/Covid News: Live Global Updates – The New York Times

Covid News: Live Global Updates – The New York Times


Prepped Pfizer and Moderna vaccines at a pharmacy in Little Rock, Ark., in March.
Credit…Rory Doyle for The New York Times

The vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna set off a persistent immune reaction in the body that may protect against the coronavirus for years, scientists reported on Monday.

The findings add to growing evidence that most people immunized with the mRNA vaccines may not need boosters, so long as the virus and its variants do not evolve much beyond their current forms — which is not guaranteed. People who recovered from Covid-19 before being vaccinated may not need boosters even if the virus does make a significant transformation.

“It’s a good sign for how durable our immunity is from this vaccine,” said Ali Ellebedy, an immunologist at Washington University in St. Louis who led the study, which was published in the journal Nature.

The study did not consider the vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson, but Dr. Ellebedy said he expected the immune response to be less durable than that produced by mRNA vaccines.

Dr. Ellebedy and his colleagues reported last month that in people who had survived Covid-19, immune cells that recognize the virus remained in the bone marrow for at least eight months after infection. A study by another team indicated that so-called memory B cells continue to mature and strengthen for at least a year after infection.

Based on those findings, researchers suggested that immunity might last years, possibly a lifetime, in people who were infected and later vaccinated. But it was unclear whether vaccination alone might have a similarly long-lasting effect.

After an infection or a vaccination, a specialized structure called the germinal center forms in lymph nodes. This structure is an elite school of sorts for B cells.

The broader the range and the longer these cells have to practice, the more likely they are to be able to thwart variants of the virus that may emerge.

After infection with the coronavirus, the germinal center forms in the lungs. But after vaccination, the cells’ education takes place in lymph nodes in the armpits, within reach of researchers.

Dr. Ellebedy’s team found that 15 weeks after the first dose of vaccine, the germinal center was still highly active in all 14 of the participants, and that the number of memory cells that recognized the coronavirus had not declined.

“The fact that the reactions continued for almost four months after vaccination — that’s a very, very good sign,” Dr. Ellebedy said. Germinal centers typically peak one to two weeks after immunization, and then wane.

“Usually by four to six weeks, there’s not much left,” said Deepta Bhattacharya, an immunologist at the University of Arizona. But germinal centers stimulated by the mRNA vaccines are “still going, months into it, and not a lot of decline in most people.”

Dr. Bhattacharya noted that most of what scientists know about the persistence of germinal centers is based on animal research. The new study is the first to show what happens in people after vaccination.

The results suggest that a vast majority of vaccinated people will be protected over the long term — at least, against the existing variants. But older adults, people with weak immune systems and those who take drugs that suppress immunity may need boosters; people who survived Covid-19 and were later immunized may never need them at all.

Exactly how long the protection from mRNA vaccines will last is hard to predict. In the absence of variants that sidestep immunity, in theory immunity could last a lifetime, experts said. But the virus is clearly evolving.

Nurses preparing AstraZeneca vaccine doses in Bratislava, Slovakia, in April.
Credit…Akos Stiller for The New York Times

A third dose of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford generated a strong immune response in clinical trial volunteers, Oxford researchers reported on Monday.

The finding indicates that the AstraZeneca vaccine could be an option should third shots end up being needed, for example to extend immunity. To date, the vaccine has been given as two doses, typically between four and 12 weeks apart.

The new data, detailed in a preprint manuscript that has not yet been peer reviewed, came from 90 study volunteers in Britain who were among the earliest to receive the shots in a clinical trial last year. This past March, they were given a third dose, roughly 30 weeks after their second.

Laboratory analyses showed that the third dose increased levels of antibodies to the virus in the volunteers to a point higher than seen a month after their second dose — an encouraging sign that the third shot would be likely to bring greater protection if the effectiveness of two doses waned over time.

“We do have to be in a position where we could boost if it turned out that was necessary,” Prof. Andrew Pollard, an Oxford researcher who has led studies of the vaccine, said in a news conference on Monday. “I think we have encouraging data in this preprint to show that boosters could be used and would be effective at boosting the immune response.”

Scientists and policymakers do not yet know whether booster shots may be needed. Researchers are hopeful that the protection conferred by the leading vaccines will last at least a year, but there is not yet evidence to know for sure.

Emerging coronavirus variants could also accelerate the need for booster shots. If third shots are deemed necessary in the coming months, their availability could be severely limited, especially in poorer countries that are lacking enough supply to give first doses to their most vulnerable citizens.

Earlier this month, the National Institutes of Health announced that it has begun a new clinical trial of people fully vaccinated with any of the three authorized vaccines in the United States. The goal is test whether a booster shot of the vaccine made by Moderna will increase their antibodies against the virus. Initial results are expected later this summer.

The AstraZeneca vaccine has won authorization in 80 countries since last December but is not approved for use in the United States, which already more than enough doses of its three authorized vaccines to meet demand. The shot has been the backbone of the struggling Covax program to provide vaccines to poor countries, accounting for more than 88 percent of the doses shipped out to middle- and low-income nations through last week.

AstraZeneca announced on Sunday that the first volunteers had been vaccinated in a separate study assessing a new version of the vaccine designed to protect against the Beta variant of the virus first seen in South Africa. Some study results suggested that the original version of the AstraZeneca vaccine may not be effective against that variant. Professor Pollard said the study would compare the effects of a third dose of the original vaccine against those of boosting volunteers with the new Beta-targeted vaccine.

Global Roundup

Tourists enjoying the beach at the Spanish Balearic Island of Mallorca, Spain, this month.
Credit…Francisco Ubilla/Associated Press

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of Spain announced on Monday that British visitors would have to present a negative Covid-19 test or proof of full vaccination, bowing to concerns about a massive influx of summer tourists from Britain, which has been grappling with the Delta variant of the disease.

Last week, the British government added Spain’s Balearic Islands to its “green list” of countries and territories from which British visitors can return without quarantining, providing a major lift to the islands’ tourism-dependent economies.

But the authorities on the islands then asked Spain’s central government for tougher screening measures for arrivals from Britain. Sensitivities were also raised after an outbreak among hundreds of Spanish students who were visiting Mallorca, the largest of the islands, to celebrate the end of their academic year.

Spain lifted restrictions on British visitors on May 24, just as Germany, France and some other European countries reintroduced quarantine rules for the British in order to avoid the spread of the Delta variant. Since then, Germany and France have pushed for a British quarantine obligation to be applied across the European Union, but so far to no avail, as countries like Spain rely heavily on British visitors in the summer tourism season.

In other news from around the world:

  • Italy said on Monday that people were no longer required to wear masks outside, joining Spain and France in relaxing the rules as cases dropped. Masks must still be worn masks indoors and in crowded areas. In Rome, many still wore masks on Monday, citing concerns about the Delta variant, but some took advantage of the new rules. “It feels like freedom,” said Francesca Tronconi, a tour guide, as she crossed Piazza Navona with her mask around her arm.

“This is not a get-out-of-jail-free card,” said Wendy Hechtman, who is serving a 15-year prison sentence but was released to home confinement during the pandemic. “But what it is is an opportunity card.”
Credit…Hilary Swift for The New York Times

Some 4,000 federal offenders who were part of a mass release last year of nonviolent prisoners to help slow the spread of the coronavirus could soon return to prison — not because they violated the terms of their home confinement, but because the United States appears to be moving past the worst of the pandemic.

In the final days of the Trump administration, the Justice Department issued a memo saying inmates whose sentences lasted beyond the “pandemic emergency period” would have to go back to prison.

But some lawmakers and activists are urging President Biden to revoke the rule and use his executive power to keep the prisoners on home confinement or commute their sentences entirely, arguing that the pandemic offers a glimpse into a different type of punitive system in America, one that would rely far less on incarceration.

Mr. Biden has vowed to make overhauling the criminal justice system a crucial part of his presidency, saying his administration could cut the prison population by more than half and expand programs that offered alternatives to detention.

While the White House has yet to announce a decision about those on home confinement, the administration appears to be following the direction of the Trump-era memo.

Andrew Bates, a spokesman for Mr. Biden, said in a statement that the president was “committed to reducing incarceration and helping people re-enter society,” but he referred questions about the future of those in home confinement to the Justice Department.

The White House revisits the emergency declaration every three months, leaving the former prisoners in a constant state of limbo. The next deadline is in July.

Dan Bourque, an Uber driver in San Francisco, saw Womply’s ads and applied for a loan in mid-April. Seventeen days later, he had a $10,477 deposit in his bank account.
Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Though Congress approved billions in aid for small companies to help them keep paying their employees during the pandemic, it wasn’t reaching the tiniest and neediest businesses.

Then two small companies came out of nowhere and found a way to help those businesses.

They also helped themselves. For their work, the companies stand to collect more than $3 billion in fees, according to a New York Times analysis — far more than any of the 5,200 participating lenders.

One of the companies, Blueacorn, didn’t exist before the pandemic. The other, Womply, founded a decade ago, sold marketing software. But this year, they became the breakout stars of the Paycheck Protection Program.

Blueacorn and Womply aren’t banks, so they couldn’t actually lend any money. Rather, they acted as middlemen, charging into a gap between what big banks wouldn’t do and what small banks couldn’t do.

From late February to May 31, when the program ended, the companies processed 2.3 million loans. Most were for less than $17,000, and the vast majority went to solo ventures, which are more likely to be run by women and people of color.

All that hustle had downsides, however, including widespread customer service failures. And some lenders now have regrets about signing rushed deals that delivered most of the profit to their partners.

Gloria Molina, 28, checked in for her second dose of the vaccine at Samuel Rodgers Health Center in Kansas City, Mo.
Credit…Chase Castor for The New York Times

As the country’s vaccination campaign slows and doses go unused, it has suddenly become clear that one of the biggest challenges in reaching mass immunity will be persuading skeptical young adults of all backgrounds to get vaccinated.

Federal officials expressed alarm in recent days about low vaccination rates among Americans in their late teens and 20s, and have blamed them for the country’s all-but-certain failure to reach President Biden’s goal of giving 70 percent of adults at least an initial dose by July 4.

The straightforward sales pitch for older people — a vaccine could very possibly save your life — does not always work on healthy 20-somethings who know they are less likely to face the severest outcomes of Covid.

As public officials race to find ways to entice young adults to get vaccinated, interviews across the country suggest that no single fix is likely to sway these holdouts. Some are staunchly opposed. Others are merely uninterested. And still others are skeptical.

But pretty much everyone who was eager for a vaccine already has one, and public health officials now face an overlapping mix of inertia, fear, busy schedules and misinformation as they try to cajole Gen Z into getting a shot.

Public health experts say vaccinating young adults is essential to keeping infection numbers low and preventing new case outbreaks, especially as the more infectious Delta variant spreads.

Since vaccines became available six months ago, health departments have focused with varying degrees of success on urging groups identified as reluctant — including people living in rural communities, African American residents, conservatives — to get vaccinated.

But in recent days, public health officials have identified young adults as a significant challenge for a country where fewer than a million people a day are receiving a vaccine, down from an April peak of more than 3.3 million.

In a federal report released last week, just over one-third of adults ages 18 to 39 reported being vaccinated, with especially low rates among Black people; among people 24 or younger; and among those who had lower incomes, less education and no health insurance.

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