As vaccine production and deliveries and inoculations ramp up, a growing number of U.S. states are allowing ever more people to get vaccinated, providing optimism for those who have been waiting for their moment.
Anyone age 16 and older who lives or works in Alaska became eligible on Tuesday evening after the state became the first in the country to allow the maximum possible number of residents access to a vaccine. Next week, Texans age 50 and older will be eligible, the state’s health department announced on Wednesday, the same day Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia said that people in that state over 55 would be able to get a shot next week.
New Yorkers age 60 and older became eligible on Wednesday, with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo citing increased supply from the federal government. The governors of Minnesota and Ohio also said this week that they would open eligibility to larger groups of residents.
Minnesota’s governor, Tim Walz, said his state “moved quickly to use more vaccine from the federal government” and was set to meet its goal this week of vaccinating 70 percent of people 65 and older in the state. That allowed him to expand eligibility to the state’s next two phases at the same time — and “weeks ahead of schedule.”
And at least 37 states, as well as Washington, D.C., are now allowing some residents with certain health problems to receive vaccines, according to a New York Times survey, though the conditions that confer access in one state may not do so in another.
The pace of vaccinations has picked up to the point where the daily average of individual shots has reached about 2.17 million a day. On March 6, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 2.9 million shots had been delivered.
Should the pace hold or even increase, the adult American population of about 260 million could be fully vaccinated within months, either by Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine or by the two-dose series made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. About 62.5 million Americans have received at least one dose and about 32.9 million of that number have been fully vaccinated, according to the C.D.C.
President Biden has steadily moved up the nation’s inoculation timeline as the vaccine makers have increased production — in Johnson & Johnson’s case, by entering a partnership with a longtime rival, Merck. After announcing last week that the U.S. would have enough vaccine available by the end of May for every American adult, on Wednesday, Mr. Biden said that he was directing the federal government to secure an additional 100 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine.
The White House said that the additional doses could help the country begin to vaccinate children after the necessary clinical trials are completed. The doses could also, if necessary, be used as boosters or be reformulated to combat emerging variants of the virus.
Utah is making all adults eligible for the vaccine on April 1 for more local reasons. After the state’s Republican-controlled legislature moved to end the state’s mask mandate, Gov. Spencer Cox, also a Republican, “worked with them to push the date back to get as many people vaccinated as possible” beforehand, a spokeswoman for the governor, Jennifer Napier-Pearce, said in a statement on Tuesday. Utah’s mask requirement will end April 10, at which point the state plans to have 1.5 million doses available, she said.
Local authorities have also opened eligibility to wider populations. At some clinics in the Navajo Nation, which underwent harsh lockdowns this summer and suffered from a surge in cases, anyone 16 and older can get a vaccine. And in Gila County, Ariz., any resident over the age of 18 can walk into a clinic and get a shot.
But vaccine hesitancy remains a potential obstacle to the nation’s energized vaccination campaign. Health officials in Alaska have said that hesitancy, combined with confusion about eligibility, had left unfilled appointments, which may have factored into the governor’s decision to swing the doors to the vaccine wide open.
While Alaska has fully vaccinated 16 percent of its population, the highest rate in the country, according to a New York Times database, the state ranks 46th in vaccine administration, having used only 69 percent of its supply.
When the first cases of a mysterious, fast-spreading illness arose a little more than a year ago, the danger seemed rare and far away.
But the speed with which the virus responsible crossed continents was shocking and almost impossible to believe. The novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, brought Covid-19 to our doorsteps seemingly instantaneously, and by March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization had declared a pandemic. In the United States, many expected that it would all be over in two weeks. Then a month. Then six months.
Instead, it was the beginning of a trail of death and suffering, the start of a succession of lockdowns across the globe that followed the first, tightly restricted one in China.
In the United States, over 20 million jobs vanished in just one month, the worst toll since the Great Depression. More than half a million people in the country have died in the pandemic, and more than 28 million have been infected. Food pantries have been swamped, schools have been disrupted, young people have grown anxious and depressed.
The brunt of the most painful human losses have fallen on segments of the population struggling for some measure of equality: including Black Americans, Native Americans and those from Latino backgrounds, groups already deeply disadvantaged in terms of income, health care, safety, education and having enough to eat.
The federal government, while enabling the rapid development of vaccines with crucial investment and support, has repeatedly struggled with the question of whether to privilege reopening over caution by limiting support for individuals. Congress bitterly debated a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill that was finally approved on Wednesday.
President Biden will address the nation on Thursday night. On Friday, he will sign the bill, which he proposed and has hailed as giving “the backbone of this nation — the essential workers, the working people who built this country, the people who keep this country going — a fighting chance.”
The events come at a heartening moment. The country’s rate of new infections has tumbled by 35 percent over the past two weeks, according to a database maintained by The New York Times, and vaccinations are now moving a rapid clip.
And even during a year of loss, when people cut off from others openly pined for human touch, and relationships were forged or broken based on space and time, illness and joblessness, frustration or longing, there have been bright spots: Dogs and cats were snatched up from shelters, some fortunate families were reunited when parents and students unexpectedly spent their days together at home or had the chance to cook a meal together. Artists invented new ways and places to perform; restaurants devised contactless delivery and sold their supplies when flour and yeast disappeared from grocery shelves.
Look back with The Times at a year of Covid.
Denmark suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine because of concerns about links to an increased risk of blood clots, the Danish Health Authority announced on Thursday.
All use of the vaccine is now halted for at least 14 days after several severe cases of clots were reported among people who had received the shot, the national broadcaster DR reported.
The Danish Medicines Agency said in a statement that it was investigating the death of a person vaccinated with the AstraZeneca shot who developed a blood clot.
The Danish minister of health, Magnus Heunicke, posted a message on Twitter confirming that the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine had been suspended, “following a signal of possible serious side effects in the form of fatal blood clots.”
“It is currently not possible to conclude whether there is a connection,” he added. “We acted early, it needs to be thoroughly investigated.”
A total of just over 142,000 people in Denmark, which has a population of about six million, have been injected with the vaccine produced by AstraZeneca, a British-Swedish company.
As of Feb. 28, Britain had administered 9.7 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The British medicine watchdog, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, has not publicly outlined any concerns about blood clots. “The number and nature of suspected adverse reactions reported so far are not unusual in comparison to other types of routinely used vaccines,” the agency said.
In the statement from the Danish Medicines Agency, Tanja Erichsen, a divisional director, said, “We do not yet know whether the blood clots and the Danish death is caused by the vaccine, but it is being thoroughly investigated right now to be on the safe side.”
The Danish Health Authority pointed to several such cases reported across Europe and said that it would await further investigation by the European Medicines Agency, the drug regulatory body for the European Union.
On Wednesday, the European agency said there was no indication that two Austrian cases — one in which a patient died after blood clots formed and another in which a patient was hospitalized with a similar condition — were related to the use of the vaccine.
The use of the specific batch of the vaccine that led to the cases in Austria was suspended in the country, and subsequently also in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Luxembourg. The European Medicines Agency said a quality defect was “unlikely” but said that the batch would be investigated further.
Soren Brostrom, director of the National Board of Health in Denmark, said: “We are in the middle of the largest and most important vaccination rollout in Danish history. And right now we need all the vaccines we can get. Therefore, putting one of the vaccines on pause is not an easy decision.”
“But precisely because we vaccinate so many,” he added, “we also need to respond with timely care when there is knowledge of possible serious side effects.”
Jasmina Nielsen and Benjamin Mueller contributed reporting.
The Biden administration on Wednesday published revised guidelines for nursing home visits during the pandemic, allowing guests the freedom to go inside to see residents regardless of whether the visitors or the residents have been vaccinated.
The new recommendations, released by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services with input from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are the first revision to the federal government’s nursing home guidance since September. And they arrived as more than three million vaccine doses have been administered in nursing homes, the agency said.
The guidance was also the latest indication that the pandemic in the United States was easing, with Covid-19 cases continuing to decrease across the nation, though the seven-day average remains at more than 58,000. The C.D.C. on Monday released long-awaited guidance for Americans who have been fully vaccinated, telling them that it is safe to gather in small groups at home without masks or social distancing.
About 62.5 million people have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, including about 32.9 million people who have been fully vaccinated with Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine or the two-dose series made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
In a statement of the reasoning behind the updated recommendations, Dr. Lee Fleisher, the chief medical officer at C.M.S., cited the millions of vaccines administered to nursing home residents and staff and a decline in infections in nursing homes.
“C.M.S. recognizes the psychological, emotional and physical toll that prolonged isolation and separation from family have taken on nursing home residents, and their families,” Dr. Fleisher said.
Earlier in the pandemic, the coronavirus raced through tens of thousands of long-term care facilities in the United States, killing more than 150,000 residents and employees and accounting for more than a third of all virus deaths since the late spring. But since the arrival of vaccines, new cases and deaths in nursing homes have fallen steeply, outpacing national declines, according to a New York Times analysis of federal data.
The eight pages of recommendations, which are not legally binding, did come with suggested limits, saying that “responsible indoor visitation” should be allowed at all times unless a guest is visiting an unvaccinated resident in a county where the Covid-19 positivity rate is higher than 10 percent and less than 70 percent of residents in the nursing home have been fully vaccinated. The guidance also says to limit visits if residents have Covid-19 or are in quarantine.
Federal officials said in the new guidance that outdoor visits were still preferable because of a lower risk of transmission, even when the residents and guests have been fully vaccinated.
So-called “compassionate care” visits — when a resident’s health has severely deteriorated — should be allowed regardless of vaccination status or the county’s positivity rate, the guidance said.
First Ukraine got caught up in the geopolitics of vaccine distribution between Russia and the West, and struggled to get hold of any doses. Now that it has them, Ukraine faces a new challenge: finding enough people who are willing to be vaccinated.
The country is so plagued by misinformation about Covid-19 that vaccine hesitancy in Ukraine is among the worst in Europe, even among doctors and nurses.
That shows in the slow start for Ukraine’s vaccination program: So far, just over 23,000 people have received a dose, out of a population of 42 million.
Ukrainian news media have carried reports of opened vials of vaccine going to waste at hospitals because not enough willing doctors and nurses could be found to receive the doses.
The United Nations Development Program and UNICEF released a study saying that Ukraine was suffering from an “infodemic,” with social media “flooded with false narratives” about the disease and vaccination.
Ukraine’s tense internal politics are partly to blame.
Opponents of President Volodymyr Zelensky have extended their criticism of him to the two vaccines his administration has put into use — one from Oxford-AstraZeneca and the other from Sinovac — both of which have been shown in clinical trials to be safe and effective.
A former prime minister, Yulia V. Tymoshenko, who now heads an opposition party, introduced a bill in Parliament that implicitly criticized the Zelensky administration’s choices by providing for the government to compensate Ukrainians for any side effects and “protect every Ukrainian from the negative consequences” of the two vaccines.
A former president, Petro O. Poroshenko, said that Ukrainian health care workers were refusing inoculation in the belief that the two vaccines were of poor quality. He used scatological language to describe the vaccines in a speech in Parliament.
The Ukrainian health minister, Maksym Stepanov, said in an interview that the political fight was eroding confidence in vaccination. “Politicians contribute to people’s distrust of vaccines,” he said.
Health officials have said that about one-third of doctors and nurses in the country have already been infected with the coronavirus, and the rest are evenly divided between those who want to be inoculated and those who say they have no intention of taking either of the available vaccines.
Mr. Stepanov said that the widely held negative attitudes were a result of “a lot of fake news spread by members of the anti-vaccination movement.”
Monoclonal antibody treatments sharply cut hospitalizations and deaths among high-risk Covid-19 patients, according to two separate sets of clinical trial results announced on Wednesday, the latest evidence that such drugs can prevent bad outcomes when given early.
Vir Biotechnology and GlaxoSmithKline, the developers of one of the drugs that generated encouraging study results, said that they plan to immediately apply for emergency authorization in the United States and in other countries. The federal government has not yet ordered doses of their drug.
The other announcement came from Eli Lilly, which makes a similar treatment involving a cocktail of two antibody drugs. The federal government authorized that treatment last month and has since ordered 100,000 doses.
If authorized, the treatment from Vir and GlaxoSmithKline would become the fourth of its kind cleared in the United States. That could give doctors more options for people with Covid-19 who are not yet hospitalized but are at high risk of becoming severely ill. But there is also a risk the drug may struggle to find a market, because the federal government has already ordered hundreds of thousands of doses of similar treatments that have been slow to be used.
An independent panel of experts monitoring a study testing the Vir-GlaxoSmithKline treatment recommended ending the trial early, because a preliminary look at the data showed convincing evidence that the treatment was working, the companies said. That early analysis, based on 583 volunteers who had started experiencing symptoms within the last five days, found that those who got the treatment had an 85 percent reduction in their risk of being hospitalized or dying compared to those who got a placebo.
In the clinical trial, the drug was given as an infusion, like the other antibody treatments already available, but it is being tested separately as an injection. If it can eventually receive authorization to be given that way, the door would open for the treatment to be given much more easily than it is now, perhaps even at a drive-through window, said George Scangos, Vir’s chief executive.
Dr. Scangos said he was confident that the drug would be needed. He pointed to preliminary laboratory tests, described in a paper that has not yet been peer-reviewed, suggesting that the treatment would remain potent against concerning coronavirus variants first seen in Brazil, Britain and South Africa.
“I think there’ll be no shortage of Covid patients, unfortunately, for the foreseeable future,” he said.
Antibody treatments consist of artificial copies of the antibodies that are naturally generated when the immune system combats an infection. They got a burst of publicity last fall when they were given to President Donald J. Trump and several other Republican politicians.
But since the first such treatments were authorized in November, they have not been widely used in many places, in part because hospitals were too overwhelmed to prioritize them and also because patients and their doctors didn’t know to ask for them or where to find them. But as awareness has grown, uptake has begun to increase.
Restaurants in New York City and New Jersey will be able to increase indoor dining to 50 percent of capacity starting March 19, the governors of New York and New Jersey said on Wednesday.
The announcement of the relaxed limits comes as New York and New Jersey continue to lead the nation in the rate of new coronavirus cases per capita. The states are both reporting a seven-day average of 37 new virus cases a day for every 100,000 residents, according to a New York Times database.
The change — which will take effect two days after St. Patrick’s Day, traditionally a busy day for restaurants and bars — will bring both places into line with current dining limits in Connecticut and Pennsylvania.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said that his decision to expand dining in New York City was made “in partnership” with Gov. Philip D. Murphy, a fellow Democrat.
“We will continue to follow the science and react accordingly,” Mr. Cuomo said in a news release issued by both governors.
Mr. Cuomo had already announced that capacity limits for restaurants statewide outside New York City could expand on March 19 to 75 percent, from 50 percent.
The new half-capacity limit in New Jersey will also apply to casinos, salons and gyms. In addition, the maximum number of people permitted at private indoor gatherings in New Jersey is also increasing to 25 people from 10. Outdoor gatherings can include 50 people, up from 25.
“We believe that when all factors are weighed, we can make this expansion without leading to undue further stress on our health care system,” Mr. Murphy said.
New Jersey was one of the last states to permit indoor dining to restart, and Mr. Murphy has faced pressure to expand capacity limits.
In New York City, restaurants have been operating with limited indoor capacity for months, including a shut down from December to February when cases started to rise again. Restaurants are currently allowed to serve diners inside at 35 percent capacity, up from 25 percent a few weeks ago.
The New York City Hospitality Alliance, an industry group, praised the new guidelines, saying they would provide much-needed relief to struggling restaurants.
“While city restaurants may not increase occupancy to 75 percent, like restaurants are safely doing throughout the rest of the state,” Andrew Rigie, the group’s executive director, said on Wednesday, being able to go to 50 percent capacity in the city “is still welcome news to the battered restaurant industry.”
After the announcement on Wednesday, employees at Pizza Moto, a pizzeria between Carroll Gardens and Red Hook in Brooklyn, gathered to discuss what it would mean for the restaurant. Pizza Moto opened for indoor dining for just a few weeks late last year before the shut down in December.
Joe Blissen, the restaurant’s general manager, said that he believed Pizza Moto could safely restart indoor dining at 50 percent capacity because most of the staff would have received their second vaccines by March 19.
“We are just trying to be cautious to make sure everything is nice, clean and safe,” said Mr. Blissen, who got his second shot this week. “It’s reassuring to us that at least our staff will be safe.”
Chris Labropoulos, who works at the Buccaneer Diner in East Elmhurst, Queens, said that an increase to 50 percent would have little impact because few people choose to dine indoors there. He could not recall the last time the diner, which opened in 1976, had reached max capacity under the state’s pandemic guidelines.
“A lot of people don’t come in as it is,” Mr. Labropoulos said, adding that most orders are for delivery or pickup.
In New Jersey, Mr. Murphy last eased restrictions on indoor dining before the Super Bowl, when he raised the limit to 35 percent and ended a 10 p.m. curfew.
Diners must continue to wear masks when not seated at tables, and seating at bars in New Jersey remains prohibited.
“Unlike some states, which are prioritizing, frankly, flat-out politics over public health — Texas and Mississippi come to mind — our mask mandate remains in place,” Mr. Murphy said.
Texas’ mask mandate ended on Wednesday, following Mississippi’s lead, which eliminated its mask rules a week ago over objections from federal health officials, who warned the step was premature.
Over the last week, there were an average of 3,322 new cases of the virus reported each day in New Jersey and 7,177 in New York, fueled in part by the spread of virus variants.
Researchers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study on Friday that found that counties opening restaurants for on-premises dining — indoors or outdoors — saw a rise in daily infections about six weeks later, and an increase in Covid-19 death rates about two months later.
The study does not prove cause and effect, but the findings square with other research showing that masks prevent infection and that indoor spaces foster the spread of the virus through aerosols, tiny respiratory particles that linger in the air.
The United States is racing through hundreds of thousands of vaccine vials a day, but one of particular importance has found its way into the Smithsonian’s collection, as museums attempt to chronicle the history of the pandemic.
The Smithsonian National Museum of American History announced on Tuesday that it had acquired the vial that contained the first vaccine dose administered in the United States after the shot received Food and Drug Administration authorization.
The vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which was used on Dec. 14 to inoculate Sandra Lindsay, a nurse at a Queens hospital, has been added to the museum’s collection, along with Ms. Lindsay’s white-and-blue scrubs, her vaccination record card and hospital identification badge.
Northwell Health, the New York-based health care provider that administered the vaccine, made the donation and also shared vials from doses of the Moderna vaccine and other inoculation supplies.
“These now historic artifacts document not only this remarkable scientific progress but represent the hope offered to millions living through the cascading crises brought on by Covid-19,” Anthea M. Hartig, the Elizabeth MacMillan director at the museum, said in a news release.
From the very early days of the pandemic, museums have been scrambling to collect artifacts from the fight against the coronavirus, including diary entries, online schoolwork, photographs and first-person accounts.
The National Museum of American History welcomed another item of importance earlier this month when Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser on Covid-19, presented his colorful three-dimensional model of the coronavirus to the museum’s national medicine and science collections.
The museum, which is still closed to the public because of virus restrictions, has been collecting significant items from the pandemic for a future exhibition exploring American efforts to control and cure illnesses.