Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

Does Moderna or Pfizer have the edge?


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.


Credit…The New York Times

Germany is ending salary subsidies for unvaccinated workers who are quarantined.

Separately, a C.D.C. panel is deciding who should receive booster shots and when.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints instructed Mormons to wear face masks “at all times” in temples.

Get the latest updates here, as well as maps and a vaccine tracker.

Pfizer vs. Moderna

In the early days of the vaccine rollout in the U.S., Pfizer somehow became the “status vaccine” — the subject of memes and funny jokes about the “hot people” in the “Pfizer Gang.”

These tongue-in-cheek references emerged after the results of initial clinical trials showed that Pfizer had a 95 percent efficacy against symptomatic infection, compared with Moderna’s 94 percent.

Health officials, meanwhile, were adamant: Doses from Pfizer and Moderna are equally effective, they said.

But as my colleague Apoorva Mandavilli reports, that has turned out not to be true.

Over the past few weeks, a half-dozen studies have demonstrated that Moderna’s vaccine appears to be more protective over the long term than Pfizer’s.

For example, research published last week by the C.D.C. found that the efficacy of Pfizer’s vaccine against hospitalization fell to 77 percent from 91 percent after a four-month period following the second shot. The Moderna shot showed no decline over the same period.

Scientists who were initially skeptical of the reported differences have slowly become convinced that the disparity is small but real.

“Pfizer is a big hammer,” said Dr. Jeffrey Wilson, an immunologist and physician at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. “Moderna is a sledgehammer.”

The results from studies on the varying effects of the vaccines can be skewed by any number of factors. For example, the Pfizer vaccine was introduced weeks before Moderna’s to priority groups, including older adults. Immunity wanes more quickly in that group, so a decline in a group consisting mostly of older adults may give the false impression that the protection from the Pfizer vaccine falls off quickly.

Still, a number of studies — from Qatar, the Mayo Clinic and several U.S. states — show Moderna’s efficacy against severe illness ranging from 92 to 100 percent, while Pfizer’s numbers trail by 10 to 15 percentage points. In two other studies, the Moderna vaccine did better at preventing infection, too — by more than 30 percentage points.

At the end of the day, there may be real differences in the two vaccines, but how much will it matter in the real world?

“Probably not much,” Apoorva said. “Even though the Pfizer-BioNTech trails Moderna by a bit, the difference is mostly in protection from infection. When it comes to severe illness and hospitalization, both are still highly effective.”

Biden’s Covid summit

At the opening of a virtual Covid-19 summit organized with the U.N., President Biden called on world leaders, pharmaceutical executives, philanthropists and civil society organizations to forge a global consensus around a plan to fight the coronavirus crisis.

“We need to go big,” Biden said. “It’s an all-hands-on-deck crisis.”

The president pointed to two especially urgent challenges: vaccinating the world and solving a global oxygen shortage, which is leading to unnecessary Covid deaths.

But the task is daunting. Less than 10 percent of the population of poor nations — and less than 4 percent of the African population — has been fully vaccinated. Covax, the W.H.O.-backed international vaccine initiative, is behind schedule in delivering shots to the nations that need them the most.

Health officials in the U.S. and abroad are now ratcheting up pressure on Pfizer and Moderna to do more to address the global shortage — including sharing their formulas with manufacturers in nations that desperately need more shots.

Global health advocates say Moderna has a special obligation to share its technology because its vaccine relies in part on technology developed by the National Institutes of Health. The company also accepted $2.5 billion from the federal government as part of Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s fast-track vaccine initiative.

Earlier today, Pfizer announced that it had struck a deal with the Biden administration to sell the U.S. an additional 500 million doses of its vaccine at a not-for-profit price to donate overseas, rather than license its technology.

Some legal experts say the Biden administration could try to force the companies to share their intellectual property, using the powers of the Defense Production Act. But Biden administration officials say that would lead to a drawn-out legal battle, which would be counterproductive.

Postponing non-Covid care

During the last two months, hospitals across America have been overwhelmed by the Delta surge. Now, as my colleague Reed Abelson reports, some non-Covid patients are waiting several weeks for care — if not longer.

In Idaho, one of the least vaccinated states, hospitals have started postponing cancer and heart surgeries. Doctors in some of the hardest-hit areas, like Alaska and Idaho, have been forced to ration care.

“We don’t have enough resources to adequately treat the patients in our hospitals, whether you are there for Covid-19 or a heart attack or because of a car accident,” Dave Jeppesen, the director of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, said in a statement.

Robin Strong, in Columbus, Ga., is awaiting a procedure to repair a vocal cord that was paralyzed in a previous surgery. Because of her condition, she chokes easily and has a hard time breathing.

She is frustrated with the unvaccinated people in Georgia, which lags behind the national immunization rate.

“I just cry all the time because of my situation,” she said, adding: “They are punishing people like me.”

What else we’re following

Vice President Kamala Harris announced that the U.S. would contribute $250 million in global funding for future pandemics.

Brazil’s health minister tested positive for the coronavirus at the U.N. General Assembly.

According to a group of researchers advising the C.D.C., the Delta surge in the U.S. appears to be peaking and cases should ease through March, NPR reports.

Tennessee is limiting monoclonal antibody treatment to people who are not vaccinated, NBC reports.

Australia, which had planned to retain heavy international travel restrictions until mid-2022, now plans to open by Christmas.

Child care in the U.S. is operating at only 88 percent of its prepandemic capacity.

Millions of workers could not do their jobs from home during the pandemic. Six who kept going to work tell their stories.

What you’re doing

I recently found out that one of our close friends — whom we’ve had regular dinners with all summer — never got vaccinated and refuses to do so. My partner knew, but chose to keep it secret from me. I feel so disappointed, vulnerable and angry. Fighting through tears, I drew a firm line in the sand and canceled future dinners, though still with some hope to maintain this friendship. It’s all so awkward. I still feel a lingering betrayal, and my partner and I don’t speak much anymore. I hate feeling like the bad guy, but I know I’m doing my best to stay safe. Hopefully being alone isn’t the only way to do so.

— Tanya, Providence, R.I.

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.

Amelia Nierenberg contributed to today’s newsletter.

Email your thoughts to

Leave a Reply