Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today
New data on breakthrough infections.,
This is the Coronavirus Briefing, an informed guide to the pandemic. Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.
A large clinical trial found that fluvoxamine, a common and inexpensive antidepressant, lowered the odds that high-risk Covid-19 patients would be hospitalized.
The U.S. economic recovery slowed in the third quarter as the Delta variant surged.
New York City is planning for shortages of police officers and firefighters as Friday’s vaccination deadline looms.
The numbers on breakthroughs
This summer, it seemed like everyone knew someone who had a breakthrough infection. Now, new federal data is giving us insights into how common these cases are, and who is most at risk.
The C.D.C. findings, which capture the crest of the Delta wave, indicate that protection against infection may be slowly waning for vaccinated people. But the vaccines continue to be strongly protective against severe illness and death.
All vaccinated age groups saw similar rates of breakthrough infection, and they all had much lower rates of infection and death compared with their unvaccinated peers.
But the data show notable differences in breakthrough death rates by age. Unvaccinated seniors were most likely to die from Covid than any other group. Still, vaccinated people 80 and older had higher death rates than unvaccinated people under 50.
The data show that all three brands of vaccine administered in the U.S. substantially reduced rates of cases and deaths. But Johnson & Johnson recipients had slightly higher rates of breakthrough cases and related deaths, followed by Pfizer-BioNTech recipients and then by Moderna.
A test for Brazil’s president
We reported yesterday that Brazilian senators voted to recommend “crimes against humanity” charges against President Jair Bolsonaro for his handling of the pandemic, the first major legal challenge of its kind against a world leader.
“After a six-month investigation, they concluded that Bolsonaro had essentially allowed the coronavirus to tear through Brazil on purpose to try to reach herd immunity,” said our colleague Jack Nicas, a Times correspondent in Brazil.
Bolsonaro, a strident right-wing populist, has long downplayed the virus. He discouraged masks, encouraged large gatherings and vocally promoted unproven drugs like hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin.
“A lot of the things that are being discussed in the report, he did openly,” Jack said. “This was not a secret plot, but something that has been part of his public pronouncements from the beginning of the pandemic.”
The findings have split Brazil, which was already a deeply divided country. Some, following Bolsonaro’s lead, consider the panel to be a politically motivated sham. For many others, the televised hearings were cathartic in a country where more than 606,000 people have died from the coronavirus — the most recorded deaths in the world after the U.S.
“His poll numbers have spiraled as the death count has risen,” Jack added. “A large part of the country sees the panel as one of the only institutions that is trying to hold the government responsible for its mishandling of the pandemic.”
After several devastating surges, Brazil currently has the coronavirus under control: New cases and deaths have dropped dramatically as vaccinations have risen. Now, about 56 percent of people in Brazil are fully vaccinated. (In the U.S., it’s 57 percent.)
Bolsonaro, who contracted the virus earlier in the pandemic, is unvaccinated, and vocally so.
Few expect the Senate recommendations to result in criminal charges right away. Bolsonaro appointed the attorney general, who has 30 days to review the report and decide whether to press charges.
What to Know About Covid-19 Booster Shots
The F.D.A. has authorized booster shots for millions of recipients of the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. Pfizer and Moderna recipients who are eligible for a booster include people 65 and older, and younger adults at high risk of severe Covid-19 because of medical conditions or where they work. Eligible Pfizer and Moderna recipients can get a booster at least six months after their second dose. All Johnson & Johnson recipients will be eligible for a second shot at least two months after the first.
Yes. The F.D.A. has updated its authorizations to allow medical providers to boost people with a different vaccine than the one they initially received, a strategy known as “mix and match.” Whether you received Moderna, Johnson & Johnson or Pfizer-BioNTech, you may receive a booster of any other vaccine. Regulators have not recommended any one vaccine over another as a booster. They have also remained silent on whether it is preferable to stick with the same vaccine when possible.
The C.D.C. has said the conditions that qualify a person for a booster shot include: hypertension and heart disease; diabetes or obesity; cancer or blood disorders; weakened immune system; chronic lung, kidney or liver disease; dementia and certain disabilities. Pregnant women and current and former smokers are also eligible.
The F.D.A. authorized boosters for workers whose jobs put them at high risk of exposure to potentially infectious people. The C.D.C. says that group includes: emergency medical workers; education workers; food and agriculture workers; manufacturing workers; corrections workers; U.S. Postal Service workers; public transit workers; grocery store workers.
Yes. The C.D.C. says the Covid vaccine may be administered without regard to the timing of other vaccines, and many pharmacy sites are allowing people to schedule a flu shot at the same time as a booster dose.
But once Bolsonaro leaves office, Jack told us, “this could become a legal headache for him down the road.” The panel’s leaders said they also plan to send the report to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
The more immediate question, though, is the fate of Bolsonaro’s social media accounts.
Last week in a livestream, Bolsonaro suggested that the Covid vaccine could cause AIDS — a false claim that led YouTube and Facebook to remove the video. In their final report, the senators also asked the Supreme Court to order tech firms to ban him from social media for the “protection of the population.”
“It certainly resembles the fight over Donald Trump’s Twitter account,” Jack told us. “President Bolsonaro is concerned about the risk of losing his access to social media, because it has been a crucial channel for him to connect to voters and be able to circumvent the press.”
What else we’re following
The C.D.C. added mental health conditions, including depression and schizophrenia, to its list of health conditions that make people more likely to become severely ill from Covid-19.
The W.H.O. said that syringe shortages could be yet another obstacle to vaccinations in Africa.
Around the world, the pandemic has delayed other essential childhood vaccinations.
Daily cases in Japan have fallen to the hundreds, down from tens of thousands during a summer surge.
Oakland, Calif., plans to transfer or unenroll public school students 12 and older who have not been vaccinated by Jan. 1.
Florida sued the U.S. government over the vaccine mandate for federal contractors.
Gov. Kay Ivey of Alabama issued an executive order this week directing state agencies to not cooperate, whenever possible, with federal vaccine mandates.
China plans to let vaccinated athletes skip quarantine at the upcoming Winter Olympics. But the country’s new lockdowns underscore its push to stick to a “zero Covid” strategy, the only nation still doing so.
Co-working spaces are opening in the suburbs, catering to workers looking to return to an office without the commute.
In Opinion, a Covid doctor asks whether people who have already been infected should get just one vaccine dose.
What you’re doing
My friend began sharing her New Yorker magazines with me in March 2020. I realized I did not understand the poems. So I found a site and have been studying poetry since then. I used to write poems for everyone I knew — birthdays, anniversaries, divorces — but they were “Hallmark poems.” Now, I am learning how to write real poems. My first was a really good one for my daughter on her 56th birthday. She cried and loved it. So did I.
— Jackie Trancynger, Jensen Beach, Fla.
Let us know how you’re dealing with the pandemic. Send us a response here, and we may feature it in an upcoming newsletter.