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Covid-19 and Vaccine News: Live Updates

Credit…Jay Reeves/Associated Press

Experts are concerned that states across the South, where vaccination rates are lagging, could face a surge in coronavirus cases over the summer.

A dozen states — many of them in the Northeast, including Maine, Massachusetts and Connecticut — have already reached a benchmark of at least 70 percent of adults with at least one vaccine dose, a goal President Biden has set for the nation to make by July 4. But in the South, that marker is nowhere in sight for several states.

In 15 states — including Arkansas, the Carolinas, Georgia and Louisiana — about half of adults or fewer have received a dose, according to a New York Times analysis. In two states, Alabama and Mississippi, it would take about a year to get one dose to 70 percent of the population at the current pace of distribution.

Public-health experts and officials in states with lower vaccination rates say the president’s benchmark will help reduce cases and deaths but is somewhat arbitrary — even if 70 percent of adults are vaccinated, the virus and its more contagious variants can spread among those who are not.

But they remain concerned that their residents are more susceptible to infection as restrictions ease across the country, the sense of urgency to get vaccinated declines and many Americans in warmer climates avoid the heat by heading indoors, where the virus spreads more efficiently.

If there is a summer surge across the South, experts believe it won’t be as grave as last summer’s because at least some people are vaccinated and treatments have improved. But memories of last summer, when cases rose quickly after some Southern states rushed to reopen, are still fresh. Younger people, who are less likely to be vaccinated, will be the most vulnerable during any surge this summer, said Dr. Edward Trapido, an epidemiologist and associate dean for research at the Louisiana State University School of Public Health. While death or severe illness is not as common for young people with Covid-19, it’s still possible, he said.

“The surge is not likely to end up tying up hospitals, and causing lots of deaths,” Dr. Trapido said. “There are certain populations that are undervaccinated, and that’s where we will expect to see a rise.”

To avoid a summer surge, states across the South need to catch up to those in the Northeast which have already gotten at least one dose to 70 percent of their populations, according to Dr. Peter Hotez, a vaccine expert at Baylor College of Medicine.

“We’re just we’re not even close to that in the Southern states,” Dr. Hotez said. He said he foresees a new wave in the South because “we’re so underachieving in terms of vaccination.”

Mississippi, for example, has the country’s lowest vaccination rate, with 34 percent of the population having received at least one shot. Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi said on Sunday that despite the low vaccination numbers, case numbers indicated the risk of contracting Covid-19 in his state was low.

Another worry is testing. But Dr. Trapido said a decline in testing would make it difficult to contain outbreaks ahead of a potential summer surge.

Nationally, the number of daily tests reported is down significantly. On Thursday, about 316,000 tests were performed, far below the winter peak when more than two million tests were being administrated some days, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We don’t have so many people rushing for testing because all the messaging is about vaccines,” Dr. Trapido said. “It’s important to remind people that if you’re concerned, it’s worth getting tested.”

Even statewide figures that appear promising can gloss over local problem areas, Dr. Joseph Kanter, the top health official in Louisiana, said in mid-May. In Louisiana, less than 20 percent of people in some parishes have received a first dose.

“We’ve got a significant percentage of Louisiana that has initiated, but it’s not herd immunity,” Dr. Kanter said, referring to the share of the total population that needs to acquire resistance to the virus to slow transmission. “It’s nowhere close to it.”

global roundup

Lines in Kampala on the first day of Uganda’s vaccination campaign in March. It has since been hindered by a shortage of doses.
Credit…Badru Katumba/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Uganda’s president has introduced new lockdown measures in an effort to tackle surging coronavirus cases nationwide.

President Yoweri Museveni announced the closure of all schools and universities for 42 days starting Monday and suspended public gatherings and prayers in mosques and churches. Public transportation between and across districts will also be barred for 42 days, starting Thursday to allow students who are in school to get home. Mr. Museveni also banned house parties and said bars, cinemas and concerts would remain closed.

The announcement on Sunday evening came as the country — which imposed tight restrictions early in the pandemic but had eased measures as cases dropped — recorded an upsurge in cases in recent weeks. On June 4, the East African nation recorded 1,259 cases, its highest number in a single day. The authorities reported long lines at hospitals in recent days, with Mr. Museveni saying the current wave was mostly affecting people between the ages of 20 and 39 and that there was increased transmission among those ages 10 to 19.

“We are concerned that this will exhaust the available bed space and oxygen supply in hospitals, unless we constitute urgent public health measures,” Mr. Museveni said in his speech.

Health officials said that the latest surge was precipitated by the failure to adhere to measures to curb infections including washing hands and wearing face masks. Mr. Museveni also pointed to new variants — specifically those first reported in India, South Africa and the United Kingdom — increasing infections, and blamed travelers who came into the country with negative results only to test positive.

There have also been a high number of transmissions within schools because of overcrowding or lack of adequate sanitation facilities. As part of the new directives, all teachers will have to be fully vaccinated before they are allowed back into schools.

With more than 44 million people, Uganda has so far inoculated over 748,000 people, with just over 35,000 of them fully vaccinated. As in much of Africa, its vaccine program has been slowed down by global vaccine shortages, with the crisis in India particularly threatening supplies.

Mr. Museveni said on Sunday night that the country was expecting to receive 175,000 doses from Covax, the global initiative aimed at ensuring equitable access to vaccines. The government, he said, was also waiting on another vaccine shipment: “300,000 doses of Sinovac vaccine donated by our friends, the Chinese government.”

In other news around the globe:

  • After more than a year of not reporting coronavirus cases and casting doubt on the efficacy of vaccines, Tanzania has given approval for doses to be flown in — but only for foreign embassies and international organizations. The vaccine imports, which will be coordinated by the Ministry of Health, will only be used to inoculate the citizens and staff of these embassies and organizations, the presidency said in a statement last Friday. The move is one of a series of gradual steps taken by President Samia Suluhu Hassan. Ms. Hassan has broken with her predecessor, John Magufuli, who played down the virus and died in March after suspicions that he had contracted it. Ms. Hassan formed a coronavirus commission which last month recommended the country publish data on the virus and join the Covax facility to import vaccines.

  • Also on Monday, Russia announced that its one-dose Sputnik Light vaccine had been approved for use in the Republic of Congo, which had already approved the two-dose Sputnik V vaccine.

  • Restaurants, pubs and cafes in Ireland reopened on Monday for outdoor drinking and dining as the country makes its way out of one of the strictest and most sustained lockdowns in Europe. The easing of restrictions also permits cinemas and theaters to reopen and gyms and swimming pools to return for individual exercise. Weddings may now have a maximum of 25 guests. The government last week permitted hotel stays for the first time since December, but those looking forward to a pint inside a pub will have to wait a few weeks: Indoor hospitality resumes on July 5.

  • In Germany, anyone 12 or older is now officially eligible for a vaccine appointment. The country had been prioritizing the elderly, those with medical conditions and frontline workers. So far, 45.7 percent of the population has had one dose, with 21.3 percent fully vaccinated. Getting an appointment in the first weeks of widened eligibility may be difficult: The authorities expect a run on the shots.

Anna Schaverien Christopher F. Schuetze and Kaly Soto contributed reporting.

Commuters in London on Sunday. Virus cases are rising in Britain again.
Credit…Tolga Akmen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

This is an excerpt from the Morning newsletter.

Britain has had one of the world’s most successful Covid-19 responses in recent months.

Unlike the European Union, the British government understood that quickly obtaining vaccine doses mattered more than negotiating the lowest price. Unlike the United States, Britain was willing to impose nationwide restrictions again late last year to reduce caseloads. British officials also chose to maximize first vaccine shots and delay second shots, recognizing that the strategy could more quickly reduce Covid cases.

Thanks to these moves, Covid has retreated more quickly in Britain than in almost any other country. Fewer than 10 Britons per day have been dying in recent weeks, down from 1,200 a day in late January. On a per-capita basis, Britain’s death rate last month was less than one-tenth the U.S. rate.

Despite this success, Britain is now coping with a rise in Covid cases. The main cause appears to be the highly infectious virus variant known as Delta, which was first detected in India. Britain’s recent moves to reopen society also likely play a role.

The increase is a reminder that progress against the pandemic — even extreme progress — does not equal ultimate victory. Britain’s experience also suggests that cases may soon rise in the United States. “What we’re seeing in U.K. is very likely to show up in other Western countries soon,” The Financial Times’s John Burn-Murdoch wrote.

Preparing a dose of the Pfizer vaccine in Miami last month.
Credit…Saul Martinez for The New York Times

As the United States edges closer to President Biden’s goal of a 70 percent vaccination rate, many people are beginning to wonder how long their protection will last.

Although many scientists estimate that the vaccines authorized in the United States will last at least a year, no one knows for sure. It’s also unclear whether emerging variants of the coronavirus will change our vaccination needs.

Here’s what scientists know so far.

Early signs are encouraging. Researchers have been drawing blood from volunteers in vaccine trials and measuring their levels of antibodies and immune cells that target the coronavirus. The levels are dropping, but gradually. It’s possible that with this slow rate of decline, vaccine protection will remain strong for a long time. People who were previously infected and then received the vaccine may enjoy even more durable protection.

Scientists have already found that vaccines using different technologies can vary in their effectiveness. The strongest vaccines include Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, both of which are based on RNA molecules. Vaccines relying on inactivated viruses, such as those made by Sinopharm in China and Bharat Biotech in India, have proved somewhat less effective.

Scientists are searching for biological markers that could reveal when the protection from a vaccine is no longer enough to hold back the coronavirus. It’s possible that a certain level of antibodies marks a threshold: If your blood measures above that level, you’re in good shape, but if you’re below it, you’re at greater risk of infection.

The emergence of variants in recent months has accelerated research on boosters. Some variants have mutations that led them to spread swiftly. Others carry mutations that might blunt the effectiveness of authorized vaccines. But at this point, scientists still have only a smattering of clues about how existing vaccines work against different variants.

Concertgoers stretched out on the great lawn in July of 2012, to hear the New York Philharmonic perform in Central Park.
Credit…Karsten Moran for The New York Times

Seeking a grand symbol of New York’s revitalization after a brutal pandemic year, Mayor Bill de Blasio is planning a large-scale performance by multiple acts and has called on Clive Davis, the 89-year-old producer and music-industry eminence, to pull it together.

The show, tentatively set for Aug. 21, a work in progress, with no artists confirmed, though Mr. Davis — whose five-decade career highlights have included working with Janis Joplin, Bruce Springsteen, Aretha Franklin, Alicia Keys and Whitney Houston — said he was aiming for eight “iconic” stars to perform a three-hour show for 60,000 attendees and a worldwide television audience.

Mr. de Blasio said in an interview that the concert was part of a “Homecoming Week” to show that New York City is coming back from the pandemic — a celebration for residents and those in the region who may not have visited in a while.

The show would be the latest in a storied tradition of Central Park super-productions that tend to attract worldwide coverage and to paint New York as a peaceful, cosmopolitan haven for the arts.

Many New Yorkers, especially the mayor, may welcome that view after the prevalence of pandemic-era images like a deserted Times Square and boarded-up storefronts amid last summer’s protests in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.

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