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Home US Merck to Help Make Johnson & Johnson Vaccine After White House Deal

Merck to Help Make Johnson & Johnson Vaccine After White House Deal


A gate to the Merck & Co. campus in New Jersey in 2018.
Credit…Brendan Mcdermid/Reuters

The pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co will help manufacture the new Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine under an unusual deal, brokered by the White House, that could substantially increase the supply of the new vaccine and ramp up the pace of vaccination just as worrisome new variants of the virus have been found in the United States.

President Biden is expected to announced the arrangement, first reported by The Washington Post, on Tuesday, according to two senior administration officials, who confirmed the arrangement on condition of anonymity to discuss a matter that has not yet been made public. It comes just days after the Food and Drug Administration granted emergency authorization to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Merck is an experienced vaccine manufacturer whose own attempt at making a coronavirus vaccine was unsuccessful. Officials described the partnership between the two competitors as “historic,” and said it harks back to Mr. Biden’s vision of a wartime effort to fight the coronavirus, similar to the manufacturing campaigns waged during World War II.

Officials in both the Trump and Biden administrations had considered enlisting Merck’s help in manufacturing vaccines developed by Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson. Johnson & Johnson has been running behind on its mass production, though company officials have publicly said they expect to catch up in the coming months. But just how quickly Merck will be able to ramp up is unclear. It will take time, possibly as long as two months or more, for the company to be able to convert its facilities to manufacture and package a vaccine that it did not invent.

Under the agreement, Merck will dedicate two of its facilities to production of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which unlike the other two vaccines that have U.S. emergency
authorization requires only one shot.

One facility will provide “fill-finish,” the final phase of the manufacturing process during which the vaccine is placed in vials and packaged for shipping. The other will make the “drug substance” — the vaccine itself. Officials hope that by the end of the year, the arrangement will double the capacity of what Johnson & Johnson could manufacture on its own — perhaps bringing the total number of doses to as many as one billion.

Officials are not identifying the facilities involved for security reasons, one said.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine joins two others — one made by Pfizer-BioNTech, the other by Moderna — that already have emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday said about 50.7 million people have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, including about 25.5 million people who have been fully vaccinated. While the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines performed slightly better in clinical trials, all are considered safe and effective and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has two some advantages: It requires only one shot, and studies show it may curb spread of the virus.

Those earlier vaccines use a new technology called mRNA. Although vaccines can be designed and tested much faster using that method than with more traditional technologies, both Pfizer and Moderna’s doses require more stringent storage conditions. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, which uses viruses to deliver genes into cells, can keep for three months at normal refrigeration temperatures, making it easier to distribute and easier for pharmacies and clinics to stock. At $10 a dose, it is also cheaper than the other two.

Johnson & Johnson’s $1 billion federal contract, signed last year when the vaccine was still in development, called for it to deliver 37 million doses by the end of March. The company has said it can only deliver 20 million doses, and senior administration officials have said the bulk of those will be delivered toward the end of the month.

This week states will receive 3.9 million doses that were manufactured at a Dutch plant and bottled in Grand Rapids, Mich. But the bulk of Johnson & Johnson’s production is expected to come from a new plant in Baltimore, Md. operated by a company called Emergent BioSolutions, with the vaccine bottled by Catalent.

The F.D.A.’s authorization for emergency use, granted late Saturday, covered the Dutch production lines and the Grand Rapids bottling operation. In about two weeks, federal regulators are expected to decide whether to amend that authorization to include the plants in Baltimore and Indiana, according to two people familiar with Johnson and Johnson’s operations who were not authorized to speak publicly. Until then, they said, supply will be uneven and limited.

For nearly a year, Merck has been searching for a way to play a key role in the nation’s vaccination program. But while its partnership with Johnson & Johnson should significantly increase supply, retooling plants is expected to take a few months. At that point, the demand for shots may have waned.

By the end of May, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson together have pledged enough doses to inoculate at least 220 million of the roughly 260 million eligible adults in the United States. Pfizer and Moderna, whose vaccines take two doses, have pledged to make available enough doses to cover another 100 million people by the end of July.

On the other hand, the emergence of even more worrisome variants of the virus could require booster shots for those who have already been vaccinated. And federal health officials are hoping that ongoing tests will show the vaccines are safe for children, which will mean tens of millions of more shots are needed. If the United States ends up with a surplus of vaccine, it could sell or even give away doses to other countries.

Noah Weiland contributed reporting.

A funeral on Monday in Manaus, Brazil, for a person who died of Covid-19. A variant from Brazil, P.1, is a new worry for scientists.
Credit…Raphael Alves/EPA, via Shutterstock

In just a matter of weeks, two variants of the coronavirus have become so familiar that you can hear their inscrutable alphanumeric names regularly uttered on television news.

B.1.1.7, first identified in Britain, has demonstrated the power to spread far and fast. In South Africa, a mutant called B.1.351 can dodge antibodies, blunting the effectiveness of some vaccines.

Scientists have also had their eye on a third concerning variant, which arose in Brazil, called P.1. Research has been slower on P.1 since its discovery in late December, leaving scientists unsure how much to worry.

“I’ve been holding my breath,” said Bronwyn MacInnis, an epidemiologist at the Broad Institute.

Now, three studies offer a sobering history of P.1’s meteoric rise in the Amazonian city of Manaus. It most likely arose there in November and then fueled a surge in coronavirus cases. It came to dominate the city partly because of an increased contagiousness, the research found.

But it also gained the ability to infect some people who had immunity from previous bouts of Covid-19. And laboratory experiments suggest that P.1 could weaken the protective effect of a Chinese vaccine now in use in Brazil.

The studies have yet to be published in scientific journals. Their authors caution that findings on cells in laboratories do not always translate to the real world and that they’ve only begun to understand P.1’s behavior.

“The findings apply to Manaus, but I don’t know if they apply to other places,” said Nuno Faria, a virologist at Imperial College London who helped lead much of the new research.

But even with the mysteries that remain around P.1, experts say that it is a variant to take seriously. “It’s right to be worried about P.1, and this data gives us the reason why,” said William Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

P.1 is now spreading across the rest of Brazil and has been found in 24 other countries. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recorded six cases in five states: Alaska, Florida, Maryland, Minnesota and Oklahoma.

To reduce the risks of P.1 outbreaks and reinfections, Dr. Faria said it was important to double down on every measure we have to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Masks and social distancing can work against P.1. And vaccination can help drive down its transmission and protect those who do get infected from severe disease.

“The ultimate message is that you need to step up all the vaccination efforts as soon as possible,” he said. “You need to be one step ahead of the virus.”

Medical workers and their supporters marched in Owo, Nigeria, last month. They demanded greater security for colleagues after two nurses were attacked by the family of a patient who died from Covid-19.
Credit…Tochukwu Q.O., via Associated Press

Health care workers — already at risk of coronavirus infection in the pandemic — also faced widespread violence in which some were beaten, scalded, stoned, kidnapped or even shot, a global study of attacks on medical workers found.

Researchers recorded 1,172 attacks on medical personnel in 2020, most of them in areas of conflict, with about 400 violent incidents linked directly to the coronavirus pandemic. And they acknowledged that the figure may barely scratch the surface.

“It was certainly more than 400,” said Christina Wille, director of the Switzerland-based nonprofit Insecurity Insight, which carried out the study. The research, released this week, drew on official accounts, episodes documented by nongovernmental organizations, and news reports, she said. But she acknowledged that many more cases were most likely never recorded.

Most assaults on health workers were by community members, coronavirus patients or their family members, the research showed. Ms. Wille recalled the case of doctors in India attending the funeral of a colleague who had died from the virus; they were attacked by members of the community who threw stones. The locals did not want the deceased health care workers buried in the community graveyard, she said. And in Nigeria, two nurses were attacked by the family of a coronavirus patient who had died.

But other medical workers were targeted by forces from the government, militias or the police, Ms. Wille said. Researchers recorded a number of assaults in India and found that the police featured in many of them. In one case, Ms. Wille noted, two doctors returning from a hospital shift were beaten with sticks by officers who accused them of spreading the virus.

Health teams tackling the pandemic were not spared in areas of conflict. A World Health Organization driver was killed and another worker wounded in Myanmar when their vehicle, carrying coronavirus testing kits, came under fire. In Yemen, armed men stormed a health center, carrying off cleaning supplies.

Much of the violence identified in the study occurred in the early months of the pandemic, as fear and anxiety grew over the virus and measures to contain it. The monitoring group said it would continue looking out for violence this year as vaccines are introduced.

There does not seem to have been a big problem so far — Ms. Wille said that older adults and the vulnerable groups often prioritized early in inoculation campaigns were usually “not the ones who pull out the knife and say don’t touch me.” But as more people become eligible, she added, “I think it may be the next issue to come.”

Alyssa Jost, 19, received her second dose of the Moderna vaccine at Cobre Valley Regional Medical Center in Gila County, Ariz.
Credit…Juan Arredondo for The New York Times

In most parts of the United States, getting a coronavirus vaccine can feel like trying to win the lottery. People scour the internet for appointments under complex eligibility standards that vary from state to state, and even county to county.

In Indiana and Kentucky, anyone over 60 can get vaccinated, but you have to be 65 or 70 almost everywhere else. About 18 states are offering shots to grocery workers, and 32 are vaccinating teachers.

Then there is Gila County, Ariz., where any resident over 18 can walk into a clinic without an appointment and get a vaccine.

“The whole process is incredibly easy,” said Frank Struck, 24, an electrician and maintenance worker who got inoculated at a hospital in Globe, a town in the county, about 90 miles east of Phoenix. “No bureaucracy, no crazy lines — you just go in, get the shot and come out with peace of mind.”

Gila County started off with a set of qualifying standards as well. But it has been so successful at vaccinating its residents that it is now one of the first places in the United States to open eligibility to the general population.

During a pandemic that has claimed the lives of at least 209 county residents, many people in the county of 54,000 people have welcomed the broader availability of the vaccines, a boon that follows a harrowing surge in hospitalizations around the start of the year. The expanded vaccination campaign has coincided over the past two weeks with a 52 percent plunge in new cases.

Health officials and elected leaders warn that big challenges persist in Gila County, in part because, in a county where anybody can get the vaccine, not everybody wants it.

About 28 percent of county residents have received at least one dose so far, compared with the nationwide level of 14 percent, according to local health officials. Rhonda Mason, the chief nursing officer at the hospital in Globe, said the challenge ahead was to overcome misinformation and skepticism.

Treating a Covid-19 patient in the intensive care unit of a hospital in Stod, the Czech Republic, last week.
Credit…Michal Cizek/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Just over a year after the first cases of the coronavirus were discovered in the Czech Republic, the country is struggling with a surge in new cases that has left its health care system teetering, raised the death rate to one of the highest in the world and prompted a lockdown.

The Czech Republic reached 20,000 confirmed coronavirus deaths late last month, and its death rate per million inhabitants is among the highest in the world.

Even as many neighboring nations have seen a steady drop in new cases in recent weeks, Czech cases have climbed steadily, and the country entered a new national lockdown this week.

All schools are closed, residents are not allowed to leave their districts, and masks are mandatory. Thousands of police officers have been deployed to enforce the restrictions, with hundreds of checkpoints across the country. The government has said that it will call in the army if necessary for the initial three weeks.

But health experts say that the measures will not be enough to flatten the explosion of new cases.

Jan Trnka, a biochemist at Charles University in Prague, said the restrictions accounted for only a small number of the daily contacts that people have.

“I consider the most important measures those that haven’t been put in place,” he told Czech public radio. “That is to limit contacts at work, especially in industry.”

The government also approved a plan this week to require mass testing of workplaces with more than 250 employees, starting Wednesday. The measure will include companies with at least 50 employees by the end of the week.

Like much of the rest of Europe, the Czech Republic began its vaccination program late last year, but only about 3 percent of the population has received a shot. That is one of the lowest rates in the European Union.

Other nations have even started to help. Israel donated around 5,000 shots, France gave 100,000 and Germany agreed to pass 15,000 doses to regions in the Czech Republic near the border between the two countries, which have been among the most severely affected by the latest surge.

The Czech president, Milos Zeman, has also asked President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia for help, and deliveries of the Sputnik vaccine “should arrive shortly,” Mr. Zeman said this week.

Prime Minister Andrej Babis of the Czech Republic said on Sunday that his country could begin using the Russian shots even without approval by the European Medicines Agency, which vets vaccines for the European Union.

A hot dog vendor in Los Angeles reopened on Monday after being closed for two months. The restaurant has been in business since 1939.
Credit…Frederic J. Brown/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Tens of thousands of students walked into classrooms in Chicago public schools on Monday for the first time in nearly a year. Restaurants in Massachusetts were allowed to operate without capacity limits, and venues like roller skating rinks and movie theaters in most of the state opened with fewer restrictions. And South Carolina erased its limits on large gatherings.

Across the country, the first day of March brought a wave of reopenings and liftings of pandemic restrictions, signs that more Americans were tentatively emerging from months of isolation, even if not everyone agrees that the time is ripe.

There are plenty of reasons for optimism: Vaccinations have increased significantly in recent weeks, and daily reports of new coronavirus cases have fallen across the United States from their January peaks.

In Kentucky, all but a handful of school districts are now offering in-person classes, while the state races to vaccinate teachers as quickly as possible. Gov. Andy Beshear told reporters last week that the state’s falling infection statistics showed that immunizations were beginning to make an impact.

“It means vaccinations work,” he said. “We’re already seeing it. We’re seeing it in these numbers. It’s a really positive sign.”

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser for Covid-19, said at a news briefing on Monday that for small groups of people who have all been fully vaccinated, there was a low risk in gathering together at home. Activities beyond that, he said, would depend on data, modeling and “good clinical common sense,” adding that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would soon have guidance for what vaccinated people could safely do.

The positive signs come with caveats. Though the national statistics have improved drastically since January, they have plateaued in the last week or so, and the United States is still reporting more than 65,000 new cases a day on average — comparable to the peak of last summer’s surge, according to a New York Times database. The country is still averaging about 2,000 deaths per day, though deaths are a lagging indicator because it can take weeks for patients to die.

More contagious variants of the virus are circulating in the country, with the potential to push case counts upward again. Testing has fallen 30 percent in recent weeks, leaving experts worried about how quickly new outbreaks will be known. And millions of Americans are still waiting to be vaccinated.

Given all that, some experts worry that the reopenings are coming a bit too soon.

“We’re, hopefully, in between what I hope will be the last big wave, and the beginning of the period where I hope Covid will become very uncommon,” said Robert Horsburgh, an epidemiologist at the Boston University School of Public Health. “But we don’t know that. I’ve been advocating for us to just hang tight for four to six more weeks.”

The director of the C.D.C., Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said at the briefing on Monday that she was “really worried” about the rollbacks of restrictions in some states. She cautioned that with the decline in cases “stalling” and with variants spreading, “we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained.”

And the plateauing case levels “must be taken extremely seriously,” Dr. Walensky warned at a briefing last week. She added: “I know people are tired; they want to get back to life, to normal. But we’re not there yet.”

After some counties in Washington State allowed movie theaters to reopen, Nick Butcher, 36, made up for lost time by attending screenings of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy for three straight nights. He bought some M&Ms at the concession stand, sat distanced from others in the audience, and said he felt as though things were almost back to normal.

“I’m actually getting optimistic, over all,” said Mr. Butcher, a software engineer at Microsoft who recently recovered from a case of Covid-19, as did several relatives. “This week is one of the first times I’ve gone into my office almost since the pandemic started.”

Thermal scanners check every visitor to the Student Union Building at the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho. So far, only 10 people have been turned away and instructed to get a coronavirus test.
Credit…Rajah Bose for The New York Times

Before the University of Idaho welcomed students back to campus last fall, it spent $90,000 installing temperature-scanning stations, which look like airport metal detectors, in front of its dining and athletic facilities in Moscow, Idaho. When the system detects a student walking through with an unusually high temperature, the student is asked to leave and get tested for the coronavirus.

But so far, the fever scanners, which register skin temperature, have flagged fewer than 10 people out of the 9,000 students living on or near campus. Even then, university administrators could not say whether the technology had been effective because they have not tracked students detected with fevers to see if they went on to get tested.

The University of Idaho is one of hundreds of colleges and universities that adopted fever scanners, symptom checkers, wearable heart-rate monitors and other screening technologies this school year. Such tools often cost less than a more validated health intervention: frequent virus testing of all students. They also help colleges showcase their pandemic safety efforts.

But the struggle at many colleges to keep the virus at bay has raised questions about the usefulness of the technologies. According to a New York Times database, there have been more than 530,000 virus cases on campuses since the start of the pandemic.

One problem is that temperature scanners and symptom-checking apps cannot catch the estimated 40 percent of people with the coronavirus who do not have symptoms but are still infectious. Temperature scanners can also be wildly inaccurate. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has cautioned that such symptom-based screening has only “limited effectiveness.”

The schools have a hard time saying whether — or how well — the devices have worked. Many universities and colleges are not rigorously studying effectiveness.

More than 100 schools are using a free symptom-checking app, CampusClear, that can permit students to enter campus buildings. Others are asking students to wear symptom-monitoring devices that can continuously track vital signs like skin temperature.

Administrators at Idaho and other universities said their schools were using the technology, along with policies like social distancing, as part of larger campus efforts to hinder the virus. Some said it was important for their schools to deploy the screening tools even if they were only moderately useful.

At the very least, they said, using services like daily symptom-checking apps may reassure students and remind them to be vigilant about other measures, like mask wearing.

Marcela Valladolid, left, the California chef and media personality, began teaching cooking classes with her sister, Carina Luz, on Zoom. The experience led to a cookbook.
Credit…Karla Ortiz

The books that Americans cooked from during 2020 will stand as cultural artifacts of the year when a virus forced an entire nation into the kitchen.

The pandemic has been good to cookbooks. Overall sales jumped 17 percent from 2019, according to figures from NPD BookScan, which tracks about 85 percent of book sales in the United States.

Some of the smash hits were predictable. The world domination of Joanna Gaines, the queen of shiplap, continued. The second volume of her hugely popular “Magnolia Table” cookbook franchise sailed to the top of the New York Times list of the best-selling cookbooks in 2020. Ina Garten, the cooking doyenne from the Hamptons, landed the second spot with “Modern Comfort Food,” followed by “The Happy in a Hurry Cookbook,” by the “Fox & Friends” host Steve Doocy and his wife, Kathy.

But the stir-crazy year upended the way people cook and think about food in fundamental ways.

One of the year’s 10 best-selling cookbooks on a list complied by BookScan offered 600 air-fryer recipes, owing as much to the appliance’s ability to crisp up takeout French fries as it does to its popularity with the Trader Joe’s set, who made it through the year by heating up vegetarian egg rolls and mac-and-cheese bites. It sold more than 135,000 copies.

By contrast, 30,000 copies may not sound like much, but those sales figures were big for “Cool Beans” by Joe Yonan, a treatise whose own editor predicted “would never set the world on fire.”

Everyday cooks went in search of new cuisines and projects to break up the routine. Practiced cooks who might have spent a Saturday afternoon before the pandemic hand-rolling pasta sought recipes that would help keep weeknight cooking from becoming a grind.

Plenty of people simply needed help getting any meal on the table, which drove the popularity of general cookbooks. That category was the largest of cookbooks bought in 2020, according to BookScan. Sales showed a 127 percent increase over 2019.

And underscoring the great American food dichotomy, both dessert and diet books sold well.

Students were back at Hawthorne Scholastic Academy in Chicago on Monday as they returned to in-person learning.
Credit…Scott Olson/Getty Images

Scientists and doctors who study infectious disease in children largely agreed, in a recent New York Times survey about school openings, that elementary school students should be able to attend in-person school now. With safety measures like masking and opening windows, the benefits outweigh the risks, the majority of the 175 respondents said.

They gave The Times comments on key topics, including the risks to children of being out of school; the risks to teachers of being in school; whether vaccines are necessary before opening schools; how to achieve distance in crowded classrooms; what kind of ventilation is needed; and whether their own children’s school districts got it right.

In addition to their daily work on Covid-19, most of the experts had school-aged children themselves, half of whom were attending in-person school.

They also discussed whether the new variants could change even the best-laid school opening plans. “There will be a lot of unknowns with novel variants,” said Pia MacDonald, an infectious disease epidemiologist at RTI International, a research group. “We need to plan to expect them and to develop strategies to manage school with these new threats.”

Most of the respondents work in academic research, and about a quarter work as health care providers. We asked them what their expertise taught them that they felt others needed to understand.

Over all, they said that data suggests that with precautions, particularly masks, the risk of in-school transmission is low for both children and adults.

People lined up for coronavirus vaccines at the drive-up site at the Walmart store in Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., last week.
Credit…Joe Cavaretta/South Florida Sun-Sentinel, via Associated Press

New York City added workers in the food service and hotel industries to the list of people eligible for coronavirus vaccination on Monday, the same day the governors of Florida and Ohio announced expansions for eligibility in their states.

The expansions come as the supply of vaccines being distributed nationally is ramping up, and after a third vaccine, a single-shot dose from Johnson & Johnson, was authorized for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration over the weekend. The pace of U.S. vaccinations is again accelerating, up to about 1.82 million doses per day on average, according to a New York Times database, above last month’s peak before snowstorms disrupted distribution.

In New York City, people who work in regional food banks, food pantries and “permitted home-delivered” meal programs became eligible on Monday to receive a vaccine. Hotel workers who have direct contact with guests also became eligible.

The governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, said on Monday that people 50 and older who work in K-12 schools, law enforcement or firefighting would become eligible on Wednesday. Florida was one of the first states that decided to vaccinate anyone 65 and older, even before most essential workers, which led to long lines and confusion.

Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio said on Monday that the state would receive more than 448,000 doses this week, including more than 96,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. He said that “in response to this significant increase in the amount of vaccine coming into Ohio,” a new group of people would be eligible on Thursday to get a shot.

That group includes people with Type 1 diabetes, pregnant women and certain workers in child care and funeral services, as well as law enforcement and corrections officers.

To stay ahead of more contagious and possibly more deadly virus variants, states have been racing to ramp up vaccinations and expand eligibility. But they have often done so before the supply could increase quickly enough, creating shortages and making it harder for people to get vaccination appointments.

Frontier Airlines is facing accusations of anti-Semitism for its treatment of the passengers, who are Hasidic Jews.
Credit…Tony Dejak/Associated Press

A Frontier Airlines flight from Miami to La Guardia Airport in New York was canceled on Sunday night after a large group of passengers, including several adults, refused to wear masks, the airline said.

By Monday morning, the airline was facing accusations of anti-Semitism for its treatment of the passengers, who are Hasidic Jews, as well as demands for an investigation from the Anti-Defamation League of New York and other groups. Frontier steadfastly held to its position that the passengers had refused to comply with federal rules requiring them to wear masks.

Several phone videos that have surfaced do not show the confrontation that took place between the passengers and the Frontier crew members, only the aftermath. The video footage from inside the aircraft appeared to show members of the group wearing masks. Some passengers said that the episode escalated because just one member of the group, a 15-month-old child, was not wearing one.

Videos of the passengers exiting the plane amid chaos, captured by other people on the flight, were posted on Twitter by the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council. In one video, a passenger says, “This is an anti-Semitic act.”

Another video showed a couple holding a maskless baby in a car seat, as children could be heard crying and a woman explained that the young children in their group, sitting in the back of the plane, had taken off their masks to eat.

A Frontier Airlines spokeswoman said in a statement that “a large group of passengers repeatedly refused to comply with the U.S. government’s federal mask mandate.”

Global Roundup

Administering shots at a temporary vaccination center in Beijing in January.
Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

China is aiming to vaccinate 40 percent of its population against Covid-19 by the end of June, a prominent health expert said on Monday, even as the country faces significant challenges, including residents who are reluctant.

Across China, only about 3.6 percent of the population, or about 50 million people, has had at least one dose of the vaccine, Zhong Nanshan said during an online forum of health experts from China and the United States.

“It still needs time to reach herd immunity,” Dr. Zhong, an expert who helped lead China’s Covid-19 response, said during the event, citing his conversations with officials at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The forum was sponsored by the Beijing-based Tsinghua University and the Brookings Institution, an American research organization.

China lags behind some other countries in its vaccination efforts. In the United States, 15 percent of the population has received at least one dose. In Israel, more than half the population has.

Chinese experts said at the forum that the pace of inoculation was relatively slow because the outbreak was largely under control in China and residents were therefore not rushing to receive vaccines. The government has said that the supply of doses is strong. China will be able to produce 2.1 billion shots by the end of this year, Dr. Zhang Wenhong, an infectious-disease specialist in Shanghai, said during the forum.

Dr. Zhang acknowledged that the slow pace “really is a great concern for me.” He said that even if 10 million doses of vaccine were administered every day in China, it would take seven months to vaccinate about 70 percent of the population of 1.4 billion. It will require five million doses every day to reach the 40 percent goal by June, Dr. Zhang added.

The United States, by contrast, is administering about 1.8 million doses per day, according to a New York Times database.

China has four vaccines approved for general use. Two are already being mass-produced, by the companies Sinopharm and Sinovac Biotech.

China has prioritized the export of vaccines to countries including Egypt, the Philippines and Thailand, part of its efforts to win diplomatic allies and improve its global image.

In other developments worldwide:

  • Turkey began easing some pandemic restrictions on Tuesday, allowing restaurants to reopen, removing curfews and resuming some in-person schooling under a “normalization” process based on case numbers in each province. The easing came a day after Turkey announced economic growth of 1.8 percent in 2020, making it one of the few countries whose economies did not contract during the pandemic.

  • Four countries in Africa and Asia will receive Covid-19 vaccines on Tuesday, an acceleration in the international Covax program set up to ensure that middle- and lower-income countries are not squeezed out of the vaccine market. Ghana and Ivory Coast received the first doses provided by Covax last week, and Colombia received a shipment on Monday, becoming the first beneficiary in Latin America, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the W.H.O. director, said during a news briefing.

    Tuesday’s recipients include Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria and Cambodia, he said. The program aimed to deliver 11 million doses this week, and by the end of May, it plans to have allocated 237 million doses to 142 participating countries.

Albee Zhang contributed research.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of Austria and Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen of Denmark at an E.U. meeting in Brussels in July.
Credit…Pool photo by John Thys

The leaders of Austria and Denmark are heading to Israel this week to explore future collaborations in the research and development of vaccines against the coronavirus. The effort is something of a snub to the European Union, which has come under pressure for its slow approval and cumbersome procurement of shots.

“Among other things, we will discuss how we can become more self-sufficient in vaccines,” Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen of Denmark said in a statement announcing the visit last week.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of Austria was more blunt.

“The European Medical Agency is too slow in its approval of vaccines, resulting in delayed deliveries at pharmaceutical companies,” he said in an interview with Bild, a German news outlet, on Monday. “We have to prepare against further mutations and should not be dependent on the E.U. anymore for production of second-generation vaccines.”

Israel has secured ample supplies of the vaccine for itself and raced ahead with its own inoculation program, outpacing most of the rest of the world. More than half of Israel’s population of 9.2 million have received a first dose, and more than a third have had a second dose.

Stefan de Keersmaecker, a spokesman for the European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, acknowledged that the vaccine rollout had come with a variety of obstacles. He added that it was “always good to learn from good practice in other countries and to explore opportunities for cooperation.”

“Let’s not forget that the Covid-19 virus requires a global response and that lessons from other countries are very helpful here,” he said, noting that the commission would be interested in learning from the partnership between Austria, Denmark and Israel.

He added that such efforts are not competing but “mutually reinforcing.”

Tulio de Oliveira, a geneticist at the Nelson Mandela School of Medicine in Durban and a member of the W.H.O.’s working group, in his lab in January.
Credit…Joao Silva/The New York Times

20H/501Y.V2.

VOC 202012/02.

B.1.351.

Those were the charming names scientists proposed for a new variant of the coronavirus that was identified in South Africa. The convoluted strings of letters, numbers and dots are deeply meaningful for the scientists who devised them, but how was anyone else supposed to keep them straight?

The naming conventions for viruses were fine as long as variants remained esoteric topics of research. But they are now the source of anxiety for billions of people. They need names that roll off the tongue, without stigmatizing the people or places associated with them.

“What’s challenging is coming up with names that are distinct, that are informative, that don’t involve geographic references and that are kind of pronounceable and memorable,” said Emma Hodcroft, a molecular epidemiologist at the University of Bern in Switzerland. “It sounds kind of simple, but it’s actually a really big ask to try and convey all of this information.”

The solution, she and other experts said, is to come up with a single system for everyone to use but to link it to the more technical ones scientists rely on. The World Health Organization has convened a working group of a few dozen experts to devise a straightforward and scalable way to do this.

“This new system will assign variants of concern a name that is easy to pronounce and recall and will also minimize unnecessary negative effects on nations, economies and people,” the W.H.O. said in a statement. “The proposal for this mechanism is currently undergoing internal and external partner review before finalization.”

In 2015, the W.H.O. issued best practices for naming diseases: avoiding geographic locations or people’s names, species of animal or food, and terms that incite undue fear, like “fatal” and “epidemic.”

Scientists rely on at least three competing systems of nomenclature — Gisaid, Pango and Nextstrain — each of which makes sense in its own world.

“You can’t track something you can’t name,” said Oliver Pybus, an Oxford evolutionary biologist who helped design the Pango system.

But when scientists announced that a variant called B.1.315 — two digits removed from the variant first seen in South Africa — was spreading in the United States, South Africa’s health minister “got quite confused” between that and B.1.351, said Tulio de Oliveira, a geneticist at the Nelson Mandela School of Medicine in Durban and a member of the W.H.O.’s working group.

“We have to come up with a system that not only evolutionary biologists can understand,” he said.

Whatever the final system is, it also will need to be accepted by different groups of scientists as well as the general public.

“Unless one really does become the kind of lingua franca, that will make things more confusing,” Dr. Hodcroft said. “If you don’t come up with something that people can say and type easily, and remember easily, they will just go back to using the geographic name.”

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