Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today
How to vaccinate the world
Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today
How to vaccinate the world
This is the Coronavirus Briefing, an informed guide to the pandemic. Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.
New daily global cases.Credit…The New York Times
President Biden laid out an expanded vaccination campaign, including free child care for parents while they get their shots and a national canvassing effort.
AstraZeneca is negotiating with the U.S. government to shift production of its vaccine from a troubled Baltimore plant to another factory.
Anheuser-Busch said it would give away free beer if America hits its July 4 vaccination goal.
The race to scale up vaccines
As the U.S. and countries in Europe begin returning to normal life, other countries are having their worst outbreaks yet.
Argentina, Malaysia, South Africa and others have reimposed lockdowns. Thailand and Taiwan, which kept the virus in check for much of 2020, have closed schools and nightspots. Scores are dying daily in Paraguay and Uruguay, which now have the highest reported death rates per person in the world.
While global cases have declined from the daily peak of 800,000 cases in late April, there are still half a million people who are reported infected with the virus each day.
The only way to stamp out such surges, experts say, is to rapidly vaccinate citizens. But wealthy countries have secured a majority of the doses, while countries in the global south have fallen behind.
One solution, world leaders and activists have argued, is to waive the patents for the vaccines, which would allow drug makers across the world access to the instructions for making doses. Last month, the Biden administration backed the move.
To understand how that process is going, we spoke to Gregg Gonsalves, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health and a global health activist.
Now that the Biden administration backs the waiver, what happens next?
It has to be negotiated at the World Trade Organization, and it’s going to take weeks and months to do. And the pharmaceutical industry and its allies will be there trying to slow everything down and weaken any provisions.
What are you and other activists focusing on now?
We’re talking about a Manhattan Project, Marshall Plan or World War II mobilization — that’s the kind of mobilization we need. We’ve been outlining a tripartite plan of action: We need to get the IP barriers out of the way; do technology transfers so we can start to scale up around the world; and then pour massive amounts of funding into building up global capacity to get these vaccines out there. And as new treatments are developed, we need to make sure those are available to people as well. So the intellectual property stuff is not just about the vaccines, it’s the whole set of medical interventions for a disastrous, catastrophic pandemic.
What do you see as the major roadblocks?
A lot of people talk about needing to vaccinate the world, but nobody in the United States government has got a plan on the table. Thank you for the waiver, but now where’s the tech transfer? Where’s the massive support? Nobody has stepped up to do that.
What about the argument from the pharmaceutical companies, saying that waiving the patents won’t lead to doses anytime soon?
We are not suggesting that intellectual property alone is going to be useful, but in combination with tech transfer and with massive investments in manufacturing capability, we could go faster than we are now. Are we going to switch on like a light switch and have 10 billion new doses? No. But the time to build was yesterday, and the second-best time to build is now.
Another thing, I’m 58 years old, and this is my second pandemic. It’s almost a matter of certainty that we’re going to see another global pandemic. Global preparedness is not about the charity or intervention of a beneficent donor nation. It’s about creating capacity throughout Latin America and Asia and other places, so that next time we need to turn on the faucet for billions of doses of vaccines, we’re not waiting for Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca to scale up. And we’re not in a mad dash — like doing runs on toilet paper like we did last year. The question is, wouldn’t you rather be more prepared next time around than you were this time?
Are there lessons in your experience for today?
It’s deja vu all over again.
In the old days of H.I.V., the idea was that antiretroviral therapy was something that people in the global north could have, but it was too complicated for it to be deployed in African health systems. The idea from some people was, you don’t do these sophisticated interventions in poor countries with rudimentary health systems. But the Thais, the Brazilians, the South Africans, basically people all around the world said, “No, we don’t deserve to die based on your notion of what our countries are capable of.”
Back then, we were also told, “Don’t you dare support other countries making generic antiretroviral drugs or else you are going to destroy the goose that lays the golden egg. You’ll never see another AIDS drug again for the rest of your life.” It’s completely not true. The pharmaceutical industry has prospered and thrived, and used this as an excuse to basically push back against any sort of regulation or restraints for almost 60 years.
The next pandemic?
This week, a 41-year-old man in the China’s Jiangsu Province became the first known human to become infected with a strain of the bird flu known as H10N3.
Avian flu viruses typically don’t spread from person to person, but experts say they can pose a danger if they mix with human viruses. China said there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission in the recent case, and contact tracing and surveillance have not turned up any other infections.
The government announcement did not specify how the man had been infected, and the W.H.O. said the source of infection was still unknown. The Chinese government said the man’s condition had stabilized, and he was ready to be discharged.
The W.H.O. added that H10N3 has “been detected periodically in birds in live bird markets as early as 2002,” but the virus is unlikely to kill birds or lead to many signs of illness.
“As long as avian influenza viruses circulate in poultry,” the organization said, “sporadic infection of avian influenza in humans is not surprising, which is a vivid reminder that the threat of an influenza pandemic is persistent.”
Some U.S. nursing homes are still experiencing scattered outbreaks, with many blamed on unvaccinated staff members, The Associated Press reports.
The W.H.O. approved the Covid vaccine made by the Chinese company Sinovac for emergency use, Reuters reports.
Moderna said it will be able to double the production of its vaccine for the E.U. with a new site in the Netherlands, Politico reports.
What else we’re following
New York City recorded no new Covid deaths on Tuesday, and an 0.83 percent positivity rate, the lowest level since the start of testing, ABC 7 reports.
The Times spent four months photographing Main Street in Wilkes-Barre, a city of 41,400 people in northeastern Pennsylvania, to capture the pandemic’s impact.
Without human visitors, animal births in Sri Lanka’s zoos rose 25 percent over the past year.
What you’re doing
Trying not to judge or be judged. In Texas it’s a mix of people both wearing and not wearing masks all over the place. Are you vaccinated? Or are you being an [expletive]? I will literally never know. It’s hard to start gathering in groups again while I know so many people in the world still don’t have that option. It’s very bittersweet. Am I a jerk for posting pictures while I’m “out”? Should I even be out? Maybe I better stay home. I wish I knew what was “right” but all I can do is try my best to make the best choice and trust that others around me are striving to do the same.
— Christy, Austin
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