Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

The J. & J. booster debate.,


Continue reading the main story

Supported by

Continue reading the main story

This is the Coronavirus Briefing, an informed guide to the pandemic. Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.

ImageDaily reported coronavirus cases in the United States, seven-day average.
Daily reported coronavirus cases in the United States, seven-day average.Credit…The New York Times

Two reports released today on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine could lead to a heated debate about whether and how to offer additional shots to Americans who received the company’s shot.

Preliminary data from a federal clinical trial suggests that the 15 million Americans who received a J. & J. vaccine may be better off with a Moderna or a Pfizer booster shot. Adding to the matter, an F.D.A. analysis published earlier in the day questioned whether Johnson & Johnson had robust enough evidence in its application for booster shots.

Now, the question about whether to authorize J. & J. boosters heads to the F.D.A.’s advisory panel, which will meet on Friday to vote on whether to authorize the company’s application.

In the federal clinical trial, National Institutes of Health researchers mixed and matched vaccine doses to test their effectiveness. They found that:

  • People who got a J. & J. shot and a Moderna booster saw their antibody levels rise 76-fold within 15 days.

  • People who got a J. & J. shot and a Pfizer booster saw a 35-fold rise.

  • People who got two J. & J. shots saw only a fourfold rise.

The authors cautioned about the study’s small size and noted that they did not follow the volunteers long enough to identify rare side effects.

They also had a narrow focus: Researchers looked only for antibodies that can stop the coronavirus from replicating, but they did not examine how well the booster trains immune cells to recognize and kill infected cells.

Despite the questions about the strength of J. & J. boosters, some experts anticipated that the agency would clear the shots anyway to meet the public’s demand. Once the agency authorized a booster from Pfizer-BioNTech last month, “the die was cast,” said John Moore, a virologist at Weill Cornell Medicine.

The F.D.A.’s discussion this week of the J. & J. vaccine will have big implications for the shot’s future in the U.S., said Jason Schwartz, an associate professor of health policy at the Yale School of Public Health. If the F.D.A. does recommend that people who got the J. & J. vaccine follow up with a different booster shot, he said, “it’s hard to see what would steer people to the J. & J. vaccine.”

The Biden administration will lift travel restrictions at the borders with Canada and Mexico starting in November for fully vaccinated travelers, although officials did not give an exact date.

Together with the previously announced relaxing of restrictions on foreigners arriving by air, which also begins in November, it effectively signals the reopening of the U.S. to travelers and tourism — a new phase in the recovery after the country closed its borders for nearly 19 months.

Unvaccinated travelers will continue to be banned from crossing the Mexican or Canadian borders, officials said. While those traveling by air will need to show both proof of vaccination and a negative coronavirus test to enter, there will be no testing requirement for those crossing the land borders.

The C.D.C. considers people fully inoculated two weeks after they receive a second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or the Moderna vaccines, or a single dose of Johnson & Johnson’s. Those who have received vaccines listed for emergency use by the W.H.O., such as AstraZeneca’s, would also be considered fully vaccinated — a standard that one senior official said would probably be applied to those crossing the land border.

Many Mexicans have received vaccines that do not have W.H.O. authorization, like Sputnik V, developed in Russia, or the CanSino vaccine from China. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of Mexico said on Wednesday that he would press the W.H.O. to authorize them soon.

I bought a new mat for the front door that says, “Welc — Wait, are you Vaccinated?” I have small children, and an ex who has COPD. Showing your independence at the cost of human lives? Show it some other way please.

Jen Boulden, Santa Ynez Valley, Calif.

Let us know how you’re dealing with the pandemic. Send us a response here, and we may feature it in an upcoming newsletter.

Sign up here to get the briefing by email.

Email your thoughts to

Leave a Reply