ImageIt is unclear how many U.S. parents would quickly vaccinate their elementary schoolers with the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine if given the chance.Credit…LM Otero/Associated Press
A key federal advisory committee was discussing Tuesday whether to recommend that a pediatric dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine be offered to 5- to 11-year-olds, setting in motion a string of decisions that could lead to children getting shots as early as the end of next week.
Federal officials hope that the pediatric dose can help close a major gap in the U.S. vaccine campaign that has worried parents, educators and public health leaders. If the Food and Drug Administration grants authorization, about 28 million children will become eligible. Only the youngest, those under 5, would remain uncovered. (You can watch the meeting here.)
Dr. Peter Marks, who heads the F.D.A. division that oversees vaccines, said at the meeting that 1.9 million children aged 5 to 11 have been infected with the virus and more than 8,300 of them have been hospitalized, a third of whom needed intensive care. Nearly 100 have died, making Covid one of the top 10 causes of death during the pandemic in this age group.
Children in this age range are “far from being spared from the harm of Covid-19,” he said.
Dr. Fiona Havers, a specialist in viral diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that children in this age group make up 10.6 percent of all cases but only 8.7 percent of the population. Children have higher levels than adults of the neutralizing antibodies that are essential for preventing infection, she said, but are at least as likely as adults to be infected, she said.
Antibody tests of children also suggested there are many more virus cases than are publicly recorded, Dr. Havers said.
Hospitalization rates in the 5 to 11 age group are three times as high for Black, Hispanic or Native American children as for white children, she said. And more than 2,000 schools with a total of over one million students were forced to close between early August and October because of outbreaks, she said.
The committee’s recommendations on whether to authorize vaccines are not binding, but the F.D.A. typically follows them in the days after the vote.
It is unclear how many parents would quickly vaccinate their elementary schoolers if given the chance. Polling has showed that roughly a third of these parents are eager to do so right away, while a third prefer to wait. Since federal regulators cleared Pfizer shots for children 12 to 15 in May, 46 percent of that age group has been fully vaccinated, compared with about 69 percent of those 18 and older.
An organized email campaign against giving the vaccine to younger children got underway over the weekend, with panelists deluged by messages urging to vote against recommending authorization, according to Dr. Paul Offit, a panelist who heads the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
As of early Tuesday, nearly 140,000 public comments had been formally submitted to the agency on the issue. By contrast, only 66 comments were submitted before the panel recommended booster for adult recipients of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
As the meeting began, Dr. Marks said: “I want to acknowledge the fact that there are strong feelings that have clearly been expressed by members of the public both for and against” authorization. He stressed that the only question before the experts was whether shots should be allowed, not whether to mandate them.
The dose for younger children would be one-third of the strength given to people 12 and older, with two shots given three weeks apart. Pfizer and BioNTech are asking the F.D.A. to authorize distribution on an emergency basis.
The process may go more smoothly than when the vaccine manufacturers sought authorization of booster shots for adults — an issue that preoccupied and divided the agency’s regulators and its outside experts for much of the past two months.
Pfizer has provided the F.D.A. with safety data on two study cohorts of children ages 5 to 11, both of roughly equal size. The first group was followed for about two months, the second for about two and a half weeks. Pfizer cited efficacy data only for the first group of about 2,200 children, saying its vaccine had an efficacy rate of 91 percent against symptomatic Covid-19.
On Friday, F.D.A. regulators said in an analysis of Pfizer’s pediatric trial data that the benefits of staving off Covid-19 with the vaccine generally outweighed the risks of the most worrisome side effects for young children. Hong Yang, an F.D.A. scientist, said in a presentation Tuesday that even in a scenario where cases nationwide are lower, the benefits of vaccination may outweigh the risks of possible side effects, since people hospitalized with Covid-19 tend to be sicker, and for longer, than those with certain heart conditions tied to the vaccine.
Regulators modeled scenarios that involved varying levels of spread of the virus, and assumed the rate of two rare vaccine-associated heart conditions would be the same in the younger children vaccinated with a one-third dose as in adolescents aged 12 to 15 who received a full dose.
Federal health officials have said that cases of those heart conditions — myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle, and pericarditis, inflammation of the lining around the heart — after the second dose of a vaccine tend to be mild and resolve quickly.
Pfizer in its presentation to the committee on Tuesday said it had worked to make the pediatric vaccines easily recognizable to health providers who would administer the shot. It changed the color of the vial caps from purple to orange, and also made the packaging of the children’s shot orange, so that administrators could easily distinguish between those and adult versions.
Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will issue the agency’s guidance, which is powerfully influential for states and the general public.Credit…Pool photo by Jim Lo Scalzo
An independent committee of experts advising the Food and Drug Administration is meeting on Tuesday for discussion whether to recommend authorizing the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for children 5 to 11 years old, which could open the way to inoculating 28 million children in the United States.
An evaluation of data released by regulators on Friday from a clinical trial showed that Pfizer’s vaccine was very effective at preventing symptomatic Covid-19 in children in that age range, and that the vaccine’s benefits outweighed the risk of rare side effects. Experts will almost certainly raise concerns about those side effects in the meeting.
More needs to happen at the F.D.A. and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before children 5 to 11 will be able to receive the vaccine. But if both federal agencies rule in favor, the children could become eligible for shots in the first week of November.
Here’s what comes next.
At the F.D.A.
The panel of experts advises the F.D.A., part of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, whether to authorize the vaccine for children 5 to 11.
The F.D.A. considers the advisory panel’s recommendation. The panel’s votes are not binding, but the F.D.A. typically follows them.
Dr. Janet Woodcock, the acting commissioner of the F.D.A., issues the agency’s final decision, usually within a few days of the advisory committee’s meeting.
At the C.D.C.
An advisory panel to the C.D.C., the United States’ public health agency, reviews the F.D.A.’s decision and makes recommendations. That panel is scheduled to meet to consider the issue next week.
The C.D.C. considers its panel’s recommendations, which are not binding, though the agency usually follows them. There was a rare exception in September, when Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the director of the C.D.C., endorsed Pfizer-BioNTech booster shots for frontline workers even though the C.D.C.’s panel had not recommended the step. That move by Dr. Walensky aligned the C.D.C.’s guidance with the F.D.A.’s authorization.
Dr. Walensky issues the agency’s guidance, which is powerfully influential for states, the general public and health care institutions and professionals.
In the states
State health departments generally follow the recommendations of the C.D.C.
Federal officials have said that if pediatric doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are authorized, 15 million doses of vaccine will immediately be shipped to the states for distribution.
A vaccination center in Dakar, Senegal, in July.Credit…Zohra Bensemra/Reuters
Facing pressure for keeping its Covid vaccine out of reach of poorer countries, Moderna said on Tuesday that it had agreed to sell up to 110 million shots to African Union member nations.
The company said it would deliver 15 million of the shots by the end of this year and 35 million more by the end of March, offering a modest supply boost for a continent with severe vaccine shortages and some of the world’s lowest vaccination rates.
The New York Times reported this month that Moderna’s shots have gone almost entirely to wealthier countries. Moderna has shipped a larger share of its doses to high-income countries than any other vaccine manufacturer, according to recent data from the data firm Airfinity.
Moderna also said on Tuesday that it was “working on plans” to bottle doses of its Covid vaccine somewhere on the African continent as soon as 2023, in addition to its plans announced this month to open a factory in Africa at an unspecified date.
Also on Tuesday, BioNTech — the German company that partnered with Pfizer on their Covid shot — said it planned in the middle of next year to start building a factory somewhere in Africa to manufacture vaccines that use mRNA technology. BioNTech also said it is in talks with Biovac, a South African manufacturer, about expanding an agreement under which Biovac has been contracted to start bottling the Pfizer vaccine.
Moderna has been sharply criticized for not sharing its vaccine recipe or transferring its technology to manufacturers in poorer countries that could make its shots for local markets.
Fewer than 6 percent of Africans are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, and fewer than a third of African nations had fully vaccinated 10 percent of their populations by the start of this month.
“It’s a drop in the ocean for what the needs are,” Fatima Hassan, the head of the Health Justice Initiative in South Africa, said of Moderna’s announcement. “It’s up to 110 million for a population and a continent of 1.3 billion,” she said.
With the new deal with Moderna, the African Union now has two direct vaccine supply deals for its member countries. The African Union has ordered 220 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot vaccine, with the option to order 180 million more. Deliveries from that order began in August.
Moderna and the African Union were in talks this past spring about a potential supply deal, but those talks fell apart because Moderna could not offer the doses until next year, according to two African Union officials. The negotiations restarted this month.
The company has repeatedly said that it is unable to supply more doses quickly to countries in need because it has limited manufacturing capacity and because all of its production this year had been locked up through existing orders from governments like the United States and the European Union.
Two officials in the Biden administration said the United States had agreed for some of its Moderna doses to be delivered several months later than planned so that Moderna could first supply the 15 million doses to the African Union. Moderna’s chief executive, Stéphane Bancel, said in a news release that the Biden administration had helped broker the deal.
Talks are continuing about Moderna potentially supplying more shots to poorer countries through other channels, one of the administration officials said.
Moderna did not say how much it was charging for the deal with the African Union, but two people involved in the negotiations said the deal was for doses at $7 per shot. By comparison, the United States has paid $15 to $16.50 for each shot, on top of the $1.3 billion the government gave Moderna to develop its vaccine. Several middle-income countries, including Botswana, have agreed to deals for $27 to $30 per Moderna shot.
Moderna has also agreed to sell more than 210 million doses, at an average purchase price of just under $10, to Covax, the United Nations-backed program to vaccinate the world’s poor. The company has not yet supplied any of those shots, a Covax spokesman said on Tuesday.
The tens of millions of Moderna doses that have made it to low- and lower-middle-income countries have been almost exclusively through donations from the United States. Those doses were distributed by Covax.
Dr. Deborah Birx during a news conference at the White House in November.Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times
Dr. Deborah Birx, who helped run the coronavirus pandemic response for former President Donald J. Trump, told congressional investigators earlier this month that Mr. Trump’s White House failed to take steps that could have prevented tens of thousands of deaths.
In closed-door testimony before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, Dr. Birx said that tens of thousands of deaths could have been prevented after the initial phase of the pandemic if Mr. Trump had pushed mask-wearing, social distancing and other efforts to slow the spread of the virus.
“I believe if we had fully implemented the mask mandates, the reduction in indoor dining, the getting friends and family to understand the risk of gathering in private homes, and we had increased testing, that we probably could have decreased fatalities into the 30 percent less to 40 percent less range,” Dr. Birx testified, according to excerpts provided by the committee.
The committee’s interview with Dr. Birx was conducted on Oct. 12 and 13. In her testimony, she also lashed out at Dr. Scott Atlas, a former Stanford neuroradiologist who became an adviser to Mr. Trump and advocated for allowing the virus to spread through much of the population in order to let otherwise healthy people build up immunity against it.
She told the committee that Dr. Atlas had relied on incomplete information to draw dangerous conclusions that she felt could have long-term consequences for people who were infected with the virus and got sick.
“I was constantly raising the alert in the doctors’ meetings of the depth of my concern about Dr. Atlas’ position, Dr. Atlas’ access, Dr. Atlas’ theories and hypothesis, and the depths and breadths of my concern,” she said, referring to a group of doctors involved in the White House response who gathered regularly.
Dr. Atlas did not immediately respond to an email sent Tuesday morning. But in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece last December, he continued to argue against lockdowns and other measures for containing the virus.
“Lockdown policies had baleful effects on local economies, families and children, and the virus spread anyway,” he wrote.
During her testimony, Dr. Birx said she repeatedly pushed Mr. Trump and others in the White House to do more to embrace efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus, especially in the fall of 2020. That was a period when Dr. Atlas was at the White House and Dr. Birx spent most of her time on the road, traveling from state to state to urge them to embrace prevention measures.
Asked whether Mr. Trump did everything he should have to counter the pandemic, she said: “No. And I’ve said that to the White House in general, and I believe I was very clear to the president in specifics of what I needed him to do.”
Dr. Birx’s description of her clashes with the White House last fall conflicts sharply with reporting about her actions earlier that year. She often argued to others in the White House that the pandemic was receding throughout April and May.
An article in The New York Times in July 2020 disclosed her optimistic discussions with top administration officials, including Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, and Hope Hicks, an aide to Mr. Kushner: “Dr. Birx would roam the halls of the White House, talking to Mr. Kushner, Ms. Hicks and others, sometimes passing out diagrams to bolster her case. ‘We’ve hit our peak,’ she would say, and that message would find its way back to Mr. Trump.”
Dr. Birx declined to comment for that article.
The entrance to Wuquan Mountain in the city of Lanzhou was closed Monday as authorities battled a coronavirus outbreak.Credit…Chinatopix, via Associated Press
The Chinese government ordered the northwestern city of Lanzhou locked down on Tuesday as officials carried out widespread testing to quash a small Covid-19 outbreak.
Lanzhou, a city of about four million people, reported six new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, and a total of 39 over the past week. China, where the coronavirus first emerged in late 2019, has been battling a recent flare-up of new cases largely in the northwest of the country that were spread by domestic travel.
The country enforces a strict “zero Covid” policy, carrying out widespread lockdowns and testing to eliminate even small-scale outbreaks.
By Monday evening, medical workers had tested nearly 12 million people in Gansu Province, including more than 2.8 million in Lanzhou, its capital. The testing in Lanzhou continued on Tuesday.
Residents were told to stay home and avoid all unnecessary outings.
“The province will continue to use big data and house-by-house investigations to strengthen the management and control of key populations and key areas,” Zhang Hao, a spokesman for the provincial health commission, told a news conference. “Local communities will be utilized to strictly control the flow of people.”
Nationwide, China announced 29 new domestic coronavirus cases on Tuesday. Most of those were concentrated in the northwest, including 15 in Alxa League, an area of Inner Mongolia. Beijing, the capital, reported three new cases on Tuesday.
This week China has also expanded its extensive vaccination program by extending eligibility to children as young as 3.
The effort to vaccinate younger children began Monday, according to documents issued by several provincial governments, including Hunan, Hubei and Hainan. The goal is to drive the vaccination rate above the current 76 percent.
The government approved emergency use of vaccines produced by Sinovac and Sinopharm for children aged 3 to 17 in June, but the mass inoculation for children was limited to those aged 11 to 17.
An outbreak in Fujian last month ignited public discussion of protecting younger children, as many of those infected were kindergarten and primary school students.
The inaugural session of Germany’s lower house of Parliament in Berlin on Tuesday.Credit…Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters
How can you tell whether German lawmakers have some protection against the coronavirus or have tested negative?
Look at their wrists.
As the country’s newly elected federal lawmakers met in the main hall of the historic Reichstag building on Tuesday, they were doing so for the first time in a year and a half in full numbers and without social distancing.
To ensure the lawmakers’ safety, those taking part were required to show proof of vaccination, recent infection or a negative test result. And so they don’t have to show their documents multiple times, they were given wristbands of red, black and gold to indicate that their status had been checked.
About this dataSource: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. The daily average is calculated with data that was reported in the last seven days.
Over 700 of Germany’s federal lawmakers, elected to represent their constituents a month ago, were meeting to choose a new parliamentary president. Chancellor Angela Merkel and her cabinet remain in their posts until a new government is formed.
Lawmakers not wanting to show their papers were allowed to follow the first meeting in reserved and socially distanced seats in the visitors’ balcony.
Ms. Merkel, who did not run for re-election in the recent vote and is therefore no longer a member of Parliament, watched the proceedings from the balcony.
New Zealand Expands Vaccine MandateThe mandate is extending to close-contact businesses such as restaurants, gyms and hair salons. About 40 percent of all New Zealand workers will be required to be fully vaccinated or risk losing their jobs.
The government has already mandated vaccination across work forces in important sectors where workers are likely to come into contact with Covid-19, including the border, health settings and, of course, education. With the new traffic light system, businesses that we previously treated as high-risk like hospitality, hairdressers and gyms can operate at all levels if they ask customers for a vaccine certificate. And so it follows that if customers must be vaccinated, then so too must the workers. Cabinet has decided today that vaccinations will be mandated for everyone who works in any workplace where a vaccine certificate is required for entry. In the new Covid-19 protection framework, this includes hospitality, events, gyms and close-proximity businesses such as hairdressers and barbers. This requirement means staff and customers are treated equally, and it will play a big part in helping to minimize the spread of the virus and the highest risk venues by reducing the potential for Covid to enter the business in the first place, and further supports our businesses and the economic recovery.
The mandate is extending to close-contact businesses such as restaurants, gyms and hair salons. About 40 percent of all New Zealand workers will be required to be fully vaccinated or risk losing their jobs.CreditCredit…Sylvie Whinray/New Zealand Herald, via Associated Press
Thousands of employees in New Zealand who have close contact with customers at restaurants, gyms, bars and hair salons will be included in a vaccine mandate that has previously applied to health workers and teachers, the government said on Tuesday.
As a result, about 40 percent of all New Zealand workers will be required to be fully vaccinated or risk losing their jobs.
“Vaccinations will be mandated for everyone who works in any workplace where a vaccine certificate is required for entry,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at a news conference, noting that the decision had been made at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday.
The mandate “will play a big part in helping to minimize the spread of the virus in the highest-risk venues by reducing the potential for Covid-19 to enter the business in the first place,” Ms. Ardern added.
The announcement came after New Zealand set a target on Friday to vaccinate at least 90 percent of the eligible population aged 12 and over.
New Zealand has had one of the world’s most successful Covid-19 responses. But an outbreak of the Delta variant that began in mid-August prompted the authorities to put Auckland, the country’s largest city, under lockdown.
In a country of nearly five million people, 74 percent of the population has received at least one vaccine dose and 61 percent are fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data.
Hong Kong to Tighten Its Strict Quarantine RulesCarrie Lam, the city’s chief executive, said Hong Kong planned to strengthen its quarantine requirements in an effort to allow residents to travel to mainland China without quarantining.
We are caught in a sort of a dilemma because in order to resume some quarantine-free travel with the mainland, we have to ensure that our anti-Covid-19 practices are more in line with the mainland practices so that the mainland authorities will have the level of confidence to enable Hong Kong people to go into the mainland without being subject to the 14-day, plus 7-day quarantine. If Hong Kong were to loosen the border controls for people arriving from overseas or adopt what other countries have done, so-called to live with the Covid-19 virus, then the chances of resuming travel with the mainland will be reduced. It is a very simple hypothesis, and so I can only say to those representing the financial sector that we have to look at it in context. The context is Hong Kong’s primary advantage lies in being the gateway to the mainland of China. If businesses established in Hong Kong could not go into the mainland, I think it will significantly reduce the attraction of Hong Kong as an international business hub and an international financial center.
Carrie Lam, the city’s chief executive, said Hong Kong planned to strengthen its quarantine requirements in an effort to allow residents to travel to mainland China without quarantining.CreditCredit…Jerome Favre/EPA, via Shutterstock
Hong Kong, already home to the world’s longest pandemic quarantine, plans to further tighten its rules for overseas arrivals, a move that could further dent the city’s status as a global financial hub.
Hong Kong now requires people arriving from “high-risk” countries — which include the United States and much of Europe — to spend 21 days in hotel quarantine. Almost all other overseas arrivals must spend 14 days. Only people arriving from mainland China can skip quarantine.
City officials had carved out limited exemptions, such as for high-ranking executives of financial corporations or insurance companies and celebrities amid concerns that the strict quarantine regime would exacerbate an exodus of foreign businesses. But Carrie Lam, the city’s chief executive, said on Tuesday that most of those exemptions would end soon, as part of continuing attempts to allow Hong Kongers to travel to mainland China without quarantining.
“We have to ensure that our anti-Covid-19 practices are more in line with the mainland practices,” Mrs. Lam said, “so that the mainland authorities will have a level of confidence to enable Hong Kong people to go into the mainland.” China is the only major country still aiming for complete eradication of the virus.
Exemptions will remain in place for people whose work involves Hong Kong’s daily transportation and shipping needs, such as cross-boundary truck drivers. Mrs. Lam did not specify which other exemptions might remain.
Hong Kong has recorded just two locally transmitted cases in the past five months, but Mrs. Lam said the city had still not met Beijing’s standards.
She acknowledged the unhappiness of many foreigners and others involved in the financial sector, calling the situation a “dilemma.” But she has made clear that, forced to choose between the rest of the world and mainland China, she would prioritize the mainland.
“Hong Kong’s primary advantage lies in being the gateway to the mainland,” she said. “If businesses established in Hong Kong could not go into the mainland, I think it will significantly reduce the attraction of Hong Kong as an international business hub.”
Still, there are signs that the attraction has dimmed considerably. On Monday, the Asia Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, Hong Kong’s top bank lobbying group, publicly urged the government to ease quarantine rules, calling the city’s global status “increasingly at risk.” Nearly half of its members have considered moving employees and operations abroad, the group said.
A separate quota for 6,000 Hong Kong residents to travel, quarantine-free, from the mainland each day does not appear to be affected.
Municipal Workers Protest Against N.Y.C. Vaccine MandateA large crowd, including many fire, police and sanitation workers, took to the streets in New York to protest the city’s vaccine mandate.
[siren] “No vaccine mandate. “No vaccine — ” “No vaccine mandate.” “No vaccine mandate.” “No vaccine mandate.” “U.S.A., U.S.A.” “No vaccine mandate.” “No vaccine mandate.” [siren] [crowd cheering]
A large crowd, including many fire, police and sanitation workers, took to the streets in New York to protest the city’s vaccine mandate.CreditCredit…Ed Jones/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
The largest police union in New York City asked a judge on Monday to allow unvaccinated police officers to continue working, despite the city’s recently imposed vaccine mandate, which requires all municipal workers to have received at least one coronavirus vaccine dose by Nov. 1.
In a lawsuit filed in Staten Island, which is home to many police officers and has a vaccination rate that lags behind the citywide average, the Police Benevolent Association of New York said it opposed a vaccine mandate for police officers that does not allow the option of being tested weekly instead of being vaccinated.
The lawsuit also claimed that the mandate — which the mayor announced last week — does not contain sufficient protections for officers who might object to the vaccines because of religious beliefs. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said that the city will be “offering religious accommodation,” but that “valid religious exemptions” are rare.
While most lawsuits trying to stop government vaccine mandates in New York and elsewhere have failed to gain traction, some federal judges have appeared more sympathetic to suits that narrowly attack vaccine mandates for not accommodating religious beliefs.
Police unions across the country, from Chicago to Washington State, are urging members to resist Covid vaccine requirements — despite Covid being by far the most common cause of officer duty-related deaths this year and last, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.
The New York police union’s lawsuit argues that the city did not give officers enough time to seek religious exemptions. Officers seeking exemptions are required to apply by Wednesday — one week after the mandate was announced — to avoid being placed on leave without pay.
As of last week, about 70 percent of employees of the New York Police Department had received at least one shot of a coronavirus vaccine. The P.B.A., which represents rank-and-file officers, has been generally supportive of an earlier policy that had allowed unvaccinated officers to test weekly for the virus. The lawsuit claims that “test-or-vax” rule was effective in protecting public safety.
The lawsuit was filed on a day when a large crowd of people — including many fire, police, and sanitation workers — marched in protest against the vaccine mandate. Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall, some demonstrators carried large American flags and loudly chanted, “We Will Not Comply.”
Mexican students returned to classrooms at the end of August after a year of online learning.Credit…Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters
MEXICO CITY — As U.S. officials prepare for the possibility that children ages 5 and over will become eligible for Covid vaccinations soon, the Mexican government has resisted calls to vaccinate youths, despite a court order that it inoculate adolescents.
This month a judge ordered Mexico’s government to vaccinate anyone aged 12 to 17 after the parents of a 15-year-old girl sued to get their daughter vaccinated, just one of many lawsuits from parents demanding that their children be inoculated.
But President Andrés Manuel López Obrador dismissed the ruling as “not definitive” and hinted at challenging the decision, saying during a news conference that “legally this is going to be respected, but at the same time, we are going to go to the relevant authority to clarify” the court’s decision.
Whether the government would mount such a challenge remains unclear, but the president’s rhetoric is emblematic of Mexico’s continued resistance to allow minors to be inoculated, even as regulators in the United States and other countries have increasingly approved shots for children.
Mexico’s medical safety agency has granted the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine emergency use authorization for youths 12 and over, but the government has refused to allow the shots to be administered to most minors, and has played down the risks Covid-19 poses to children.
Mexico has fully vaccinated only about 41 percent of its population, according to Our World in Data. The government has said it should concentrate on vaccinating the millions of adults who have yet to get shots, and put off vaccinating otherwise healthy. children until the vaccines are proved to be safe for them.
The stance has been criticized by public health and political experts. Some say the government’s resistance to vaccinating children stems from a lack of planning and insufficient vaccine supplies.
“This mess comes from the lack of preparation,” said Xavier Tello, a public health policy expert in Mexico City, adding that the government has “no strategy.”
Hundreds of parents have taken the government to court and demanded shots for their children, and many have succeeded.
In the wake of the mounting media and legal pressure, Mr. López Obrador’s government said last month that it would begin vaccinating children over 12 who had an underlying condition, which could mean that more than one million are now eligible. But the government is holding firm on its commitment to vaccinate adults first.
“There is a vaccination plan,” Mr. López Obrador said this month, regarding the recent ruling mandating vaccines for teenagers. “A public policy cannot be defined based on the interest of a person or a group.”
Tyson was one of the first major companies to mandate vaccines after incentives like paid time off to be inoculated started to lose traction.Credit…Daniel Acker for The New York Times
Nearly three months after Tyson Foods mandated coronavirus vaccines for all its 120,000 U.S. workers, more than 96 percent of them are vaccinated, the company’s chief executive, Donnie King, said in an employee memo on Tuesday.
Less than half of Tyson’s work force was inoculated when it announced on Aug. 3 that it would require vaccines. Nearly 60,000 more Tyson employees got the shot following the announcement, Mr. King said. Tyson has said workers must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 1 as a condition of employment.
“This is an incredible result,” Mr. King wrote, “not only for our company, but for your families and our communities across the country.”
Tyson was one of the first major companies to mandate vaccines after incentives like paid time off to be inoculated started to lose traction. Its stance was notable because it included frontline workers even as labor shortage concerns prevented many companies from expanding vaccine mandates beyond the office.
Meatpacking involves close quarters and long hours, which make its workers particularly vulnerable to catching the coronavirus. A number of workers died last year after the virus swept through the nation’s processing plants.
“Has this made a difference in the health and safety of our team members? Absolutely,” Mr. King wrote of the vaccine requirement. “We’ve seen a significant decline in the number of active cases, companywide.”
Mr. King said he had “received many notes from team members who have helped convince others in their family, and in their community, to get vaccinated.”
Tyson has plants across the South and Midwest. In Arkansas, where it is based, 57 percent of residents have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine.
To help encourage vaccination, executives have visited plants to have small group conversations about the vaccines. The company also addressed common myths about the vaccine and took questions from employees at a panel that included two outside physicians.
“We hit this number thanks to the many, many thousands of individual conversations,” Mr. King said.
As part of its efforts, Tyson negotiated an agreement with the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which represents several thousand of its workers, to endorse the mandate in return for more benefits for all workers, like paid sick leave. The union’s president, Marc Perrone, applauded the vaccination efforts on Tuesday.
“Working together, the UFCW and Tyson set a new standard with this vaccine mandate, and have proved what’s possible when we listen to workers and negotiate the implementation of vaccination mandates fairly and responsibly,” Mr. Perrone said in a statement.
“We urge every company, across this country, to do what is right by their frontline workers and work cooperatively with their unions and employees to help end this pandemic and keep all of America’s essential workers and their families safe,” he added.
Tyson is offering employees religious or medical accommodations to the mandate and does not have a cutoff date for evaluating those considerations, a spokesman said. It will assess requests “based on careful consideration of the individual facts and our commitment to the safety of our employees.” Some unvaccinated employees granted exemptions, though, will be placed on leave.
“To those who remain unvaccinated — this is your choice, and we respect that choice,” Mr. King said. “If you change your mind and want to rejoin Tyson — let us know. Our doors are open.”
The results of Tyson’s vaccine mandate will be examined closely by other companies, as well as federal and local officials, as they weigh their own approaches to vaccine mandates. Last month, President Biden asked the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to order large employers to require vaccination against the coronavirus or weekly testing. Many companies are now preparing to move forward but have been awaiting more details.
So far, vaccine mandates have largely proven effective. United Airlines, which said in August that it would require all employees to provide proof of vaccination, recently announced that more than 99 percent of its work force was vaccinated. In California, health care employers have reported vaccination rates of 90 percent or higher.
Legal experts generally say companies have the right to make vaccine mandates, but there has been pushback, particularly from local politicians. Arkansas is seeking to require employers that mandate vaccines to allow for exemptions, including a testing alternative. And Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas issued an executive order banning private employers from mandating coronavirus vaccines.