Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today
When vaccines wane.,
This is the Coronavirus Briefing, an informed guide to the pandemic. Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.
Europe had over half of the world’s Covid-19 deaths early this month, the W.H.O. said.
Austria’s chancellor said the country was likely to order a lockdown for unvaccinated people.
A judge overturned Texas’ ban on mask mandates, saying it violated the rights of students with disabilities.
Waning protection, in charts
As millions of eligible Americans consider getting a booster shot, many are wondering what the data tells us about the effectiveness of the vaccines, and how much their protection might be waning.
The good news is that a growing body of research shows that the vaccines authorized in the U.S. remain highly protective against severe disease and hospitalization — even against the Delta variant. There are some exceptions among older people and those with weakened immune systems.
But while vaccines remain effective against the worst outcomes, a number of published studies show that their protection against infections has fallen. My colleagues in the Graphics department, Amy Schoenfeld Walker and Josh Holder, put together a few charts to help understand what we know. (If you’re reading this on mobile, you may want to pinch to zoom in.)
As seen above, a study in England examined the vaccines’ effectiveness against the Delta variant over time. It found that the Pfizer vaccine was about 90 percent effective at preventing symptomatic infection two weeks after the second dose, but that the vaccine dropped to 70 percent effectiveness after five months.
The same study found that the Moderna vaccine’s protection also dropped over time.
Two additional studies, in the U.S. and in Canada, also found that the vaccines’ protection dropped over time.
Still, both the English and Canadian studies found that even after several months, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines remained highly effective at preventing hospitalization.
“The main objective of the Covid vaccine is to prevent severe disease and death, and they are still doing a good job at that,” said Melissa Higdon of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who compiles research on Covid vaccine performance.
But the decline in protection against infection will still have an impact.
“With true declines in vaccine effectiveness, we’ll likely see more cases overall,” Higdon said.
Pfizer and BioNTech asked the F.D.A. this week to authorize boosters for all adults. But experts have been divided over whether booster shots are necessary for those beyond the most vulnerable. Some also worry that a national focus on boosters will serve as a distraction.
“It’s easy with all the discussion about boosters to lose that really important message that the vaccines are still working,” said Eli Rosenberg, the deputy director for science in the Office of Public Health at the New York State Department of Health. “Going from an unvaccinated to a vaccinated person is still the critical step.”
When schools don’t reopen
What does it look like when you keep children out of school for 18 months? Uganda is finding out.
Since the early days of the pandemic, officials there have kept more than 10 million primary and secondary school students at home. And while Uganda’s leaders say it’s the safest option, the effects are stark.
A recent report released by the government found that “30 percent of the learners are likely not to return to school forever” and that 3,507 primary and 832 secondary schools in the country were likely to close.
Young women, abandoning hopes of going to school, are getting married and starting families instead. School buildings are being converted into businesses or health clinics. Teachers are quitting, and disillusioned students are taking menial jobs like selling fruit or mining for gold.
The “government has not left schools closed to punish you, but rather, to protect you from harm,” the education minister, Janet Museveni, who is also the country’s first lady, said on Twitter in September. She said that the government did not want to risk having parents become infected by students, who “would become orphans — just like H.I.V./AIDS did to many of our families.”
Uganda saw a surge in cases in June driven by the Delta variant, but the country now has a relatively low infection rate, recording 67 deaths last month, and is now averaging 372 new cases per day.
Mukasa Nicholas, 18, said that he had waited six months for classes to start before moving to Kampala, the capital, to find a job. He now sells medical masks on the street, bringing in about $2 a day.
“If my parents ask me to return to school,” he said, “I will reject them.”
President Yoweri Museveni said in a televised address last month that parents should expect schools to reopen in January, along with other small businesses like bars, hair salons and recreational centers.
What else we’re following
Ten states sued the federal government over a vaccine mandate for health care workers.
Coronavirus cases have ticked up slightly in 23 states over the last two weeks, The Washington Post reports.
Roughly 2 million home virus tests from the company Ellume were recalled over false positives.
The head of the N.I.H. threatened legal action in its patent fight with Moderna.
Today’s episode of “The Daily” discusses how the pandemic has left U.S. public health officials under siege.
Substitute teachers never got much respect, but are now in high demand in the U.S.
Singapore has allowed music in bars and restaurants again, but it has to be mellow.
The New Yorker spoke to children in New York City as they were getting vaccinated.
What you’re doing
As a single, full-time health science academic, my pandemic-era world is often roughly the size of the zoom window. I didn’t even notice when I started feathering the nest outside that window, but I’ve realized that I want to be surrounded by small joys: my tie-dye patterned slippers; a really bold pair of glasses; an elegant gooseneck teakettle. Things I can see and smile at from my home office desk. I’ve also become the queen of work from home clothing: soft, loose tops over leggings or (yes, I admit) pajama bottoms, bold earrings and some sort of sweater hanging on the back of my chair when it’s chilly. Very small but very critical creature comforts in a time when there is too much existential discomfort around.
— Candace Burton, Irvine, Calif.
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