The BioNTech vaccine has been suspended in Hong Kong after packaging flaws were found. U.S. health officials questioned AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine trial results.
Here’s what you need to know:
- Texas, Indiana and Georgia are making all adults eligible for Covid-19 vaccination.
- Hong Kong suspends use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine after the discovery of faulty packaging.
- U.S. health officials question results from AstraZeneca’s vaccine trial, less than a day after they’re released.
- AstraZeneca’s latest stumble again clouds the European vaccination campaign.
- Putin, months after becoming eligible, has finally gotten a vaccine shot.
- Germany introduces a strict, five-day lockdown over Easter, and asks citizens to stay home.
- Study results strengthen the case for using Regeneron’s antibody cocktail in high-risk Covid patients.
- Vaccinated people can still get Covid, but it’s probably very rare.
Texas, Indiana and Georgia announced Tuesday that residents 16 years and older will be eligible for Covid-19 vaccinations starting Thursday for Georgia residents, Monday for Texans and on March 31 for Indianans. They joining a growing list of states that plan to broaden vaccine eligibility to all adults ahead of a May 1 deadline set by President Biden.
“With every dose, Texas gets closer to normal and protects more lives from COVID-19 hospitalization and death,” the state’s health department said in a Twitter post.
West Virginia, Alaska and Mississippi are the only states where all adults are eligible to receive shots. Others, like Texas, Georgia and Indiana, have announced future expansions; Utah, for example, will open eligibility to all adults on Wednesday. And Tennessee announced last week that all residents 16 and older would be eligible for vaccinations starting April 5. Some states, such as New York, have been gradually expanding eligibility: New Yorkers 50 years and older became eligible on Tuesday.
Widening the eligibility for vaccines comes at a time when federal health officials have warned of a possible fourth surge of the virus as troubling new variants spread, urging Americans to get vaccinated. Mr. Biden has said there would be enough vaccines available by the end of May for all adults and has suggested that Americans could see a return to normalcy by July 4 if they got vaccinated and kept following health precautions, like mask wearing.
Virus case numbers in the country “have plateaued — that’s not good, they should keep going down and down,” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the country’s leading expert on infectious diseases and a top adviser to Mr. Biden, said Tuesday on “Good Morning America.” As of Monday, the seven-day average of new virus cases nationwide was 54,000 a day, according to a New York Times database, a level comparable to that of mid-October.
“When you plateau like that, there really is a danger of a resurgence,” Dr. Fauci said.
About 25 percent of the total U.S. population has received at least one shot, and 14 percent are fully vaccinated. The pace of vaccinations has been steadily increasing in recent weeks to an average of about 2.5 million shots daily, well above the daily rate of fewer than one million shots two months ago. The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said Tuesday that a total of 27 million doses would be allocated to states, pharmacies and other jurisdictions and programs, 4 million of which would be of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.
In Texas, about 22 percent of all residents have received at least one shot of a vaccine, and 11 percent are fully vaccinated, according to a New York Times analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Earlier this month, Gov. Greg Abbott lifted the state’s mask mandate and scrapped crowd capacity limits on all businesses, a move that drew criticism from federal officials, including the president. “Texas is OPEN 100%,” Mr. Abbott tweeted at the time.
About 19 percent of Georgians have received at least one dose of a vaccine, according to a Times database. Gov. Brian Kemp said that as of Tuesday, more than one million older residents have received at least one vaccine dose.
“As you all know, this is our ticket back to normal,” Mr. Kemp said. “And we’re getting closer to that point every single day.”
Businesses in much of the country are open and more than a dozen states have no mask mandates in, a Times database showed.
In Indiana, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced that the state’s mask mandate will drop to an advisory on April 6. But face coverings will remain mandatory in all state buildings, facilities, vaccination and testing sites “until further notice” and in schools for the remainder of the year.
In North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper said Tuesday that the state would ease some restrictions beginning on Friday, including increasing the number of people permitted at mass gatherings, and reinstating normal hours for when alcohol may be served at bars and restaurants. Mr. Cooper continues to enforce a statewide mask order.
In Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam announced some changes on Tuesday, including allowing sports and entertainment venues to operate with additional capacity and increasing the number of people allowed at events indoors and outdoors. He also issued preliminary guidance on in-person graduation ceremonies and commencements and will continue universal mask wearing.
On Monday, the C.D.C. director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said members of Mr. Biden’s virus team have reached out to governors and other state officials about the spread and detection of variants and sought to persuade them “to slow down the relaxation.”
“We just don’t want to be at this rapid uptick of cases again, and that is very possible that that could happen,” she said. “We’ve seen that. We’re behind the eight ball when that starts to happen.” — Eileen Sullivan and Christina Morales
Hong Kong on Wednesday suspended use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine after packaging defects ranging from cracked containers to loose caps were discovered in one batch of doses. The pause dealt a major blow to a city already struggling to inoculate its seven million residents against Covid-19.
Health officials called the halt a precaution, saying that none of the defective vials had been administered to patients and that they had found no health risks.
But if the suspension persists, the Chinese territory may not have enough shots to protect its population while the coronavirus continues to spread. Hong Kong officials were counting on 7.5 million doses of the vaccine, developed by Pfizer of the United States and BioNTech of Germany, to help fill their needs.
The discovery has unleashed a hunt for the origin of the defects, as well as questions about whether more might be out there. The doses were manufactured at BioNTech’s facilities in Germany, while a Chinese company called Fosun Pharma was in charge of transporting, storing and distributing the shots in Hong Kong.
“I’m confused as to why this is being reported for the first time in Hong Kong and we haven’t heard about it elsewhere,” said Benjamin Cowling, the division head of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Hong Kong.
“Was there anything special about this particular batch? Presumably they were manufactured in exactly the same way that the other batches have been manufactured in Germany.”
In a statement on Wednesday, BioNTech said the batch in question had been sent only to Hong Kong and Macau, another Chinese territory nearby, where the authorities also suspended use of the vaccine.
The company said it was investigating the source of the problem but added that, “At this point, we have no reason to believe there is any safety risk posed to the population.”
Even before the defects were found, Hong Kong’s inoculation drive had been plagued by public doubts. Vaccination bookings had fallen after reports that several people died after receiving the other vaccine Hong Kong is using, which is made by Sinovac, a Beijing company.
The Hong Kong government has found no direct link between the shots and the deaths. But trust in the government has fallen since mainland Chinese officials tightened their control over the former British colony following antigovernment protests in 2019.
In January, a poll of 2,733 residents showed that only 39 percent of Hong Kong residents were willing to take a Covid-19 vaccine.
“There are some important risks here that this will further undermine confidence in the vaccines that are available,” said Karen Grépin, an associate professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Hong Kong.