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Covid-19 and Vaccine News: Live Updates

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A Palestinian receiving a vaccine this month in the village of Dura, near Hebron, in the West Bank.
Credit…Hazem Bader/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

JERUSALEM — A deal to supply Palestinians with more than one million unused Israeli coronavirus vaccine doses collapsed Friday night, just hours after it was first announced, amid a public disagreement between the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships about whether or not the vaccines were too close to their expiry date.

The new Israeli government said Friday morning that it would give between 1 million and 1.4 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to the Palestinian Authority in a trade that would see the authority donate a similar number back to Israel once its own supply arrives in September or October.

But the authority later rejected the entire deal after receiving a first tranche of about 100,000 doses on Friday evening. A spokesman for the authority, Ibrahim Melhem, said that the specifications of the doses did not conform to the agreement, and that they were too close to their expiry date to be administered in time.

The authority will instead wait for a direct delivery of four million new vaccines from Pfizer later in the year, Mr. Melhem said.

An Israeli official, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said that the initial batch of doses would expire at the start of July, which was enough time for Palestinian health workers enough time to administer them.

The official added that the authority had been aware of their expiry date before agreeing to their delivery, and said the authority had only scrapped the deal because they had been criticized by Palestinians for agreeing to receive vaccines perceived to be of poor quality.

The official also said that none of the remaining 900,000 doses would have been delivered less than two weeks before their expiry date.

Negotiations over the deal began in secret several months ago, before Naftali Bennett’s new government succeeded that of Benjamin Netanyahu, who was replaced by a narrow vote in Parliament last Sunday.

The announcement follows months of debate about whether Israel, where a successful vaccine campaign has created a largely post-pandemic reality, has a moral or legal responsibility to give its spare vaccines to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where infection rates are far higher.

In February and March, Israel gave vaccines to more than 100,000 Palestinians who work as day laborers in Israel, but resisted vaccinating millions of other Palestinians living under some form of Israeli control in the West Bank and Gaza.

Instead, the Palestinian Authority ordered several hundred thousand vaccine doses from the global sharing initiative, Covax, and several million from Pfizer-BioNTech. Separately, the United Arab Emirates donated tens of thousands of doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine to Palestinians in Gaza.

Israeli officials said that the Oslo Accords, the interim agreements between Israel and Palestinian leaders signed in the 1990s, give the Palestinian Authority responsibility for its own health care system.

But rights campaigners noted that other parts of the Oslo Accords require Israel to work with the Palestinian leadership during an epidemic, while the Fourth Geneva Convention obliges an occupying power to coordinate with the local authorities to maintain public health within an occupied territory, including during epidemics.

Israel controls all imports to the West Bank, most of which is under full Israeli control, and shares control of imports to Gaza with Egypt.

Those who accepted Israel’s narrative about the donations said the authority’s refusal to accept the vaccines had dented claims that Israel was to blame for the slow vaccination rate among Palestinians. But those who believed the Palestinian narrative said that Israel had acted in bad faith by making the authority an offer that it had no choice but to refuse.

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Biden Pleads With Americans: ‘Get Vaccinated Now’

President Biden on Friday again called on Americans to help reach his July 4 goal of having 70 percent of U.S. adults partly vaccinated against the coronavirus. He also celebrated 300 million shots given in his first 150 days.

I’m pleased to announce that today we will have reached the mark of 300 million shots in arms in just 150 days. Folks, we’re heading into a very different summer compared to last year, a bright summer, preferably a summer of joy. And the truth is that deaths and hospitalizations are drastically down in places where people are getting vaccinated, but unfortunately, cases and hospitalizations are not going down in many places in the lower vaccination rate states. It’s a variant that is more easily transmissible, potentially deadlier and particularly dangerous for young people. But the good news is we have the solution. The science and the data are clear: The best way to protect yourself against these variants are to get fully vaccinated. So please, please, if you have one shot, get the second shot as soon as you can. If you haven’t gotten vaccinated yet, get vaccinated now.

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President Biden on Friday again called on Americans to help reach his July 4 goal of having 70 percent of U.S. adults partly vaccinated against the coronavirus. He also celebrated 300 million shots given in his first 150 days.CreditCredit…Verónica G. Cárdenas for The New York Times

With the United States unlikely to reach President Biden’s self-imposed deadline of having 70 percent of American adults partly vaccinated against the coronavirus by July 4, he trumpeted a different milestone: 300 million shots in his first 150 days in office.

Mr. Biden spoke about the vaccination drive from the White House as his administration makes a last push to reach the July 4 goal. Vice President Kamala Harris and the health and human services secretary Xavier Becerra were both on the road Friday, trying to drum up enthusiasm about the vaccine. Ms. Harris was in Atlanta and Mr. Becerra was headed to Colorado.

“It’s an important milestone,” the president said, touting his administration’s work. “It just didn’t happen on its own or by chance.” He described the federal effort as the one of “biggest, most complicated logistical challenges in American history.”

Mr. Biden took office warning of a “dark winter” ahead, as deaths were near peak levels and vaccinations were barely underway, and he is clearly trying to portray the virus as in retreat as he nears six months in office. A fact sheet distributed by the White House in advance of Friday’s remarks noted that 15 states and Washington, D.C., have gotten at least 70 percent of adults one shot.

“The results are clear: America is starting to look like America again, and entering a summer of joy and freedom,” the document proclaimed.

When Mr. Biden set the July 4 goal in early May, he said meeting it would demonstrate that the United States had taken “a serious step toward a return to normal,” and for many people that already seems to be the case. This week, California and New York lifted virtually all of their pandemic restrictions on business and social distancing.

But the time frame is tight. An analysis by The New York Times shows that, if the rate of adult vaccinations continues on the seven-day average, the country will fall just short of Mr. Biden’s 70 percent goal, with 67.6 percent of American adults having had their first shot by July 4.

As of Friday, 65 percent of adults have had at least one shot, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the number of Americans getting their first shot has been dropping steadily, from about 500,000 a day to about 200,000 a day since Mr. Biden announced that June would be a “month of action” to reach his goal.

“I don’t see an intervention that could really bring back an exponential increase in demand to get the kind of numbers that we probably need to get to 70 percent,” said Dr. Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer of the Association of State and Territorial Health officials. “Every day it seems like it’s starting to trickle along. So I think realistically, probably the best thing we could do is to try to get to steady state at this lower level.”

Experts say that from a disease control perspective, the difference between 67 percent and 70 percent is insignificant. But from a political perspective, it would be the first time Mr. Biden has set a pandemic-related goal that he has not met. Mr. Biden has continually set relatively modest targets for himself and exceeded them, including his pledge to get 100 million shots in the arms of Americans by his first 100 days in office.

“The 70 percent target is not a hard and fast number; not hitting it exactly does not mean the sky is falling,” said Jen Kates, director of global health & H.I.V. policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “On the other hand, it has symbolic importance. There has been a lot of emphasis on getting to that point and not hitting it is a reminder of how difficult the remaining stretch is going to be.”

In a speech at the White House on May 4, Mr. Biden said he was launching a new phase in the fight against the coronavirus, with a goal of at least partly vaccinating 70 percent of adults by Independence Day. He made a personal plea to all of the unvaccinated: “This is your choice. It’s life and death.”

When asked about the July 4 deadline on Thursday, Jeffrey D. Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, avoided saying specifically that the nation would reach the 70 percent threshold by that date.

“We’ve made tremendous progress,” Mr. Zients said. “Hundreds of thousands of people are continuing to get their first shots each day, and we’re going to get to 70 percent, and we’re going to continue across the summer months to push beyond 70 percent.”

Speaking to students at a Covid vaccination mobilization event at Clark Atlanta University in Georgia on Friday, Ms. Harris warned of the dangers of misinformation and framed the decision to get vaccinated as a way to take power back from the virus.

There are people who “may have heard things that aren’t quite true,” she said. “Let’s arm ourselves with the truth. When people say, it seems like this vaccine came about overnight, no it didn’t. It’s the result of many many years of research.”

Annie Karni contributed reporting.

An observation area for those who just received a Covid-19 vaccine in Wuhan, China, this month. The country has administered more than 945 million doses, more than a third of the global total.
Credit…Getty Images

After a slow start, China’s Covid-19 vaccination drive is in full swing as the authorities chase the ambitious target of fully vaccinating 40 percent of the country’s nearly 1.4 billion people by the end of this month.

China has administered more than 945 million vaccine doses, more than a third of the global total, according to the New York Times vaccine tracker. With about 17 million shots injected every day this month, China is on pace to surpass a billion shots in the coming days.

The national campaign’s early lag came in part because China first prioritized vaccine exports and, because lockdowns and mass testing had largely tamed the virus, many Chinese felt little urgency about getting vaccinated. In mid-March, China had administered only about 65 million doses. In April, it was giving only 4.8 million doses per day.

Many Chinese had also been hesitant to get the shots, in part because of past scandals involving Chinese-made vaccines. Only domestically produced vaccines are being offered in the country.

To get its vaccine drive going, China pulled out its playbook for pandemic success: a top-down approach that relies on a mix of high-tech tools and old-fashioned, grass-roots mobilization — with some inducements thrown in.

Compared with the United States, where local officials have sought to boost inoculations by offering lures such as million-dollar lottery prizes and free weed, the incentives in China have been humbler. In Shanghai, one man received a bottle of water. In Anhui Province, officials have been handing out free eggs. A woman in Beijing got the equivalent of about $7 in cash.

But for some, a bigger driver appears to be widespread concern over an outbreak of the Delta variant of the coronavirus, a more transmissible version first identified in India, in the southern city of Guangzhou, which now appears to be ebbing. On Wednesday, the Guangzhou authorities reported no new local cases for the first time since the outbreak began in May.

Yuhui Li, a resident of the nearby city of Shenzhen, said she had initially been reluctant to get vaccinated because she was worried about potential side effects. She changed her mind after the outbreak in Guangzhou, she said, but demand was so high, she added, that officials in her neighborhood were no longer offering free eggs or rides to vaccination sites.

“I want to get vaccinated, but it’s really hard to make an appointment now,” said Ms. Li, 27, an assistant at a film production company.

In Guangdong Province, which encompasses Guangzhou, only 36 percent of the population had been fully inoculated by early June.

China has a long way to go before fully vaccinating 70 percent of the population, about 980 million people, which the authorities say they hope to achieve by the end of the year. To meet the target, China has cranked up production of the two main vaccines in use, those produced by the companies Sinovac and Sinopharm. Both vaccines appear to reduce the risk of severe Covid, though to a lesser extent than the vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna.

Some cities are further along than others. In Beijing, the capital, more than 80 percent of residents 18 and older were fully vaccinated as of Wednesday. Given the uneven rollout, and the fact that most people have not received two doses, Chinese health experts have warned against loosening the country’s border controls, which remain among the strictest in the world.

Doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine being administered last month at a mosque in Cologne, Germany.
Credit…Thilo Schmuelgen/Reuters

BRUSSELS — AstraZeneca must send the European Union 50 million additional doses of its Covid vaccine by late September, a court in Brussels said Friday in a ruling on a bitter fight between the bloc and the Anglo-Swedish company. That is hundreds of millions fewer than the bloc demanded.

In another boost for AstraZeneca, the ruling said that failure to supply the smaller number of doses, on a timetable ending Sept. 27, would incur a penalty of €10 per dose (about $12) — and not that amount per dose per day, as the E.U. wanted.

The European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, claimed victory in a part of the ruling that found that AstraZeneca chose not to use all means at its disposal to deliver the doses in the contract with the E.U., and compelled the company to make its best efforts to fulfill its obligations in the future. The contract was signed under Belgian law, putting the dispute in the hands of Belgian courts.

“This decision confirms the position of the Commission,” said the body’s president, Ursula von der Leyen. “AstraZeneca did not live up to the commitments it made in the contract. It is good to see that an independent judge confirms this.”

But the ruling eases pressure on AstraZeneca, and the company’s general counsel, Jeffrey Pott, said he was “pleased.”

The two sides could still appeal, but given their expressions of satisfaction, that seemed unlikely. Under Belgian law, a separate lawsuit over damages will be tried in September.

The ruling offered AstraZeneca a lift in a bruising year. Its cheap and easy-to-store shot has been used in 135 countries, including poorer nations, but the discovery of that a small number of recipients have developed exceedingly rare, serious blood clots has prompted some nations to place restrictions on its use.

The dispute with the E.U. began in January, when AstraZeneca, citing production problems, substantially cut its expected deliveries for the first quarter of the year, even as coronavirus cases were picking up across the continent. The vaccine, which the company developed with Oxford University, was the pillar of the E.U.’s vaccination plans, and officials accused AstraZeneca of using the promised doses to serve Britain, which had just left the bloc and had signed an earlier contract with the company.

On April 26, the bloc sued to compel AstraZeneca to deliver a total of 300 million doses by September, as it said the company had agreed to, and proposed penalties including €10 million (about $11.9 million) a day for each of four alleged breaches of contract, which could have rapidly ballooned into the billions. Following a court hearing last month, AstraZeneca accelerated its E.U. deliveries, and now, having sent 70 million doses, faces a maximum of €100 million in penalties.

But with its trust in AstraZeneca broken, the E.U. has shifted its reliance from AstraZeneca’s vaccine to Pfizer-BioNTech’s shot and mRNA vaccines in general.

The E.U. inoculation campaign has gathered speed in the last month. Almost 55 percent of the adult population has been vaccinated with at least one shot, according to E.U. data, and the bloc seems to be on track to fulfill its goal of having 70 percent of adults fully vaccinated by the end of July.

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E.U. Recommends Lifting Nonessential Travel Ban

After a year of tight coronavirus restrictions, the European Union recommended on Friday that its member states lift the ban on nonessential travel for visitors from the United States.

I can indeed confirm that the council made this morning, the decision to enlarge the list of countries from which nonessential travel is permitted also for nonvaccinated travelers. So the additions include Albania, Lebanon, North Macedonia, Serbia, Taiwan and the United States. This is something that is a decision by the council and that the council communicated upon. So I would refer you to the council’s press release for details. Of course, this is welcome, welcome news that the epidemiological situation in more and more countries now allows the council to take this decision. And in this context, we are in close contact with the U.S. administration on the issue of safe resumption of all travel between the E.U. and the U.S. And we have received reassurances that this is a high-priority issue for the U.S. administration. More practically, the first meeting of the joint E.U.-U.S. experts’ working group on this issue is scheduled for this afternoon. This group, which is a group that aims to exchange information and expertise to reinitiate safe and sustainable travel between the E.U. and the U.S.

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After a year of tight coronavirus restrictions, the European Union recommended on Friday that its member states lift the ban on nonessential travel for visitors from the United States.CreditCredit…Susan Wright for The New York Times

The European Union recommended on Friday that its member states lift the ban on nonessential travel for visitors from the United States, a move sure to be welcomed by Americans eager to travel to the continent after more than a year of tight restrictions.

The recommendation is nonbinding, and each member state can decide what regulations, including quarantines, to impose on visitors. Americans have been mainly barred from Europe as the United States grapples with one of the highest caseloads in the world.

The opening is also expected to provide relief for southern European countries that are highly dependent on tourism, including Italy and Portugal. Those countries pressed the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, to act so that the entire summer tourism season would not be hurt by the absence of Americans, who are considered relatively big spenders.

Despite the bloc’s recommendation, Europeans are still barred from entering the United States for nonessential travel even if they have been fully vaccinated, following a sweeping travel ban announced by President Donald J. Trump in March 2020 and extended in January by President Biden.

The formal decision on Friday was made by Europe’s economy ministers, who agreed to add the United States to a list of countries considered safe from an epidemiological point of view. That means that travelers from those countries should be free to enter the bloc, even if they are not fully vaccinated, on the basis of a negative PCR test for an active coronavirus infection.

But the European Union cannot compel member nations to open to American visitors. Each country is free to keep or impose more stringent restrictions, such as an obligation to quarantine upon arrival or to undergo a series of further tests.

Countries like Greece and Spain, more heavily dependent on tourism, already moved in recent weeks to reopen to tourists from outside the European Union, including from the United States. The European Commission criticized those early moves.

On the street in Moscow on Wednesday.
Credit…Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

Russia is again in the grips of a virus surge, despite months of assurances from President Vladimir V. Putin’s government that the worst of the pandemic had passed. The spiraling outbreak has come as a surprise, even in the words of the senior officials behind those assurances.

Russian virologists say that the Delta variant, first found in India, is now the most prevalent version in Moscow. Quickly rising case numbers put Russia at risk of following in the path of other countries such as India that seemed to have squelched infections only to see a resurgence.

The outbreak is most pronounced in Moscow, the capital, where case numbers have tripled over the past two weeks, according to city officials, who have added 5,000 beds to coronavirus wards. Moscow health authorities reported 9,056 positive tests on Friday, the highest daily figure for the city since the pandemic began.

Russia has reported 125,853 deaths from Covid-19 since the pandemic started, but statistics showing excess mortality over the past year suggest the real number is far higher.

Across Russia, only 9.9 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, though Russia last summer claimed to be the first country in the world to have approved a vaccine. For comparison, 44 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated.

Cases crept up slowly throughout the spring, then spiked this month. And over the winter, little was done to encourage Russians to get vaccinated.

In fact, to avoid stimulating demand late last year when vaccines were scarce, Mr. Putin delayed his own inoculation until March, though age-wise he qualified months earlier, the Kremlin press office said. He did not receive it on camera.

Today, skepticism persists even though vaccines are widely available. The Levada Center, a polling agency, surveyed Russian attitudes about vaccination in April and found that 62 percent did not intend to get a Russian-made vaccine, all that is available in Russia.

People waiting in line to receive coronavirus vaccines at a health center in London last week.
Credit…Henry Nicholls/Reuters

Coronavirus vaccinations are now available to people ages 18 and older in England, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday.

The broadening of eligibility comes days after a surge in cases of the highly transmissible Delta variant led Mr. Johnson to keep restrictions in place for an additional four weeks. He had previously announced that virus precautions would be pulled back June 21 — a date that British news outlets started to refer to as “Freedom day.”

The decision will be reviewed in two weeks, but, in the meantime, restaurants and pubs will still face social distancing rules indoors that will limit capacities, and theaters and nightclubs will remain closed.

In a video posted on Twitter on Friday, Mr. Johnson directed people to the National Health Service website to book appointments. He thanked Britain’s youth, who he said had made monumental sacrifices over the past year, and urged them to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

“Since Christmas you’ve been waiting patiently while your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and everyone else lined up for their jabs,” Mr. Johnson said. “Now it’s your turn.”

Despite early struggles in dealing with the virus in Britain, its vaccine rollout has been a success. More than 30 million people, or nearly half of Britain’s population, have been fully vaccinated, according to data from Public Health England. Mr. Johnson expanded vaccine eligibility to those 23 and older earlier this week.

But the seven-day average of new reported cases has been climbing since early May, and increased 120 percent over the past two weeks, according to data from the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. Recent studies suggest that more than 90 percent of new cases are the Delta variant, which swept through the country since first being sampled in Britain four months ago.

Mr. Johnson said in his video that he hoped the expanded eligibility would herald the beginning of the end of the virus in Britain.

“We’re not out of the woods yet, but after a long and difficult journey, the end is finally in sight,” Mr. Johnson said. “So keep going and following the rules, as you have for so long, get your jabs as soon as you can and let’s finish this thing together.”

An early voting site was set up at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn on Wednesday. Vaccines will be available for voters there over the weekend.
Credit…Kirsten Luce for The New York Times

New York State will open nine pop-up coronavirus vaccination sites this weekend at or near early polling locations in ZIP codes that have relatively low inoculation rates, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration announced on Friday.

New York has at least partially vaccinated 70.6 percent of the state’s adult population as of Thursday, according to federal data, and the number of new reported cases has declined steadily since March, according to a New York Times database. The governor relaxed virtually all remaining virus-related restrictions earlier in the week, though businesses still have the option of requiring customers and employees to follow health precautions.

But there are pockets of the state where the vaccination rate is far lower than that of the state as a whole. Mr. Cuomo’s administration, local officials and private entities have tried to encourage vaccinations through incentives like free tickets to baseball games and lottery tickets, and by making shots more accessible.

The new pop-up sites — coming as New York City prepares for its first mayoral primary with ranked-choice voting and other parts of the state hold their own electoral primaries on June 22 — are another way to make shots readily available, Mr. Cuomo said.

“We remain laser-focused on making the vaccine accessible in every community, and will go wherever New Yorkers go in order to reach them,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement. He added that “these new pop-up sites at early voting locations will allow New Yorkers to perform two civic duties at once — casting their ballot and rolling up their sleeve.”

Vaccines will be available on Saturday at Columbia University Medical Center’s Russ Berrie Medical Science Pavilion in Manhattan; SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn; Claremont Neighborhood Centers in the Bronx; the Gerard Carter Center on Staten Island; and the Rochdale Village Community Center in Queens. Based on state data, the vaccination rates in those ZIP codes ranges from about 40 to 54 percent.

Locations in Huntington Station on Long Island, Schenectady and Rochester will be open on Sunday. One site, in Buffalo, opened on Friday.

Covid-19 and Vaccine News: Live Updates 2
Credit…Seb Agresti

Although travelers last summer enjoyed the retro appeal of wide-open roads relatively free of crowds, this summer is likely to have distinctly 21st-century levels of traffic.

According to Transportation Security Administration checkpoint numbers, a survey of more than 1,000 respondents by a tire company shows that more than half of Americans plan to vacation only by car this summer, and that nearly 80 percent feel safer in a car than they do on a plane.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Pandemic laws — and culture — still vary from place to place. Several online tools can help clarify destination-specific rules about masks, distancing, capacity restrictions and more, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Travel Planner and the AAA’s Covid-19 Travel Restrictions map.

Rental cars are scarce. Spokeswomen from Enterprise Holdings and Hertz both acknowledged the high demand and limited availability that have spawned a widespread rental car shortage.

In short: Research well, book in advance and brace for closures.

And prepare for what could be long stretches in the car. The $1.9 trillion stimulus bill that President Biden signed into law in mid-March, the American Rescue Plan, has allocated funds to state and local governments for transportation and infrastructure investments, so roadwork may be jamming up the highways. Distractions are in order; be sure to download the newest audiobooks and podcasts.

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