Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today
A chat with our new global health reporter.,
This is the Coronavirus Briefing, an informed guide to the pandemic. Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.
A descendant of the Delta virus, known as AY.4.2, is on the rise in Britain and is being investigated.
Pfizer said new data showed that booster shots of its vaccine were highly protective against Covid.
India’s vaccine campaign reached a billion doses, a turnaround after early stumbles.
The C.D.C. authorizes booster shots
Scientific advisers to the Centers for Disease Control today recommended extra doses of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccines for tens of millions of Americans.
For those immunized with the J.&J. vaccine, the committee recommended a second dose of that vaccine at least two months after the first.
For those with an mRNA vaccine (Moderna and Pfizer), it recommended boosters six months or more after the second dose. Those eligible include adults over 65, adults 50 to 65 years old with certain medical conditions, and those in long-term care.
The advisers also said adults 18 to 49 years old with certain medical conditions, and adults whose jobs regularly expose them to the virus, may choose to receive a booster after considering their individual risk, perhaps in consultation with a medical provider.
The panelists also suggested that for their booster, people stick with the vaccine they received initially, but they conceded that some might need to mix them because of preference or availability.
If the director of the C.D.C., Dr. Rochelle Walensky, signs off on their recommendations as expected, tens of millions of Americans could seek a booster shot as early as tomorrow.
Our new global health reporter
The New York Times has a new global health reporter: Stephanie Nolen.
Stephanie has spent decades as a foreign correspondent, covering AIDS in Africa, malnutrition in India and the Zika virus in Brazil, among other public health crises. I recently caught up with her to talk about her beat and the future of Covid reporting.
How did you get into covering public health?
My interest in public health comes from working in Africa, starting in the late 1990s, and being really stunned and horrified by the impact of H.I.V. and mystified by how little coverage that was getting outside Africa. At that time, I was what we call a firefighter reporter — or a roaming crisis reporter — for The Globe and Mail in Canada. So I spent a lot of time in Afghanistan and Iraq, but anytime I could get off the breaking news cycle, I would go to sub-Saharan Africa to write H.I.V. stories.
And I remember being in Baghdad, and whenever something big would happen the networks would roll in and they would set up on a roof. And I just thought, I’ve never been at a rural hospital in Zambia with reporters doing live shots from the roof in 30 languages. I decided, other people can cover the wars, I’m going to go cover H.I.V.
What has kept you interested?
I’m a total nerd. I’m fascinated by actual viruses, what they do in our bodies, how they make us sick and how they elude our efforts to stop them.
But health stories are so much more than germs. They’re the most intimate and dramatic stories because they are about people’s bodies, and about people’s relationships with their family members and their societies.
And they’re about the failures of governments, and prejudices, and money, and conspiracies, and multinational pharmaceutical corporations and international trade. Some people ask me, “How can you write about diseases and public health crises all the time?” And I say, “because they’re about everything.”
What do you think are the most important trends in Covid in the coming year?
I think the most important thing — and consequently the thing that I’m going to write about the most — is going to be access. Access to treatment and vaccines are the issues that are fundamentally going to shape how this looks in Zimbabwe, but also for the rest of us.
It was a brutal but obvious fact, when I was covering Africa’s AIDS crisis, that millions of people might die and it wouldn’t have a huge impact on readers in North America. But what we already know about the coronavirus is that there is a very real possibility that you could have totally vaccine-resistant variants emerge, if most people on earth are not vaccinated or given access to treatment when they are first infected.
What are you most worried about when it comes to the pandemic?
I think the antivirals and the excess of vaccine supply in developed countries will make things start to look and feel very different there soon. And I think that those of us in the global north are going to be justifiably very eager to stop talking and thinking about it.
But the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, has vaccinated fewer than 1 percent of its people. And I fear that the rest of us are not going to want to hear about that, and we are not going do to the things that we might need to do to make it different.
What do you want to cover when the pandemic wanes?
All the really important public health questions that we haven’t paid attention to because of the pandemic. There may be some positive outcomes. It would be really exciting if the mRNA vaccine technology could make a big difference for malaria or tuberculosis. And I’m really interested to see what the impact of the pandemic is on H.I.V.
But there will also be a lot of grim stuff. The pandemic is going to leave a lot of fissures in society that will affect people’s lives and consequently their health and their communities. And I think it’s going to be years before we really figure it out.
What else we’re following
Bulgaria, with the E.U.’s lowest vaccination rate, is facing a surge in cases.
The city of Moscow announced a lockdown as it struggled with rising cases and low vaccination.
Virus cases continue to rise in Britain, and the country’s experiment — opening up with hardly any restrictions — is facing its toughest test.
The N.I.H. said that a bat research group that collaborated on research in China failed to report findings promptly.
Today’s episode of The Daily explores the showdown between the police and the mayor over vaccine mandates in Chicago.
Canada settled on one standard “vaccine passport” for travel.
As borders reopen, New York City is clamoring for foreign tourists.
Israel moved to allow tourists back in — if they are vaccinated.
And travel in Asia has yet to rebound.
What you’re doing
It has been 22 months since I saw, kissed and hugged my family and, due to my visa status and travel restrictions, I am not sure how much longer I need to wait to visit them. Technology shortens distance and crosses borders and every time we see each other through a screen, we remember how fortunate we are to be alive. As long as there is life, there is hope to be reunited.
— Yan Jim, Massachusetts
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