Covid and Vaccine Mandate News: Live Updates

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ImagePresident Biden has been pressed to do more to scale up global vaccine manufacturing capacity.
Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

The White House, under pressure from activists to increase the supply of coronavirus vaccines to poor nations, is prepared to invest billions of dollars to expand U.S. manufacturing capacity, with the goal of producing at least one billion doses a year beginning in the second half of 2022, two top advisers to President Biden said in an interview on Tuesday.

The investment is the first step in a new plan, to be announced on Wednesday, for the government to partner with industry to address immediate vaccine needs overseas and domestically and to prepare for future pandemics, said Dr. David Kessler, who oversees vaccine distribution for the administration, and Jeff Zients, Mr. Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator.

“This is about assuring expanded capacity against Covid variants and also preparing for the next pandemic,” Dr. Kessler said. “The goal, in the case of a future pandemic, a future virus, is to have vaccine capability within six to nine months of identification of that pandemic pathogen, and to have enough vaccines for all Americans.”

The idea for the new public-private partnership is still in its early stages, and the price tag is uncertain. Dr. Kessler, who has been working on the proposal for months, estimated it at “several billion.” The money has been set aside as part of the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package that Mr. Biden signed into law in March.

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The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency intends to issue a “request for information” to solicit ideas from companies that have experience manufacturing vaccines using mRNA technology. Mr. Zients said that officials wanted responses “in a very short period of time, 30 days, to understand how most efficiently, effectively and reliably we can increase manufacturing.”

Activists, many of them veterans of the AIDS epidemic, have been demanding for months that Mr. Biden do more to scale up global vaccine manufacturing capacity. Some, furious with what they regard as the administration’s slow progress, turned up at the home of Ron Klain, Mr. Biden’s chief of staff, in September and deposited a fake mountain of bones on the sidewalk in protest.

At the same time, the administration is offering booster shots to millions of vaccinated Americans, despite criticism from World Health Organization officials and other experts who say the doses should go to low- and lower-middle-income countries first. The Food and Drug Administration is aiming to authorize booster doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s Covid vaccine for all adults as early as Thursday, according to people familiar with the agency’s plans.

Whether the new Biden plan will satisfy the administration’s critics is unclear. Many activists have demanded that the administration build up manufacturing capacity overseas, particularly in Africa, but the Biden plan is focused on building capacity among domestic vaccine makers.

“This effort is specifically aimed at building U.S. domestic capacity,” Dr. Kessler said. “But that capacity is important not only for the U.S. supply, but for global supply.”

Credit…Budrul Chukrut/SOPA Images, via Getty Images

FedEx said on Wednesday that it would close its Hong Kong crew base and relocate its pilots, citing an evolving global business environment and the strict pandemic requirements in the Asian financial hub.

FedEx said that it would continue delivery services as usual in Hong Kong, and did not specify where its crew would move. The South China Morning Post, citing a FedEx memo, reported that the routes would be flown by workers based in Oakland, Calif., where 180 Hong Kong-based pilots had relocated early this year.

Hong Kong has been successful at controlling the spread of the coronavirus, with just 213 deaths in a city of 7.5 million. But the tough restrictions on travel have grated on many and spurred criticism from some businesses that rely on the swift movement of goods and people.

This week Hong Kong ordered 130 Cathay Pacific cargo pilots to undergo three weeks of quarantine because they had stayed at a hotel near Frankfurt where three crew members who tested positive for the coronavirus had also resided.

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, acknowledged on Tuesday that the quarantine orders put strains on freight companies and highlighted the city’s dependence on goods brought in from overseas and mainland China.

“If there are one or two more such incidents, our freight planes will have no pilots,” she said.

Also on Wednesday, Tara Joseph, the president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, said that she was stepping down, a decision that she partly attributed to the difficulties created by the city’s coronavirus control measures.

“I think the quarantine rules are a huge red line for many people, including myself,” said Ms. Joseph, who is currently in the United States. She said she planned to stay in her role until the chamber found a replacement.

Earlier this year, Alan Beebe and Ker Gibbs, the presidents of the American chambers of commerce in Beijing and Shanghai, said they were resigning from their roles.

Hong Kong’s quarantine rules have weighed on global companies with a presence in the city. The restrictions were making it hard to retain talent, Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, said this week during a short visit to the city. He was one of a small number of executives who have been granted a quarantine exemption.

Credit…Brian Snyder/Reuters

WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration is aiming to authorize booster doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for all adults as early as Thursday, a move that would expand the number of Americans eligible for additional shots by tens of millions, according to people familiar with the agency’s plans.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s independent committee of vaccine experts has scheduled a meeting for Friday to discuss data on the booster dose’s efficacy and safety. If both the F.D.A. and the C.D.C. sign off this week, they will have acted strikingly quickly — a little more than a week after Pfizer asked for authorization of boosters for everyone 18 and older.

Under that scenario, any adult who received a second dose of the vaccine at least six months earlier would be officially eligible to get a booster as soon as this weekend. The F.D.A. is expected to rule without consulting its own expert panel, which has met frequently during the pandemic to review vaccine data and make a recommendation ahead of a regulatory decision.

Moderna is expected to soon submit its own request for the F.D.A. to broaden eligibility for its booster. But for now, every adult could get the Pfizer booster, according to people familiar with the planning.

The broad booster authorization has been viewed as something of a fait accompli for weeks. Some state and local officials have begun rolling out similar policies ahead of F.D.A. action — responding to persistent virus case counts and the eagerness of many Americans to seek additional protection ahead of holiday gatherings.

New York City health officials on Monday encouraged all adults who want boosters to seek them out. Arkansas, California, Colorado and New Mexico have already moved to expand access.

Many Americans have taken the matter into their own hands and sought out extra doses even if they do not officially qualify yet.

The F.D.A. in September downsized Pfizer-BioNTech’s request to fully approve booster doses for all adults, instead signing off on a more limited population, including those 65 and older, as well as adults with underlying medical conditions or those at risk because of their jobs.

At least 30 to 40 percent of vaccinated adults are still excluded from booster eligibility, according to some estimates.

More than 30 million people have gotten additional shots, with the number often outpacing the number of first shots given each day around the country. Booster doses were also authorized in October for everyone who received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and for vulnerable groups who received Moderna’s two-dose shot.

The C.D.C.’s gathering on Friday is scheduled to be briefer than recent meetings about Covid vaccines, just three hours, and is expected to be straightforward, one federal official familiar with the planning said, in part because of how far the nation’s booster campaign has come. That would suggest a significant softening of opposition among public health experts since President Biden announced in August that he hoped to offer booster doses to all adults.

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