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Credit…Nathan Papes/The Springfield News-Leader, via Associated Press
Reports of new coronavirus cases are rising again across the United States, a discouraging trend fueled by the spread of the Delta variant and the sputtering vaccination campaign.
The country’s outlook remains far better than at previous points in the pandemic: Nearly half of all Americans are fully vaccinated, cases and hospitalizations remain at a fraction of their peak and deaths are occurring at some of the lowest levels since the early days of the pandemic.
Yet infections are rising in almost every state. Daily case numbers have increased at least 15 percent over the last two weeks in 49 states, including 19 states that are reporting at least twice as many new cases a day. Full-fledged outbreaks have emerged in a handful of places with relatively low vaccination rates, including Arkansas, Missouri, Louisiana and Nevada.
“The Delta variant is gaining ground,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas told residents as he lamented his state’s low vaccine uptake and sudden spike in cases, from fewer than 200 new infections a day in early June to more than 1,000 a day. “It’s an urgent moment because the solution is available. People are always asking me, ‘How do you protect yourself?’ Get the vaccination.”
The tens of millions of Americans who are vaccinated are largely protected from the virus, including the Delta variant, scientists have said. And in much of the country, especially the Northeast, the Upper Midwest and the West Coast, case rates remain relatively low. Vermont, the state with the highest vaccination rate, is averaging 11 new cases a day.
Still, less than a month after reports of new cases nationally bottomed out at around 11,000 a day, virus cases are increasing again, with about 26,000 new cases a day. Hospitalizations have also started to rise, though at a slower rate.
Intensive care beds in hospitals have become scarce in parts of Missouri, where officials in Springfield on Wednesday asked for an alternative care site. In Mississippi, where cases are up 70 percent over the last two weeks, health officials have urged older adults to avoid large indoor gatherings even if they have been vaccinated. And in Louisiana, which has the country’s second-lowest vaccination rate, the average daily caseload has doubled since the start of July.
“The data are very clear,” said Dr. Joseph Kanter, Louisiana’s state health officer. “All people in Louisiana, especially those who are not yet vaccinated, should know they are now at increased risk of exposure to Covid-19 due to the more transmissible Delta variant, and they should consider their personal risk and their family’s risk.”
The disheartening pattern comes as the vaccine effort, which has become entangled in partisan politics, has largely stalled. About 550,000 people are receiving a vaccine each day, down from 3.3 million shots a day during an April peak.
Even in places that have not yet seen a significant uptick, governors and public health officials have urged vaccine holdouts to get a shot and protect themselves from Delta.
“I hope and pray that it doesn’t come to West Virginia and just absolutely runs across our state like wild,” said Gov. Jim Justice, whose state has recorded relatively few cases recently but has a low vaccination rate. “But the odds are it will.”
Credit…Federico Rios for The New York Times
A shipment of 500,000 Covid vaccine doses from the United States arrived in Haiti on Wednesday, the first shots to reach a nation thrown into turmoil after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.
The donation is part of the Biden administration’s effort to bolster lagging vaccination campaigns in the world’s poorer countries, and will be distributed by Covax, the global vaccine-sharing effort, according to a statement by the Pan American Health Organization, part of the World Health Organization.
“The arrival of these vaccines is quite promising and now the challenge is to get them to the people that need them the most,” the P.A.H.O. director, Carissa F. Etienne, said in the statement.
Haiti is one of a handful of countries worldwide, and the only one in Latin America or the Caribbean, that have yet to begin a Covid vaccination program, leaving it at risk as the highly infectious Delta variant circulates the globe. The country has recorded fewer than 20,000 coronavirus cases and 487 deaths, according to New York Times data, but experts believe that number to be an undercount because of low levels of testing.
Marie Gréta Roy Clément, Haiti’s public health minister, said that the doses provided by the United States would be administered free of charge, but she did not specify who would receive the shots first. The U.S. shipment was of the Moderna vaccine, The Associated Press reported.
“This first allocation of vaccines puts an end to a long period of waiting,” Dr. Clément said, “not only for the Haitian population, but also for the people of the region who were very concerned that Haiti was the only country in the Americas that had not yet introduced the Covid-19 vaccine.”
Even before the president’s assassination on July 7, political instability and a lack of resources were hampering Haiti’s response to a new outbreak of the virus. Last month, administrators at a hospital outside Port-au-Prince, the capital, turned away patients because its wards were full. Hospitals have added beds, but doctors warn that there is not enough medical oxygen to treat patients if cases rise further.
Officials said that the United States would send more vaccines to Haiti soon, as the Biden administration speeds up the delivery of 12 million doses it has pledged for countries in the Caribbean and Latin America. About four million doses have been delivered so far, to Bolivia, El Salvador and Honduras, according to the Pan American Health Organization.
Credit…Arun Sankar/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
About 23 million children missed out on basic childhood vaccines last year, the World Health Organization and UNICEF said on Thursday, warning about a devastating consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic for routine health services.
The number was the highest since 2009, according to the organizations, and mostly affected children living in remote or deprived areas, highlighting the widening gaps in vaccine access that the pandemic has reinforced.
As some Western countries have recommended vaccinating children against the coronavirus, the W.H.O. and UNICEF warned that countless other children around the world were at risk because of a lack of routine immunizations against diseases like polio, measles and meningitis.
“Multiple disease outbreaks would be catastrophic for communities and health systems already battling Covid-19, making it more urgent than ever to invest in childhood vaccination and ensure every child is reached,” W.H.O.’s director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said in a statement.
The number of children who did not receive their first vaccinations for preventable diseases increased in all regions, with the most significant disruptions reported in countries in Southeast Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean.
India, which has faced one of the world’s worst coronavirus outbreaks, has been hit especially hard by the decline in vaccinations, according to data provided by the W.H.O. and UNICEF. More than three million children in India did not receive a first dose of the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, known as DTP-1, in 2000, up from 1.4 million in 2019. That marked a troubling reversal for a country that had significantly increased the rate of childhood immunizations across its vast population in recent years, experts said.
Other countries with the greatest increases of children who missed immunizations include Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Mexico and Mozambique.
“These are alarming numbers, suggesting the pandemic is unraveling years of progress in routine immunization and exposing millions of children to deadly, preventable diseases,” said Seth Berkley, the chief executive of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, a public-private partnership that helps provide vaccines to developing countries.
Global vaccination rates for children against diseases like diphtheria, tetanus, and measles had already plateaued for years before the pandemic, the W.H.O. said. School closures and the redirection of resources to tackle Covid-19 further disrupted vaccine services, and fears of being infected with the coronavirus left people reluctant to bring their children for immunizations, the organizations added.
In addition to the disruptions in routine immunization efforts, mass vaccination campaigns for diseases such as measles, polio and yellow fever are currently postponed in more than 40 countries, putting millions of children at risk, the report said.
“This is a wake-up call,” Dr. Berkley said. “We cannot allow a legacy of Covid-19 to be the resurgence of measles, polio and other killers.”
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Politicians and medical experts in Australia are trading blame for a slow vaccine rollout as the country struggles to contain a coronavirus outbreak in Sydney, its biggest city.
Only about 9.5 percent of Australia’s population of 26 million has been fully vaccinated, with 27 percent of people having had at least one dose, according to New York Times data — figures that lag behind many other richer nations. The rollout of doses has been hampered by shifting advice about the AstraZeneca vaccine, the only one manufactured domestically, which the authorities currently recommend only for those over 60. People under 40 are not yet eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine, the only alternative, because of supply shortages.
In radio interviews on Wednesday and Thursday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison blamed the sluggish rollout on Australia’s vaccine advisory body, saying its “cautious” guidance had “put us behind.”
The body, a panel of health experts known as the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization, issued recommendations beginning in April that younger people should wait until the Pfizer vaccine was available, because of a very small risk of blood clots connected to the AstraZeneca shots. On Tuesday, the group revised its advice, saying that during an outbreak, when the supply of Pfizer was low, people should consider getting the AstraZeneca shots despite the rare clotting risk.
Mr. Morrison said that the group’s initial advice constrained use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which Australia had invested in most heavily, and was based on the assumption that case numbers in the country would remain low. “I never made that assumption,” he said.
The advisory group said in response that its role was only to provide guidance and that the federal government remained responsible for decision making.
The finger-pointing was escalating as an outbreak in Sydney swelled to 900 cases, with the lockdown in the state of New South Wales, which includes the city, stretching into a third week. On Wednesday, the state’s premier, Gladys Berejiklian, said that case numbers were “stabilizing.” But officials in Australia’s second-biggest state, Victoria, which includes Melbourne, announced a five-day lockdown after a cluster of infections linked to the Sydney outbreak grew to 18 people. Three of them were suspected to have been infected at a sports event over the weekend attended by tens of thousands of people. More than 10 million in Australia are now under lockdown.
Mr. Morrison’s government has also faced criticism for being slow to procure other vaccines. Australia is set to receive 40 million Pfizer doses by the end of the year, with about three-quarters of those yet to arrive. The government announced last week that the delivery of some of the anticipated doses would be brought forward to August, from September.
Opposition politicians intensified their attacks after it was reported over the weekend that a former prime minister, Kevin Rudd, had called the chief executive of Pfizer in a personal capacity to lobby for more doses, at the request of business leaders. Mr. Morrison’s government responded by saying that it had been communicating with Pfizer’s Australia chief of operations.
Mr. Morrison has also argued that supply chain delays — such as Italy’s blocking AstraZeneca doses bound for Australia earlier this year — and vaccine misinformation spread by some lawmakers hampered the provision of vaccines.
Credit…Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times
As the Delta variant rips through conservative swaths of the country, some elected Republicans are facing growing pressure from public health advocates to speak out — not only in favor of their constituents being inoculated against the coronavirus but also against media figures and elected officials who are questioning the vaccines.
“We don’t control conservative media figures so far as I know — at least I don’t,” Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, said in an interview on Wednesday. “That being said, I think it’s an enormous error for anyone to suggest that we shouldn’t be taking vaccines. Look, the politicization of vaccination is an outrage and frankly moronic.”
Republican senators who favor vaccination are still taking pains not to mention the names of colleagues, such as Senators Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Rand Paul of Kentucky, who have given voice to vaccine skepticism, or media personalities like Fox News Channel’s Tucker Carlson, who expresses such skepticism almost nightly.
Senate Republican Leaders Promote Vaccinations
Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, and Senator Roy Blunt spoke on Tuesday about the slowing pace of vaccinations, calling on Americans to get inoculated in order to protect themselves and others.
I’m perplexed by the difficulty we have in finishing the job. If you’re a football fan, we’re in the red zone, but we’re not in the end zone yet, and we need to keep preaching that getting the vaccine is important. Nobody knows more about that than Senator Blunt. I don’t know if you want to add anything Roy to what I’ve said here, but we need to finish the job. And it’s, part of it is just convincing the American people of the importance of doing this. Everyone who knows this subject says that if you get the disease again, chances are pretty good you’re not going to die from it if you get vaccinated. So I don’t know how many times we have to keep saying it, but for myself, I intend to keep saying it over and over and over again. Roy, do you want to? Well, I think, I think, leader, that the point is that you can’t just expect that if everybody else is going to get the vaccine and somehow that’s going to protect you, that actually might be the case. But we’re at a critical moment here where the way to stop this is to be sure it has nowhere that it can continue to spread to other people.
Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, and Senator Roy Blunt spoke on Tuesday about the slowing pace of vaccinations, calling on Americans to get inoculated in order to protect themselves and others.CreditCredit…Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times
Vaccines are indeed effective against the Delta variant, and nationwide, the numbers remain at some of the lowest levels since the beginning of the pandemic.
Still, with cases ticking upward, driven by localized outbreaks in places with low vaccination rates — Arkansas, Missouri, Texas and Nevada — Republican leaders are talking.
“As a polio victim myself when I was young, I’ve studied that disease,” Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican minority leader, said on Tuesday. “It took 70 years — 70 years — to come up with two vaccines that finally ended the polio threat. As a result of Operation Warp Speed, we have not one, not two, but three highly effective vaccines, so I’m perplexed by the difficulty we have finishing the job.”
“If you’re a football fan,” Mr. McConnell said, “we’re in the red zone. But we’re not in the end zone yet. And we need to keep preaching that getting the vaccine is important.”
Still, when asked about his conversations with vaccine skeptics in the Senate Republican Conference, Mr. McConnell demurred. “I can only speak for myself, and I just did,” he said.
Senior Republicans are clearly walking a fine line. They cannot afford to see a resurgent coronavirus disproportionately hurt conservative voters, who have been fed a diet of misinformation about vaccines by right-leaning news outlets and commentators. But they cannot afford to alienate them either.
Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, said on Wednesday that much of the skepticism surrounding vaccines “is based on conspiracy theories, unfortunately.”
“I do acknowledge the right of an individual to decide whether they’re going to get the vaccine,” he said, “but what I’ve tried to do is encourage everybody to get the vaccine.”
On Wednesday, a group of Republican senators and House members introduced legislation to repeal mask mandates on public transport, dismissing the spread of the virus.
“The viral spread is collapsing and our normal lives are returning,” declared Representative Andy Biggs, Republican of Arizona.
Mr. Cornyn drew a distinction between densely populated urban areas like Houston and Dallas, where he said mass vaccination is vital, and smaller, spread out cities like Odessa and Midland where “social distancing is not a problem, let me say.”
The virus has not drawn that distinction. Some of the fastest growth is happening in smaller cities and rural regions, like parts of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas.
Mr. Romney tried to appeal to supporters of former President Donald J. Trump in those areas.
“People who support him applaud the fact that he moved heaven and earth to get vaccines developed on a timely basis,” Mr. Romney said. “He accomplished that, and not taking advantage of that would be an insult to the accomplishment.”
As to his message to vaccine skeptics in his conference, Mr. Romney said, “They know where I stand.”
Credit…China Stringer Network, via Reuters
A man has been hospitalized in southwestern China after contracting the H5N6 strain of avian flu, Chinese state news media reported on Thursday, a reminder that the world is full of flu viruses even during a coronavirus pandemic.
The man, 55, was hospitalized in Bazhong, a city in the southwestern province of Sichuan, after coming down with a fever and testing positive for the virus on July 6, the state-run China Global Television Network reported.
Local officials had “activated an emergency response and sterilized the area,” the broadcaster said in a brief report in English. It cited unnamed experts as saying that the risk of large-scale transmission among humans was low. The report did not provide other details or say whether the man handled poultry as part of his job.
The H5N6 virus is one of several potentially dangerous flu versions that scientists have reported finding over the years in poultry flocks or in captured or dead wild birds. It was first detected eight years ago in Laos, and later spread to China and other countries.
As of last week, 32 confirmed cases of human infection with the H5N6 virus, and 19 deaths, had been reported to the World Health Organization in Asia since 2014, according to the agency. The last human case before the one from Sichuan Province had an onset date of May 13.
Because flu viruses mutate a lot in nature, scientists try to monitor them closely for signs that they are becoming more contagious or deadly. Last year in China, for example, a team of scientists reported that a new strain of the H1N1 swine flu virus was spreading silently in workers on the country’s pig farms and should be “urgently” controlled to avoid another pandemic, even though the strain had not caused disease in the people it infected.