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By Tara Law
Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 17, 2021
BY TARA LAW

It's Time for Booster Shots

The COVID-19 crisis has evolved dramatically over the past year and a half, in good ways and bad. On one hand, our scientific understanding of the virus has increased significantly, leading to the development of tools like vaccines to fight the pandemic. But the virus is evolving rapidly—leading to the rise of dangerous new variants like Delta—and new research shows that vaccinated people's immunity can wane over time.

To keep vaccinated people's immunity levels high as Delta spreads, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is expected to recommend that inoculated people get a booster shot eight months after completing their initial regimen, the Associated Press reported last night. The agency had previously recommended that only patients with weakened immune systems get a booster.

The FDA's impending decision follows research showing that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine's effectiveness can drop from 96% during the first two months post-vaccination to about 84% after four to six months, while that of the Moderna shot can fall from 94% to 93% after six months (regulators are still gathering data about the Janssen/Johnson & Johnson shot). While the relatively larger Pfizer falloff is concerning, the company published data on July 8 showing that a booster shot can be highly effective, leading recipients to generate five to 10 times the number of antibodies than they do after getting just two shots, as my colleague Alice Park reported.

Public health experts have long suggested booster shots may eventually be necessary. But they've become a matter of heightened urgency amid the rise of the Delta variant, which is now the most dominant form of the virus in the U.S. and elsewhere, and has led to worldwide surges in hospitalizations and deaths. With such a dangerous variant circulating, keeping people's immunity levels high can reduce the odds that they will spread the virus to others, get very sick themselves or become breeding grounds for new, even more fearsome variants.

Getting a booster shot is akin to calling in the reinforcements—we need our immune systems to be ready to protect us from COVID-19, both as it exists today and as it may exist in the future. Of course, vaccinating the roughly half of Americans who so far haven't gotten even a single dose, and getting more doses to under-vaccinated countries, will remain major hurdles as well.

Read more here.


TODAY'S CORONAVIRUS OUTLOOK

About 415.9 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been shipped to various U.S. states as of yesterday afternoon, of which nearly 356.4 million doses have been administered thus far, according to TIME's vaccine tracker. About 50.7% of Americans have been completely vaccinated.

Nearly 208 million people around the world had been diagnosed with COVID-19 as of 3 a.m. E.T. today, and nearly 4.4 million people have died. On August 16, there were 669,682 new cases and 9,464 new deaths confirmed globally.

Here's how the world as a whole is currently trending:

Here's where daily cases have risen or fallen over the last 14 days, shown in confirmed cases per 100,000 residents:

And here's every country that has reported over 4 million cases:

The U.S. had recorded nearly 36.9 million coronavirus cases as of 3 a.m. E.T. today. More than 622,300 people have died. On August 16, there were 210,168 new cases and 686 new deaths confirmed in the U.S.

Here's how the country as a whole is currently trending:

Here's where daily cases have risen or fallen over the last 14 days, shown in confirmed cases per 100,000 residents:

All numbers unless otherwise specified are from the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering, and are accurate as of Aug. 17, 1 a.m. E.T. To see larger, interactive versions of these maps and charts, click here.


WHAT ELSE YOU SHOULD KNOW

Even as relatively wealthy countries like the U.S. authorize booster shots, poorer areas of the world are still struggling to adequately vaccinate their populations at all. Less than 2% of Africa's 1.3 billion people are vaccinated, for instance, and African countries have only secured about 100 million doses, per the AP. Africa CDC Director John Nkengasong has warned that the supply donated to African countries so far is not enough to reach his organization's target of vaccinating 60% of Africa's population by the end of next year.

New Zealand is back under nationwide lockdown for at least three days after a single COVID-19 infection was reported there. Residents will only be permitted to leave home for groceries, health care or to exercise, and non-essential facilities like restaurants will close. "We've seen what can happen elsewhere if we fail to get on top of it. We only get one chance," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who is pursing a strict "Zero-COVID" strategy, said while announcing the lockdown. New Zealand has reported just 26 COVID-19 deaths, but only about 17% of its population is fully vaccinated.

Tennessee governor Bill Lee signed an executive order today permitting parents to opt their children out of school mask mandates, despite CDC guidance calling for students, staffers and visitors to mask up. "No one cares more about the health & well-being of a child than a parent,” Lee, a Republican, wrote on Twitter. Other Republican governors, including Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas, have also sought to block school districts from issuing mask mandates.

Japanese officials are extending a state of emergency in the Tokyo area through Sept. 12 amid a spike in cases, the AP reports. Restaurants and bars in the affected areas are being asked to close at 8 p.m. and to forego selling alcohol. Tokyo has been reporting about 5,000 daily new cases over the past week, setting a record of 5,773 cases on Aug. 12. Only a third of Japan's 126.3 million residents have been vaccinated.

The Atlanta Falcons have beaten every other team in the National Football League to get 100% of their players vaccinated. The team said that its players will no longer have to wear masks around its facilities and can skip daily testing and mandatory quarantines after coming in contact with people who test positive.


Thanks for reading. We hope you find the Coronavirus Brief newsletter to be a helpful tool to navigate this very complex situation, and welcome feedback at coronavirus.brief@time.com. If you have specific questions you'd like us to answer, please send them to covidquestions@time.com.

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Today's newsletter was written by Tara Law and edited by Alex Fitzpatrick.

 
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