Covid News: New Cases in Nursing Homes Fall Dramatically After Vaccinations


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The Marigold nursing home in Washington, D.C., in April. Researchers said that the use of vaccinations appeared to protect nursing home residents who did not get immunized.
Credit…Nate Palmer for The New York Times

Nursing home residents, considered among the most vulnerable to Covid-19, appear to receive significant protection from vaccination, according to research published on Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

In a letter to the editor, the researchers said that the use of vaccinations also appeared to protect nursing home residents who did not themselves get a shot. That finding suggests, researchers said, that unvaccinated residents benefit when others around them are immunized.

“These findings show the real-world effectiveness” of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines “in a vulnerable nursing home population,” the researchers wrote.

The findings conform to recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the protective benefit of vaccination. The federal agency, in hoping to encourage widespread immunizations, has said that those who get inoculated face sharply reduced risk, but considerable risk remains for those who do not.

The nursing home population has been one of the hardest hit during the pandemic, with the virus spreading rapidly in close quarters among people with weakened immune systems. More than 132,000 U.S. nursing home residents have died during the pandemic, about one-third of all the country’s deaths from Covid-19.

The study published on Wednesday drew from more than 20,000 residents of 280 nursing homes in 21 states. Of those, almost 4,000 were unvaccinated and the rest received either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. About 70 percent had received two doses.

The study looked at residents of nursing homes that had received at least one dose as of Feb. 15 and anyone at the facilities present on the first day of their vaccination clinic who had not yet been vaccinated as of March 31.

After receiving a first dose, 4.5 percent of residents still contracted the virus, although most cases were asymptomatic, researchers wrote. Of those receiving the second dose, only 0.3 percent got the virus after 14 days.

The benefit carried over to those in the same nursing homes who did not get vaccinated. Their rate of infection dropped to 0.3 percent from 4.3 percent. For all groups, most infections were asymptomatic; and the rate of both symptomatic and asymptomatic infections decreased over time.

“Robust vaccine coverage among residents and staff, together with the continued use of face masks and other infection-control measures, is likely to afford protection for a small number of unvaccinated residents,” the researchers wrote.

Downtown Lake Oswego, Ore., in early April. Oregon is lifting its indoor mask mandate for people who have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
Credit…Gillian Flaccus/Associated Press

Oregon has lifted its mask mandate for people who have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, but is requiring businesses, workplaces and houses of worship to verify the vaccination status of individuals before they enter buildings without a mask.

This statewide mandate, one of the first of its kind in the country, raised concerns that the procedure of verifying vaccinations could be too cumbersome for workers.

Many states have lifted mask requirements without requiring confirmation that individuals have been vaccinated after new federal guidance last week said vaccinated people could choose to go maskless in most cases. New York adopted that guidance on Wednesday, though businesses will be allowed to enforce stricter rules. Some Republican governors, like Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, have instead not only lifted mask rules but banned local governments from enforcing their own. Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, also a Republican, issued an executive order last month prohibiting businesses from requiring vaccine documentation.

The notion of relying on the honor system, which some states and businesses have adopted, has raised its own questions. And business groups in Oregon expressed concerns that a mandate to check vaccination status could become — like mask enforcement — a difficult and potentially dangerous proposition for workers.

“We have serious concerns about the practicality of requiring business owners and workers to be the enforcer,” said Nathaniel Brown, a spokesman for Oregon Business and Industry, which represents companies like Nike, as well as small businesses. “We are hearing from retailers and small businesses who are concerned about putting their frontline workers in a potentially untenable position when dealing with customers.”

The Oregon Health Authority said in new guidance on Tuesday that effective immediately, businesses would be required to continue to enforce mask requirements unless they had established a policy to confirm proof of vaccination using a card or photo of one before individuals can enter the building without a mask.

Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, said last week that Oregonians who were fully vaccinated no longer needed to wear masks in most public settings, except in places like schools, public transit and health care settings.

But she quickly noted that businesses would have “the option” of lifting mask requirements only if they instituted verification. “Some businesses may prefer to simply continue operating under the current guidance for now rather than worrying about vaccination status, and that’s fine,” she said.

A spokesman for Fred Meyer, a grocery store chain in the Pacific Northwest owned by Kroger, said that it would continue to require customers and employees to wear masks in its stores.

New York has created the Excelsior Pass, a digital proof of Covid-19 vaccination, which will be used at some sites like Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall. Jen Psaki, President Biden’s press secretary, reiterated on Monday that the federal government would not be issuing “vaccine passports,” the development of which she said should be left up to the private sector.

Charles Boyle, a spokesman for Governor Brown, said that “businesses that do not want to implement vaccine verification can keep current health and safety measures in place, which includes masks and physical distancing for all individuals.”

Asked if businesses would face penalties for allowing customers to go maskless without checking their vaccination status, Mr. Boyle said that “in the past year state agencies have issued fines for businesses that are out of compliance with health and safety guidance.”

From the Bronx to Staten Island, Chinatown to Fifth Avenue, in Michelin-starred restaurants and humble corner diners, hardware stores and funeral homes, New York moved gingerly toward reopening on Wednesday, with scenes of a remembered normalcy played out alongside those of caution.

It was a moment that so many people had hoped for, whether aloud over countless Zoom calls or in the frustrated silence of a line of shoppers outside a store. It was less a grand gala than a soft opening, a finish line at the end of a long race that no one wanted to be the first to cross.

New York shut down 423 days ago, on a Sunday night in March 2020 when it accounted for half the nation’s coronavirus cases, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ordered all nonessential workers to stay home and indoors. The city has partially reopened in recent months, but Wednesday was the first day businesses were allowed to operate with fewer restrictions and at near capacity.

The new rules easing mask mandates and capacity limits were widely superseded by the personal comfort levels of millions of people. The reopening was messy and inconsistent and confusing — in short, it was New York City. Many business owners chose to continue requiring customers to wear masks, making Wednesday look and feel not all that different from Tuesday.

But the reopening was also cause for celebration. Julie Ross, 63, in the garden shade of the Museum of Modern Art, described the day in a word.

“Fabulous,” she said. “The streets feel more alive, a little bit. Right?”

The tentative first day arrived amid lowering restrictions in the region, with Connecticut and New Jersey rolling out similar plans, as case numbers continue to fall around the country and overseas. The European Union, looking ahead to summer’s tourist season, agreed on Wednesday to reopen its borders to visitors who have been fully vaccinated or who are coming from a list of countries considered safe from a Covid-19 perspective. And yet, the virus continued to ravage India, which recorded 4,529 Covid-19 deaths on Tuesday, the pandemic’s highest single known daily death toll in any country so far.

The clashing good-news, bad-news headlines seemed to leave many New Yorkers disinclined to lower their guard — or their masks. Facial coverings were no longer a hard requirement, but many people were still wearing them, whether in the big-box stores and tiny boutiques of Manhattan or the shaded paths of Prospect Park in Brooklyn, and they remained on the signs at the entrance of many stores like Victoria, selling clothing in the Bronx.

Robert Kramer, the chief executive officer of Emergent BioSolutions, at a hearing on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.
Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

The chief executive of Emergent BioSolutions, whose Baltimore plant ruined millions of coronavirus vaccine doses, disclosed for the first time on Wednesday that more than 100 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine are now on hold as regulators check them for possible contamination.

In more than three hours of testimony before a House subcommittee, the chief executive, Robert G. Kramer, calmly acknowledged unsanitary conditions, including mold and peeling paint, at the Baltimore plant. He conceded that Johnson & Johnson — not Emergent — had discovered contaminated doses, and he fended off aggressive questions from Democrats about his stock sales and hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonuses for top company executives.

Emergent’s Bayview Baltimore plant was forced to halt operations a month ago after contamination spoiled the equivalent of 15 million doses, but Mr. Kramer told lawmakers that he expected the facility to resume production “in a matter of days.” He said he took “very seriously” a report by federal regulators that revealed manufacturing deficiencies and accepted “full responsibility.”

“No one is more disappointed than we are that we had to suspend our 24/7 manufacturing of new vaccine,” Mr. Kramer told the panel, adding, “I apologize for the failure of our controls.”

Mr. Kramer’s appearance before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, which has opened a broad inquiry into his company, offered the public its first glimpse of the men who run Emergent, a politically connected federal contractor that dominates a niche market in biodefense preparedness, with the U.S. government as its prime customer.

Testifying virtually, Mr. Kramer was joined by the firm’s founder and executive chairman, Fuad El-Hibri, who over the past two decades has expanded Emergent from a small biotech outfit into a company with $1.5 billion in annual revenues. Executive compensation documents made public by the subcommittee show that the company’s board praised Mr. El-Hibri, who cashed in stock shares and options worth more than $42 million last year, for “leveraging his critical relationships with key customers, Congress and other stakeholders.”

Among those members of Congress is Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 2 House Republican and the top Republican on the House subcommittee. Federal campaign records show that since 2018, Mr. El-Hibri and his wife have donated more than $150,000 to groups affiliated with Mr. Scalise. The company’s political action committee has given about $1.4 million over the past 10 years to members of both parties.

Mr. El-Hibri expressed contrition on Wednesday. “The cross-contamination incident is unacceptable,” he said, “period.”

Mr. Kramer’s estimate of 100 million doses on hold added 30 million to the number of Johnson & Johnson doses that are effectively quarantined because of regulatory concerns about contamination. Federal officials had previously estimated that the equivalent of about 70 million doses — most of that destined for domestic use — could not be released, pending tests for purity.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo of new York at a news conference at Radio City Music Hall on Monday.
Credit…Mike Segar/Reuters

Federal prosecutors have been looking into whether Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration granted special access to rapid coronavirus test results to his family and other influential individuals, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions.

Investigators from the Eastern District of New York had been looking into how Mr. Cuomo’s office handled data on Covid-19 deaths in nursing homes in the state. More recently, the investigation’s focus has expanded, according to the people, to include questions surrounding a priority testing program that benefited Mr. Cuomo’s close family members, including his brother, Chris Cuomo, in the early weeks of the pandemic.

Those who received special access to testing and fast results during that period also included Giorgio DeRosa, a top Albany lobbyist and the father of the governor’s most senior aide, Melissa DeRosa, according to two people with knowledge of the tests who spoke to The New York Times.

The governor’s office has not disputed that the governor’s family and others received priority access to testing in the pandemic’s early weeks. But the special treatment for Mr. Cuomo’s family has lasted far longer than previously known, through at least last month, The Times found.

A spokesman for the Eastern District of New York declined to comment. The inquiries by federal prosecutors about special access to testing were reported by The Wall Street Journal.

At Carmine's restaurant on the Upper West Side on Tuesday, plastic dividers were in between tables. 
Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times

New York State is taking its biggest step yet toward normalcy, or a new version of it.

Starting Wednesday, 14 months after pandemic restrictions began, most businesses can return to 100 percent capacity if customers maintain six feet of distance. The biggest change will be seeing the faces of New Yorkers again: Vaccinated people in most cases no longer have to wear masks, indoors or outdoors, unless businesses mandate them.

Theaters and other large venues, including ballparks, can return to full capacity, up from one-third, if they require patrons to show proof of vaccination. House parties will be allowed: Up to 50 people can gather indoors in private homes.

“This is an exciting moment; this has been a dark, dark hellish year,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Monday, after announcing the end of the mask mandate. “But that was yesterday, and we are looking at a different tomorrow.”

But the reopening won’t be a sudden return to prepandemic life. Many New Yorkers will prefer to keep wearing masks. And some restaurant owners, like Annie Shi of King, a small restaurant in the West Village, said that with distancing requirements, “75 percent or 100 percent doesn’t mean a whole lot.”

Sal Rao, the owner of Mama Rao’s in Borough Park, Brooklyn, said that he and his staff — who all got vaccinated on one day, closing the restaurant to do it — will remain masked, but they will let patrons take off their masks on the honor system.

“We are going to let them come in and enjoy some of the privileges of being human again,” Mr. Rao said.

Masks, following new federal guidance, will continue to be mandatory on public transit and in schools from prekindergarten to 12th grade, in homeless shelters, correctional facilities, nursing homes and health care settings.

Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City said on Wednesday morning that he planned to keep mask rules in place at city offices because there would be a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated people there, and that he planned to wear a mask in most cases out of an abundance of caution.

“When you’re not sure, my personal advice is wear a mask,” the mayor said, adding “we’ve done it, for god’s sakes, for a year, we can do it a little bit longer to finish the job.”

In the coming weeks, major venues like Radio City Music Hall and Madison Square Garden will be opening or raising capacity at indoor concerts, shows and sporting events. Patrons will have to show either a paper vaccination card, the New York State digital Excelsior Pass or another digital form to enter or, in venues that allow unvaccinated attendees who test negative for the virus, to sit in vaccinated sections.

Restaurants will be allowed to place tables closer together to reach 100 percent capacity if five-foot-tall solid partitions are placed between them, Mr. Cuomo said. But some restaurants feel that using partitions compromises the dining experience, and Plexiglas can be expensive.

Mia Jacobs, a 23-year-old who lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, said the reopening feels “hopeful.” She works in social media in the restaurant and hospitality industry, and said she hopes that with the lifting of restrictions, “people will feel more encouraged to go to the restaurants they’ve been wanting to go to for an entire year.”

Even though she is fully vaccinated, Ms. Jacobs said she would probably continue to wear a mask, and that it would take time for her to get reacquainted with being surrounded by many people.

Mr. Cuomo said Wednesday that effective immediately that child care programs, and day and overnight camps, must conduct daily health screenings for all staff and visitors, including daily temperature checks. Unvaccinated people 2 and older must wear face masks unless they are eating, showering, swimming or sleeping, he said. Staff members who have not been vaccinated should stay six feet away from vaccinated staff, and each program or camp should have a capacity limit specific to their property that allows people to stay socially distanced.

Still, the lifting of restrictions meant to curb the spread of a virus that devastated the city comes as a welcome sign of New York’s progress. Cases are plummeting as more New Yorkers get shots — about 43 percent of people in New York State are fully vaccinated, according to C.D.C. data. Nationally, about 38 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated, as of Wednesday.

Mr. Rao, the restaurant owner, said “it was tough” doing temperature checks and contact tracing throughout the pandemic. “I think we are over that now,” he said. “I hope to God this is over.”

People waiting to receive their second dose of Covishield vaccine in Kolkata, India, last week, which is manufactured by the Serum Institute of India.
Credit…Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters

The vaccination woes of some of the world’s poorest nations will continue as the Serum Institute of India, a crucial manufacturing pillar in the plan to supply two billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines to low-income countries, signaled that it would not be able to provide vaccines beyond India before the year’s end.

The revelation, tucked into a statement by the vaccine manufacturing giant that attempted to deflect mounting criticism, was another setback for Covax, the global vaccine partnership for the poor. It is already more than 140 million doses behind schedule, and the Serum Institute’s announcement suggested it was all but impossible to meet the goal of two billion doses by the end of the year.

The announcement once again underscored the glaring contrast of inequality: As some of the richer nations tout levels of vaccinations that allow them to reopen their society, most of the poorer nations have barely gotten a start.

“We continue to scale up manufacturing and prioritize India,” the Serum Institute of India said in the statement on Tuesday. “We also hope to start delivering to Covax and other countries by the end of this year.”

The Serum Institute’s manufacturing capacity is at the heart of Covax, run by a global alliance that includes the World Health Organization. The institute received hundreds of millions of dollars to expand its facilities and manufacture the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, licensed to it with the commitment that a large share would go to poor nations.

As part of its plan to have two billion doses by the end of the year, Covax has been counting on hundreds of millions of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine produced by Serum Institute, as well as hundreds of millions of a second vaccine being developed with an American company, Novavax.

After India’s devastating second wave of coronavirus infections, the institute diverted all its manufacturing powers to domestic needs, falling behind on commitments to the Covax partnership as well as on bilateral commercial deals with many countries. The institute played down each delay as temporary. But Tuesday’s statement makes clear it is unlikely to meet commitments before the end of the year.

So far, the Covax alliance has supplied only 65 million vaccines, spread across 124 countries, according to the World Health Organization. The W.H.O. said the global alliance was already 140 million doses behind and likely to miss another 50 million doses in June.

“Once the devastating outbreak in India recedes, we also need the Serum Institute of India to get back on track and catch up on its delivery commitments to Covax,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the chief of W.H.O.

For its part, the Serum Institute has said its failure in international commitments has been due to the scale of the demand in India.

But India’s vaccination drive has been slow and is facing shortages despite all of Serum’s production capacity. Vaccinating a nation of 1.4 billion was always going to be a mammoth task that has been made more difficult by the government’s mismanagement of the crisis.

India has administered about 180 million doses of vaccines, or only about 5 percent of the country’s adult population. The vaccination rate has fallen to about 1.8 million doses a day, which means it would take the country more than three years to vaccinate 80 percent of its population.

Protesters performed during a demonstration by entertainment and cultural workers outside the occupied Odéon Theater in Paris last month.
Credit…Stephane De Sakutin/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

While many cultural attractions in France were reopening on Wednesday as coronavirus restrictions were partially lifted, about a hundred state-funded theaters around the country remained under occupation by protesters, most of them actors, theater workers and students, forcing some institutions to cancel shows and raising worries of a prolonged crisis.

When the demonstrators first occupied theaters in Paris, Strasbourg and elsewhere several months ago, reopening theaters was one of their main demands, but now the protests may be keeping them closed. The anger has since coalesced around larger complaints that have pitted cultural workers against the French government, especially over an unpopular overhaul of unemployment benefits. The protesters, who worry that they will lose leverage and visibility if they move out, have vowed to continue their occupations.

The Odéon Theater in Paris, one of the main protest points, said this week that it had no choice but to cancel performances of “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams, featuring Isabelle Huppert, as long as the 40 or so protesters continued to occupy the space day and night.

Stéphane Braunschweig, the director of the theater, said in a statement on Tuesday that it was impossible to stage evening shows with adequate safety and sanitary conditions if the occupation continued, and that his offer to let the protesters occupy the theater during the daytime only had been rejected.

Last week, after the government announced new subsidies and measures to support cultural workers, Mr. Braunschweig and the directors of other large state-funded theaters in Lyon, Nice and in Marseille, where shows were canceled at the Criée Theater this week, had called for the occupations to end.

“The social struggle, whatever its legitimacy, cannot for us prevent the resumption of cultural life,” they wrote in a joint statement.

Protesters at the Odéon accused the director of refusing to consider solutions that would let the occupation continue alongside performances.

“Management is trying to place the blame of the cancellation on us even though we are asking exactly the opposite,” Denis Gravouil, a representative for the C.G.T. union, told reporters in front of the theater on Wednesday.

Mr. Gravouil noted that theaters were opening at below half capacity because of coronavirus restrictions, meaning that many actors and technicians still couldn’t resume their jobs, and he said the government hadn’t fully addressed the pandemic-related loss of income for many of them.

“We don’t want to block shows, we want everyone to work,” he said.

A vaccination in Castrop-Rauxel, Germany, on Wednesday.
Credit…Friedemann Vogel/EPA, via Shutterstock

When a young woman showed up at Hamburg’s giant Covid vaccination site last week, the city officials who check whether people are eligible were skeptical.

She was in her mid 20s; shots are being given mainly to those 60 and older. But she said she qualified for an exemption because she was caring for her infirm mother and produced a form to make her case. Without a signature from her mother, the form was invalid and the officials turned her away. But she returned quickly, a little too quickly, with the document signed.

This time she claimed to have a sister who was vaccinated for the same reason, but a spot check of inoculation records showed that to be false as well.

“She could not get out of here fast enough,” said Martin Helfrich, a spokesman for the city who witnessed the scene.

Officials at the center have become adept at spotting people who are trying the most un-German of activities: cutting in line. At state-run sites like the one in Hamburg, those over 60, those with pre-existing conditions and frontline workers are allowed to get shots. But officials at the Hamburg center recently reported that roughly 2,000 ineligible people had sought shots in just one week, either because they did not understand the rules — or were trying to cheat.

In a country that prides itself on keeping order, the news was shocking enough to make national headlines.

Even Chancellor Angela Merkel waited her turn. She was vaccinated in April and only once people of her age bracket — she is 66 — were eligible. Ugur Sahin, the 55-year-old chief executive of BioNTech, the German company that designed the Pfizer vaccine, has said he will also wait his turn.

Employees and customers wearing masks inside Jesus Barber Shop Beauty and Nails in the South Bronx.
Credit…Desiree Rios for The New York Times

New York City businesses, and the workers who make them run, have had to navigate shifting regulations from the city and state since the start of the pandemic. For many of those businesses, the struggle for safety was paired with the struggle for solvency.

Most of those regulations came to an end on Wednesday, when the state removed most capacity restrictions from businesses statewide and adopted federal guidelines that allow people who have been vaccinated to largely eschew masks, indoors and out, in most situations.

The reaction from many city dwellers was cautious, after more than a year in which the city’s known virus death toll climbed to more than 33,000 people. Workers at many businesses around the five boroughs expressed similar reluctance to leap back into normal behavior.

Chris Polanco, 32, a clerk at Melrose Hardware in the Bronx, said he will keep his mask and the plastic curtain in front of the cash register, and would continue asking people to mask up in his store, offering masks to people who do not have them.

“You never know if they’re vaccinated or not, unless they have their papers, and there are forgeries,” Mr. Polanco said.

Caution also prevailed in much of the Corona neighborhood of Queens, one of the hardest-hit areas in the country.

Irene DeBenedittis owns Leo’s Latticini, an Italian deli there. She said that even though she and her staff had been vaccinated she planned to keep requiring masks, as a courtesy and a precaution.

“I am a bit confused about the rules, and also concerned about the customer,” Ms. DeBenedittis said. “For now, we are keeping the mask on so we feel safe and our customers feel safe too.”

Representatives for far larger groups of workers also said they planned to move slowly.

Robert W. Newell Jr., the president of a union that represents 17,000 workers, mainly in supermarkets and food production, said, “I’ve asked everyone to keep their masks on, at least for another couple of weeks.”

One of the city’s largest employers, its municipal government, will also keep masks for now, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Wednesday morning.

Of course it is difficult to distinguish who has and has not been vaccinated. “Vaccine passports” like New York State’s Excelsior Pass are not widely in use, and many consider a vaccine honor code flimsy. Even if proof of vaccination is bolstered somehow, it may be harder for individual business owners to enforce mask rules when they are no longer universal.

Rebecca Robertson, executive producer of the Park Avenue Armory, said the indoor performance venue would retain its strict masking policy for Wednesday’s opening night performance of “Afterwardsness,” a modern dance piece in which patrons sit nine feet apart.

The venue plans to continue to require all audience members to wear masks for the foreseeable future.

Ms. Robertson noted that the state continues to strongly recommend masking when a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated people are together indoors, which to her is just a shade below a requirement.

“If the government says to you it is strongly recommended, for us it’s like a mandate,” Ms. Robertson said.

Not all businesses were so hesitant — some have spurned the rules for much of the pandemic.

One of them is Mac’s Public House, a Staten Island tavern that became a symbol of much of the borough’s defiance to virus regulations when it refused to follow the governor’s curfew and indoor dining bans last year.

The bar lost its liquor license and was told to close, but kept serving customers indoors, channeling the defiance that many Staten Islanders held for the regulations. Danny Presti, Mac’s manager, was arrested twice, and the bar was finally closed down.

On Wednesday Mr. Presti seethed as nearby restaurants and bars reopened while Mac’s remained padlocked.

“It’s frustrating,” Mr. Presti said. “It’s not like I was this lifelong criminal, it was all for businesses, bringing attention to the situation.”

Nate Schweber, Sharon Otterman, Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura and Sadef Ali Kully contributed reporting.

One of Emergent BioSolutions’ plants in Baltimore last April. The biotech company awarded cash bonuses of up to $1.2 million to its top executives last year.
Credit…Saul Loeb/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Emergent BioSolutions, the biotech company whose Baltimore plant ruined millions of coronavirus vaccine doses, awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonuses to its top executives last year, and the company’s board praised its founder and chairman for “leveraging his critical relationships with key customers, Congress, and other stakeholders,” according to documents released Wednesday by a House subcommittee.

The government, which awarded the firm a $628 million contract last year, has so far paid Emergent $271 million, even though U.S. regulators have yet to clear a single dose of vaccine produced at its manufacturing plant in Baltimore, according to the documents released by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis in advance of a hearing on Wednesday.

Production at the plant was halted a month ago after workers accidentally contaminated a batch of vaccine, forcing Emergent to discard the equivalent of up to 15 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine.

Records from an Emergent board of directors compensation meeting offer a rare glimpse inside a politically connected federal contractor whose business is built largely around a single customer: the United States government.

The documents reflect earlier reporting by The New York Times, including a series of confidential audits that highlighted repeated violations of manufacturing standards at the Baltimore plant, including failure to properly disinfect the plant and protect against contamination of vaccine batches. Another report in June 2020, by a top manufacturing expert for the federal government, warned that Emergent lacked trained staff and adequate systems for quality control.

Emergent’s board gave top performance ratings to those in its leadership ranks, including the company’s founder and chairman, Fuad El-Hibri, and its chief executive, Robert G. Kramer, who testified before the House panel. At the hearing, the chief executive of Emergent disclosed for the first time on Wednesday that more than 100 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine are now on hold as regulators check them for potential contamination, and apologized to members of Congress.

An Emergent spokesman, Matt Hartwig, said in a statement Wednesday morning that the company executives “look forward to clarifying misconceptions and addressing concerns” of members of Congress. “We recognize that our role in helping the nation respond to, and hopefully end, the Covid-19 pandemic is a profound and unique responsibility, unlike any we have confronted before,” he added.

The board lauded executives for their “exemplary overall 2020 corporate performance including significantly outperforming revenue and earnings targets.”

Since 2018, Mr. El-Hibri and his wife, Nancy, have donated at least $150,000 to groups affiliated with the top Republican on the panel, Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, as well as Mr. Scalise’s campaigns. At least two other members of the subcommittee received donations during the 2020 election cycle from the company’s political action committee, which has given about $1.4 million over the past 10 years to members of both parties.

Mr. Kramer received a $1.2 million cash bonus, the records show; the board found that he had “significantly exceeded expectations.” Three of the company’s executive vice presidents received bonuses ranging from $445,000 to $462,000 each.

Sean Kirk, the executive responsible for overseeing development and manufacturing operations at all of Emergent’s manufacturing sites, received a special bonus of $100,000 last year, over and above his regular bonus of $320,611, in recognition of his “exceptional performance in 2020,” and for significantly expanding the company’s contract manufacturing capability to address Covid-19, the documents show. After the discovery that workers had accidentally contaminated a batch of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine with the virus used to produced another vaccine at the same plant, the company said Mr. Kirk had taken personal leave from his job.

Mr. El-Hibri, who was praised for leveraging his connections, cashed in stock worth $42 million last year, according to an investigation by The Times.

Over the past two decades, Emergent has grown from a fledgling biotech company into a firm with annual revenues that last year topped $1.5 billion. Much of its success has come from selling products aimed at thwarting a bioterrorist attack, including its anthrax vaccine, to the Strategic National Stockpile, the nation’s emergency medical reserve.

The $628 million contract, awarded by the Trump administration nearly a year ago, was mostly to reserve space at Emergent’s Baltimore plant for vaccine manufacturing. The contract was approved by a former Trump administration official, Dr. Robert Kadlec, who previously consulted for Emergent.

The documents show that Emergent retained Dr. Kadlec to serve as a consultant from 2012 through 2015, agreeing to pay him $120,000 annually over that three-year period. In return, Dr. Kadlec agreed to provide advice on “international biosecurity and biodefense related issues to Emergent BioSolutions,” including outreach to senior government officials in Saudi Arabia and other countries.

Dr. Kadlec has said that while he did not negotiate the contract, he did sign off on it. The documents also show that last August he recommended that Emergent be given a “priority rating” so that suppliers would give preference to its requests.

Rebecca R. Ruiz contributed reporting.

Tourists in Athens this month. New European rules for travelers could go into effect as early as next week.
Credit…Louisa Gouliamaki/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

BRUSSELS — The European Union agreed on Wednesday to reopen its borders to visitors who have been fully vaccinated with an approved shot and to those coming from a list of countries considered safe from a coronavirus perspective, permitting broader travel just in time for the summer tourism season.

Ambassadors from the 27 member states of the European Union endorsed a plan that would allow visits from tourists and other nonessential travelers, who have been mostly barred from entering the bloc for more than a year.

The move has been seen as an economic imperative for tourism-dependent countries such as Greece and Spain, and it has been months in the works. Other E.U. nations that are less reliant on tourists for jobs and income, particularly in northern Europe, had been eager to maintain higher barriers for nonessential visitors to keep the coronavirus at bay. But they relented as vaccinations advanced and after they were promised the ability to reverse course if cases surge again.

The new rules are set to become formal policy next week after clearing some bureaucratic hurdles, and, depending on how well each country has prepared to welcome tourists, could be implemented immediately. Some countries, like Greece, have already said that they will remove testing and quarantine requirements for vaccinated visitors. But most countries are likely to implement such changes more slowly and conservatively.

Under the E.U. plan, the bloc would accept visitors who have completed their immunization at least two weeks before their arrival, using one of the shots approved by its own regulator or by the World Health Organization. That covers the vaccines from AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and Sinopharm, according to a draft of the rules seen by The New York Times. That would open the door to immunized Americans, who have been receiving shots from Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Pfizer.

Some experts recently cautioned that restarting international tourism could be premature.

Dr. Sarah Fortune, the chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said that reopening areas to vaccinated tourists was a calculated risk.

“My doomsday scenario,” she said, “is a mixing of vaccinated and unvaccinated populations in a setting where there is high viral load and high viral transmission.”

Countries like Greece, Iceland and Croatia had opened to tourists from the United States and other countries before the bloc’s announcement.

Greece, where hospitality and tourism make up a large portion of the economy, was especially intent on reopening. Incoming tourists have to be vaccinated or present a negative PCR test taken up to 72 hours before their arrival, but they do not have to quarantine.

“Unfortunately, after more than 10 years of economic hardship, tourism and food is our only industry,” said Kostas Tzilialis, a co-owner and co-worker at a cafe and bookshop in Athens. “We don’t produce cars or machines. So we have to open our industry right now. Let’s hope that people will be careful and the vaccines will protect us.”

European Union member states will retain the freedom to tweak these measures if they want to take a more conservative approach, meaning that some European countries could retain demands for negative PCR tests or quarantines for certain visitors.

The bloc will also maintain an emergency-brake option, a legal tool that will allow it to quickly snap back to more restrictive travel conditions if a threatening new variant or other Covid emergency emerges.

Paige McClanahan and Stephen Hiltner contributed reporting.

People with breathing problems receiving free oxygen support in Delhi last month.
Credit…Atul Loke for The New York Times

India recorded 4,529 Covid-19 deaths on Tuesday, the pandemic’s highest single known daily death toll in any country so far, the authorities said on Wednesday, as the virus spread into the country’s vast hinterlands.

The previous deadliest day for a single country was recorded in the United States in January, when 4,468 people died.

Many experts believe the true number of deaths and infections in India, a country of 1.4 billion people, is even higher, and evidence has emerged across the country of large numbers of people dying from Covid who have not been officially counted.

India reported 267,000 new cases on Tuesday, pushing the official case tally past 25 million, with more than 280,000 deaths.

While infections seem to be slowing down in some of India’s urban centers, including New Delhi and Mumbai, the virus is spreading in the countryside. Testing there is limited, the medical infrastructure is woefully underfunded and overwhelmed, and some leaders have been trying to downplay the damage, sometimes even criminalizing cries for help.

Experts warn that a drop in new daily cases is likely to be a reflection of the success of urban lockdowns, and that the virus is still spreading elsewhere unchecked. Hospitals remain short of supplies, and the vaccination campaign has been slow. The death toll has remained over 4,000 for several days, suggesting that even if new infections are decreasing in urban centers, those infected earlier are dying.

The virus has taken a heavy toll on India’s doctors and medical workers as well.

More than 1,000 doctors have died of Covid since the pandemic began last year. The rate of deaths has been much higher, and the age of victims often much younger, since the second wave of infections started this spring. More than 260 doctors have died since April, according to the Indian Medical Association.



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