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Coronavirus Notebook

Biden urges unvaccinated Americans to get vaccinated, warning against new variant

President Biden spoke about the nation's COVID-19 response and the vaccination program in the State Dining Room of the White House on Friday. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 65 percent of the adult American population has received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine.
President Biden spoke about the nation's COVID-19 response and the vaccination program in the State Dining Room of the White House on Friday. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 65 percent of the adult American population has received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine.Drew Angerer/Getty

President Biden urged unvaccinated Americans to get vaccinated, warning that a highly transmissible variant of the coronavirus could cause more deaths.

“Even while we are making incredible progress, it remains a serious and deadly threat,” Biden said Friday during a White House event to celebrate 300 million doses of vaccine administered during the first 150 days of his administration. “The data is clear: If you are unvaccinated, you’re at risk of getting seriously ill, or dying, or spreading it.”

Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, expects the Delta variant first detected in India to be the most prevalent strain in the United States in the coming summer months.

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COVID-19 cases have plunged in the country in step with vaccinations, prompting many people to resume pre-pandemic activities like indoor dining, sporting events, concerts, and travel in recent weeks. But a large swath of Americans — particularly in the politically conservative South — have declined shots despite warnings from health authorities that the virus remains a threat.

“The Delta variant can cause more people to die in areas where people have not been vaccinated,” Biden said Friday. “Where people have gotten the two shots, the Delta variant is highly unlikely to result in anything,” he said, adding that “the existing vaccines are very effective.”

About 65 percent of Americans 18 and older have had at least one dose, according to the CDC, and 142.5 million adults are fully vaccinated. But at the current pace — about 237,000 first doses per day — Biden will fall short of his July 4 goal of 160 million adults fully vaccinated and 70 percent with at least one shot.

But Biden’s goal could be met shortly after the Independence Day holiday. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have partially vaccinated 70 percent of adult residents.

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Regardless, the US — which only recently announced plans to share its massive stockpile of vaccines with needy countries — remains far ahead of most of the world.

But the US also reached a grim milestone in the pandemic this week, as the death toll eclipsed 600,000, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Public health officials have stressed that danger remains, as the highly transmissible Delta variant first seen in India is expected to become the dominant strain in the US.

Studies have so far shown US-authorized vaccines to be highly effective against the variant, though the protection is significantly lower for those with only one dose of shots with a two-dose regimen.

Bloomberg and Washington Post


EU recommends lift on ban on US travelers

BRUSSELS — The European Union recommended Friday that its member states lift the ban on nonessential travel for visitors from the United States, a move sure to be welcomed by Americans eager to travel to the Continent after more than a year of tight restrictions.

The recommendation is nonbinding, and each member state can decide what regulations, including quarantines, to impose on visitors. Americans have been mainly banned from Europe as the United States grappled with one of the highest caseloads in the world.

The opening is also expected to provide relief for southern European countries that are very dependent on tourism, including Italy and Portugal. Those countries pressed the European Commission to act so that the entire summer tourist season would not be hurt by the absence of Americans, who are considered relatively big spenders.

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The decision comes just days after President Biden’s visit to Brussels, where he met with top EU officials.

But despite vows of mutual affection between Biden and the officials, travel remains one-sided. Europeans are still barred from entering the United States for nonessential travel even if they have been fully vaccinated, following a sweeping travel ban announced by former president Donald Trump in March 2020 and extended in January by Biden.

The formal decision Friday was made by Europe’s economy ministers, who agreed to add the United States to a list of countries considered safe from an epidemiological point of view. That means that travelers from those countries should be free to enter the bloc, even if they are not fully vaccinated, on the basis of a negative PCR test for an active coronavirus infection.

But the EU cannot compel member nations to open to American visitors. Each country is free to keep or impose more stringent restrictions, such as an obligation to quarantine upon arrival or to undergo a series of further tests.

Countries like Greece and Spain, more heavily dependent on tourism, already moved in recent weeks to reopen to tourists from outside the EU, including from the United States. The European Commission criticized those early moves.

More open travel last summer between European countries was blamed for deadly surges in cases.

But more than half of EU residents have now received at least one vaccine shot, creating better conditions for opening economies and restoring freer travel. Still, worries remain about opening up while highly contagious new variants, like the one known as Delta, are spreading.

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New York Times


Palestinian Authority calls off vaccine-sharing deal with Israel

JERUSALEM — Just hours after a vaccine-sharing agreement was announced with Israel on Friday, the Palestinian Authority announced that the deal was off because the doses donated by Israel were too close to their expiration date and did not meet its standards.

Israel announced that it would send more than 1 million doses of coronavirus vaccines near their expiration date to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank in exchange for a similar quantity of fresh vaccine to be returned by the Palestinians later in the year, officials said Friday.

The arrangement to cooperatively manage their vaccine stocks would have allowed the Palestinian Ministry of Health to accelerate its vaccine campaign while keeping unneeded doses in Israel from going to waste. Israel — which has already vaccinated a significant majority of its residents — will get its vaccine stocks replenished in time for booster shots later in the year, experts said.

However, Palestinian Health Minister Mai Alkaila told reporters Friday that they had expected the doses to have expiration dates for July or August. After they received them, Alkaila said, they saw that the doses would in fact expire in June.

“That’s not enough time to use them, so we rejected them,” Alkaila said, according to Reuters.

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The vaccine deal, announced by the office of new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, had followed criticism from Palestinian activists and human rights groups that say Israel has not done enough to help fight the pandemic in Palestinian populations it largely controls.

Washington Post


Canada extends restrictions on travel at US-Canada border

TORONTO — Canada said Friday that it would extend restrictions on nonessential travel at the US-Canada land border until July 21, a move poised to further stoke frustration among the lawmakers, business groups, and residents on both sides of the border who have been pressing Ottawa to begin lifting them.

The restrictions, which have been in place since March 2020, have had limited impacts on trade and commerce. But they’ve split apart families, disrupted life in tightly knit border communities, and badly hurt the tourism industry in Canada, which is reliant on American visitors during the summer season.

Canadian officials have suggested that the reopening of the border will happen in phases. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that he wants 75 percent of Canadians to have a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine and at least 20 percent of them to be fully vaccinated before easing the measures.

As of June 17, nearly 66 percent of Canadians had received at least one dose, while roughly 16 percent have been fully vaccinated. Canada had been extending the interval between doses to get some protection to more people more quickly amid what were initially limited supplies.

“We’re not out of this pandemic yet,” Trudeau said.

As vaccination rates in Canada have risen, calls have mounted for the country to begin easing some of the measures, and several US lawmakers from across the political spectrum have pushed President Biden to lift the measures unilaterally.

Washington Post


Johnson & Johnson vaccine underused in US

When Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose coronavirus vaccine was authorized for emergency use in the United States in late February, it was seen as a breakthrough for reaching vulnerable and isolated Americans, a crucial alternative to vaccines that require two shots weeks apart and fussier storage. It was soon popular on college campuses, in door-to-door campaigns, and with harder-to-reach communities that often struggle with access to health care.

But with only 11.8 million doses administered in the United States so far — less than 4 percent of the total — the “one and done” vaccine has fallen flat.

States have warned that they may not find recipients for millions of doses that will soon expire, partly because the vaccine’s appeal dropped after it was linked to a rare but serious blood-clotting disorder and injections were paused for 10 days in April.

The vaccine took another hit last week, when regulators told Johnson & Johnson that it should throw out tens of millions of additional doses produced at a plant in Baltimore because they might be contaminated.

Although millions of Americans have yet to be inoculated, the vaccine’s role in the United States is fading fast. Experts lament a missed opportunity to address health disparities with a shot that should have been ideal for reaching vulnerable populations.

New York Times