President Biden, under intense pressure to speed up the pace of coronavirus vaccination, said on Tuesday that his administration was nearing a deal with two manufacturers that would enable 300 million Americans to have their shots by the end of the summer.
Supplies to the states will be increasing 16 percent beginning next week, according to figures provided by Mr. Biden, who promised that his administration would give governors something they had long asked for: certainty over the supply they would receive. He said states would now have three weeks’ notice of how many doses they would get.
“Until now we’ve had to guess how much vaccine to expect for the next week, and that’s what the governors had to do: ‘How much am I getting next week?’” the president said. “This is unacceptable. Lives are at stake here.”
But while Mr. Biden said the moves were “going to allow millions more Americans to get vaccinated sooner than previously anticipated,” that was unlikely to be the case. Next week’s increase to the states was expected as vaccine makers ramp up manufacturing. And the replenishing over the summer — when the government was likely to run out of supply — was anticipated under contracts signed by the Trump administration, which gave the government options to continue increasing its commitments in increments of 100 million doses.
Even so, experts said the administration was wise to lock down as many doses as it could as soon as possible, even if the vials would not be delivered until later in the year. Until now, the federal government had secured enough doses of federally approved vaccine to cover only 200 million of the 260 million adults eligible to be inoculated.
Governors appeared to cautiously welcome the news, which was delivered by Jeffrey Zients, Mr. Biden’s coronavirus czar, on a conference call before the president’s announcement.
“Every governor in America faces the same obstacle: The extremely limited supply of vaccines produced and allocated is only a tiny fraction of what our citizens desperately need,” Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, a centrist Republican, said in a statement. “We appreciate the administration stating that it will provide states with slightly higher allocations for the next few weeks, but we are going to need much more supply.”
Mr. Biden’s announcement came as representatives from the State Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged all American citizens thinking about traveling abroad to “seriously reconsider” their plans in light of the new travel regulations that went into effect on Tuesday. Those rules require international travelers to present a negative coronavirus test or proof of recovery before boarding a flight bound for the United States.
Ian G. Brownlee, the acting assistant secretary of the State Department’s bureau of consular affairs, said that if U.S. citizens traveled abroad and happened to contract the coronavirus, they should be prepared to deal with the extra lodging and medical costs required with a delayed trip back home.
“All travelers should have a Plan B,” Mr. Brownlee said. “We urge folks to postpone their trips if they’re able.”
Just one week into his administration, Mr. Biden is facing a convergence of crises. The vaccine rollout he inherited from his predecessor has been rocky, leaving Americans angry and frustrated over vaccination appointments canceled for lack of supply. At the same time, new, more infectious variants of the virus are making vaccination all the more urgent.
For months, wealthy countries have been clearing the world’s shelves of coronavirus vaccines, leaving poorer nations with little hope of exiting the pandemic in 2021. But a fresh skirmish this week has pitted the rich against the rich — Britain versus the European Union — in the scramble for vials, opening an unabashedly nationalist competition that could poison relations and set back collective efforts to end the pandemic.
The European Union, stung by its slow progress on vaccinations, threatened this week to tighten rules on the shipment of Belgian-made shots to Britain.
British lawmakers, in turn, have accused their European counterparts of a blackmail campaign that could embitter relations for a generation.
And poorer countries, already at the back of the line for vaccines, could face even longer waits if the intense squabbling among rich countries drives up prices for everyone else.
At the core of the problem are production delays at separate factories in Belgium that make the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and the one developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford. With a new and more contagious coronavirus variant fueling a surge of cases in several European countries, those delays have undermined efforts to get shots into millions of people’s arms, ratcheting up the global competition.
But the manufacturing of vaccines is only part of the problem. Public health experts say the entire global system of buying doses, pitting one country against another with little regard for equity, is unfit to the task of ending a pandemic that respects no borders.
For the European Union, problems with its vaccination campaigns have reinforced criticism of the bloc’s bureaucracy. Unable to speed up vaccine makers, the bloc’s leaders have instead resorted to threats about the export process, a sign of the severe pressure facing them as the European Union falls far behind Britain and the United States, which made advanced purchases of vaccines earlier, and have been quicker to authorize the shots and get people inoculated.
Britain has given vaccines to 10 percent of its people so far, compared to about 2 percent in the European Union. Britain was the first country to authorize a fully tested coronavirus vaccine, and the government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson has trumpeted its successes.
The French drugmaker Sanofi said on Tuesday that it would help produce more than 100 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, starting this summer, in an effort to meet strong demand in Europe.
Paul Hudson, Sanofi’s chief executive, said in an interview with the French newspaper Le Figaro that the company had signed an agreement with Pfizer-BioNTech to fill and pack vials of the vaccine starting in July, at a Sanofi plant in Frankfurt near BioNTech’s German headquarters.
“We should be able to supply over 100 million doses by the end of the year, which will be destined to the European Union, and therefore in part to France,” Mr. Hudson said.
Sanofi and the British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline are working on their own Covid-19 vaccine but have announced that its rollout would be delayed to later this year because trials so far had produced an insufficient immune response among elderly participants.
“Since we are running several months late on our main vaccine, we asked ourselves how we could make ourselves useful right now,” Mr. Hudson told Le Figaro. Sanofi is also working on a second vaccine that uses an mRNA technology similar to Pfizer-BioNTech’s.
Sanofi has come under intense pressure to help produce approved vaccines, especially in France, where the company is seen as a national champion — and where its failure to rapidly produce a functioning vaccine has led to criticism of its domestic research and development policies.
France has recorded more than three million coronavirus cases during the pandemic, including an average of more than 20,000 per day over the past week, according to a New York Times database. The average number of new daily cases fell sharply last month after peaking in November, but has been slowly increasing in recent weeks.
With the clash between the Chicago Public Schools and its teachers’ union escalating and thousands of teachers planning to stay home starting on Wednesday to protest the district’s reopening plan, on Tuesday evening the district told parents of prekindergarten and special education students who have been attending school in person that it had “no choice” but to ask them to keep their children home on Wednesday.
“For the past three weeks, thousands of CPS students have been safely learning in person, and the union’s action will prevent these students from receiving the classroom support their parents needed and chose,” the district’s chief executive, Janice K. Jackson, said in a letter to families.
The union has fiercely opposed the reopening plan, under which the district brought an initial cohort of students back into buildings this month and planned to welcome kindergarten through eighth grade students on Monday. Most students in the district, the nation’s third largest, have been learning remotely since last March.
Dr. Jackson said in her letter that the district was continuing to try to reach an agreement with the union. She said the district had made changes to its plan to address some of the union’s concerns, including increasing the frequency of planned surveillance testing of staff to twice a month and testing students in the 10 ZIP codes with the highest positivity rates once a month.
But she said that the union was continuing to make demands that did not align with public health guidance, including demanding that its members be vaccinated “ahead of other city residents, including the elderly, first responders, grocery store employees, and other school staff members who have been in schools regularly since the pandemic began.”
While teachers were being prioritized in the city’s vaccination efforts, she wrote, city leaders “cannot cast aside an equitable vaccination plan and deprioritize the needs of other deserving community members who are at greater risk and performed essential work throughout the closure.”
Meanwhile, the union said Tuesday evening that it was calling for mediation to broker an agreement.
“If solving the problem of how to reopen school buildings while ensuring the safety of educators, staff and students in the middle of a pandemic was easy, then CPS and CTU would have already done it,” said Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, the national union. “That’s why appointing a mediator is the right move, right now.”
Slowly but steadily, more Americans are looking favorably upon the new coronavirus vaccine, moving away from the entrenched opposition that many public health officials feared could sink the chances for the vaccine to be widely accepted. A key factor influencing the shift is whether a person knows someone who has been vaccinated, according to a new survey by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation survey taken this month and released on Wednesday.
According to the report, the percentage of Americans who want to be vaccinated as soon as possible or who have already received at least one dose of a two-dose regimen has jumped to 47 percent from 34 percent in Kaiser’s December survey.
Thirty-one percent said they were taking a “wait and see” approach before getting the shot themselves. Seven percent (down from 9 percent) said they would get the vaccine only “if required to do so for work or school,” and 13 percent (down from 15 percent) said they would “definitely not” get it.
The pockets of resistance predominate among groups that have long viewed this vaccine in particular with suspicion, including Black and Latino adults. Rural residents remain more hesitant about the shot than those who live in cities or suburbs.
The survey also scrutinized the effectiveness of various pro-vaccine messages and messengers. According to the findings, people who knew someone who had been vaccinated were more likely to view the shots approvingly.
A new collaborative effort, also released Wednesday, by researchers at Harvard, Rutgers, Northeastern and Northwestern that surveyed 25,640 adults across 50 states between December and early January drilled even further into the particulars of persuasive vaccine messaging.
The most effective seemed to come either from experts like scientists or people’s own doctors. Conversely, the researchers found, endorsements by politicians had the potential to backfire, especially among constituents of a different political persuasion.
The researchers wrote: “If vaccinations of public figures should be strategically utilized, it is preferable to emphasize those who are not overtly political or carefully target such messages to segments of the public that are likely to respond positively.”
The mayor of Moscow, Sergei S. Sobyanin, declared on Wednesday that the coronavirus pandemic was easing in the Russian capital, and abruptly lifted most of the remaining restrictions in place in the city, saying the focus must shift to strengthening the economy.
Although Mr. Sobyanin painted a promising picture of recovery, Russia has faced months of questions over the true scale of its outbreak and the efficacy of a Russian-developed vaccine. Last month, the state statistical agency in Moscow announced new figures indicating that the death toll from the coronavirus was more than three times as high as officially reported.
Russia has been hard hit by the pandemic, with a second wave that began in October bringing a spike in new infections and deaths, but the Kremlin expressed reluctance to impose a nationwide lockdown, even as cases surged.
In mid-January, infections seemed to level off as the country began administering the Russian-made Sputnik-V vaccine more widely. The average number of new cases confirmed weekly in Moscow was 2,500 in the past week, down from an average of 7,000 in December. A similar decline has been reported across the country.
The number of hospitalizations in Moscow dropped by 1,000, Mr. Sobyanin said, leaving more than half of the hospital beds dedicated to coronavirus care vacant for the first time since June. A nighttime curfew has be lifted, and the city will also allow all workers to return to their offices, abolishing the requirement for businesses to have at least 30 percent of employees working remotely.
“The pandemic is on the decline and under these circumstances, we must create conditions for the quickest recovery of the economy,” Mr. Sobyanin said in a statement published on his personal blog.
He added: “Friends, my warmest congratulations to you on our joint victory and one more step to a return to normal life in the wonderful city of Moscow!”
The Moscow government had already reopened museums, libraries and exhibition venues, and it promised to review the return of students to university campuses by the beginning of February.
The Louvre, the world’s most visited museum, is grappling with its longest closure since World War II, as pandemic restrictions keep its treasures under lock and key. But with the crowds gone, museum officials are seizing the opportunity to undertake a grand restoration and cleanup.
“For some projects, the lockdown has allowed us to do in five days what would have previously taken five weeks,” said Sébastien Allard, the general curator and director of the Louvre’s paintings department.
A small army of around 250 artisans has been working since France’s latest restrictions went into effect on Oct. 30. Some of the work is relatively simple, like dusting the frames of nearly 4,500 paintings. Some is herculean, like makeovers in the Egyptian antiquities hall and the Sully Wing. Nearly 40,000 explanatory plaques in English and French are being hung next to art works.
Even before the pandemic, the Louvre was taking a hard look at crowd management because mass tourism had meant many galleries were choked with tour groups. While travel restrictions have slashed the number of visitors, which hit a record 10 million in 2019, the museum will limit entry to ticket holders with reservations when it reopens to meet health protocols.
“At the moment we have so many question marks — it’s hard to know what the situation will be in two, three or four months,” Mr. Allard said.
“But despite Covid, we continue to work as always,” he continued. “We must be ready to welcome back the public.”
Did a doctor steal vaccine to help his friends and family jump the line? Or was he beating the clock to keep precious, perishable doses from going to waste?
Those are the two sides of the still-unfinished story of Dr. Hasan Gokal, a Houston-area physician who was accused last week of taking a vial of coronavirus vaccine from a public inoculation site he was supervising.
Citing a lack of probable cause, a Texas judge dismissed a theft charge against the doctor on Monday, but that may not be the end of the matter. Harris County’s top prosecutor, Kim Ogg, said it was likely that the case would be presented to a grand jury, which could find grounds for an indictment.
The episode is attracting attention at a time of widespread frustration in the U.S. over the slow pace and glitchy start to the nation’s coronavirus vaccination push.
Ms. Ogg’s office announced the initial charge against Dr. Gokal on Thursday, saying that he had stolen a vial containing nine vaccine doses on Dec. 29 while he was working at a vaccination site in a public park in Humble, Texas, a suburb north of Houston. Dr. Gokal was fired from his job at the county health department, according to Ms. Ogg’s office, and was charged with a misdemeanor, theft by a public servant, which is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
“He abused his position to place his friends and family in line in front of people who had gone through the lawful process to be there,” Ms. Ogg said in a statement. “What he did was illegal and he’ll be held accountable under the law.”
The doctor’s lawyer, Paul Doyle, said in a statement that Dr. Gokal was simply trying to ensure that vaccine doses that were at risk of expiring “went into the arms of people who met the criteria for receiving it.”
Mr. Doyle told The Houston Chronicle that the vial was left over at the end of the day, and that Dr. Gokal realized that because it had been opened, it was going to spoil in a few hours. Rather than let the doses go to waste, Mr. Doyle told the newspaper, Dr. Gokal offered to inoculate health workers and police officers at the site, but they either did not want it or did not need it, so Dr. Gokal administered doses to other eligible people, including his wife.
At a hearing Monday, Harris County Court-at-Law Judge Franklin Bynum found that there was insufficient cause to charge Dr. Gokal, noting that the charging document was riddled with “sloppiness and errors.”
Mr. Doyle said he planned to bring a wrongful termination lawsuit against the health department on Dr. Gokal’s behalf.
The Oklahoma Department of Health is still trying to unload a stockpile of hydroxychloroquine — an antimalarial drug touted by former President Donald J. Trump as a “miracle” cure for Covid-19 despite a lack of evidence that it effectively treats the disease — that it purchased for $2 million last spring.
Mike Hunter, the state’s attorney general, has been brought on to assist the health department in selling back the drug, Alex Gerszewski, a spokesman for Mr. Hunter, said on Tuesday.
The state is attempting to sell the stockpile back to the company it purchased it from, FFF Enterprises, a California-based health care distributor, or to find another buyer, Mr. Gerszewski said. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Oklahoma has been trying to unload the stockpile for months. In July, the state health department told News 9, a local TV news station, that it was “working to sell it.”
A spokesman for the health department confirmed on Tuesday that the stockpile was still in the department’s possession but referred questions about the attempted return to the attorney general’s office.
Early, seemingly promising results, bolstered by political pressure, prompted the Food and Drug Administration to grant hydroxychloroquine an emergency authorization for use in very sick Covid-19 patients. Follow-up studies, however, found the drug neither sped recovery nor prevented healthy people from contracting the coronavirus or progressing to serious disease.
In April, Mr. Trump said he would place millions of hydroxychloroquine doses into a federal stockpile for use on Covid-19 patients. In May, he said he had been taking it himself, even though he was not infected with the coronavirus.
When Mr. Trump contracted the virus in October, he received an antibody cocktail and remdesivir, an antiviral drug. Hydroxychloroquine was not mentioned as part of his treatment.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, Margaret Drabble, 83, sat beneath the soaring arches of Salisbury Cathedral, swinging her legs back and forth under her chair like a schoolgirl.
Minutes earlier, in a booth near the cathedral’s entrance, she had received her first shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against the coronavirus. But that wasn’t why she was looking so happy, she said. Instead, it was from the elaborate organ music gently reverberating in the cathedral’s interior.
“Oh, I just love the organ,” said Ms. Drabble, a former schoolteacher. “It’s so beautiful, it almost makes me cry every time I hear it.”
“I’ve always wanted to play it,” she said, wistfully. Then, she looked toward the organ’s 4,000 pipes at the front of the cathedral and sat up straight to listen. She had been told to stay put for 15 minutes, to make sure she did not develop an allergic reaction.
Britain is in the middle of a mass vaccination drive, racing to outrun the spread of the virus as a new variant discovered in the country surges. So far, some 6.3 million people have received a first dose, just under 10 percent of the population.
England’s National Health Service has signed contracts with dozens of large venues that will operate as vaccination centers. On Monday, it announced 33 new locations, including a soccer stadium in Oxford, several sports centers and a concert arena.
Patients have been getting the vaccine at Salisbury Cathedral since Jan. 16, and it hosts the inoculation sessions twice a week for around 1,200 people a day. Sessions last about 12 hours, and, for most of that time, David Halls and John Challenger, the cathedral’s organists, provide a musical backing, ranging from well-known hymns to fairground tunes and euphoric classical works.
That makes the cathedral one of the few places in the country one can hear live music right now. With much of Britain under lockdown restrictions for the third time, theaters, museums and concert halls have been forced to shut. But in recent weeks, the British government’s race to vaccinate its population has provided some cultural venues with a surprising lease on life.
“I live locally, and we’ve all been saying, ‘Have you been to the organ recital yet?’” said Pam Scoop, 86. “We don’t say, ‘Have you been for a jab?’” she added, using a British term for a shot.
Scientists developed vaccines less than a year after Covid-19 was identified, a reflection of remarkable progress in vaccine technology. But progress in vaccine distribution is another story.
Many questions about inoculation programs that arose decades ago are still debated today. How should local and federal officials coordinate? Who should get vaccinated first? What should officials do about resistance in communities? Should the hardest-hit places be prioritized? Who should pay?
Some answers can be found in the successes and failures of vaccine drives over the past two centuries. We examined five such efforts, including the fights against smallpox and polio.
The South Korean health authorities said on Wednesday that they were conducting mandatory testing of dozens of religious schools, as the country struggled to tackle a wave of cases linked to a Christian missionary society.
South Korea reported 559 new cases on Wednesday, including 100 linked a school in the southern city of Gwangju. That school is one of six operated by International Mission, a Christian missionary society, that have collectively reported more than 300 infections this month.
Yoon Tae-ho, a senior health official, told reporters on Wednesday that the health authorities were conducting mandatory or recommended testing of people at 32 of International Mission’s facilities. The group is based in the based in the central city of Daejeon and operates schools across the country.
International Mission apologized on Monday, saying in a statement that it thought the infections could have been influenza, not the coronavirus.
Religious groups in South Korea have driven several coronavirus outbreaks, including one linked to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus last winter in the southeastern city of Daegu. An antigovernment demonstration led by a Christian church in Seoul last summer also contributed to a sharp rise in cases, forcing the government to implement tighter social distancing restrictions.
In other news from around the world:
Hong Kong on Wednesday lifted a lockdown on a cluster of buildings after 11 hours, part of a new campaign to impose targeted restrictions on neighborhoods with coronavirus outbreaks. The lockdown in the densely populated, working-class Yau Ma Tei neighborhood is the second that the government has imposed during the pandemic. The first came into effect on Saturday amid concerns that the virus was spreading rapidly in tenement apartments. It was lifted about 48 hours later, after officials found 13 new infections among the roughly 7,000 residents they had tested. The Chinese territory’s leader, Carrie Lam, called the operation a success and promised “ambush-style” lockdowns in the future. Officials said on Wednesday that they had discovered one infection during the second lockdown, out of about 300 residents tested.
President Joko Widodo of Indonesia received on Wednesday his second shot of a vaccine made by the Chinese company Sinovac, a day after the country of 270 million people surpassed one million reported infections. Mr. Joko said that 250,000 health workers in Indonesia had already received their first shot. About 50,000 people are now being vaccinated each day, he said, adding that he hoped to raise that number to one million.
Nepal on Wednesday began the first phase of a nationwide vaccination campaign for health care workers and other frontline personnel, including cleaners, security guards, and ambulance and hearse drivers. Nepal is one of several countries in South and Southeast Asia to have received donated doses from India of Covishield, a vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University and manufactured by the Serum Institute of India. But the Covishield shipment to Nepal was for one million doses, and the government has not yet explained how it plans to execute its plan of vaccinating 72 percent of its 30 million people.
The Wisconsin State Senate has voted to end a statewide mask mandate issued by the governor, a resolution that would put Wisconsin among a minority of states without such a requirement if assembly lawmakers approve it.
The resolution, which passed on Tuesday and was sponsored by Republican lawmakers who claim the measures are unconstitutional, would end a monthslong requirement to wear masks in public and indoor settings that came into force as part of emergency orders issued by Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat.
The State Assembly is expected to take up the measure on Thursday. Republicans control both chambers of Wisconsin’s legislature.
Doctors and health care professionals have widely condemned the resolution, warning that masks are the best protection to prevent the spread of the coronavirus before people are vaccinated.
And evidence has shown that mask-wearing helps contain the spread of the coronavirus: A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that focused on Kansas last summer showed that new Covid-19 cases decreased 6 percent in counties that had mask mandates, while they increased 100 percent in those without one.
“Other than vaccines, mask-wearing is one of the few tools we have in our arsenal to help prevent spreading Covid-19 even further,” Bud Chumbley, the chief executive of the Wisconsin Medical Society, an advocacy group representing physicians, said in a statement.
Wisconsin had reported nearly 585,000 coronavirus cases and 6,268 deaths as of Wednesday morning, according to a New York Times database. Around 4.6 percent of the state’s population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to a New York Times tally.
Forty-one states, including Wisconsin, currently have a mask requirement, according to the National Academy for State Health Academy.
Mr. Evers has issued a number of executive orders proclaiming a public health emergency in Wisconsin amid the pandemic and requiring masks to be worn in any public indoor setting.
The most recent order was issued this month, but Republicans lawmakers have argued that Mr. Evers cannot issue emergency orders indefinitely. In rejecting the mandate on Tuesday, they declared the public health emergency “unlawful and terminated.”
“There is no such thing as a perpetual emergency,” State Senator Duey Stroebel, a Republican, said, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Local officials can still require a mask to be worn in public spaces if state lawmakers revoke the governor’s order, which could create a patchwork of policies across towns and counties.