United States

Covid Live Updates: Drive to Vaccinate Children Gathers Speed in U.S.

Credit…Kevin Mohatt for The New York Times

The world’s first mass coronavirus inoculation campaign for children kicked off in earnest in the United States on Thursday after the federal government recommended making the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine available to those aged 12 to 15.

Even as the decision was embraced by millions of parents wearied by pandemic restrictions and desperate to get their children back into classrooms, states, counties and school districts around the country were trying to figure out the most reassuring and expedient ways to offer the shots.

The various authorities are making plans to offer vaccines not only in schools, but also at pediatricians’ offices, day camps, parks and even beaches.

President Biden, who hailed the vaccine as “safe, effective, easy, fast and free,” said that as many as 20,000 pharmacies stood ready to start giving shots on Thursday.

“This is one more giant step on our fight against the pandemic,” Mr. Biden said, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voted on Wednesday to recommend use of the vaccine.

Some states, including Delaware, Georgia and Maine, had already started to offer doses to children after the approval of the vaccine by the Food and Drug Administration on Monday.

But the ruling by the C.D.C. was the final step in the federal process that allows for widespread inoculations of the roughly 17 million children in the United States ages 12-15.

For many parents, it could not come too soon. About one-third of eighth graders, usually 13 or 14 years old, are still learning fully remotely.

But the authorities must also overcome a significant amount of hesitancy. A recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that many parents — even some who eagerly got their own Covid shots — were reluctant to vaccinate pubescent children.

States have differing standards on what could be used to prove parental consent.

In Los Angeles, the health authorities required that anyone younger than 18 should be accompanied by a parent, guardian or responsible adult, and present photo identification and verification of age, county officials said.

In Maine, a parent does not need to be with the child as long as they provide permission over the phone or sign a form beforehand.

Federal and local officials said that there should be no problem with supply meeting demand. The expansion of the U.S. vaccination effort underscored the widening gulf in the world’s inoculation campaigns even as the pandemic gathers force in several regions.

Referring to the global situation, Dr. Oliver Morgan, director of the risk assessment department at the W.H.O., said on Wednesday, “Throughout the month of March and April, there has been a steady increase in the number of cases each week and the weekly number of cases is now higher than any time in the pandemic.”

At the same time, many of the countries being walloped by the virus — and those where the threat of new outbreaks is growing — have not been able to secure vaccines to inoculate even health workers or those most at risk of serious illness and death.

Research shows that children are mostly spared severe disease and are not significant drivers of coronavirus spread, as they are for influenza.

Young children are thought to spread the virus less often than adults do, but their ability to transmit increases with age. Teenagers, particularly those in high school, may transmit the virus as readily as adults.

Vaccinating children is viewed as an important increase to the level of immunity in the population, driving down the number of cases broadly, while offering protection to more people.

While risk of severe illness is low compared with that of adults, the coronavirus has infected more than 1.5 million children and sent more than 13,000 to hospitals, more than are hospitalized for flu in an average year, according to data collected by the C.D.C.

A vaccination center in New Delhi on Thursday. A government panel has again recommended widening the gap between the first and second doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca shots.
Credit…Prakash Singh/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

With new infections now engulfing rural regions across India even as the daily death toll in crowded cities remains staggeringly high, regional leaders across the country are engaged in a desperate struggle to secure vaccines and stretch the doses they have on hand.

The states of Maharashtra and Karnataka, where case numbers are surging, have suspended vaccination altogether for people under 45 so that older people can receive second doses.

And a government panel on Thursday recommended widening the gap — for the third time since March — between the first and second doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, also known as Covishield in India.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India is facing increasing pressure to quickly expand the scope of the country’s fledging Covid-19 vaccination campaign as major cities run out of doses.

Some states and cities have started floating their own global tenders to import vaccines.

In a rare show of unity, a dozen opposition parties called for free, universal vaccination in a letter that said the pandemic had “assumed unprecedented dimensions of a human catastrophe.”

The parties also said that Mr. Modi’s government should invoke an order temporarily suspending patent protections for vaccines — a proposal India and South Africa jointly made for all virus vaccines globally that is under consideration by the World Trade Organization. In India, the order would allow more factories to make Covaxin, the indigenous vaccine codeveloped by the Indian government’s top scientific research body and the Hyderabad-based company Bharat Biotech.

Covaxin is in such short supply that the capital, New Delhi, has had to shutter about 100 vaccination centers. All of the doses produced by the Serum Institute of India, which is producing the Oxford-AstraZeneca shots and is the world’s largest vaccine maker, are staying in India, but still falling far short of the requirements for a population of nearly 1.4 billion people.

The ad hoc approach could also further fuel the skepticism and hesitancy that greeted the rollout of shots this winter. Leaders of Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party claimed that the virus had been all but defeated in India, possibly tempering interest in a vaccine.

Jairam Ramesh, leader of the opposition Indian National Congress party, questioned the validity of widening the intervals between doses.

“Is this because there are not enough stocks of the vaccines for all who are eligible or because professional scientific advice says so?” Mr. Ramesh wrote on Twitter.

India reported about 362,000 cases on Wednesday, with infection numbers appearing to level off in Delhi and in the financial capital, Mumbai, but picking up in the southern city of Bengaluru and across rural India.

Less than 3 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated.

Lockdown restrictions are in place in many parts of India, but on Thursday, when Muslims celebrated Eid al-Fitr, the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, people were seen crowding markets.

A teacher receiving a vaccine in January in Redmond, Ore. On Tuesday, Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon joined a handful of other states in setting a vaccination benchmark for lifting restrictions.
Credit…Ryan Brennecke/The Bulletin, via Associated Press

While some states are offering residents incentives like savings bonds or sports tickets to encourage them to be vaccinated, a few are making a very different pitch: The sooner you get a shot, the sooner the state will fully reopen.

The latest is Oregon, where the governor said on Tuesday that the state’s remaining restrictions would stay in place until at least 70 percent of eligible residents 16 and older had had at least one shot.

“We still have some work to do to reach our 70 percent goal, but I am confident we can get there in June and return Oregon to a sense of normalcy,” said Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat.

Oregon, where 49 percent of residents have had at least one dose, is one of the few states that is explicitly tying lifting its indoor mask requirement to the adult vaccination rate. Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania also are awaiting the 70 percent threshold before moving forward with reopening plans.

In Michigan, capacity limits for businesses will lift two weeks after 65 percent of eligible residents have been vaccinated, and the gatherings and face mask orders will end two weeks after 70 percent of eligible residents have been fully vaccinated, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said. Thirty-seven percent of residents there have been immunized in the state, which has shown one of the country’s steepest drops in cases over the past two weeks. The average number of new infections reported daily during that time sank 45 percent and hospitalizations were down 32 percent.

Pennsylvania is waiting for 70 percents of adults to be fully vaccinated before lifting its mask mandate. Only 37 percent have been immunized in Pennsylvania.

The mask requirement in Minnesota will be lifted once 70 percent of residents 16 and older have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, but no later than July 1, Gov. Tim Walz said. Half of Minnesotans have had at least one dose.

On Wednesday, Maryland said that every business would be allowed to open, starting on Saturday, at 100 percent capacity, but that the indoor mask requirement would be in place until 70 percent of adults had received one dose. So far, only 52 percent have met that guideline.

“Those who are not vaccinated continue to slow our health and economic recovery efforts, and they also continue to be at risk for infection, hospitalization and death,” Gov. Larry Hogan said on Wednesday.

In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy said on Wednesday that he would be signing an executive order that would put into effect what he called “our most aggressive reopening play” to date. As was announced last week, on Wednesday, May 19, many restrictions on public gatherings will be dropped although social distancing measures will be in effect. In New Jersey, 42 percent of adults are fully vaccinated and 55 percent have received one shot.

And in New Mexico, the state will remove most restrictions once 60 percent of residents have been fully vaccinated. Forty-two percent of people have been inoculated there.

But these statewide vaccination targets are well below what experts now calculate the herd immunity threshold to be: at least 80 percent.

President Biden has called for 70 percent of adults to have at least one dose by July 4. Jeffrey Zients, Mr. Biden’s Covid response coordinator, said that the goal should be to achieve some sense of normality by hitting that target. Reaching 70 percent will create “a pattern of decreasing cases, hospitalizations and deaths and take us down to a sustainable low level,” he said this week.

Inmates last week at a field hospital for Covid patients set up at a prison in Bangkok.
Credit…Department of Corrections, via Associated Press

A variant of the coronavirus is sweeping through Thailand’s prisons, the country’s chief prison doctor said on Thursday, as the government acknowledged that nearly 3,000 inmates had been found to be infected.

The chief prison doctor, Weerakit Harnpariphan, deputy director general of Thailand’s Department of Corrections, did not identify the variant that had been detected. But protective measures that were effective in the prisons last year, he said, are not working well now.

“The spread this time is something very worrying,” he said. “The transmissibility of this variant, as it is known, is very quick. It spread in a short period of time.”

There are two variants of concern spreading in the region: the first, detected last fall in Britain, is now the main driver of the pandemic in countries around the world.

Health officials in Thailand said it was now widespread in the country and was partly responsible for the recent surge in cases.

But there is growing concern about the spread of a variant first reported in India, which the World Health Organization said may be even more contagious.

Scientists still don’t know much about that variant, but they are worried that it might be helping to fuel the rise in India’s coronavirus infections and could now be driving up cases in neighboring countries.

Called B.1.617, the variant has been detected in Thailand only in one family that had been quarantined after arriving from Pakistan, health officials said.

On Thursday, Thailand reported a daily record of 4,887 cases, which reflects the inclusion of 2,835 prison cases that had not been counted previously in the national total. Thailand has averaged about 2,000 new cases a day for the past three weeks.

The prison outbreak came to light on Wednesday after a leader of Thailand’s pro-democracy movement, Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, 22, was released on bail and reported in a Facebook post that she had contracted the coronavirus. She said that more than 50 women had also come down with the virus at the prison where she had been held for nearly two months.

Justice Minister Somsak Thepsuthin said that the coronavirus was under control in the prisons but acknowledged that too few prisoners were being tested until this week.

In response to the virus, he said, the prison population has been reduced from 390,000 prisoners to less than 310,000 by granting amnesty to some and releasing others to be monitored with ankle bracelets.

Human Rights Watch called on Thailand to ensure that prisoners had adequate protective measures and health care. Nearly 20 percent of the country’s inmates are being held while they await trial, the group said, including other members of the pro-democracy movement who are accused of insulting the monarchy.

Thailand is facing its biggest surge in cases since the start of the pandemic and has imposed a partial lockdown on the hardest-hit parts of the country, including Bangkok.

The country reported only 6,884 cases and 61 deaths for all of last year. But the numbers have soared this year to a total of 93,794 cases and 518 deaths as of Thursday, with most of them coming in the past three weeks.

A coworking space in London last month run by WeWork. Sandeep Mathrani, the company’s chief executive drew Twitter fire when he said on Wednesday that employees who work from home are the “least engaged.” 
Credit…Tolga Akmen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

If you’ve enjoyed working from home during the pandemic — no commute, cooking lunch in your own kitchen or being around family more often — the chief executive of WeWork has some thoughts about you.

“Those who are least engaged are very comfortable working from home,” Sandeep Mathrani, the C.E.O. of WeWork said at a Wall Street Journal event on Wednesday. “Those who are überly engaged with the company want to go to the office two-thirds of the time, at least.”

“People are happier when they come to work,” he added. The company is betting on people wanting to — or being required to — work outside of their homes once it is safe to do so widely.

His comments were not received well by many online as many companies and employees consider the post-Covid-19 workplace after more than a year of doing their jobs from home.

“I wonder why the C.E.O. of a company that rents office space would say this,” wrote one Twitter user.

Others noted that working from home has benefited parents and has improved some workers’ mental health.

Ann Johnson, a corporate vice president at Microsoft, wrote: “If the only way you can keep your employees engaged is by being in the office with them, you have a leadership issue — not an employee engagement issue.”

Google said this month that it would relax its remote work protocols and that it expected 20 percent of its employees to work remotely after its offices reopen. The tech giant had previously been one of the industry’s holdouts on flexible remote work, and Insider reported that some employees had threatened to quit if they couldn’t keep working from home.

The Bran Castle in Romania.
Credit…Octav Ganea/Inquam Photo, via Reuters

The needles at Bran Castle in the Transylvania region of Romania won’t be drawing blood — instead, they’ll be administering a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Vaccines will be available every weekend in May without an appointment at the castle, which says it is “the only castle in all of Transylvania” that fits the description of Dracula’s castle in the novel about the vampire.

People who get vaccines there will get “free access to the exhibition with medieval torture tools,” the castle said on its Facebook page. But venturing to the castle for the shots and scares wouldn’t be wise for international travelers, as the vaccines are available at the castle only to residents of Romania, Bran Castle’s marketing manager, Alexandru Priscu, told The Associated Press.

Amid concerns in Romania that demand for vaccines is slowing, Mr. Priscu said, “we wanted to show people a different way to get the needle.”

More than 19 percent of people in Romania have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford. New daily coronavirus cases there have dropped significantly — around 1,200 each day on average — since spikes in November and March.

The castle joins the many weird and occasionally beautiful places around the world that are doubling as vaccine spots, some for convenience and some hoping to entice people by the location. They include Poet’s Corner at Westminster Abbey, the American Museum of Natural History, on the sand in Miami Beach and a ski resort in Colorado.




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