Pfizer and BioNTech said on Wednesday that they have reached an agreement with a South African vaccine manufacturer, starting next year, to handle the final stages of manufacturing for doses of their Covid shot that will be supplied exclusively to African nations.
The deal represents the first time Pfizer’s Covid vaccine will be partly produced in Africa and it could eventually help increase supply to a continent where months of severe vaccine shortages have resulted in only about 1.5 percent of people being fully immunized.
But the agreement comes with caveats that will significantly limit its impact at a time when the fast-spreading Delta variant has driven a surge in infections and hospitalizations and sent the continent into the most devastating phase of its pandemic.
Crucially, the South African producer, Biovac, will only be handling distribution and “fill-finish” — the final phase of the manufacturing process, during which the vaccine is placed in vials and packaged for shipping. It will rely on Pfizer facilities in Europe to make the vaccine substance and ship it to its Cape Town facility.
Public health activists have called on Pfizer and other major vaccine manufacturers to transfer their technology to local producers in poorer parts of the world so as to ramp up production and alleviate shortages. Sharing recipes in this way can either be voluntary or forced.
Matthew Kavanagh, director of the Global Health Policy and Politics Initiative at Georgetown University, called Wednesday’s agreement “deeply disappointing.”
“What we have seen from all of these licensing agreements that only are fill-finish and keep the full production capacity to high-income-country producers is that they continue to just perpetuate the inequalities in distribution,” Mr. Kavanagh said.
A company spokeswoman, Pamela Eisele, said that in trying to rapidly scale up Covid vaccine manufacturing, Pfizer is “primarily focusing on multiple existing sites, looking to external contract manufacturers to support the important fill-and-finish and distribution steps.”
Michelle Viljoen, a spokeswoman for Biovac, said that starting with fill-finish is “the quickest manufacturing step to making vaccines accessible.” Ms. Viljoen added: “We will continue to pursue our vision of drug substance manufacture. We view this initiative as a stepping stone towards the realization of that vision.”
Pfizer has pledged that it will supply two billion doses of its vaccine to low- and middle-income countries through various channels by the end of 2022, but so far, only a small fraction of those doses have been delivered.
Pfizer said that efforts would begin immediately to transfer technology and install the necessary equipment at Biovac’s facility. Pfizer said the plant would be able to fill-finish more than 100 million doses annually at full capacity, though it did not say when that would be reached. Those doses will be supplied only to the 55 member states that make up the African Union, the company said.
To people “who have expressed concern that Africa is being left behind in part due to lack of vaccine manufacturing, I want to say that we hear you,” Pfizer’s chief executive, Dr. Albert Bourla, said in prepared remarks to a meeting put on by the World Trade Organization on Wednesday.
But Mr. Kavanagh said he was worried that Pfizer would not send enough drug substance to Cape Town, especially if wealthy countries sought third booster shots for their populations. In that scenario, he said, “what likelihood is it that most of the drug substance is going to shift to Africa to do first vaccinations instead of doing boosters in high-income countries that pay more and have political power to demand it?”
The single-dose coronavirus vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson is much less effective against the Delta and Lambda variants than against the original virus, according to a new study posted online on Tuesday.
Although troubling, the findings result from experiments conducted with blood samples in a laboratory, and may not reflect the vaccine’s performance in the real world. But they add to evidence that the 13 million people inoculated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine may need to receive a second dose — ideally of one of the mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, the authors said.
The conclusions are at odds with those from smaller studies published by Johnson & Johnson earlier this month, suggesting that a single dose of the vaccine is effective against the variant even eight months after inoculation.
The new study has not yet been peer reviewed nor published in a scientific journal. But it is consistent with observations that a single dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine — which has a similar architecture to Johnson & Johnson’s — shows only about 33 percent efficacy against symptomatic disease caused by the Delta variant.
“The message that we wanted to give was not that people shouldn’t get the J.&J. vaccine, but we hope that in the future, it will be boosted with either another dose of J.&J. or a boost with Pfizer or Moderna,” said Nathaniel Landau, a virologist at N.Y.U.’s Grossman School of Medicine, who led the study.
The Delta variant is the most contagious version yet of the coronavirus. It accounts for 83 percent of infections in the United States, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a Senate hearing on Tuesday.
The highly infectious Delta variant now accounts for an estimated 83 percent of new coronavirus cases in the United States — a “dramatic increase” from early July, when it crossed the 50 percent threshold to become the dominant variant in this country, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.
In some regions, the percentage is even higher — particularly where vaccination rates are low, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the C.D.C. director, said during a Senate health committee hearing. Two-dose vaccines have been shown to be effective against the Delta variant but questions have been raised about Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose regimen against Delta. While almost 60 percent of U.S. adults are fully vaccinated, less than half of the total U.S. population is.
She said the C.D.C. would update its website later Tuesday to reflect the new estimate of Delta cases, which the agency derives from gene sequencing of new coronavirus cases.
The new figure comes as new cases have been rising across the United States, though cases, hospitalizations and deaths remain a fraction of their peaks. Still, public health experts are watching the increases with deep concern and Dr. Walensky warned last week that “this is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated.” The seven-day average now shows nearly 38,000 new daily cases, up from about 11,000 a day not long ago, according to a New York Times database.
Tuesday’s hearing was contentious at times. Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, pressed Dr. Janet Woodcock, the acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, on when the F.D.A. would authorize booster shots — and was not happy when she could not provide a specific answer. Federal health officials have said booster shots are not necessary now and have pressed Pfizer for more evidence.
Other Republicans clashed with witnesses over matters including mask mandates, booster shots for Covid-19 vaccines and “gain of function” research designed to identify genetic mutations that could make a virus more powerful.
Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, escalated his long-running attacks on Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s top medical adviser for the coronavirus pandemic, and accused Dr. Fauci of committing a crime by lying to Congress in May when he told senators that the National Institutes of Health did not fund “gain of function” research at a laboratory in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the pandemic’s early days.
Dr. Fauci, in turn, accused the senator of falsely implying that the N.I.H. is somehow responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths from the pandemic — an extraordinary exchange for the Senate, where witnesses almost always defer to lawmakers.
“I have never lied before Congress and I do not retract that statement,” Dr. Fauci declared, adding, “Senator Paul, you do not know what you are talking about, quite frankly, and I want to say that officially.”
The coronavirus pandemic was largely responsible for shaving a year and a half from the life expectancy of Americans in 2020, the steepest drop in the United States since World War II, according to federal statistics released on Wednesday.
An American child born today, if they hypothetically lived their entire life under the conditions of 2020, would be expected to live 77.3 years, down from 78.8 in 2019. It’s the lowest life expectancy since 2003, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, the agency that released the figures and a part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The difficult year also deepened racial and ethnic disparities in life expectancy, with Black and Hispanic Americans losing nearly two more years than white Americans. Life expectancy for Hispanic Americans dropped to 78.8 from 81.8, while the numbers for Black Americans dropped to 71.8 from 74.7. Non-Hispanic white Americans saw their life expectancy drop to 77.6 from 78.8.
Measuring life expectancy is not intended to precisely predict actual life spans; rather, it’s a measure of a population’s health, revealing either society-wide distress or advancement. The sheer magnitude of the drop in 2020 has left researchers reeling as it wiped away decades of progress.
The precipitous drop in 2020 caused largely by Covid-19 is not likely to be permanent. In 1918, the flu pandemic wiped 11.8 years from Americans’ life expectancy, but the number fully rebounded the following year.
But even if deaths from Covid-19 fall off, the economic and social effects will linger, especially among racial groups that were disproportionately affected, researchers have noted.
In a world divided by access to vaccines, social restrictions aimed at limiting human contact, and an ever-changing maze of border closures that continue to keep people apart, the head of the World Health Organization said he hopes the Olympic Games in Tokyo could represent a moment of global solidarity.
“The Olympics have the power to bring the world together, to inspire, to show what’s possible,” the agency’s director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, told the International Olympic Committee on Wednesday.
Holding an Olympic torch aloft, he sought to strike a note of optimism even as the world confronts yet more waves of infection and uncertainty.
“May the rays of hope from this land illuminate a new dawn for a healthy, safer and fairer world,” he said.
But even as he spoke, the virus continued to stalk the sporting contest.
A Chilean taekwondo athlete, Fernanda Aguirre, was ruled out of action after testing positive for the virus, according to a statement from Chile’s National Olympic Committee. A Dutch skateboarder, Candy Jacobs, also announced on Wednesday that she had tested positive and was out of the Games.
With the opening ceremony still two days away, thousands of athletes, coaches, referees and other officials have poured into Japan in recent days. More than 70 people affiliated with the Games have tested positive, according to organizers, including five within the Olympic Village.
With less than a quarter of the Japanese public fully vaccinated, there is intense opposition to the Games in a nation that fears the competitions could turn into superspreader events.
Tedros said that it was always highly unlikely that there would be no infections at the Olympics, only that the spread of the virus could be mitigated.
Success did not require “zero cases,” he said. “The mark of success is making sure that any cases are identified, isolated, traced and cared for as quickly as possible, and onward transmission is interrupted. That is the mark of success for every country.”
Even as he warned that the world was “now in the early stages of another wave of infections and deaths,” Tedros said that stopping the worst ravages of the epidemic would take greater political unity than governments have so far mustered. He called the world’s failure to more equitably distribute vaccines “a moral outrage” and “epidemiologically and economically self-defeating.”
But the gathering of athletes in Japan, he said, could perhaps provide some inspiration for a divided planet.
“It is my sincere hope the Tokyo Games succeed,” he said.
Facing a chorus of criticism over accusations of underreporting the Covid-19 death toll, India’s government sought to shift blame to the states, suggesting that local officials were not accurately registering deaths.
The government’s response came in a reply to questions raised by opposition leaders in the Parliament on Tuesday, as a new study found that the number of people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic in India so far is likely to exceed three million. That is nearly 10 times the official Covid-19 death toll, and would make it one of the worst human tragedies in the nation’s history.
“Many people here said that the government of India is hiding deaths. The government of India compiles the numbers sent by state governments and publishes it,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new health minister, Mansukh Mandaviya, said in Parliament. “Our job is only to publish the data.”
The estimate of more than three million deaths was the result of a comprehensive examination by the Center for Global Development, a Washington research institute, which attempted to count excess deaths from all causes during the pandemic by looking at state data, international estimates, serological studies and household surveys.
During India’s devastating second wave of infections earlier this year, journalists from The New York Times and other news outlets interviewed staff members and families at cremation grounds across India and found an extensive pattern of deaths far exceeding the official figures.
Mr. Mandaviya said that allegations that the government was trying to minimize the toll of Covid were untrue.
“The government of India has not told anyone to report less numbers,” he said. “We have not asked of anyone to report less Covid patients. There is no reason for it.”
Thirteen million people in Australia — about half the country’s population — woke up on Wednesday under some form of lockdown as the country struggles to contain outbreaks of the Delta variant across three states.
On Tuesday, the state of South Australia was placed under a seven-day lockdown after recording five coronavirus cases. The state of Victoria, which includes Melbourne, extended its lockdown for another week as its case total surpassed 100.
New infections show no sign of slowing in the largest city, Sydney, which is now in its fourth week of lockdown and has recorded over 1,000 cases. Sydney reported 110 new local cases on Wednesday, the third highest daily total since this outbreak began.
Although the case numbers are relatively small, Australia has used a strategy of swift local lockdowns to keep the virus under control since last year. But because of the high transmissibility of the Delta variant, and Australia’s slow vaccination campaign, infectious disease experts are concerned that it might be impossible to completely stamp out these outbreaks.
“With the vaccination rates the way they are, we won’t be able to live freely and safely unless we’re able to quash this current outbreak,” Gladys Berejiklian, the premier of New South Wales state, which includes Sydney, said on Wednesday.
About 29 percent of Australia’s population has received at least one vaccine dose and 11 percent are fully vaccinated, according to a New York Times database.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday that the country had administered a million doses in the past seven days, the first time it had reached that weekly mark. If that rate continues, he added, all Australians who wanted a vaccine would be able to get one by the end of the year.
U Nyan Win, a spokesman for the governing party of Myanmar that was ousted by the military earlier this year, died on Tuesday of Covid-19 contracted in prison, his lawyer said.
The death of one of the most high-profile of thousands of political prisoners locked up since the February coup underscored the tragedy unfolding in Myanmar, where a failing health system has been utterly shattered by a junta determined to keep oxygen and other lifesaving care from those who oppose its rule.
In addition to acting as a spokesman for the former governing party, the National League for Democracy, Mr. Nyan Win, 79, served as a lawyer for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the onetime civilian leader of Myanmar. Both were imprisoned after the coup, along with the party’s entire senior leadership.
Mr. Nyan Win was charged with sedition and sent to Insein, Myanmar’s most notorious prison. On July 11, he was transferred to a hospital in Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar, the National League for Democracy said.
After earlier waves of the coronavirus crested in Myanmar last year, the Delta variant has washed over the country in recent weeks, devastating a country that was already reeling from the bloody aftermath of the coup. More than 900 people have been killed by the military since the putsch, according to a monitoring group. Among the dead are dozens of children.
The military has halted a nationwide vaccination campaign, reserving most doses for those who publicly support the coup. It has also hoarded oxygen for soldiers and their families, doctors say, making a private trade in oxygen akin to a criminal act. The enforced oxygen shortages have prematurely ended hundreds of lives, medical experts said.
Mr. Nyan Win is not the only senior politician to have contracted the coronavirus while in detention. U Phyo Min Thein, the former chief minister of the area surrounding Yangon, the largest city, is in critical condition because of the virus, according to the National League for Democracy, as is the former head of the party’s national vaccination effort.
Medical experts fear that the coronavirus is spreading fast in the country’s crowded prisons, just as it has among the general population. Myanmar borders India, where the highly transmissible Delta variant was first identified. Bodies are piling up at crematories in major cities, according to witnesses.
As the coronavirus surges in their states and districts, many congressional Republicans have declined to push back against vaccine skeptics in their party who are sowing mistrust about the shots’ safety and effectiveness.
They have instead focused their message about the vaccine on disparaging President Biden, characterizing his drive to inoculate Americans as politically motivated and heavy-handed.
On Tuesday, Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 2 House Republican who said he had received his first Pfizer vaccine shot only on Sunday, blamed Mr. Biden and his criticism of Donald J. Trump’s vaccine drive last year for hesitancy.
Some elected Republicans are the ones spreading the falsehoods. Representative Jason Smith of Missouri, a Senate candidate, warned on Twitter of “KGB-style” agents knocking on the doors of unvaccinated Americans — a reference to Mr. Biden’s door-to-door vaccine outreach campaign.
Such statements, and the widespread silence by Republicans in the face of vaccine skepticism, are beginning to alarm some strategists and party leaders.
“The way to avoid getting back into the hospital is to get vaccinated,” Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader and a polio survivor, pleaded on Tuesday, one of the few members of his party to take a different approach. “And I want to encourage everybody to do that and to ignore all of these other voices that are giving demonstrably bad advice.”
The political disparity in vaccine hesitancy is stark. The Kaiser Family Foundation reported at the end of June that 86 percent of Democrats had at least one shot, compared with 52 percent of Republicans. An analysis by The New York Times in April found that the least vaccinated counties in the country had one thing in common: They voted for Mr. Trump.
President Joko Widodo of Indonesia said Tuesday he would extend coronavirus restrictions at least until Monday as the country celebrated a muted Eid al-Adha, one of the most important Muslim holidays traditionally marked by large gatherings and the slaughter of cows and sheep.
The country hit a series of daily records last week, surpassing India and Brazil with the largest number of daily cases in the world and establishing Indonesia as an epicenter of the virus.
Many hospitals on densely populated Java island are overwhelmed by patients, and lifesaving oxygen is in short supply. Some patients wait days in tents and hallways for admission to a hospital ward and many others die in isolation at home. Gravediggers struggle to keep pace with the surge of bodies. On Monday, the government reported a record 1,338 deaths.
Mr. Joko said the restrictions on much of Java and Bali islands were needed “so as not to paralyze hospitals due to overcapacity.”
Since last week, the number of reported cases has declined sharply, reaching 38,325 on Tuesday. But the number of tests being conducted has also dropped sharply, from a high of nearly 260,000 on Friday to fewer than 115,000 on Tuesday.
Indonesia had hit a record of nearly 57,000 cases on Thursday.
Mr. Joko, who has been reluctant throughout the pandemic to impose lockdowns that slow the economy, said that if the trend continues, he will begin lifting restrictions on commerce and gatherings in stages.
“This is a very difficult situation,” he said in a video address. “But with our joint effort, God willing, we will soon be free from Covid-19 and social activities and people’s economic activities can return to normal.”
The percentage of tests that are positive has remained at more than 30 percent for the past week, which health experts say is a sign that the virus is widespread and that too few tests are being conducted.
On Tuesday, the positivity rate was even higher: one out of every three people tested was positive.
This was the second year in a row that Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population, celebrated Eid al-Adha, the Festival of Sacrifice, under the shadow of the coronavirus. The holiday commemorates the willingness of the Prophet Ibrahim to sacrifice his son, Ismail, at God’s command.
This year, mosques in high-risk areas were not allowed to stage the ritual animal sacrifices and distribution of meat that traditionally draw large crowds.
The restrictions, which were imposed July 3, were set to expire Tuesday. They include the closure of malls, sports facilities and a ban on nonessential travel. The government had initially ordered the closure of houses of worship, but later said they were merely advised not to hold services.
In his address, Mr. Joko called on the public to follow health guidance and help reduce pressure on the health care system.
“For this, we must all heighten discipline in implementing health protocols, isolate those with symptoms, and provide treatment as early as possible to those who are exposed,” he said.
The Mexican national baseball team is in quarantine after two players tested positive for coronavirus ahead of traveling to Japan for the Tokyo Olympics, Mexican baseball federation officials announced.
Hector Velazquez and Sammy Solis, both 32-year-old pitchers, were tested on Sunday in Mexico City as the team gathered to begin practice. They were asymptomatic and isolating in their hotel rooms, the federation said in a statement. As a result, national federation officials said practice on Monday was canceled and the rest of the team was quarantining in its hotel awaiting results from further testing.
Over the weekend, players and coaches reported to Mexico City and had begun training ahead of their departure to Japan. Mexico’s first game in the Olympics is scheduled for July 30, against the Dominican Republic, at Yokohama Baseball Stadium. Solis and Velazquez — both former Major League Baseball players — play for the same team in Mexico’s top professional league.
“Honored and excited to announce that I will be representing #TeamMexico at the Olympics in #Tokyo2020!!!!,” Solis said earlier this month, when the Mexican team was announced. “Being named an Olympian is a lifelong dream! Time to chase that.”
The news was a blow for fifth-ranked Mexico, which had qualified for the first time for the Olympics in baseball, a sport making its return to the Summer Games after a 13-year hiatus.
With games beginning on Wednesday and the opening ceremony on Friday, nearly 60 people connected to the Tokyo Games, from athletes within the Olympic Village to Japanese residents working at the events, have tested positive. Organizers are struggling to manage public anxiety as many thousands more athletes, coaches and other officials arrive in Japan for the Games.
The Mexican baseball team was the latest Olympic team to be disrupted by the virus. The United States’ men’s basketball, women’s 3×3 basketball and the women’s gymnastics teams have had to reshuffle their rosters after athletes either tested positive or entered virus health and safety protocols.
From protests and Covid-related bans on fans, join Times journalists for an exclusive virtual event as we discuss what this moment means for Tokyo 2020. Plus learn about the sports new to the Olympics through interviews with U.S. surfer Carissa Moore and Czech climber Adam Ondra. Click the button above to R.S.V.P.