Leaders of the European Union on Thursday joined the calls for a full investigation into the origins of Covid-19, with the European Council president declaring “support for all the efforts in order to get transparency and to know the truth.”
“The world has the right to know exactly what happened in order to be able to learn the lessons,” added the president, Charles Michel, who heads the European Council, the body that represents the bloc’s national leaders. He made the comments during a news conference preceding the Group of 7 summit, which starts on Friday and will be attended by President Biden.
The World Health Organization conducted an inquiry this year into the origins of the virus, which first appeared in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019. The study concluded that “introduction through a laboratory incident was considered to be an extremely unlikely pathway” but was widely seen as incomplete because of China’s limited cooperation. Governments, health experts and scientists have called for a more complete examination of the origins of the virus, which has killed more than 3.7 million people worldwide.
Late last month, Mr. Biden ordered American intelligence agencies to investigate the origins of the virus, an indication that his administration was taking seriously the possibility that the deadly virus had accidentally leaked from a lab, in addition to the prevailing theory that it was transmitted by an animal to humans outside a lab.
Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, the European Union’s executive arm, highlighted on Thursday that “investigators need complete access to the information and to the sites” to “develop the right tools to make sure that this will never happen again.”
In the draft conclusions of next week’s summit between the European Union and the United States, leaders will call for “progress on a transparent, evidence-based and expert-led W.H.O.-convened Phase 2 study on the origins of Covid-19, that is free from interference.”
NASHVILLE — Public health departments have held vaccine clinics at churches. They have organized rides to clinics. Gone door to door. Even offered a spin around a NASCAR track for anyone willing to get a shot.
Still, the United States’ vaccination campaign is sputtering, especially in the South, where there are far more doses than people who will take them.
As reports of new Covid-19 cases and deaths nationwide plummet and many Americans venture out mask-free, experts fear the virus could eventually surge again in states like Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, where fewer than half of adults have had a first shot.
“I don’t think people appreciate that if we let up on the vaccine efforts, we could be right back where we started,” said Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, the director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
A range of theories exist about why the South, which as of Wednesday was home to eight of the 10 states with the lowest vaccination rates, lags behind: hesitancy from conservative white people, concerns among some Black residents, longstanding challenges when it comes to health care access and transportation.
The answer, interviews across the region revealed, was all of the above.
“There’s no magic bullet. There’s no perfect solution,” said Dr. W. Mark Horne, president of the Mississippi State Medical Association.
Time is of the essence, both to prevent new infections and to use the doses already distributed to states. Coronavirus variants are spreading, especially the highly transmissible and increasingly prevalent Delta variant, first detected in India. And millions of Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses will expire nationwide this month, prompting some governors to issue urgent pleas that health providers use them soon.
From rural Appalachia to cities like Birmingham and Memphis, the slowdown has forced officials to refine their pitches to residents. Among the latest offerings: mobile clinics, Facebook Live forums and free soccer tickets for those who get vaccinated.
Moderna requested an emergency authorization on Thursday from the Food and Drug Administration for use of its coronavirus vaccine in 12- to 17-year-olds. If authorized, as expected, the vaccine would offer a second option for protecting adolescents from the coronavirus, and hasten a return to normalcy for middle- and high-school students.
The company has already filed for authorization with Health Canada and the European Medicines Agency, and plans to seek approval in other countries, the chief executive Stéphane Bancel said in a statement. Authorization by the F.D.A. typically takes three to four weeks.
Last month, the F.D.A. expanded emergency use authorization for the vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech for use in children ages 12 to 15 years. That vaccine was already available to anyone older than 16. About 7 million children under 18 have received at least one dose of the vaccine so far, and about 3.5 million are fully protected.
Moderna’s vaccine was authorized for use in adults in December. Its application to the F.D.A. for young teens is based on study results reported last month. That clinical trial enrolled 3,732 children ages 12 to 17 years, with 2,500 receiving two doses of the vaccine and the remaining a saltwater placebo.
The trial found no cases of symptomatic Covid-19 among fully vaccinated teens, which translates to an efficacy of 100 percent, the same figure that Pfizer and BioNTech reported for that age group. The trial also found that a single dose of the Moderna vaccine has an efficacy of 93 percent. Participants did not experience serious side effects beyond those seen in adults: pain at the site of the injection, headache, fatigue, muscle pain and chills.
An independent safety monitoring committee will follow all participants for 12 months after their second injection to assess long-term protection and safety.
RIO DE JANEIRO — Officials at the World Health Organization on Wednesday repeated their calls for the world’s governments to accelerate plans to distribute coronavirus vaccines to hard-hit nations, warning that many countries in Latin America continued to see rising caseloads.
“Across our region, this year has been worse than last year,” said Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, the director of the Pan American Health Organization, which is part of the W.H.O. “In many places, infections are higher now than at any point in this pandemic.”
The comments came as President Biden prepared to announce that his administration would buy 500 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and donate them among about 100 countries over the next year, according to people familiar with the plan. Mr. Biden could announce the arrangement as early as Thursday, as he begins his first trip abroad as president.
It is not yet clear which countries the 500 million vaccine doses would be supplied to, but Latin America is among the regions where the need is urgent. Eight of the 10 countries with the highest rate of Covid deaths per capita are in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.
And even as hospitals in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and other nations where the virus continues to spread aggressively have created overflow facilities, health care systems in several nations in the region are struggling to cope, Dr. Etienne said during the W.H.O.’s virtual news conference on Wednesday morning.
“Despite the doubling or even the tripling of hospital beds throughout the region, I.C.U. beds are full, oxygen is running low and health workers are overwhelmed,” she said.
Most governments in Latin America are struggling to acquire enough doses to quickly inoculate their people, which will delay their ability to fully reopen economies, officials said.
Last week, Mr. Biden said that the United States would distribute 25 million doses this month to countries in the Caribbean and Latin America; South and Southeast Asia; Africa; and the Palestinian territories, Gaza and the West Bank. Those doses are the first of 80 million that Mr. Biden pledged to send abroad by the end of June.
Dr. Etienne said that only a more equitable distribution system would put an end to the pandemic in the foreseeable future.
“Today we’re seeing the emergence of two worlds, one quickly returning to normal and another where recovery remains a distant future,” Dr. Etienne said. “Unfortunately, vaccine supply is concentrated in a few nations while most of the world waits for doses to trickle down.”
She singled out the vaccine shortage in Central America, home to more than 44 million people, where just over two million have been inoculated. Fewer than three million people have been vaccinated in nations in the Caribbean, which has a population of just over 34 million.
global round up
The Singaporean government said on Thursday that it would ease some social restrictions after nearly a month of tough measures to contain a coronavirus outbreak fueled in part by the Delta variant, first detected in India.
The city-state also said that it would expand its vaccination campaign, allowing Singaporeans ages 12 and older to register for shots beginning on Friday and extending eligibility to the rest of the population in the coming months.
The announcement came a day after the nation of 5.7 million recorded just two new coronavirus cases, the lowest number in months. In mid-May, after an outbreak at Singapore’s international airport led to dozens of infections, the government banned dining in restaurants and gatherings of more than two people.
“We have slowed down the chains of transmission and reduced the number of community cases, and are now in a position to ease the tightened measures,” the Health Ministry said in a statement on Thursday.
Beginning on Monday, people will be allowed to gather in groups of up to five, and restaurants and gyms will be permitted to reopen to customers the following week if cases remain low, the ministry said.
About a third of Singaporeans are fully vaccinated, one of the highest rates in Asia, but the country has kept cases low by requiring masks, strictly tracing contacts and eliminating most overseas travel. Officials have said that lifting further restrictions will depend on many more people getting vaccinated.
In other news around the globe:
Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, will restrict access to shopping malls, restaurants, cafes and other public places to those who have been vaccinated against the coronavirus or who have recently tested negative, starting on Tuesday, Reuters reported. The new rules were announced late on Wednesday and come as the United Arab Emirates has seen daily cases rise during the past three weeks. The restrictions will also apply to gyms, hotels, public parks, beaches, swimming pools, entertainment centers, cinemas, and museums, Abu Dhabi’s media office said.
Germany’s vaccination confirmation app was introduced on Thursday, nearly half a year after inoculations started there. The app, called CovPass, developed by the country’s version of the C.D.C., will present a simple QR code confirming that the owner is fully vaccinated. Starting on Monday, doctors and pharmacies will be able to transcribe the usually handwritten entries from paper vaccine booklets into the digital app.
After accusations of fraud at its rapid virus-testing centers, the Health Ministry in Germany announced tougher licensing rules and more spot checks. Public sector health insurers are being tasked with keeping a close eye on the number of tests claimed and carrying out spot checks if the numbers seem off. The government’s per-test payout will also be significantly reduced, to a maximum of 12.50 euros, or about $15, from €18.
Christopher F. Schuetze contributed reporting.
As it has with nearly every other major event of the past year, the pandemic looms large over this week’s Group of 7 summit, with world leaders already making commitments to do more to stop the coronavirus as they prepare for the three-day gathering that begins on Friday.
In recent months, wealthy nations with robust vaccination campaigns have quickly moved toward inoculating large swaths of their population. Now, they are pledging to help the rest of the world meet that goal, too.
In a statement released on Thursday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is playing host to the summit as Britain takes up the G7 presidency this year, said it was crucial to use the moment to act.
“The world needs this meeting,” he said. “We must be honest: International order and solidarity were badly shaken by Covid. Nations were reduced to beggar-my-neighbor tactics in the desperate search for P.P.E., for drugs — and, finally, for vaccines,” he added, referring to personal protective equipment.
He said now was the time to “put those days behind us.”
“This is the moment for the world’s greatest and most technologically advanced democracies to shoulder their responsibilities and to vaccinate the world, because no one can be properly protected until everyone has been protected,” he added.”
President Biden, under pressure to address the global coronavirus vaccine shortage, will announce on Thursday that his administration will buy 500 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and donate them among about 100 countries over the next year, the White House said.
“We have to end Covid-19, not just at home, which we’re doing, but everywhere,” Mr. Biden told United States troops at R.A.F. Mildenhall in Suffolk, England, on Wednesday evening. “There’s no wall high enough to keep us safe from this pandemic or the next biological threat we face, and there will be others. It requires coordinated multilateral action.”
Pfizer said in a statement announcing the deal on Thursday that the United States would pay for the doses at a “not for profit” price. The first 200 million doses will be distributed by the end of this year, followed by 300 million by next June, the company said. The doses will be distributed through Covax, the international vaccine-sharing initiative.
“Fair and equitable distribution has been our North Star since Day One, and we are proud to do our part to help vaccinate the world, a massive but an achievable undertaking,” Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s chief executive, said in a statement.
NEW DELHI — India’s coronavirus death toll shot up on Thursday after an audit unearthed thousands of uncounted fatalities in the northern state of Bihar, one of the largest and poorest states in the country.
The audit in Bihar showed that more than 9,000 people had died from Covid-related complications since March 2020, significantly higher than the 5,500 deaths originally reported.
The audit was ordered after a hearing on May 17 in the Bihar High Court in Patna, the state capital, in which a district commissioner reported that a single cremation ground had handled 789 bodies in a 13-day period in May. That number clashed sharply with the seven deaths in the whole of May that Tripurari Sharan, a top state-level official, had reported for that entire district.
The revised figures underline the doubts about the accuracy of the Indian government’s official coronavirus statistics. Even in normal times, only about one in five deaths in India is medically certified, experts say.
Opposition political parties in Bihar have accused the state’s top elected official, Nitish Kumar, and his administration of hiding the true death toll to mask failures to mitigate the deadly second wave that has battered India.
The high court in Bihar has been monitoring the state government’s pandemic response since early May after taking up a petition filed by an activist that complained of mismanagement.
But Bihar’s health minister, Mangal Pandey, told The New York Times that the updated numbers reflected a good-faith effort to uncover families eligible for monetary support from the government.
“The intention is to help everyone, not to hide the real death toll,” Mr. Pandey said. “We will leave no death unaccounted for.”
Elsewhere in India, such as in the western state of Gujarat, observers have reported a wide discrepancy between official coronavirus death numbers and the actual figures. While some states have issued revised numbers, no update comes close to Bihar’s. Still, experts say they believe that India’s total number, which because of the audit in Bihar rose by 6,148 deaths on Thursday to 359,676, is a vast undercount.
Emily Schmall reported from New Delhi, and Sameer Yasir from Srinagar, Kashmir.
Deaths from Covid-19 have dropped 90 percent in the United States since their peak in January, according to provisional federal data, but the virus continues to kill hundreds daily. By late May, there were still nearly 2,500 weekly deaths attributed to Covid-19.
With more than half of the U.S. population having received at least one vaccine dose, experts say that the unvaccinated population is driving the lingering deaths.
After seniors were given priority when the first vaccines were authorized for emergency use in December, the proportion of those dying who were 75 or older started dropping immediately.
Younger populations began to make up higher shares of the deaths compared with their percentages at the peak of the pandemic — a trend that continued when all adults became eligible for the shots. While the number of deaths has dropped across all age groups, about half now occur in people aged 50 to 74, compared with only a third in December.
More than 80 percent of those 65 and older have received at least one vaccine dose, compared with about half of those 25 to 64.
“I still think the narrative, unfortunately, is out there with younger people that they can’t suffer the adverse events related to Covid,” which is not the case, said Krutika Kuppalli, an infectious-diseases expert at the Medical University of South Carolina.
Still, those 50 and older make up the bulk of Covid-19 deaths. Among that cohort, white Americans are driving the shifts in death patterns. At the height of the pandemic, those who were white and aged 75 and older accounted for more than half of all Covid-19 deaths. Now, they account for less than a third.
Middle-age populations of all racial groups are making up a higher proportion of Covid-19 deaths than they did in December.
The extent of the drop in deaths, however, is not uniform, and cumulative vaccination rates among Black and Hispanic populations continue to lag behind those of Asian and white populations, according to demographic data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The data shows that more work is needed to reach and vaccinate “rural populations, ethnic and racial minority populations, homeless populations, people who don’t access medical care,” Dr. Kuppalli said.
Goldman Sachs wants to know how many of its employees have gotten a Covid-19 shot. The bank sent a memo this week informing employees in the United States that they must report their vaccination status by noon on Thursday.
“Registering your vaccination status allows us to plan for a safer return to the office for all of our people as we continue to abide by local public health measures,” said a section of the memo, which was sent to employees who have not yet reported their status and was obtained by the DealBook newsletter.
Disclosing vaccination status had been optional at the bank. In May, Goldman told employees that they could go maskless in the Manhattan office if they reported their vaccination status.
Now, all Goldman employees in the United States, regardless of whether they choose to wear a mask while in the office, will need to log their status in the bank’s system. They do not need to show proof of vaccination, but will be asked to record the date they received their shots and the maker of the vaccine.
The bank has roughly 20,000 employees based in the firm’s New York headquarters as well as other U.S. cities, including San Francisco and Dallas.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission made clear this month that asking employees for their vaccination status was legal, as long as the data was kept confidential.
Companies are trying to find out how many workers are vaccinated ahead of full office reopenings. They’re doing it by conducting surveys, giving out cash rewards upon proof of vaccination or making reporting compulsory, as with Goldman. That data can inform the need for new incentives to get more people vaccinated or potentially to impose a mandate. (Goldman, for its part, said in the memo it “strongly encourages” vaccination, though the choice “is a personal one.”) The Wall Street firm, which began to bring more workers back to the office this month, has been offering employees paid time off to get the shots.
A Nevada man accused of stealing more than 500 blank Covid-19 vaccine cards from the Los Angeles vaccination site where he worked was charged on Wednesday with one felony count of grand theft, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office.
The man, Muhammad Rauf Ahmed, 46 of Las Vegas, had been arrested in April, but the charge was delayed as the police and prosecutors sought to determine the value of the cards, which was eventually judged to be “at least $15 apiece if illegally sold.”
Around the country, many bars, restaurants and businesses that operate under limited capacity have loosened restrictions for people who can prove that they have gotten the vaccine, creating an underground market for doctored or fraudulent vaccine cards.
In January, fake vaccine cards were being sold on eBay, Etsy, Facebook and Twitter, ranging in price from $20 to $60. In May, a California bar owner was arrested on charges that he sold fake vaccine cards for $20 a piece.
Mr. Ahmed was a nonclinical contract employee hired to work at the vaccination site at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds, where nearly 4,000 vaccines are administered daily, the La Verne Police Department, in eastern Los Angeles County, said in a statement on Tuesday.
La Verne Detectives recover over 500 blank COVID-19 vaccine cards stolen from Fairplex Mega-POD.
— La Verne Police Dept (@LaVernePD) June 8, 2021
On April 27, the department was contacted after a security guard at the site spotted Mr. Ahmed leaving with a batch of the distinctive cards in his hand, Detective Sgt. Cory Leeper said in an interview on Wednesday.
Eventually, two staff members from the vaccination site confronted Mr. Ahmed at his car, the detective sergeant said. Mr. Ahmed told them that he liked to go to his car on his break and on that day, sought to “pre-fill” the cards with information that went to every recipient in order to get ahead of his workload, the detective sergeant said.
Officials recovered 128 cards from Mr. Ahmed’s vehicle, according to the police, and when questioned further, Mr. Ahmed acknowledged that he may have taken additional cards. The police found 400 blank cards in the hotel room where he was staying. Mr. Ahmed was arrested. Efforts to reach him by telephone on Wednesday were not successful.
“Selling fraudulent and stolen vaccine cards is illegal, immoral and puts the public at risk of exposure to a deadly virus,” George Gascón, the district attorney in Los Angeles, said in a statement on Wednesday.
But in the ensuing months, as the country put its inoculation campaign into overdrive, AstraZeneca vaccines became the featured attraction of “open days” or “open nights,” which offered shots to younger people weeks ahead of where they would have fallen in the priority schedule. The events — some featuring D.J.s and group selfies — were praised as a great success. But they also raised concerns that Italy seemed to be promoting the AstraZeneca vaccine to younger people despite the regulator’s recommendations.
On Wednesday, the government muddled matters further by publicly mulling whether to introduce stricter limitations on the use of the AstraZeneca shots that would effectively prohibit such events for younger people in the future.
“I think new indications would be appropriate,” Pierpaolo Sileri, an undersecretary at the Italian Health Ministry, told the Italian news website Fanpage, adding that the government would consider a block on administering the vaccine to people under the age of 30 or 40.
Other countries have also struggled to chart a clear policy on the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Though the regulator, the European Medicines Agency, deemed the vaccine safe, the risk of very rare blood clots has led some nations to adapt their approaches. In Britain, where the vaccine was created, more than 35 million doses have been given, but the country has acknowledged the risk by offering younger people an alternative when possible. France only distributes the shots to people who are 55 and older, Belgium to those who are 41 and older.
Germany stopped using the AstraZeneca shots altogether for a few days, before later recommending that they should not be used in people under 60. Now, like Italy, Germany has made the AstraZeneca vaccine available to anyone over 18, as long as they acknowledge the risk.
On Wednesday, a new study published in the journal Nature Medicine showed that people receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine had a slightly increased risk of a bleeding disorder and possibly of other rare blood problems.
Andrea Costa, another undersecretary at the Italian Health Ministry, said on Italian radio on Wednesday that the country was able to rely on “many other vaccines” and that any further limitation “will not hamper the vaccination campaign.”
But some doctors in Italy said they feared that yet another change in direction could prompt more skepticism toward the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“This poor vaccine,” said Dr. Patrick Franzoni, who spearheads the inoculation campaign in the northern region of Trentino-Alto Adige. “With this Ping-Pong of information, we risk completely boycotting it.”
In the past weeks, Dr. Franzoni said that he had helped organize open nights, complete with D.J.s, during which 22,000 younger people, who would otherwise have had to wait weeks for a shot, received the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“When older people saw they had AstraZeneca on their slot they did not book the vaccine,” Dr. Franzoni said, “so we did these open nights” to use up the supply.
“And we had a great response,” he added.
Other Italian regions introduced similar initiatives. In Lazio, which includes Rome, about 200,000 people of all ages got their AstraZeneca shot during open days. And Liguria, in the northwest, offered more than 40,000 doses at similar events.
But when reports spread about an 18-year-old girl who was hospitalized with a cerebral thrombosis after attending an open day in Liguria, many canceled their appointments.
Some doctors in Italy have urged the government to stop distributing the AstraZeneca vaccine to younger people. “With a low circulation of the virus, the risks of AstraZeneca can outweigh the benefits in people below the age of 30,” Nino Cartabellotta, a prominent public health researcher, tweeted.
The Italian government is now discussing possible new and more restrictive recommendations, a spokesman for the Health Ministry said.
Christopher F. Schuetze, Monika Pronczuk and Constant Méheut contributed reporting.