Covid Live Updates: Vaccine Mandates and Booster News


ImageProtesting over vaccine mandates and pandemic restrictions in Melbourne, Australia, on Saturday.
Credit…Darren England/EPA, via Shutterstock

Thousands rallied in Melbourne and other Australian cities on Saturday to protest pandemic restrictions and vaccine mandates.

In Melbourne, the capital of Victoria State, protesters gathered outside the state Parliament and marched through the central business district. They waved Australian flags, chanting, “No more mandates” and “Kill the bill.”

It was the latest demonstration after a week of escalating protests over a contentious pandemic powers bill that the state government is seeking to pass within the next month. The bill would replace a state of emergency that is set to lapse on Dec. 15, allowing officials to continue enforcing restrictions related to lockdowns, masking requirements and vaccination mandates.

It would also allow the state government to make new pandemic orders that it determines would help protect public health. The opposition Liberal Party and some legal and rights groups have raised concerns about the bill’s broad scope.

Over the past week, protesters have camped outside Victoria’s Capitol as the government negotiated passage of the bill. Lawmakers who support the bill have reported receiving death threats and being targets of abuse.

The protests on Saturday also targeted vaccination requirements. Although Australia has no broad vaccine mandate, individual states have introduced mandatory vaccination for some workers, including those in construction, education and health care. In Victoria, unvaccinated people are not allowed to eat in restaurants or to visit shops unless they are buying essential goods like food and medicine.

Pro-vaccination campaigners staged a smaller demonstration in Melbourne’s central business district on Saturday. The police kept the two groups apart.

Anti-vaccine crowds also gathered in Adelaide, Brisbane and Sydney, the country’s biggest city.

Among those gathered in Sydney was Craig Kelly, a federal lawmaker who quit the governing Liberal Party this year after facing criticism from Prime Minister Scott Morrison for spreading anti-vaccination misinformation and promoting unproven coronavirus treatments. On Saturday, he addressed thousands of anti-vaccination protesters at a park in Sydney’s central business district.

“When we have governments that adopt vaccine passports, we’re no longer free,” he said. “We don’t live in a free society — we live in a prison camp.”

Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday endorsed booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna coronavirus vaccines for all adults, a move that brings tens of millions fully vaccinated people a step closer to a third shot.

Boosters are recommended six months after the second shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines. With this final step, boosters should be available this weekend, allowing many Americans to get a shot before the Thanksgiving holiday.

The new recommendations say that everyone 50 and older — most of whom have other risk factors — as well as those 18 and older living in long-term care facilities “should” get a booster. Other Americans who are 18 and older “may” opt for one if they wish, based on individual risk and benefit.

Several advisers said at the meeting that they hoped the simpler age-based guidelines would ease some of the confusion around who is eligible for the extra shots.

An advisory committee to the C.D.C. unanimously voted in favor of the booster shots. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the agency’s director, later formally accepted the recommendation. The recommendations align with President Biden’s promise in August that all adults would be eligible for extra doses.

Desperate to dampen even a dim echo of last winter’s horrors, the administration is betting that booster shots will shore up what some have characterized as waning immunity among the fully vaccinated.

The Food and Drug Administration authorized boosters of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for all adults on Friday, but the C.D.C. generally makes the recommendations followed by the medical profession.

In recent days, several states have broadened booster access to all adults on their own.

Addressing the panelists, Dr. Sam Posner, the acting director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, acknowledged that previous eligibility categories “were complicated to implement” and said he hoped that simplifying them “will reduce confusion.”

After a brief respite, coronavirus infections are inching up again, particularly in parts of the country where cooler weather is hustling people indoors. Research suggests that the shots may help forestall at least some infections, particularly in older adults and those with certain health conditions.

The C.D.C.’s decision lands just as Americans are preparing to spend the holidays with family and friends. Given the tens of millions of Americans who have yet to receive a single dose of vaccine, holiday travel and get-togethers could send cases skyrocketing, as they did last year.

Several European countries are also offering boosters to all adults in a bid to contain fresh waves of infections. France has gone so far as to mandate booster shots for people over age 65 who wish to get a health pass permitting access to public venues.

Noah Weiland and Dan Levin contributed reporting.

Credit…Caitlin O’Hara for The New York Times

Gov. Bill Lee said on Friday that he would not renew Tennessee’s state of emergency, ending measures that he first put in place in response to the coronavirus outbreak in March 2020.

The governor announced the decision in a tweet:

Mr. Lee added that he would consider temporarily reinstating the measures should the state “face any future surges,” but that his administration was “evaluating opportunities for permanent deregulation.”

Recently, cases in Tennessee reached a peak in early September before dropping steeply, but infections have been rising again in recent days.

Source: State and local health agencies. Daily cases are the number of new cases reported each day. The seven-day average is the average of a day and the previous six days of data.

Mr. Lee, a Republican, has been active in rolling back pandemic restrictions. Last week, he signed a bill into law that prohibited government entities, schools and private businesses in Tennessee from requiring Covid vaccinations or proof of vaccination and limited their ability to impose mask mandates. The law also prohibited health care providers from vaccinating minors without the written consent of a parent or legal guardian.

On Wednesday, the governor made a pitch to law enforcement personnel who were leaving states with “restrictive mandates” to join the Tennessee Highway Patrol, going so far as offering to help pay their moving expenses.

Credit…Ore Huiying for The New York Times

Singapore said on Saturday that it would begin easing its pandemic restrictions next week, another sign that the city state is recovering from a recent surge of hospitalizations that delayed its reopening plan.

From Monday, fully vaccinated people will be allowed to gather in households and restaurants in groups of up to five, an increase from the current two, government ministers on Singapore’s Covid task force told a news conference.

“We are now transitioning towards living with Covid-19,” the trade minister, Gan Kim Yong, said. “I know many, or some, prefer to open up more quickly, but we must do so in a very careful and step-by-step manner.”

Singapore’s border closures and aggressive Covid testing made it a success story in the early days of the pandemic. It was also among the first countries in Asia to order vaccines. But the country’s pandemic exit plan — incremental and highly regulated even under the best-case scenarios — was delayed for months by a recent surge of cases that overwhelmed the hospital system.

Compared with the United States and European nations, Singapore and many other Asian countries have been much slower to reopen their borders and ease rules on social gatherings.

Singapore’s rules are extreme even by the standards of other Asian countries with high vaccination rates. Only two people may gather together at gyms, malls and public places, including outdoors, for example, even though nearly nine in 10 residents are fully vaccinated.

Singapore officials said on Saturday that they probably would not ease restrictions any further for the rest of the year, because they wanted to limit social gatherings during holiday festivities.

Singapore recorded 1,633 new local cases on Friday, the Health Ministry said, down from the second half of October, when the number of daily local cases rarely dipped below 2,800 and reached a high of 4,650 on Oct. 27.

The burden on Singapore’s health system has fallen over the past month. The intensive care unit utilization rate was 57 percent on Friday, the Health Ministry said, down from about 84 percent on Oct. 25.

Credit…Merck & Co Inc/Via Reuters

BRUSSELS — The European Union’s drug regulator on Friday recommended the use of a pill, developed by Merck, that was found in a clinical trial to halve the rate of hospitalizations and deaths in high-risk Covid patients who took it soon after infection.

The drug, molnupiravir, has yet to be authorized by E.U. countries, but in recommending its administration, the European Medicines Agency paved the way for its use within the next few months.

Several E.U. countries, including France and Italy, have already placed orders for supplies of the drug.

Britain became the first country this month to authorize the use of the pill. Its regulator authorized it for vaccinated and unvaccinated people who have Covid and are at high risk of becoming severely ill. The treatment could be authorized in the United States as soon as early December.

The European Medicines Agency said the drug could be taken by adults who do not require supplemental oxygen and who are at increased risk of developing severe coronavirus cases. The pill “should be administered as soon as possible after diagnosis of Covid-19 and within five days of the start of symptoms,” the agency said in a news release.

The agency also said on Friday that it had begun reviewing a similar drug developed by Pfizer, called Paxlovid.

Scientists and government leaders have called the drugs game changers in efforts to end the pandemic if their efficacy in clinical trials holds up in the real world. Unlike monoclonal antibodies, which are typically administered by health care professionals at a hospital or clinic, the pills would be dispensed at pharmacies and taken at home, providing a cheaper and easier way to treat coronavirus infections, including in poorer countries.

Merck has agreed to let other manufacturers make and sell its pill in 105 developing nations, including many where vaccination rates are critically low. It has also licensed eight large Indian drug makers to produce generic and cheaper versions of Merck’s pill.

In the United States, Pfizer applied to the Food and Drug Administration this past week to authorize Paxlovid, and the Biden administration plans to buy a stockpile of the pill that could be administered to as many as 10 million people.

Credit…Asanka Brendon Ratnayake/Reuters

The Australian Open in January will become the first Grand Slam tennis tournament to require that players be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, a decision that casts doubt on the participation of Novak Djokovic of Serbia, the No. 1-ranked men’s player, who has declined to divulge his vaccination status.

Craig Tiley, the Australian Open tournament director, confirmed the tournament’s policy in a television interview in Melbourne on Saturday.

The announcement ended months of speculation and mixed messages from Australian government officials. Federal authorities had indicated that unvaccinated players might be able to enter Australia and compete in the tournament in Melbourne after a 14-day quarantine period. But Daniel Andrews, the premier of the state of Victoria, has been adamant that players will need to be fully vaccinated, just as Australian Open spectators and on-site employees will be required to be vaccinated.

Melbourne, Victoria’s capital, has experienced some of the strictest coronavirus measures in the world, with six separate stay-at-home orders over an 18-month period.

“It is the one direction that you can take that you can ensure everyone’s safety, and all the playing group understands it,” Mr. Tiley said of requiring players to be vaccinated. “Our patrons will need to be vaccinated. All the staff working the Australian Open will need to be vaccinated, but when we’re in a state where there’s more than 90 percent of the population fully vaccinated — they’ve done a magnificent job with that — it’s the right thing to do.”

Steve Simon, the chief executive of the Women’s Tennis Association, said in an interview this past week that “over 70 percent” of the W.T.A.’s top 300 singles players and top 100 doubles players had been vaccinated and that all of the singles and doubles players who competed in the recent W.T.A. finals in Mexico had been vaccinated.

Andrea Gaudenzi, the chairman of the men’s tour, said in an interview on Friday that the vaccination rate for the top 100 men’s singles players was “above 80 percent.”

“We are moving toward 90 percent, 95 percent of fully vaccinated,” he said. “A lot will do it in the off-season with one shot.”

But it seems all but certain that some qualified players will not make the journey to Australia because of the policy.

All four Grand Slam tournaments, including the U.S. Open, allowed unvaccinated players to participate this year, as have regular tour events.

Djokovic, a nine-time Australian Open singles champion, has yet to confirm whether he will defend his title next year. He and his wife, Jelena, contracted the coronavirus in June 2020 during an exhibition tour that he had helped to organize in Serbia and Croatia.

He has expressed concern about vaccines and has said repeatedly that he would wait for the Australian Open’s policy to be made clear before making a decision on participating.

Credit…Lanna Apisukh for The New York Times

Inside Good Room, a nightclub in Brooklyn, people were dancing to techno and mingling with strangers, while outside, rain poured down on a line of partygoers that snaked down the block. It was Friday night, and the event was sold out.

“It’s nice to know places like this still exist,” said Caitlin Widener, 33, as she stood near the bar, reflecting on what she had missed about Good Room while it was closed for nearly 18 months because of the pandemic.

Things may be somewhat back to normal for its patrons, but the club, which reopened in September, is struggling. Its managers still must pay 18 months of back rent, maintenance and reopening costs, all of which total about $500,000, said Josh Houtkin, Good Room’s booking director.

Good Room is not alone. Many New York City clubs that survived the pandemic are now drawing large crowds but are still plagued by debt and uncertain futures. Many have had to rethink their business models, while others have shut down entirely.

“This industry is crucial to our economic and cultural well-being,” said Ariel Palitz, the senior executive director of New York City’s Office of Nightlife. “It is our backbone of the city, and without its recovery, the city can’t recover either.”

Credit…Charles Krupa/Associated Press

Pregnant women who had Covid-19 when they delivered their babies were almost twice as likely to have a stillbirth as healthy women who did not have Covid, according to a Centers for Disease Control study released on Friday that examined more than 1.2 million deliveries in the United States from March 2020 to September 2021.

While stillbirths were rare overall, representing less than 1 percent of all births, 1.26 percent of the 21,653 women with Covid experienced a stillbirth, compared with 0.64 percent of women without Covid. Even after adjustments were made to control for differences between the groups, women with Covid were 1.9 times as likely as healthy women to have a stillbirth.

The risk of stillbirth has been even higher for women with Covid since the Delta variant has been dominant: While the risk of stillbirth for women with Covid was 1.5 times as high as that of healthy women before July, when Delta became dominant, it was four times as high from July to September. As many as 2.7 percent of deliveries to women with Covid were stillbirths during the period studied while Delta was dominant.

“There had been reports suggesting an increased risk, but stillbirths are hard to study, because luckily they are uncommon,” said Dr. Denise Jamieson, the chief of gynecology and obstetrics at Emory Healthcare. “This is some of the strongest evidence of the increased risk, and probably the strongest data pointing to the risks specifically tied to Delta.”

The C.D.C. strongly encourages pregnant and breastfeeding women and women planning or trying to become pregnant to be vaccinated against Covid, but resistance has been strong, even though pregnancy is on the C.D.C.’s list of health conditions that increase the risk of severe disease.

Studies have shown that pregnant patients who are symptomatic are more than twice as likely as other symptomatic patients to require admission to intensive care or interventions like mechanical ventilation, and they may be more likely to die. They are also more likely to experience a preterm birth.

Another C.D.C. study issued on Wednesday described the cases of 15 pregnant women in Mississippi who died of Covid during their pregnancy or shortly afterward, including six who died before the Delta variant became dominant and nine who died from July to October, while Delta was dominant.

Of the women who died, nine were Black, three were white and three were Hispanic. The median age was 30. Fourteen of the women had underlying medical conditions, and none were vaccinated. Five of the deaths occurred before vaccinations were available.

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