Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

A pivotal moment for 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.

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Credit…The New York Times

Idaho allowed overwhelmed hospitals to ration care if necessary.

China said it has fully vaccinated more than one billion people, about 70 percent of its population.

Italy expanded its health-pass requirement to cover most workers, public and private.

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

D-Day for booster shots

The U.S. debate about boosters has been messy, but tomorrow may bring some clarity.

That’s when an advisory committee to the F.D.A. will meet to vote on Pfizer’s application to offer third doses to people 16 and older. The committee’s recommendations are nonbinding, but the agency typically adopts them.

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Credit…The New York Times

Almost a month ago, President Biden announced a plan to make coronavirus booster shots available to most adults in the United States, starting eight months after they received their second dose. Now, just a week before the plan is set to begin, its contours are up in the air amid a chorus of dissent inside and outside the government.

My colleague Sharon LaFraniere, an investigative reporter who has been covering the Biden administration’s response to the pandemic, said she expected an animated debate at the F.D.A. advisory board meeting.

“Everything we hear is that the meeting is going to be very fluid,” Sharon said. “There’s probably going to be a lot of discussion and dissent.”

Over the last week, a high-profile debate has played out in the pages of prominent medical journals, as scientists argue over when the extra shots might be needed, and for whom.

A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine bolstered the White House’s case, finding that people in Israel who received a third shot of the Pfizer vaccine were far less likely to develop severe Covid.

A separate F.D.A. review of Pfizer’s application found an increased immune response in those who received a booster shot, but with an important caveat: The original two-dose regimen was still highly effective at preventing severe disease.

A review in The Lancet written by two of the F.D.A.’s top vaccine scientists, among others, argued that there was no credible evidence that the vaccines’ potency against severe disease declined substantially over time.

The F.DA. meeting will be slightly unusual, Sharon said, because the head of Israel’s public health services — Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, who was also an author on the New England Journal of Medicine study — will be testifying.

“She told me that Israel has spared a lot of people from severe disease and hospitalization by boosting early,” Sharon said. “She warned that if the U.S. doesn’t act, it’s going to be headed in the same direction.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci and other health officials in the Biden administration have referenced the Israeli data to justify rolling out boosters. But some other scientists countered that the follow-up period was short and that the data did not prove that a booster enhances protection beyond a few weeks.

In the U.S., the two-dose regimen still offers powerful protection against severe disease, hospitalization and death.

After examining the data, “the experts will take an up-or-down vote, and it probably will be split,” Sharon said. “If the committee votes against a booster for those 16 years old and up, the F.D.A. could conceivably ask about a narrower group, like just those over 40, or those 65 and up. In any case, the F.D.A. is unlikely to rule instantly and officials will likely want to really explain their reasoning for whatever they decide.”

A panel for the C.D.C., which typically has the final word on vaccines, will also convene in the coming days. If both panels recommend boosters, the extra doses could be offered as early as next week.

Answers for Nicki Minaj

After the rapper Nicki Minaj questioned the safety of Covid vaccines in a Twitter post this week, the White House offered to answer any questions she might have.

On Monday, Minaj said she would not attend the Met Gala because she had yet to be vaccinated against Covid, a requirement for attendees. She claimed on Twitter that a friend of her cousin’s in Trinidad and Tobago “became impotent” with swollen testicles after receiving a vaccine.

“As we have with others, we offered a call with Nicki Minaj and one of our doctors to answer questions she has about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine,” a White House official said in a statement.

Minaj, who interpreted the offer as an invitation to the White House, tweeted on Thursday that she would arrive “dressed in all pink like Legally Blonde so they know I mean business,” adding, “I’ll ask questions on behalf of the ppl who have been made fun of for simply being human.”

The news media and government officials in Trinidad have been critical of Minaj. “It’s irresponsible on all, all fronts,” said a presenter on CNC3 Television.

Trinidad and Tobago’s minister of health, Dr. Terrence Deyalsingh, also rejected the claim about her cousin’s friend. “There has been no such reported either side effect or adverse event,” he said at a news conference. “And what was sad about this is that it wasted our time yesterday, trying to track down, because we take all these claims seriously.”

What else we’re following

A study found that aides at U.S. nursing homes, who provide the most direct care to residents, were the least likely staff members to be vaccinated.

Public health experts in Africa called for the U.N. General Assembly to speed up delivery of vaccines as the continent remains in the throes of a third wave of infections.

Around 3,000 health care workers have been suspended in France for refusing to be vaccinated, Reuters reports.

Mississippi became the state with the most Covid deaths per capita, surpassing New Jersey, Bloomberg reports.

FEMA agreed to cover the costs incurred by New York City public hospitals that treated patients during the first wave of Covid-19 in 2020.

The pope urged everyone to get a Covid vaccine.

Los Angeles County will require proof of vaccination to enter bars, nightclubs and other drinking establishments.

Hostels, havens for thrifty travelers, are fighting to survive the pandemic.

What you’re doing

My daughters live in the U.S. along with their husbands and so I tune in to U.S. news every day. Apparently in the land of liberty, wearing a mask and getting vaccinated are topics for debate. For 20 months we have all been witness to the fact that this virus is highly infectious, grows exponentially and sows mayhem in its path. Not wearing a mask and not getting vaccinated are choices that inevitably inflict deadly harm to others around you, including your children and parents. What kind of liberty is that?

— Arup Bose, Kolkata, West Bengal, India

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