Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

Vaccines for kids inch forward.,


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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.

ImageDaily reported coronavirus cases in the United States, seven-day average.
Daily reported coronavirus cases in the United States, seven-day average.Credit…The New York Times

This morning, Pfizer asked the F.D.A. to authorize its Covid-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11. The agency said it would move quickly to review the request, and experts expect a ruling sometime between Halloween and Thanksgiving.

If approved, the move could make more than 28 million children in the U.S. eligible for vaccines. And the need is clear: With the surge of the Delta variant, children accounted for as many as one in four infections last month, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Even though children rarely become severely ill from Covid-19, nearly 30,000 were hospitalized in August.

There will be important differences with the pediatric vaccines. Pfizer has proposed giving children only one-third of the adult dosage.

“Kids react very strongly to vaccines so you can get a big response from them with a smaller dose than you would in adults,” our colleague Apoorva Mandavilli told us. “Also, side effects also go up with younger ages. The younger you go, kids have more fevers, more body aches.”

Apoorva’s 12-year-old son is fully vaccinated, and her 9-year-old daughter can’t wait. (“She’s dying to do sleepovers,” Apoorva said.) But many parents in the U.S., even some of those who are vaccinated, are more hesitant. According to a recent survey, roughly a third of parents of children ages 5 to 11 said they would wait and see before vaccinating their children.

“Some parents don’t think their children are really at high risk of Covid, and they don’t trust the vaccine yet,” Apoorva said.

Officials in Britain, Norway and other countries are also tailoring their approach for children, recommending a single dose of the Pfizer vaccine for those ages 12 and older. They are hoping to give children at least partial protection while sparing them rare, but potentially harmful, side effects.

A second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have both been linked to an increased risk of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart, especially in young men, although the condition remains extremely rare.

“They’re not saying, ‘We’ll only do one dose,'” Apoorva said. “They’re saying: ‘We’ll do one dose because we know that’s safe. And we’ll come back to the second dose when more data comes up.'”

In the U.S., advisers to the C.D.C. reviewed data on myocarditis in June, and unanimously voted to recommend the vaccine for children ages 12 and older, saying the benefits far outweighed the risk. So far, no one in the U.S. is seriously talking about starting with a one-dose regimen for children.

“Some of the experts I spoke to are frustrated and feel that, in the U.S., there’s so much fear of stoking anti-vax sentiment that a lot of scientists or doctors are reluctant to even broach anything negative about the vaccines,” Apoorva said.

Even without vaccinations for children under 12, the school year in the U.S. is off to a relatively positive start: A vast majority of students have been learning in classrooms full-time, mostly without interruptions.

Infection rates declined by 35 percent since Sept. 1, even as many schools opened their doors. And virus-driven school closures declined steeply from the end of August to late September, from about 240 a week to about 25 a week, according to a recent survey.

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President Biden spoke in Chicago today to make the case that vaccine mandates from businesses are crucial to the economic recovery.

“My message is require your employees to get vaccinated,” Biden said. “With vaccinations we’re going to beat this pandemic finally. Without them, we face endless months of chaos in our hospitals, damage to our economy, and anxiety in our schools. And empty restaurants. And much less commerce.”

“The unvaccinated also put our economy at risk because people are reluctant to go out,” he added. “Think about this. Even in places where there is no restriction on going to restaurants and gyms and movie theaters, people are not going in anywhere near the numbers, because they’re worried they’re going to get sick.”

Last month, Biden announced a private sector mandate that all companies with more than 100 workers require vaccination or weekly testing. He also moved to mandate shots for health care workers, federal contractors and most federal workers.

Analysts at Goldman Sachs estimated that Biden’s requirements would mean that 82 percent of the total population, and 90 percent of adults, would get their first dose by mid-2022. To date, 65 percent of all Americans have had at least one dose.

Several big employers have already imposed mandates — including 3M, Procter & Gamble and the airlines American, Alaska and JetBlue — but many others, like JPMorgan Chase and Walmart, have yet to issue broad requirements.

Some executives are worried that they will lose employees to mandates. But the experience from companies like United Airlines suggests otherwise. The company recently reported that 99 percent of its workers had been vaccinated and that it had received 20,000 applications for about 2,000 flight attendant positions, a much higher ratio than before the pandemic.

In health care, only a fraction of employees are not complying with mandates, although whether home health aids will accept vaccines at similarly high rates is still an open question.

Even after OSHA finalizes its rules, which could still be a few weeks away, some employers may still not act, betting that they won’t be punished because of the agency’s limited enforcement resources or that the standards could get bogged down in court.

The hardest thing I have encountered in coping with the coronavirus is to have to tell my much loved unvaccinated grandson that I can no longer see him until he is willing to be vaccinated. He is adamant in his refusal. I am almost 80 years old and live in a retirement community.

— Mary Kathryn Everitt, Asheville, N.C.

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