Covid Live Updates: Africa May Not Meet Vaccination Goal, W.H.O. Says

Health care workers waiting to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in Johannesburg in March.
Credit…Themba Hadebe/Associated Press

Only seven African nations, most of them small, are expected to meet the World Health Organization’s goal that every country worldwide vaccinate 10 percent of its people against the coronavirus by September. It is a dire prospect for a continent where vaccine supplies are being quickly depleted, and governments are battling a resurgence in infections.

The W.H.O. said on Thursday that inoculation coverage remained at about 2 percent continentwide — and about 1 percent in sub-Saharan Africa — even as some rich nations across the world have administered shots to a majority of their people.

To achieve the 10 percent target for every country on the continent, Africa would need an extra 225 million doses, said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the W.H.O. regional director for Africa. In total, nine out of 10 African nations will miss out on this global vaccination goal, the agency estimated.

The seven countries likely to meet the goal are Comoros, Equatorial Guinea, Mauritius, Morocco, Sao Tome and Principe, the Seychelles and Zimbabwe. An additional six countries — Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Rwanda and Tunisia — could reach the target if they receive enough supply to keep up with their current pace of vaccination, the W.H.O. said.

“This will really require a massive effort,” Dr. Moeti acknowledged, saying that “without a significant boost” in the availability of vaccines, “many African lives are at stake.”

The announcement came as Africa is set to surpass five million virus cases, with Covid having claimed 133,000 lives so far, according to official statistics. While testing is often limited, known cases have also increased, with 94,145 new ones reported in the past week — a 26 percent increase from the previous week, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Countries including Egypt, South Africa, Tunisia and Zambia have reported a surge in cases, while some, such as Uganda, have reintroduced lockdowns to stem the spread of the virus. The Africa C.D.C. also said that deaths on the continent increased by 2 percent over the past week, and many more countries have reported detecting the variants first reported in Britain, India and South Africa. As cases and deaths rise, many nations have reported exhausting most of the vaccines they received through Covax, a global vaccine initiative. The W.HO. said that 14 African nations had utilized 80 percent to 100 percent of their doses.

Still, only 35.9 million Covid vaccine doses have been administered on the continent, according to the Africa C.D.C., with the majority given in a few countries, including Egypt, Ethiopia, Morocco, Nigeria and South Africa, and in the Western Sahara region. Burundi, Eritrea and Tanzania have yet to give a single shot, while Chad and Togo only started administering doses last week.

While some countries have faced shortages, others have not been rolling out campaigns quickly. Twenty nations have used less than half of their doses, the W.H.O. estimated, while 12 nations have more than 10 percent of their doses facing expiration.

But on Thursday, both the W.H.O. and the Africa C.D.C. welcomed President Biden’s decision to donate 500 million Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines to poorer nations, including those in the African Union. Countries like France and corporations like Mastercard have also promised to finance, deliver or help produce Covid vaccines in Africa.

“It’s a monumental step forward,” Dr. Moeti said of the U.S. effort, which Mr. Biden announced in Europe on Thursday. “We are now seeing wealthy nations begin to turn promises into action. The hope of a shared future without Covid-19 is starting to shine a little bit more brightly.”

The vaccines are set to start shipping in August, with 200 million doses set for delivery by the end of this year, while the other 300 million will be delivered early next year, according to a White House fact sheet.

Dr. John Nkengasong, the director of the Africa C.D.C., welcomed the decision but said that he did not know when or how many vaccines Africa would receive. He urged member states to prepare storage facilities for the Pfizer vaccine and prioritize big cities once those doses arrive. He gave the example of Rwanda, which he said had received over 102,000 Pfizer doses and rolled them out quickly.

“We have to use a combination of vaccines to win this battle against Covid-19,” Mr. Nkengasong said at a news conference on Thursday. “We are at war and you go to war with what you have, not what you need.”

The Celebrity Millennium, left, docked on the island of St. Maarten, last week.
Credit…Jean Vallette for The New York Times

Just as cruises resume after more than a year on pause, the industry is facing an immediate setback.

Two passengers sharing a stateroom aboard the Celebrity Millennium, operated by Royal Caribbean’s Celebrity Cruises from the Caribbean island of St. Maarten, tested positive for the coronavirus on Thursday. The ship, billed as the first fully-vaccinated cruise in North America, has one more day at sea on Friday before returning to St. Maarten to disembark.

All guests will take an antigen test as part of their disembarkation process, said Susan Lomax, the company’s associate vice president for global public relations.

In a statement, the cruise line said that the passengers tested positive during required testing before leaving the ship. The travelers are asymptomatic and are in isolation under observation by a medical team. Testing and contact tracing is in place for close contacts.

The ship’s 650 crew members and 600 or so passengers (including a New York Times reporter) were required to be vaccinated before boarding, and had to show proof of a negative coronavirus test taken within 72 hours before sailing from St. Maarten last Saturday.

Two passengers on a Mediterranean cruise operated by MSC Cruises also tested positive. Both passengers on the MSC Seaside were asymptomatic when they tested positive during routine testing two days ago, the communications manager Paige Rosenthal said. Immediately after testing positive, the two passengers, who were not traveling together, were isolated along with their parties. They all disembarked in Syracuse, Sicily.

All passengers on the vessel were required to take two coronavirus tests before boarding; vaccines were not required.

The major cruise lines are preparing to restart operations from U.S. ports this summer. Celebrity Edge is poised to be the first, sailing out of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on June 26, with all crew and at least 95 percent of passengers fully vaccinated, in accordance with guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, cruise ships were sites of some of the largest concentrations of coronavirus cases. The return of cruises and large gatherings such as conferences is a sign that the pandemic is ending in the United States, as the steady pace of vaccinations — 43 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated, and 52 percent have received at least one dose, according to a New York Times database — gives some event organizers the confidence to resume business.

This month, Bitcoin 2021, a business conference dedicated to the digital currency, sold 12,000 tickets and attracted thousands more to Miami for a week of panels, parties, networking and deal making. It was the first major business conference since the pandemic and the largest Bitcoin conference ever.

In the days after the event, several attendees announced on Twitter that they had tested positive for the coronavirus. Others shared stories of their peers testing positive.

The event attracted Bitcoin enthusiasts from around the world, including some countries that do not yet have easy access to vaccines. Most events took place inside a large, crowded warehouse, and facial coverings were rare. Vaccines were not required to attend.

John Riggins, head of operations at BTC Media, which ran the conference, said that the company had not heard directly from any attendee who tested positive. The company is monitoring the situation and will follow recommendations from the C.D.C., he said.

“Vaccines have been freely available for months in the U.S., to the extent that anyone who wanted to be vaccinated could have been so by the time of the event,” Mr. Riggins wrote in an email.

“We provided all attendees with the current recommendations of the C.D.C. and state of Florida and expressed to our audience that those who were high risk or hadn’t been vaccinated should consider waiting until next year,” he added.

This week, the first major trade show in the United States since the pandemic started, The World of Concrete, is being held at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The event typically draws more than 60,000 industry professionals from around the world.

President Biden, right, with Pfizer’s chief executive, Albert Bourla, at Carbis Bay, England, on Thursday.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

The leaders of the world’s wealthiest democracies are expected to pledge one billion doses of Covid vaccines to poor and middle-income countries on Friday as part of a campaign to “vaccinate the world” by the end of 2022.

The stakes could hardly be higher.

“This is about our responsibility, our humanitarian obligation, to save as many lives as we can,” President Biden said in a speech in England on Thursday evening, before the meeting of the Group of 7 wealthy democracies. “When we see people hurting and suffering anywhere around the world, we seek to help any way we can.”

It is not just a race to save lives, restart economies and lift restrictions that continue to take an immeasurable toll on people around the globe.

Since Mr. Biden landed in Europe for the start of his first presidential trip abroad on Wednesday, he has made it clear that this is a moment when democracies must prove that they can rise to meet the world’s gravest challenges. And they must do so in a way the world can see, as autocrats and strongmen — particularly in Russia and China — promote their systems of governance as superior.

Yet the notion of “vaccine diplomacy” can easily be intertwined with “vaccine nationalism,” which the World Health Organization has warned could ultimately limit the global availability of vaccines.

When Mr. Biden announced on Thursday that the U.S. would donate of 500 million Pfizer-BioNTech doses, the president said they would be provided with “no strings attached.”

“We’re doing this to save lives, to end this pandemic,” he said. “That’s it. Period.”

But even as wealthy democracies move to step up their efforts, the scale of the challenge is enormous.

Covax, the global vaccine-sharing program, still remains underfunded and billions of doses short.

The International Monetary Fund estimates that it will cost about $50 billion to help the developing world bring the pandemic to an end. In addition to the countless lives saved, the I.M.F. says that such an investment could bring a dramatic return: $9 trillion in increased global economic growth.

While the pandemic is at the center of Friday’s G7 agenda, with the leaders of the nations meeting face to face for the first time since the coronavirus essentially put a stop to handshake diplomacy, a host of other issues are also on the table.

Finance leaders from the G7 agreed last week to back a new global minimum tax rate of at least 15 percent that companies would have to pay regardless of where they locate their headquarters.

Beyond the specific issues, the summit will be a test of how institutions created in another era to help guide the world through crises can stand up to the challenges of today.

On Thursday, Mr. Biden and Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain turned to a World War II-era document to provide inspiration for a new generation of challenges, renewing the Atlantic Charter eight decades after it was signed to take into account the threats of today: from cyberattacks to nuclear, climate to public health.

The gathering of the G7 is also, in many ways, a relic of another era. It was created in the 1970s to provide economic solutions after a shock in oil supply triggered a financial crisis.

Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, said in a preview of the conference on Thursday that the “return of the United States to the global arena” would help strengthen the “rules-based system” and that the leaders of the G7 were “united and determined to protect and to promote our values.”

Miriam Leah Zisman, who is expecting her first child, was discouraged from getting vaccinated by the conversations in her Orthodox Jewish community.
Credit…Hilary Swift for The New York Times

In April, rumors began swirling in some New York City neighborhoods with large Orthodox Jewish communities about how the Covid-19 vaccine could pose a threat to women’s fertility.

In WhatsApp groups, recordings of rabbis warning against what they said were the vaccine’s adverse effects proliferated among mothers of teenage girls who don’t want their daughters vaccinated.

There is no current evidence that any vaccines, including Covid-19 vaccines, cause fertility problems. Many prominent mainstream Orthodox leaders in the New York region and in Israel, where the virus has all but disappeared, have advised their communities to get the Covid-19 shots.

But in ultra-Orthodox circles in New York — where women marry at a younger age and birthrates dwarf those of the general population — the spread of unsubstantiated rumors about the coronavirus vaccine’s potential adverse effects on fertility and pregnancy have been particularly effective in dissuading young women from getting the vaccine. These neighborhoods have some of the lowest vaccination rates in New York City.

A concern for New York officials is that vaccine resistance in Orthodox neighborhoods could play a part in endangering the city’s long-term prospects for recovery.

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