error later, and the Friesland health authorities now face a problem as they try to ascertain which six of the 197 people who came to the center that day received the saline shots.

The authorities have invited the 117 who thought they received a first Pfizer dose to take an antibody test. For the 80 people who had a second immunization, things are more complicated. They were interviewed to see whether they had a physical reaction to the shot. If they didn’t, they were offered a third dose, and 62 people have accepted.

Germany has given at least one vaccination to nearly 30 percent of its population, and 8.3 percent is fully vaccinated.

In recent weeks, several climbers have been flown out of Mount Everest Base Camp after reporting symptoms of Covid-19, then tested positive.
Credit…Prakash Mathema/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Nepal’s coronavirus outbreak, which is growing faster than almost anywhere else in the world, has spread to the remote Himalayas, with an increasing number of climbers testing positive after being evacuated from the base camps of Mount Everest and surrounding peaks.

In recent weeks, several climbers have been flown out of Mount Everest Base Camp after reporting symptoms of Covid-19, and then tested positive after reaching Kathmandu, the capital. On Wednesday, Nepali news outlets reported that 14 climbers, including foreigners and Sherpa guides, were being airlifted from Mount Dhaulagiri, another major peak, to Kathmandu for treatment after some were found to be infected.

The cases have raised fears for the safety of climbers and their Nepali guides who are pushing ahead with expeditions in the forbidding, high-altitude terrain, where doctors say they are already vulnerable to illness, lower blood oxygen levels and weaker immunity. Hundreds of climbers and Sherpas are isolating in their tents in gusty conditions at Everest base camp, trying to guard against infection while preparing to begin their ascent to the 29,000-foot summit.

Nepal’s government — determined to revive its lucrative mountaineering industry after a total shutdown last year — continues to deny that there is any outbreak at Everest base camp and has released no information about the number of climbers who have been evacuated. The government has granted 408 permits to scale the world’s tallest peak, the most in any year since the first recorded summit in 1953, earning millions of dollars in royalties.

“I have heard only a few cases of pneumonia,” said Mira Acharya, an official at Nepal’s Department of Tourism. “No corona case.”

Infections are exploding in Nepal, from fewer than 100 per day in early March to more than 7,500 on Tuesday, the most the country has recorded since the pandemic began. The surge has come at the same time as the devastating outbreak in neighboring India, and as Nepal’s already limited vaccine drive has slowed almost to a halt.

Even while it lasted, the vaccine drive left out Sherpas to prioritize frontline health workers, the elderly and government employees. Still, Sherpas depend on the opening up of the Himalayas for their livelihood.

“If expeditions are not organized this year, that will be a big blow to the mountaineering sector’s Sherpa guides,” said Geljie Sherpa, a mountain guide. He said he was planning to take an expedition to Everest but had changed his mind after hearing about coronavirus cases.

Erlend Ness, a Norwegian climber, said he fell ill at Everest base camp last month and was evacuated by helicopter and ambulance to a hospital in Kathmandu.

“I tested positive at the hospital on the same day I arrived in Kathmandu from the mountains,” Mr. Ness said by telephone from Oslo, where doctors told him he couldn’t return to Nepal this year.

Another climber, Steve Davis, chronicled his airlift from base camp last month and subsequent positive test on his blog. Mr. Davis remains in Nepal, where the government has banned domestic and international flights as part of its latest lockdown.

Last week, Pawel Michalski, a climber from Poland, wrote on Facebook that more than 30 people who had difficulty breathing had been airlifted by helicopter to Kathmandu — and “later found to be positive for coronavirus.”

Residents in Kathmandu say they have been deprived of basic health facilities even after they tested positive for the virus. Hospitals are filled with patients. Strict lockdown rules have kept the general public confined indoors. As the vaccine campaign slows, many residents wonder when, or even if, they will be inoculated.

The Nepalese Health Ministry warned last week that “hospitals have run out of beds,” but the authorities have said they would not cancel expeditions.

Rudra Singh Tamang, the tourism department’s director general, said that elite Sherpas this week would finish installing a rope to help climbers reach the Everest summit.

“Expeditions won’t be canceled,” said Mr. Tamang, who has tested positive for the virus and is self-isolating. “Everest is an isolated area, so there’s no risk of coronavirus.”

A video developed by the government in Singapore encourages vaccination against Covid-19.
Credit…Government of Singapore

As Singapore’s coronavirus infections tick up, the government is tightening restrictions. It’s also fighting vaccine hesitancy on social media — by ordering corrections and posting whimsical content.

Singapore said on Tuesday that it had recorded 64 cases of community transmission over the past week, up from 11 cases the previous week. Seven of the recent cases were caused by the B.1.617 variant that has wreaked havoc in India, according to the authorities.

In an effort to tamp down the latest outbreak and prevent variants from spreading, the Singaporean government said on Tuesday that travelers arriving from most countries must quarantine for 21 days at “dedicated facilities,” up from 14 days, starting on Saturday.

Mass sporting events are also set to be suspended and social gatherings will be capped at five people until May 30, among other restrictions.

About 2.2 million coronavirus vaccine doses had been administered in Singapore as of Wednesday, and nearly a quarter of the population had received at least one dose, according to a New York Times database.

But Singapore’s vaccination campaign has been threatened by falsehoods spreading on social media — for example, a rumor that Covid-19 vaccines cause strokes and heart attacks.

The Health Ministry has debunked rumors and ordered corrections to social media posts that endorse false or unsubstantiated claims about vaccine side effects. (That is allowed under a contentious law that the government says is designed to fight fake news.)

The government has also commissioned a whimsical music video by a Singaporean pop-culture heavyweight, comedian and actor, Gurmit Singh, that addresses common vaccine concerns and misconceptions.

“Singapore, don’t wait and see,” he sings in the chorus, dancing to a disco beat. “Better get your shot, steady pom pi pi.”

“Steady pom pi pi” is a phrase from Singlish, a rough-and-ready patois that is spoken widely in the country and incorporates English, Chinese and Malay. It refers to someone who keeps their cool in a tense situation and was a catchphrase used by Mr. Singh’s best-known character, Phua Chu Kang, a building contractor in a long-running 1990s sitcom on Singaporean television.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the government’s tweet containing the video had been viewed more than 750,000 times.

Since a two-month lockdown ended last June, life in Singapore has gradually returned nearly to normal, although residents are still required to wear masks in public and have to work from home if they can. Dale Fisher, a professor of medicine at the National University of Singapore, said some people in the city-state had become more lax about mask-wearing and social distancing and that the new measures served as a reminder that the pandemic was far from over.

However, Dr. Fisher said, Singapore’s extensive contact tracing and tight quarantine requirements made a harsher lockdown unnecessary. “With all these tweaks, I’m hoping we can demonstrate that widespread lockdowns aren’t needed if you’ve got good public health infrastructure in place,” he added.


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