Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

The C.D.C. endorses boosters.


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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

Hospitals in Alaska are struggling to handle a worsening outbreak.

New Zealand wants a vaccination rate near 90 percent to help it avoid future lockdowns.

U.S. Olympians and Paralympians must be vaccinated before the Winter Games in Beijing.

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

C.D.C. recommends boosters

Last night the F.D.A. authorized Pfizer-BioNTech booster shots for a broad swath of Americans at risk of severe Covid-19. Today, scientific advisers to the C.D.C. recommended the booster shots for tens of millions of older Americans and those with certain medical conditions.

The F.D.A. had authorized the Pfizer shots for people over 65, people who are high-risk, or those who have jobs that leave them exposed to the virus — like health care workers, teachers and grocery workers.

The C.D.C.’s science advisers unanimously supported Pfizer boosters for adults older than 65 and for residents of long-term care facilities. Thirteen of the committee’s 15 members endorsed extra shots for people aged 50 to 64 years with underlying medical conditions.

A majority also recommended the boosters for adults aged 18 to 49 years with underlying medical conditions, based on their individual benefit and risk.

But by a close margin, they voted to exclude people at risk because of their occupations. This measure would have applied to health care workers, teachers and other workers who do not meet the other criteria.

The agency’s director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, is expected to endorse the recommendations of its scientific advisers today or tomorrow, and people who qualify could start getting the shots immediately after.

Today’s C.D.C. meeting follows weeks of public debate about President Biden’s planned booster rollout. During the two-day meeting, experts wrestled with the public’s expectations for Covid vaccines and the safety of third doses.

They also grappled with the end goal. Are vaccines meant to prevent all infections, or severe illness and hospitalization? Many suggested preventing severe infections was the objective, and that preventing all infections was a fool’s errand.

Millions of Americans who received the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are still waiting to learn whether they, too, can get boosters. The F.D.A. is expected to take up the question of boosters for them soon. Moderna’s authorization may arrive in a few days to weeks.

Disabled kids and mask wars

For parents of students with disabilities, the school mask wars are particularly wrenching.

Nine states, all led by Republican governors, have tried to ban mask mandates. Many of those orders now face legal challenges, often led by parents with disabled children.

Children with disabilities can be at higher risk of severe illness from Covid. Those students have been among the most underserved during the pandemic, and masks are one of the most effective strategies for keeping students learning in person safely.

Tennessee is one of seven states that the federal Education Department is investigating, to determine whether its mask ban discriminates against students with disabilities by restricting their access to education.

For Kim Hart, whose 18-year-old son has Down syndrome and autism, Tennessee’s order, which allows students to opt out of district mandates, is excruciating. He still has residual complications from a congenital heart defect for which he underwent open-heart surgery.

At his high school, data published weekly by the district shows that more than 30 percent of parents have formally opted out, a percentage that mirrors the district’s overall.

“We’ve always known that not everybody really cares about our children, but it is in our face right now — that it’s not worth you asking your child to wear a mask, so my child can be safe,” said Hart, who is a researcher and a trained epidemiologist.

What else we’re following

African health experts hailed Biden’s vaccine pledge, but called for more transparency.

Victoria State in Australia will allow stranded residents to return.

Dr. Howard Zucker, the New York State health commissioner who came under fire for his possible involvement in obscuring the virus death toll in the state’s nursing homes, resigned.

Cuba expects to reach “full immunization” with homegrown vaccines by Dec. 31.

Many major religious organizations support vaccination, which may make it harder to get religious exemptions, The Washington Post reports.

When Biden announced vaccine mandates at companies with 100 or more employees, business leaders wondered: Why 100?

A vaccination deadline looms over employees at New York’s largest private hospital.

The Atlantic explains why vaccinated people are not as likely to spread the virus as unvaccinated people.

A fictional funeral home is trying to save lives with an anti-vaccine ad.

What you’re doing

I’m a longtime high school teacher and we are back in session full time. The challenge has been simply doing my job — I have a significant hearing impairment. My students have tried two or three styles of clear masks, but they fog up, making it impossible to lip-read. The kids do not mind repeating themselves, but I feel less effective. I never knew how much I relied on lip-reading in my day-to-day life.

— Jennifer, Santa Cruz, Calif.

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