Covid Live Updates: Vaccines, Delta Variant and Cases

by Msnbctv news staff


Credit…Nathalia Angarita/Reuters

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is effective against the highly contagious Delta variant, even eight months after inoculation, the company reported on Thursday — a reassuring finding for the 11 million Americans who have gotten the shot.

The vaccine showed a small drop in potency against the variant, compared with its effectiveness against the original virus, the company said. But the vaccine was more effective against the Delta variant than the Beta variant, first identified in South Africa — the pattern also seen with mRNA vaccines like those made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

Antibodies stimulated by the Johnson & Johnson vaccine grow in strength over time, researchers also reported.

The results were described in a news release, and the company said that both studies had been submitted for online publication on Thursday. One of those studies has been accepted for publication in a scientific journal. Both studies are small, and the researchers said they had released the results early because of high interest from the public.

The intense discourse about Delta’s threat has left even people who are vaccinated feeling anxious about whether they are protected. The variant, first identified in India, is much more transmissible than earlier versions of the virus, and its global spread has prompted new restrictions from Ireland to Malaysia.

In the United States, the variant now accounts for one in four new cases. Public health officials had said the vaccines authorized in the United States worked against all existing variants, but the data was mostly based on studies of the mRNA vaccines.

That left some people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine asking, What about us?

The frustration was building even before the Delta variant emerged. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance that vaccinated people could forgo masks indoors in many situations was based mostly on data for the mRNA vaccines. And reports of a cluster of cases among players on the Yankees baseball team who had received the Johnson & Johnson shot did nothing to assuage fears that the vaccine was inferior.

Some people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine said that they felt cheated by experts who had said the vaccines were equally good. “I was surprised to see others making this claim,” said Natalie Dean, a biostatistician at the University of Florida. “I didn’t like it. People don’t want to feel misled.”

Some experts said the clinical trials should have made it apparent earlier that the efficacy of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was lower than that of the mRNA vaccines. “Seventy-two percent is of course lower than 95 or 94 percent,” said Florian Krammer, an immunologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.

Updates on the efficacy of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been slow because it was rolled out later than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in the United States.

GLOBAL ROUNDUP

Medical staff prepared syringes that contained doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in Leipzig, Germany on Thursday. Germany will allow people to receive a mixed regimen of vaccine doses.
Credit…Jens Schlueter/Getty Images

In a bid to provide effective coverage against the Delta variant, German health authorities broadened their recommendation that those who received a first shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine get a second dose with either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines.

This “is one of the best available vaccine combinations currently available,” Jens Spahn, the country’s health minister, said on Friday, after agreeing to formally adopt a recommendation from the country’s vaccination expert panel with state lawmakers.

Studies have shown that while mixing vaccines may increase the odds of mild and moderate side effects, including fever, fatigue and headache, the protection is at least on par with two jabs of the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna.

Germany had already been advising people under 60 to take the mixed regimen after worries about rare but severe side effects were observed in younger women receiving AstraZeneca shots. Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is 66, was inoculated with a Moderna vaccine last month after receiving an AstraZeneca shot earlier this year.

Now, authorities believe the combination can help protect all vaccine recipients in the fight against the Delta virus, which is currently estimated to make up 50 percent of new cases across the country.

Mr. Spahn also said that doctors and nurses could give the second shot just four weeks after the first, significantly shortening the period between shots that was initially recommended for a full AstraZeneca treatment, when the wait between shots could be as long as 12 weeks.

“The more vaccinations in the summer, the better the autumn,” said Mr. Spahn.

Currently 56 percent of Germans have received at least one dose and 38 percent are fully vaccinated. Nearly 17 percent of all vaccines delivered to Germany come from AstraZeneca, which for a while was the jab of choice for people who were not high on any priority list.

Despite the spread of the Delta variant, the number of new cases is at the lowest level in about a year.

Here’s what’s happening around the world:

  • Portugal is imposing a curfew from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. in Lisbon, Porto and other popular tourism spots to fight a Delta-driven surge, reversing course after it had reopened its economy to prepare for summer travelers. The measure is designed to discourage gatherings of younger people at night, said Mariana Vieira da Silva, a cabinet minister. The country reported almost 2,500 new cases on Thursday, the highest daily rise since mid-February, although cases have remained far below its January peak of more 16,000 per day.

  • France warned on Friday that the Delta variant now accounted for a third of all new cases. Olivier Véran, France’s health minister, said that while the virus was under control, the decline in new cases has slowed, and that the variant was a “real threat” that could “ruin” summer holidays. Mr. Véran said authorities would not make vaccination mandatory for the general population but were debating doing so for health workers.

  • Three guests and one firefighter died in a blaze at a quarantine hotel in Taiwan, and more than 20 people were injured. Some guests had worried that leaving their rooms would violate Covid rules, and the owner at first thought it was a false alarm and urged people to stay in their rooms. The fire renewed debate over the use of hotels as quarantine facilities.

A mass vaccination site in Newark, N.J., this month.
Credit…Bryan Anselm for The New York Times

With just a few days to go, there is no longer much doubt that the United States will fall just short of President Biden’s goal to have 70 percent of adults at least partly vaccinated against the coronavirus by Independence Day.

It was always more of a rhetorical deadline than a practical one: It doesn’t make much difference exactly what the national figure will be on July 4 (probably 67 or 68 percent) or which day the national odometer will roll past 70 percent (perhaps around mid-month). The point was to give the public something to shoot for, to keep up the pace of progress.

That progress has hardly been uniform. Some parts of the country have embraced vaccination avidly, others diffidently and some grudgingly — just as happened with precautions like mask-wearing, social distancing, and school and business closures.

Here is a rundown of which states have led the way and which have lagged, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data tracked by The New York Times:

Twenty states, Washington, D.C., and two territories exceeded the 70 percent threshold by Thursday, three days ahead of Mr. Biden’s target date.

Twelve are in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region, including Vermont, the national leader, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

California, Oregon and Washington have surpassed 70 percent, as has Hawaii.

The other four states that have cleared 70 percent are Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota and New Mexico, along with the territories of Puerto Rico and Guam.

Fourteen states, mainly in the Midwest and Southwest, were between 60 and 65 percent on Thursday. Two of the nation’s most populous states are in this group: Florida at 65 percent and Texas at 61 percent.

The remaining 16 states, including nearly the whole South, were below 60 percent, with Mississippi in last at 46 percent.

President Biden and the first lady, Jill Biden, on the South Lawn of the White House on Thursday.
Credit…Kenny Holston for The New York Times

President Biden’s plan to celebrate “independence from the virus” on the Fourth of July is running into an unpleasant reality: Less than half the country is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, and the highly contagious Delta variant is threatening new outbreaks.

Mr. Biden will visit Traverse City, Mich., on Saturday as part of what the White House calls the “America’s Back Together” celebration. On Sunday, he and Jill Biden, the first lady, have invited 1,000 military personnel and essential workers to an Independence Day bash on the South Lawn of the White House.

But public health experts fear that scenes of celebrations will send the wrong message when wide swaths of the population remain vulnerable and true independence from the worst public health crisis in a century may be a long way off.

On Friday, Mr. Biden urged those who have yet to get vaccinated to “think about their family” and get a shot as the Delta variant spreads. At a news conference mainly focused on the strong jobs report from the Labor Department, he said he wasn’t worried about another major coronavirus outbreak, but instead wanted to make sure next year’s July 4 holiday was even better than this year’s.

“I am concerned that people who have not gotten vaccinated have the capacity to catch the variant and spread the variant to other people who have not been vaccinated,” he said. “To those of you who haven’t been vaccinated, it doesn’t hurt. It’s accessible. It is free. Don’t just think about yourself. Think about your family.”

Dr. Thomas Frieden, a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other experts said they feared that if the Delta variant continued to circulate, it would mutate in a way that left even the vaccinated vulnerable. That already seems to be happening elsewhere in the world; South Korea and Israel, where the virus seemed to be in check, have new clusters of disease.

“Compared to many other countries, we are in a much more secure situation,” said Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University. But, she added, “I really do worry that as America enjoys its freedoms, we forget about the rest of the world, and that could come back to bite us.”

–20

–15

–10

–5 million

April

June

Sept.

Jan. ’21

April

–6.8 million since February 2020

152.5 million jobs in February 2020

Hiring leapt back up in June as employers added 850,000 workers, the government reported Friday. It was the strongest gain in 10 months and a fresh sign that the labor market’s recovery is gaining momentum.

The unemployment rate rose slightly, to 5.9 percent, the Labor Department said.

The report follows several promising economic developments this week. Consumer confidence, which surged in June, is at its highest point since the pandemic’s onset last year. Stocks closed out the first half of the year at record highs, and businesses’ plans for capital investments are rising. The Congressional Budget Office said Thursday that the economy was on track to recover all the jobs lost in the pandemic by the middle of next year.

“I think it’s a very solid and strong report and very encouraging that we’re seeing over the last few months continued increase in the net job creation,” said Kathy Bostjancic, chief U.S. financial economist for Oxford Economics. She noted that the totals fell below the one million mark that the Federal Reserve chair, Jerome H. Powell, has said he would like to see. Still, she added, “the momentum is moving in the right direction.”

At the moment, 6.8 million fewer jobs exist than before the pandemic. Millions of people have dropped out of the labor force, however, and “job openings far outnumber the applicants,” said Karen Fichuk, chief executive of the staffing company Randstad North America. “It is truly across the board right now.”

Aside from ever-present concerns about pay and benefits, workers are particularly interested in jobs that allow them to work remotely at least some of the time. According to a Randstad survey of more than 1,200 people, 54 percent say they prefer a flexible work arrangement that doesn’t require them to be on-site full time.

Health and safety concerns are also very much on the minds of workers whose jobs require face-to-face interactions, the survey found.

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50%

Jan. ’20

Jan. ’21

“This is a trickier phase of the recovery,” said Sarah House, a senior economist with Wells Fargo. Last year, millions of workers were only temporarily laid off and able to slot back into their previous positions with little delay once reopening began.

Now, employers and workers are “having to make new matches and new connections, and that just takes more time,” she said.

Economists also point to a widespread reallocation of labor — like rounds of musical chairs on a mammoth scale — in which workers are re-evaluating their options. During the pandemic, many workers who had held restaurant and retail jobs may have taken positions in warehouses and manufacturing plants.

At the same time, the appetite for pandemic-driven jobs such as couriers and grocery store workers are ebbing as sectors like leisure and hospitality ramp up. A big chunk of June’s gains — 343,000 — were in that sector.

The education sector also showed a big pickup in hiring, although economists caution that seasonal adjustments could inflate the estimated gains. That is because there is normally a large drop in the number of teachers when schools let out for the summer. Accounting for that traditional decline may be complicated by the fact that not as many educators were working because of pandemic-related school closings.

Becky Frankiewicz, president of the staffing company ManpowerGroup North America, said that with so many employers in search of workers, “the core challenge now is enticing workers back to the work force.”

Governors in 26 states have moved to end distribution of federal pandemic-related jobless benefits even though they are funded until September, arguing that the assistance — including a $300 weekly supplement — was discouraging people from returning to work.

In states where benefits have already been cut off, though, recruiters have not seen a pickup in job searches or hiring. “I would have expected to see more people engage at a higher rate in the work force when the federal subsidies were ended,” Ms. Frankiewicz said. “We have not seen that correlation yet.”

The online job site Indeed surveyed 5,000 people in and out of the labor force and found that child care responsibilities, health concerns, vaccination rates and a financial cushion — from savings or public assistance — had all affected the number looking for work. Many employers are desperate to hire, but only 10 percent of workers surveyed said they were urgently seeking a job.

And even among that group, 20 percent said they didn’t want to take a position immediately.

Some neighborhoods are faring worse, such as Downtown Manhattan, where 21 percent of offices are vacant, according to an analysis.
Credit…Vincent Tullo for The New York Times

No other city in the United States must confront the changing workplace more so than New York, whose offices before the pandemic attracted 1.6 million commuters every day and helped sustain a swath of the economy, from shops to restaurants to Broadway theaters. The pandemic has also placed enormous pressure on the commercial real estate sector, a pillar of the New York economy, as landlords rush to redesign offices and dangle incentives like lower rent to retain and attract companies.

Across Manhattan, 18.7 percent of all office space is available for lease, more than double the rate from before the pandemic, according to Newmark, a real estate services company.

Kathryn Wylde, the president of the Partnership for New York City, an influential business organization, said that New York City was facing its biggest crisis since the 1970s, when half of the city’s 125 Fortune 500 companies moved out.

“This is as close as we’ve come to that type of scenario where there’s an exodus from the city, and the recovery took 30 years,” Ms. Wylde said. “The city has to attract people for reasons other than going to the office.”

There are signs that the situation in New York could get worse. A third of leases at large Manhattan buildings will expire over the next three years, according to CBRE, a commercial real estate services company, and companies have made clear that they will need significantly less space.

Dee Dee Patten and her husband, Dana, decided to retire early when the pandemic upended their business.
Credit…Matthew Staver for The New York Times

Millions of Americans have decided to retire since the pandemic began, part of a surge in early exits from the work force. The trend, which has broad implications for the labor market, is a sign of how the pandemic has transformed the U.S. economic landscape.

For a fortunate few, the decision was made possible by 401(k) retirement accounts bulging from record stock values. That wealth, along with a surge in home values, has offered some the financial security to stop working well before Social Security and private pensions kick in.

But most of the early retirements are occurring among lower-income workers who were displaced by the pandemic and see little route back into the job market, according to Teresa Ghilarducci, a professor of economics and policy analysis at the New School for Social Research in New York City.

After analyzing data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study, Dr. Ghilarducci found that among people with incomes at or below the national median, 55 percent of retirements recently were involuntary. Among the top 10 percent of earners, only 10 percent of exits were involuntary.

“It’s a tale of two retirements,” she said.

The line at a vaccination center in Sydney on Thursday. The vaccination rollout continues to be constrained and slow in Australia.
Credit…Jenny Evans/Getty Images

Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia has outlined a Covid exit plan that will include the end of lockdowns and travel restrictions for vaccinated residents, but it’s not clear when those things will come to pass.

Many people remain locked at home, lamenting canceled vacations or missed weddings and funerals, while businesses have once again been thrown into uncertainty and deeper debt. What’s worse, the transition plan will be slow going because vaccination rollout continues to be constrained.

Even as people in the country follow the daily news conferences and numbers of new Covid cases; even as they call again and again to schedule vaccinations, if they are even eligible, many can’t help but think: It didn’t need to be like this.

With a different bet on a different vaccines a few months ago by the government, with more diversification of options, more people would be vaccinated by now and the more contagious Delta variant would not be moving as quickly through the population — nor would it be as frightening.

Yet looking ahead, although there is a need for stamina, there is also reason for hope.



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