/Covid-19 Live Updates: China Approves Its First Vaccine – The New York Times

Covid-19 Live Updates: China Approves Its First Vaccine – The New York Times


A Sinopharm vaccine production plant in Beijing.
Credit…Zhang Yuwei/Xinhua, via Getty Images

The Chinese government said on Thursday that it had given conditional approval to a homegrown coronavirus vaccine after an early analysis of clinical trial results showed that it was effective, sending a positive signal for the global rollout of Chinese vaccines. The candidate is the first one approved for general use in China.

The manufacturer, a state-controlled company called Sinopharm, said a vaccine candidate made by its Beijing Institute of Biological Products arm had an efficacy rate of 79 percent based on an interim analysis of Phase 3 clinical trials. Zeng Yixin, a deputy minister at the National Health Commission, said the vaccine would be provided to the Chinese public free, a reversal of previous official statements.

More than 60,000 people in countries like the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain had been vaccinated as part of the trials, Wu Yonglin of Sinopharm said at a media briefing organized by the government. But officials did not disclose crucial details about the vaccine, like any serious side effects that may have occurred in the trials or the demographic characteristics of the sample population — key data points that scientists look for in such releases.

Mr. Wu said that detailed data would be published later in major scientific research journals.

Chen Shifei, deputy director of the State Drug Administration, said at the briefing that Sinopharm had submitted the application for conditional use on Dec. 23, and that it had been approved a week later after a “comprehensive and detailed review.” He added that the conditional listing meant that the vaccine would be subject to a rolling review as Sinopharm continued its Phase 3 clinical trials.

In recent months, the Chinese authorities, citing emergency use, have pressed ahead with mass vaccinations before any of the country’s vaccine candidates have received official approval, in defiance of industry norms. An official from the National Health Commission said on Thursday that in the past two weeks, more than three million doses of China’s various vaccine candidates had been administered to key population groups within the country. Officials have said they plan to vaccinate 50 million people in China by mid-February, when hundreds of millions are expected to travel for the Lunar New Year holiday.

The Sinopharm vaccine’s results show that it is less effective than others approved elsewhere. Still, the results are well above the 50 percent threshold that makes a vaccine effective in the eyes of the medical establishment. As the global race to create vaccines for the disease intensifies, the Chinese companies have said their candidates — which use inactivated coronaviruses — have an advantage in that they are cheaper and easier to transport than those produced by companies like Moderna and Pfizer.

People waiting in line to be vaccinated at a library in Bonita Springs, Fla., on Tuesday.
Credit…Octavio Jones for The New York Times

A slower-than-expected vaccine rollout in the United States may be about to meet a fast-moving new variant of the coronavirus.

Officials in two states, Colorado and California, say they have discovered cases of the more contagious variant, which was first identified in Britain.

A day after Colorado reported the first known case of the variant in the United States, state officials on Wednesday reported a second one. Then later in the day, Gov. Gavin Newsom of California announced that his state, too, had a case in San Diego County.

There is no evidence that the new variant makes people any sicker, but it appears to be much more contagious than older forms. And that threatens to complicate what had seemed a hopeful, if halting, path to recovery from the pandemic in the United States.

The confirmation that the variant, which has upended Britain’s efforts to contain the pandemic, was in the United States came as U.S. officials acknowledged the vaccination drive has been lagging.

Federal health officials said in a news conference on Wednesday that they did not have a clear understanding as to why only a fraction of the doses that had been shipped out around the country have made it into arms.

As of Wednesday, more than 12.4 million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines had been sent out across the United States, up from 11.4 million on Monday morning. But just 2.8 million people had received their first dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We agree that that number is lower than what we hoped for,” said Moncef Slaoui, scientific adviser of Operation Warp Speed, the federal effort to accelerate vaccine development and rollout. He added: “We know that it should be better, and we’re working hard to make it better.”

The 2.8 million administered doses reported by the C.D.C. is an underestimate of the true number because of lags in reporting. Still, it falls far short of the goal that federal officials put forward as recently as this month to have 20 million people vaccinated by the end of this year.

Gen. Gustave F. Perna, the logistics lead of Operation Warp Speed, said that the C.D.C. was gathering data to better understand the factors driving the slow uptake of vaccines that had been shipped out. “To have greater specificity at this time, after two weeks, I don’t think would be appropriate,” he said.

Still, General Perna pointed to a few possible contributing factors. In addition to the lags in reporting, the holiday season and winter weather have slowed uptake. Hospitals and other facilities administering the vaccines are still learning how to store the doses at very cold temperatures and properly administer them. And states have set aside many doses to be given out to their long-term care facilities, a drive that is just gearing up and expected to take several months.

So far, most vaccines administered have been given out at hospitals, clinics and nursing homes. Dr. Slaoui and General Perna both said they expected the pace of the rollout to accelerate significantly once pharmacies begin offering vaccines in their stores.

The federal government has reached agreements with a number of pharmacy chains — including Costco, Walmart, and CVS — to administer vaccines in their stores and other locations once vaccines become more widely available. So far, 40,000 pharmacy locations have enrolled in that program, General Perna said.

“What we should be looking at is the rate of acceleration over the coming weeks,” Dr. Slaoui said, “and I hope it will be in the right direction.”

Vaccine recipients were observed for 15 minutes after their shots in Cardiff, Wales, in early December.
Credit…Andrew Testa for The New York Times

Some family doctors in Britain said on Thursday that they would defy the government’s instructions to push back patients’ appointments for a second dose of coronavirus vaccine, a signal of unease in the medical community over Britain’s new plan to delay second shots as a way of giving more people the partial protection of a single dose.

British doctors, instructed to begin rescheduling second-dose appointments for next week, said they were loath to ask older, vulnerable patients to wait an extra two months for their booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. They said those patients had been counting on having the full protection of two doses, had already arranged for caregivers to help them get to their doctors’ offices and could ill afford to rely on a new and untested vaccination strategy.

Beyond that, doctors said it was logistically impossible to make contact with thousands of older patients in a matter of days, and then fill those slots with first-time recipients.

The British Medical Association, a trade union for doctors, said on Thursday that it would support doctors who decided to keep second-dose appointments that had been booked for January.

“It is grossly and patently unfair to tens of thousands of our most at-risk patients to now try to reschedule their appointments,” Dr. Richard Vautrey, the chairman of the trade union’s family doctor committee, said in a statement. “The government must see that it’s only right that existing bookings for the oldest and most vulnerable members of our society are honored, and it must also as soon as possible publish a scientifically validated justification for its new approach.”

Britain’s National Health Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Delaying second vaccine doses could double the number of people eligible for shots in the coming weeks and eventually lighten the toll of the virus in Britain, where hospitals are facing a deluge of cases of a new and more contagious coronavirus variant. While any one person may be better off with the full two doses, some scientists said, society as a whole benefits if more people are given the partial protection of a single dose for the time being.

But other scientists believe that Britain overshot the available evidence, potentially leaving older people and health care workers without the full protection of two vaccine doses amid dreadful wintertime surges. Britain made the decision without the public meetings or voluminous briefings that have preceded American regulatory decisions. No trials have explicitly tested the long-term efficacy of a single shot.

And what limited evidence exists about the protection afforded by a single dose clashed with scientists’ fears that antibody responses would wane over time, potentially falling below a protective threshold.

Some family doctors in Britain said that they were uneasy about a lack of evidence showing that patients would be protected for many weeks from Covid-19 after a single shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

“I have been instructed to break my promise to my elderly patients,” Dr. Helen Salisbury, a family doctor in Oxford, said on Twitter on Thursday morning, “and use a vaccine outside its evidenced and approved schedule, probably placing them at risk.”

global roundup

A street vendor in New Delhi on New Year’s Eve. Public gatherings will be banned in the capital from 11 p.m. until 6 a.m.
Credit…Jewel Samad/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The authorities in India are imposing a night curfew in the capital, New Delhi, restricting celebrations in a metropolis known for hosting grand events on New Year’s Eve after more cases of a new variant of coronavirus were reported across the country.

As of Thursday, India had more than 10.2 million infections and the third-highest death toll in the world after the United States and Brazil at 148,738 deaths, according to a New York Times database. The country’s caseload is the world’s second-largest after the United States, but new cases seem to be steadily declining.

On Thursday, the country reported five new cases of the variant, which first emerged in Britain, pushing the total detected to 25, according to India’s health ministry officials. And officials said they feared any new additions could mean the variant was spreading.

India’s health ministry said public gatherings in the capital would not be allowed on Friday and Saturday from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., restricting gatherings to five people in public places.

The federal government also advised states to consider a series of restrictions, including for large gatherings around national monuments, where thousands of people gather for New Year’s Eve, a trend that has picked up in recent years.

Officials at Delhi’s Disaster Management Authority said the curfew decision came after reviewing the threat posed by the new strain of the coronavirus, which it said poses a considerable threat of the virus spreading quickly and may cause setbacks to gains made in recent months.

September was particularly bad in India. That month, the country reported days with 90,000 or more cases. Still the national death rate has remained low, at 1.5 percent. This week, the seven-day average is just above 20,000 cases a day.

Many politicians from other states, including ones where tens of thousands of people arrive to celebrate the New Year, are demanding a night curfew for the holiday.

Vishwajit Rane, a health minister in Goa, said his government was also considering a night curfew before the celebrations start, along with Delhi and other states, including Karnataka, to ensure the virus doesn’t spread even as his state, a major tourist destination, lifted restrictions on gatherings recently.

“This is the price we have to pay,” he said. “If we want to save lives.”

In other developments around the world:

• All travelers entering Norway will have to take a coronavirus test upon arrival, or up to 24 hours after, from Jan. 2, the country’s justice ministry said on Thursday, according to Reuters. To stop the spread of the coronavirus variant first detected in Britain, travelers from any point of origin will need to enter Norway at designated entry points where testing is available, with smaller border crossings to be closed, the justice ministry said.

All the residents and most staff members at this nursing home have tested positive in recent weeks.
Credit…Matthew Staver for The New York Times

Simla, Colo., an isolated ranching community on the high plains, is the last place locals expect to be first for anything, especially a new, more infectious variant of the coronavirus.

But on Wednesday, state health officials announced that the first known case of the variant in the United States had been confirmed in a National Guard soldier sent to help with a Covid-19 outbreak at the town’s Good Samaritan nursing home.

A second soldier at the nursing home has also tested positive for the coronavirus and may also have the variant, Emily Travanty, the interim director of the state public health laboratory, said in a conference call with reporters.

All 26 residents of the nursing home and 20 of its 24 regular employees have tested positive in recent weeks, and four residents have died.

It was not clear whether the two National Guard soldiers were infected at the nursing home or had picked up the virus before they came to Simla. They arrived on Dec. 23, after most of the cases at the facility had occurred, according to Dr. Rachel Herlihy, Colorado’s state epidemiologist.

Simla seems an unlikely place for a virus variant only recently detected in Britain to turn up. For generations this windswept stretch of short grass prairie, perched at 6,000 feet about 80 miles southeast of Denver, has been shaped mainly by the timeless rhythms of raising cattle.

When the virus arrived in the United States at the beginning of the year, many of the roughly 600 residents of Simla went on with life, assuming that, like most things that sweep the country, the pandemic would pass them by.

The town’s feeling of isolation changed late this fall when a second wave of infections swept across Colorado and hit Simla and surrounding Elbert County particularly hard, sending it into the state’s “severe risk” threat level, where it remains. Soon nearly everyone in this tightknit community knew someone who was sick.

On Wednesday, television news crews gathered in front of the modest, one-story nursing home while cleaning crews in hazmat suits passed in and out through a back door.

A day earlier, the state sent a team to the facility to collect new specimens from the residents and staff. The samples tested so far do not suggest that the variant is circulating in the facility, Dr. Herlihy said, but more samples were to be tested.

In Simla’s lone craft shop, on a dirt road where the only apparent customers were a half-dozen cats lounging in the winter sun outside the front door, the owner, Carla Tracy, was in a state of disbelief.

“My gosh, this itty-bitty town most people can’t even find on a map,” she said. “And we thought we wouldn’t have much trouble with the virus.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is expected to leave office in 2021, spoke of hope in her annual speech, but also how “this is a hard winter, and it is far from over.”
Credit…Pool photo by Markus Schreiber via Reuters

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s New Year’s speeches have typically been aspirational exercises in political agenda setting, touching on dozens of broad themes, like immigration and climate change, and sometimes presenting her latest projects for Germany.

But Ms. Merkel’s speech this year, her 16th as chancellor, is noticeably different. For what is almost certainly her last New Year’s Eve speech as the government’s leader, as she is expected to leave office in 2021, she focuses on a single topic: the coronavirus.

“The coronavirus pandemic was and is a once-in-a-century political, social and economic challenge,” Ms. Merkel said in the annual prerecorded televised speech that is watched by millions of German households.

The pandemic has killed more than 33,000 people in Germany and sickened hundreds of thousands more. And even if generous government subsidies have averted much of the widespread economic pain that other countries have experienced, long-term economic consequences loom for the nation.

As the speech makes clear, the pandemic has upended Ms. Merkel’s last full year in office, upsetting a period in which she hoped to cement her legacy with leadership on issues like climate change, digital transformation and a robust social state.

Abroad, Ms. Merkel had hoped to focus on tackling issues like refugees and European Union unity as Brexit played out and countries like Hungary and Poland tested the bloc’s liberal values. Instead, she spent much of her time during Germany’s six-month term in the European Council’s rotating presidency traveling to Brussels for meetings to persuade E.U. members to break budget rules and set up a fund to counter the economic effects of the pandemic.

“I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say that never in the past 15 years have we all experienced such a difficult year — and never have we greeted the new year with so much hope, despite all of our concerns and some skepticism,” she said.

Times Square the morning before New Year’s Eve.
Credit…Sarah Blesener for The New York Times

Last New Year’s Eve, a million strong crowd flooded Midtown Manhattan, kissing and cheering in the warm glow of 2020’s promise. This New Year’s Eve, just a few hundred will gather in Times Square — dozens of frontline workers among them — and only then by special invitation.

With temperatures checked and face masks secured, they will represent a nation holding a mirror to the lips of 2020 to confirm that there is no fogging, that the year has mercifully ceased to be.

But here is an existential question to ponder over your Trader Joe’s hors d’oeuvres and drink of choice: If a ball drops at midnight in Times Square and almost no one is present to see it, has a new year truly begun?

We have been conditioned to believe that with a clock’s tick on one particular midnight, a bent old man hands the baton of time to a sprightly cherub in a top hat. All the travails of 12 months end, and life begins anew.

If only.

“I’m more looking forward to burying 2020 than looking forward to 2021,” said Stephen Hughes, an assistant chief with the New York Police Department who is helping to supervise the night. “I just can’t wait not to see 2020 anymore.”

Juanita Erb, a clinical research nurse invited to attend this year’s Times Square celebration, agreed. But, she added: “The changing of the clock into 2021 is not going to make everything go away.”

But it is the pandemic that defined the year, with more than 340,000 coronavirus-related deaths in the country — an average of 930 every day, 39 every hour. And while the year also included the lightning-quick development of vaccines, most Americans will not be inoculated until well into 2021, meaning that deadly infections will continue.

At the Times Square gathering, the night’s touch of grace is in the invitation to a few dozen frontline workers and their families. Among them will be Ms. Erb, 44, a clinical research nurse who, for the last several months, has helped oversee trials for the Pfizer vaccine at the N.Y.U. Langone Vaccine Center.

Another of the invited guests is Danny Haro, 22, a community college student from Montclair, N.J., who delivers food for an Italian restaurant and provides security for a clothing store. He is among the unheralded whose work allows others to experience vague normality in a pandemic.

As the coronavirus crisis raged in early spring, the Villa Victoria Pizzeria in Montclair began donating pasta and salads to workers at nearby Mountainside Hospital, with Mr. Haro often delivering the food in his 2009 Ford Escape.

In early April, he tested positive for the virus. There came the fevers, the chest pains, the loss of smell — the long nights fearing he couldn’t breathe.

Mr. Haro is feeling much better now, and he says he expects 2021 to look a lot like 2020, at least in the beginning. He wishes, then, for one thing.

“Strength,” Mr. Haro said. “Just strength, honestly.”

Pharmacists preparing vaccines for health care workers at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
Credit…Brian Kaiser for The New York Times

Although the vast majority of nursing home residents in Ohio are accepting a vaccine for Covid-19, the same cannot be said for the staff in these facilities, Gov. Mike DeWine said on Wednesday.

Roughly 60 percent of Ohio nursing home workers offered a vaccine have refused to be inoculated, the governor announced at a news conference, citing anecdotal evidence.

Mr. DeWine, a Republican, urged people in high priority groups not to pass up an opportunity to get the vaccine, saying its benefits far outweighed any risks.

“We’re not going to make them, but we wish they had a higher compliance,” he said. “Our message today is: The train might not be coming back for a while.”

Nursing home residents and employees have made up one of the most vulnerable populations during the pandemic. About 40 percent of U.S. coronavirus deaths have been linked to nursing homes or long-term care facilities.

And so when vaccines arrived, nursing home residents were some of the first people in the United States to get them. They were inoculated after federal regulators gave emergency use authorization to vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

In Ohio, the state is also giving vaccine priority to other groups, among them frontline workers, E.M.S. workers, and residents and staff members at veterans’ homes and facilities that treat those with developmental disabilities and mental health disorders.

Adults working in schools will also soon have the option to receive a vaccine, Mr. DeWine said, although he did not give an exact date.

The state is set to receive over 500,000 doses of vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. As of Wednesday, close to 94,000 Ohio residents have received a vaccine, the Ohio Department of Health reported.

Mr. DeWine said he had expected the numbers of those vaccinated to be higher. More broadly, U.S. officials have acknowledged that vaccine rollout has lagged throughout the country.

“I’m not satisfied with where we are in Ohio,” Mr. DeWine said. “We’re not moving fast enough, but we’re going to get there.”

Mara Vaughan and her husband, Bryan, at their wedding in 2003. He died of the virus in April.

More than 340,000 people have died of the coronavirus in the United States. Men have died of the disease in larger numbers than women, which has left untold thousands of spouses suddenly widowed by the virus.

They have been left behind with family responsibilities, financial burdens, worries about their children’s trauma and their own crushing loss and guilt.

In more than a dozen interviews, women told of feeling stunned by the swiftness of the experience.

“It’s very traumatic because of the unexpectedness of it,” said Jennifer Law, whose husband, Matthew, died of the coronavirus in Texas in November, years after serving in the Army in Iraq. “He made it back from two deployments, two separate, dangerous deployments. He came home and this is what killed him.”

Many of the women have sought out other Covid-19 widows to talk to, and others have joined Facebook bereavement groups, which are also open to men. They have forged ties similar to those found among other clusters of women whose husbands died unexpectedly and prematurely, including military spouses or widows of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Widows of the coronavirus recounted a painful set of commonalities: the experience of frantically taking care of their husbands when they fell ill, worrying about when to take them to a hospital and feeling haunted by the images of their partners dying without loved ones beside them.

Some women’s grief has been laced with anger.

Mara Vaughan, of Prosper, Texas, lost her husband, Bryan, to the coronavirus in April, after he quite likely contracted it on a business trip. Ms. Vaughan, who has three children, has connected with other widows online and read about their struggles, financial and emotional.

She pointed to President Trump and his downplaying of the coronavirus crisis, especially early on, when her husband became sick. It is difficult to see people in her community still shunning masks and ignoring advice on safety and social distancing.

“Imagine the pandemic and losing someone to it and then doing it alone,” Ms. Vaughan said. “I will never have peace and closure on the death of my husband. It should never have happened.”

Credit…Southport Lanes & Billiards

At first, it seemed as if Southport Lanes in the Lakeview section of Chicago would be yet another sad casualty of 2020.

Economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic has shuttered businesses of all types, and it is difficult to run even a beloved bowling alley and bar when government health precautions say people can’t get together to share some beers and bowl a few frames.

When Steve Soble, who has owned Southport Lanes since the early 1990s, closed the place in September, he assumed it would be permanent. But he found comfort in recalling how the flu pandemic of 1918 was followed by the social exuberance of the Roaring Twenties. “I’m very bullish on the future,” he said.

In the early part of its long history, the bar was a Schlitz Brewery “tied house” — a neighborhood tavern that sold beer from only one manufacturer. But in the early 1920s, Prohibition forced a creative reinvention. Four new bowling lanes transformed the space into a modest bowling alley — with a bustling speakeasy attached. Lore passed down from owner to owner suggests that for a while, there was a brothel on the second floor as well.

The place was old-school right up to the end: Rather than install machines, Southport employed two pinsetters stationed at the end of the lanes to reset the pins by hand. Mr. Soble joked that manual pinsetters made Southport Lanes “one of the only places in America where you could bowl a perfect game without bowling a strike.” How? “You bribe the pin boys,” by slipping a bill into a finger hole of the ball before hurling it down the lane.

In its later years, the neighborhood institution served lunch and dinner daily, and became a popular spot for office holiday parties.

And in late December, Southport Lanes got an unexpected reprieve: Mr. Soble received word that he had won a grant from the state of Illinois that would allow him to reopen sometime in 2021 — pinsetters and all.

A volunteer from Forgotten Harvest food bank in Warren, Mich., at a mobile food pantry on Dec. 21.
Credit…Emily Elconin/Reuters

The labor market remains in distress as the pandemic limits consumer activity across the country.

Initial claims for unemployment benefits dropped modestly last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

The Christmas holiday likely affected filings because of the shortened workweek, a phenomenon that also occurred during Thanksgiving week. “They bounce up and down a lot during the holidays,” said Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC Financial Services Group in Pittsburgh.

There were 841,000 new claims for state benefits, compared with 873,000 the previous week. Another 308,000 filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federally funded program for part-time workers, the self-employed and others ordinarily ineligible for jobless benefits.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, the number of new state claims was 787,000, a decrease from 806,000 in the previous week.

The $900 billion stimulus package that President Trump signed into law Sunday after the data was collected. It will take months for the legislation’s full impact to be felt, and most economists expect the rate of layoffs to remain high.

The garden that Courtney L.G. Dowell and her sister started after their brother died.
Credit…Tyler Springer

Even in this dark year, there have been moments of lightness, growth and utter joy.

We asked readers to send us photos and videos that captured the positive moments in this pandemic year. We received more than 750 submissions from all over the world — from China to Australia, Mexico to Italy, and across the United States.

You showed us joyous weddings and emotional births, the wonder of nature and the quiet grace of solitude. You shared tearful reunions with grandparents and the tenderness that comes with experiencing great loss. Above all, the submissions showed an appreciation for the experiences and connections that make life meaningful.

RONALD CROOKS, ST. LOUIS

For several years, my husband and I have enjoyed a weekly lunch with one of our best friends. In 2020, we had to find a workaround to be able to continue that tradition. Our solution was to park (occasionally illegally) with the rear ends of our cars facing each other and enjoy lunch from a local restaurant. Responsibly distant from each other, we have had lunch like this almost every week from April to the present. Not being able to be with the people we love has been, perhaps, the most upsetting aspect of the pandemic for my husband and me. In this small way, we have been able to continue to enjoy meaningful, personal contact — and even support struggling local restaurants at the same time.

COURTNEY L.G. DOWELL, CHARLESTON, W.VA.

My family lost my brother, Adam Blake Gale, this year. We still haven’t been able to hold a ceremony because we’re all trying to keep each other well. My sister and I wanted to be safe but desperately needed to be together to grieve. So we started a garden. It provided both sanity and produce. Sometimes you just need to take a hoe and rail at the dirt in order to heal.

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