Facing a shortage of coronavirus vaccine doses, Los Angeles will temporarily close five of its inoculation sites, including one of the country’s largest, at Dodger Stadium, raising new questions about the federal government’s handling of supplies and distribution.
By Thursday, the city will have exhausted its supply of the Moderna vaccine for first-dose appointments, Mayor Eric Garcetti said at a news conference. The centers will be closed on Friday and Saturday with plans to reopen by Tuesday or Wednesday of next week, he said.
“We’re vaccinating people faster than new vials are arriving here in Los Angeles,” Mr. Garcetti said. “I’m concerned as your mayor that our vaccine supply is uneven, it’s unpredictable and too often inequitable.”
The United States has struggled to mount a mass vaccination campaign in the face of limited supply and logistical hurdles. President Biden has promised to administer 100 million vaccines by his 100th day in office, which falls on April 30.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday that about 33.8 million people have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, including about 10.5 million people who have been fully vaccinated.
The federal government has delivered about 66 million doses to states, territories and federal agencies, with many kept in reserve for second doses. State and federal officials have come under fire for their handling of vaccines, as demand far outpaces supply and health care providers struggle to predict how many doses they might receive.
About 10 percent of Californians have received a vaccine, according to C.D.C. data.
The city-run Dodger Stadium site opened on Jan. 15 and vaccinated more than 85,000 people in its first two weeks, despite waits that could sometimes last hours. Administrators have reduced wait times, and the site was averaging more than 6,000 shots a day last week, far more than the city’s other sites.
Mr. Garcetti said Los Angeles had received only 16,000 new doses of the vaccine this week.Starting in December, California faced a dramatic spike in virus cases concentrated in the southern part of the state and in its main agricultural region, the Central Valley, as well as the spread of a new local strain that may be more transmissible.
Mr. Garcetti said that hospitalizations in Los Angeles were down to about 3,700 on Wednesday, the lowest number in months.
Despite shortage concerns, the city will continue its mobile vaccination program, Mr. Garcetti said. “We can’t afford to see the outbreaks and, quite frankly, the unequal deaths that we’re seeing in communities of color,” he said.
It’s one of the world’s most in-demand commodities and has become a new currency for international diplomacy: Countries with the means or the know-how are using coronavirus vaccines to curry favor or thaw frosty relations.
India, the unmatched vaccine manufacturing power, is giving away millions of doses to neighbors friendly and estranged. It is trying to counter China, which has made doling out shots a central plank of its foreign relations. And the United Arab Emirates, drawing on its oil riches, is buying shots on behalf of its allies.
But the strategy carries risks.
India and China have vast populations of their own that they need to inoculate. Although there are few signs of grumbling in either country, that could change as the public watches doses be sold or donated abroad.
“Indians are dying. Indians are still getting the disease,” said Manoj Joshi, a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, a New Delhi think tank. “I could understand if our needs had been fulfilled and then you had given away the stuff. But I think there is a false moral superiority that you are trying to put across where you say we are giving away our stuff even before we use it ourselves.”
For India, its soft-power vaccine drive has given it a rejoinder to China after years of watching the Chinese make political gains in its own backyard — in Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Nepal and elsewhere. Beijing offered deep pockets and swift answers when it came to big investments that India, with a layered bureaucracy and slowing economy, has struggled to match.
So India has sent vaccine doses to Nepal, a country that has fallen increasingly under China’s influence. And Sri Lanka, in the midst of a diplomatic tug of war between New Delhi and Beijing, is getting doses from both.
The donating countries are making their offerings at a time when the United States and other rich nations are scooping up the world’s supplies. Poorer countries are frantically trying to get their own, a disparity that the World Health Organization recently warned has put the world “on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure.”
With their health systems tested as never before, many countries are eager to take what they are offered — and the donors could reap some political good will in reward.
“Instead of securing a country by sending troops, you can secure the country by saving lives, by saving their economy, by helping with their vaccination,” said Dania Thafer, the executive director of the Gulf International Forum, a Washington-based think tank.
Still, efforts to use vaccines to win hearts and minds aren’t always successful.
The United Arab Emirates, which is rolling out vaccines faster than any country except Israel, has begun donating Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine doses that it purchased to countries where it has strategic or commercial interests.
But in Egypt some doctors balked at using them, because they said they did not trust the data the U.A.E. and the vaccine’s Chinese maker had released about trials.
And the government of Malaysia, one of the Emirates’ biggest trading partners, declined an offer of 500,000 doses, saying that regulators would have to independently approve the Sinopharm vaccine. After regulatory approval, Malaysia bought vaccines instead from Pfizer of the United States, the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine and one made by another Chinese company, Sinovac.
Many were clever fakes.
They were stamped with the 3M logo and shipped in boxes that read, “Made in the U.S.A.”
But these supposed N95 masks were not produced by 3M and weren’t made in the United States, federal investigators said on Wednesday.
They were counterfeits, and millions were bought by hospitals, medical institutions and government agencies in at least five states, the federal authorities said as they announced an investigation.
Homeland Security Investigations, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, said the masks were dangerous because they might not offer the same level of protection against the coronavirus as genuine N95s.
“We don’t know if they meet the standards,” said Brian Weinhaus, a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations.
Cassie Sauer, the president and chief executive of the Washington State Hospital Association, said that about two million counterfeit masks might have made it into the state. They were “really good fakes,” she said.
“They look, they feel, they fit and they breathe like a 3M mask,” Ms. Sauer said.
News of the investigation came the same day the Homeland Security Department’s intelligence branch warned law enforcement agencies that criminals have been selling counterfeit coronavirus vaccines online for “hundreds of dollars per dose.”
In a bid to get more residents age 75 and older vaccinated, Massachusetts officials say they will also inoculate the people accompanying them, regardless of age, to mass vaccination sites, which can be confusing to navigate.
“The idea for a mass vaccination site can seem a bit daunting,” Marylou Sudders, the secretary for health and human services in Massachusetts, said at a news conference on Wednesday.
The knowledge that the person accompanying them to the vaccination site will also be inoculated, Ms. Sudders said, may “bring an extra level of comfort to those who may be hesitant or don’t want to bother their caregiver or loved one or a good friend to book an appointment.”
Massachusetts has administered almost a million vaccine doses at nearly 130 sites statewide, said Gov. Charlie Baker. About 10 percent of residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 2.8 percent have received two doses, according to a New York Times tracker.
Starting on Thursday, companions can schedule their vaccine along with that of the older resident.
Joan Hatem-Roy, the chief executive of Elder Services of Merrimack Valley, a nonprofit group in northeastern Massachusetts, called the idea “a game changer.”
“I get nervous going to a Patriots game at Gillette, so I can imagine a senior trying to think about going to Gillette Stadium,” one of the vaccination sites, Ms. Hatem-Roy said.
Some expressed concern that younger people who are less susceptible to serious illness from the virus might be vaccinated before people who are 65 or older or who have chronic health conditions. But Mr. Baker said the immediate goal was to make sure people 75 and older are vaccinated.
“Those communities are far more likely to lose their life and get hospitalized as a result of Covid,” he said. “We want to make sure that we make it as easy as we possibly can for folks who fall into that over-75 category to get vaccinated and to get vaccinated early in this process.”
The state’s decision to vaccinate companions came as a surprise to Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, who said Massachusetts had not moved as quickly as he had expected on vaccinations. He said he would rather see more vulnerable groups be deemed eligible for the vaccination first and for any transportation issues to be resolved without companions getting shots.
“I do know that the governor is feeling a lot of pressure to improve the performance in the state,” Dr. Jha said. “That may be part of the motivation for doing this, because it will certainly bump up those numbers.”
He did not expect other states to follow suit — at least not right away. But Dr. Jha said it might be different in April or May, when the vaccine supply may outweigh the demand.
In some places, a similar model has been tried on a smaller scale.
In Albemarle County, Va., 70 caregivers and family care providers for people with intellectual disabilities were vaccinated, according to local affiliate NBC29. In Texas, older and disabled residents said they wanted their home health workers to be vaccinated, but many workers were declining the inoculation, according to The Texas Tribune.
“I don’t know how you carefully police that,” he said. “There are bad actors who may try to manipulate this.”
Ms. Sudders offered her own warning on Wednesday, urging older residents’ not to accept offers from strangers to be their vaccine companions.
The coronavirus has been used as an excuse to restrict free speech in dozens of countries, according to a report released Thursday by Human Rights Watch, a New York-based advocacy organization.
Pointing to cases of censorship, arbitrary arrest and physical assault, the report found that at least 83 governments around the world have used the pandemic to justify silencing critics or preventing peaceful assembly.
It found that in at least 18 countries, military or police forces assaulted journalists, bloggers or critics of the government’s response to the pandemic, and that in at least 10 countries, officials used social distancing concerns to prevent or disband protests, even while allowing other large gatherings.
The findings expose a tension at the heart of coronavirus restrictions: Some of the same tools officials have used to save lives and slow the spread of Covid-19 — such as restricting large gatherings, countering misinformation or instituting lockdowns — can also be used by authoritarian governments as a pretext to monitor citizens or quash dissent.
China, Cuba, India, Egypt and Russia are among the countries where the restrictions on free speech have been felt most broadly, according to Human Rights Watch.
“The obligation of governments to protect the public from this deadly pandemic is not a carte blanche for placing a chokehold on information and suppressing dissent,” Gerry Simpson, associate crisis and conflict director at the organization, said in a news release.
The report relied on research from Human Rights Watch as well as data and reports from other nongovernmental organizations including the United Nations.
Instagram took down the account of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the political scion and prominent anti-vaccine activist, on Wednesday over false information related to the coronavirus.
“We removed this account for repeatedly sharing debunked claims about the coronavirus or vaccines,” Facebook, which owns Instagram, said in a statement.
Mr. Kennedy, the son of the former senator and U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, worked for decades as an environmental lawyer but is now better known as an anti-vaccine crusader. A 2019 study found that two groups including his nonprofit, now called Children’s Health Defense, had funded more than half of Facebook advertisements spreading misinformation about vaccines.
He has found an even broader audience during the pandemic on platforms like Instagram, where he had 800,000 followers. Though Mr. Kennedy has said he is not opposed to vaccines as long as they are safe, he regularly endorses discredited links between vaccines and autism and has argued that it is safer to contract the coronavirus than to be inoculated against it.
Facebook is becoming more aggressive in its efforts to stamp out vaccine misinformation, saying this week that it would remove posts with erroneous claims about the coronavirus, coronavirus vaccines and vaccines in general, whether they are paid advertisements or user-generated posts. In addition to Mr. Kennedy’s Instagram account, the company said it had removed multiple other Instagram accounts and Facebook pages on Wednesday under its updated policies.
They did not include Mr. Kennedy’s Facebook page, which was still active as of early Thursday and makes many of the same baseless claims to more than 300,000 followers. The company said it did not automatically disable accounts across its platforms and that there were no plans to take down Mr. Kennedy’s Facebook account “at this time.”
Children’s Health Defense did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Members of Mr. Kennedy’s family have spoken out against his anti-vaccine efforts, including a brother, sister and niece who accused him of spreading “dangerous misinformation” in a column they wrote for Politico in 2019. Another niece, Kerry Kennedy Meltzer, a doctor at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, wrote an opinion essay in The New York Times in December challenging his claims.
“I love my uncle Bobby,” she wrote. “I admire him for many reasons, chief among them his decades-long fight for a cleaner environment. But when it comes to vaccines, he is wrong.”
A Texas doctor with only six hours to administer expiring doses of a Covid-19 vaccine inoculated 10 people, but the move got him fired and charged with stealing the doses.
The doctor, Hasan Gokal, had scrambled in December by making house calls and directing people to his home outside Houston. Some were acquaintances; others, strangers. A bed-bound nonagenarian. A woman in her 80s with dementia. A mother with a child who uses a ventilator.
After midnight, and with just minutes before the vaccine became unusable, Dr. Gokal gave the last dose to his wife, who has a pulmonary disease that leaves her short of breath.
For his actions, Dr. Gokal was fired from his government job and then charged with stealing 10 vaccine doses worth a total of $135 — a misdemeanor that sent his name and mug shot rocketing around the globe.
“It was my world coming down,” he said in a telephone interview on Friday. “To have everything collapse on you. God, it was the lowest moment in my life.”
The matter is playing out as pandemic-weary Americans scour websites and cross state lines chasing rumors in pursuit of a medicine in short supply.
Late last month, a judge dismissed the charge as groundless, but the local district attorney vowed to present the matter to a grand jury. And while prosecutors portray the doctor as a cold opportunist, his lawyer says he acted responsibly — even heroically.
“Everybody was looking at this guy and saying, ‘I got my mother waiting for a vaccine, my grandfather waiting for a vaccine,’” the lawyer, Paul Doyle, said. “They were thinking, ‘This guy is a villain.’”
Sister André has lived through the 1918 flu pandemic, two World Wars and “many sad events,” she once said. As Europe’s oldest known person, she turns 117 on Thursday and has now accomplished another feat: defeating the coronavirus, with barely any complication.
“She’s recovered, along with all the residents here,” said David Tavella, the spokesman at the Ste. Catherine Labouré nursing home in Toulon, a city in southeastern France, where Sister André lives. “She is calm, very radiant and she is quite looking forward to celebrating her 117th birthday,” he said, adding that the home’s most famous resident was resting on Wednesday and needed a break from interviews.
The coronavirus swept through the nursing home last month, just as nurses began consulting residents about vaccinations; 81 of its 88 residents became infected, including Sister André, and 11 eventually died.
Mr. Tavella said that until last month no case had been detected in the nursing home since the beginning of the pandemic. Still, the outbreak was a stark reminder that the virus has been devastating in places where the most vulnerable reside, even with stringent restrictions that have turned many care homes into fortresses.
Sister André remained isolated for weeks and felt a bit “patraque,” or off color, Mr. Tavella said, but she blamed the virus and not her age. She slept more than usual, but she prayed and remained asymptomatic. This week, she became the oldest known person to have survived Covid-19.
“She kept telling me, ‘I’m not afraid of Covid because I’m not afraid of dying, so give my vaccine doses to those who need them,’” Mr. Tavella said.
Sister André’s story has made headlines in France, providing some uplifting news in a country where thousands of nursing home residents have died.
France began vaccinating health care workers this week, but the authorities have faced criticism for a sluggish rollout as France continues to struggle with a rising number of infections, and no end to restrictions in sight. As of Wednesday, 2.2 million people had been vaccinated, less than 3 percent of the population.
In other developments around the world:
The coronavirus variant first detected in Britain is going “to sweep the world, in all probability,” the director of the country’s genetic surveillance program, Sharon Peacock, told the BBC on Thursday. The variant, known as B.1.1.7., has been detected in 75 countries, including the United States.
Even as layoffs in the United States remain extraordinarily high by historical standards, unemployment claims continue to decline as coronavirus cases and restrictions on activity recede.
New claims for unemployment benefits declined last week for the fourth week in a row, the Labor Department reported Thursday morning.
Last week brought 813,000 new claims for state benefits, compared with 850,000 the previous week. Adjusted for seasonal variations, last week’s figure was 793,000, a decrease of 19,000.
There were 335,000 new claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federally funded program for part-time workers, the self-employed and others ordinarily ineligible for jobless benefits. That total, which was not seasonally adjusted, was down from 369,000 the week before.
New coronavirus cases have fallen by a third from the level two weeks ago, prompting states like California and New York to relax restrictions on indoor dining and other activities.
“We’re stuck at this very high level of claims, but activity is picking up,” said Julia Pollak, a labor economist with ZipRecruiter, an online employment marketplace. Indeed, job postings at ZipRecruiter stand at 11.3 million, close to the 11.4 million level before the pandemic hit.
The improving pandemic situation has eased the strain on dining establishments, Ms. Pollak added. More generally, however, the leisure and hospitality industry is still under pressure.
Plenty of other signs of weakness remain. On Friday, the Labor Department reported that employers added just 49,000 jobs in January, underscoring the challenges for the nearly 10 million unemployed.
President Biden cited the weak showing to press for approval of his $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package. It would send $1,400 to many Americans, provide aid to states and cities, and extend unemployment benefits that are due to expire for millions in mid-March.
Ms. Pollak said postings by employers at ZipRecruiter in recent days offered hope. “We’ve seen employers smash all of our expectations and show a great deal of exuberance,” she said.
President Biden wants racial equity to be at the essence of a fair national coronavirus response. And Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, a Yale epidemiologist who grew up in the U.S. Virgin Islands, is in charge of the effort.
Dr. Nunez-Smith, the chairwoman of Mr. Biden’s Covid-19 equity task force, spoke to The New York Times about the challenges ahead in her role.
She is charged with advising the president on how to allocate resources and reach out to underserved populations to fight a pandemic that has taken a devastating toll on people of color. Black and Latino people have been nearly twice as likely as white people to die from Covid-19.
“Make no mistake about it — beating this pandemic is hard work,” Dr. Nunez-Smith told reporters on Wednesday, after the White House named the members of the task force. “And beating this pandemic while making sure that everyone in every community has a fair chance to stay safe or to regain their health, well, that’s the hard work and the right work.”
Q. You’ve been in office just a few weeks. What have you learned?
A. What’s great about this is being public facing. I hear from everyday Americans every day. People write all the time with their own experiences.
Obviously you cannot cure racial disparities in health care overnight, so what are you aiming for, at least in the near term? And then in the long term?
We’re charged with rapid response recommendations and then paving the way for equity in the recovery. We talk a lot about vaccines, but we can’t forget about everything else. We think about frontline essential workers and others who still have challenges in terms of having inadequate protection in the workplace. Access to testing is also uneven.
It’s exciting to see new technologies emerge, but we also have to make sure that everybody can benefit from all of the scientific discoveries.
A cougar has tested positive for the coronavirus, the first such instance in the United States. And a tiger at the same Texas facility that exhibits wild animals also tested positive, the Department of Agriculture said on Wednesday.
After several cats at the facility, which the department did not name, began coughing and wheezing, the facility took samples for testing.
The National Veterinary Services Laboratory confirmed the infection in the two cats. While several tigers in the United States have caught the virus, along with lions, snow leopards and many domestic cats, this was the first report of a cougar.
The animals have mild symptoms and are expected to recover, according to the announcement, as have other zoo cats that have been infected with the virus.
Dogs, mink and gorillas have also caught the coronavirus in the United States. The Agriculture department keeps a list, updated weekly, of all confirmed tests.
Farmed mink infected with the virus have passed it to humans in some cases, which caused Denmark to cull its entire farmed mink population, about 17 million. There is no evidence of domestic or zoo animals passing the virus to humans, and advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention largely concerns how people who have Covid-19 should avoid infecting their pets.
Officials in Michigan have confirmed the presence of a highly contagious coronavirus variant in one of its state prisons, the first such case documented in an American correctional facility — and a potential harbinger of even wider dispersion of the virus in prisons, public health officials said.
Michigan prison and health officials said Wednesday that an employee at the Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility, in Ionia, Mich., was found to have been infected with the B.1.1.7 variant. That strain was first detected in December in the United Kingdom. It has been found to spread more easily than other coronavirus variants.
The variant’s potential to disseminate rapidly in prisons and jails, which are typically overcrowded, unsanitary and have poor ventilation, has alarmed public health experts.
“When we see increased levels of contagiousness in spaces that are overcrowded that really do not lend themselves to social distancing, what we know is going to happen is that there will just be really an explosion of cases,” said Lauren Brinkley-Rubenstein, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. “And so it just means more cases, more rapid transmission, and more devastation for incarcerated people and staff that work in jails and prisons.”
Correctional facilities and detention centers have already been devastated by Covid-19, with more than 600,000 infections and 2,700 dead among inmates and correctional officers, according to a New York Times database tracking infections in prisons, jails and detention centers.
Michigan prison officials said that once they had confirmed the presence of the variant, they ordered daily testing of all inmates and staff members in the prison, which has more than 1,600 inmates. As of Thursday, about 500 inmates and 100 correctional officers at the facility had been infected with the coronavirus, and one inmate had died.
As of Thursday morning, it was not clear whether anyone at the prison — aside from the staff member — had been infected by the new variant.
But prison authorities have expressed concern about the possible diffusion of the variant because inmates had been transferred from the Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility to two other prisons, the Duane Waters Health Center and the Macomb Correctional Facility, before officials were aware that the staff member had been sickened.
The Duane Waters facility, in Jackson, is reserved for some of the state prison system’s most severely ill inmates.
The prison system “will be taking extra steps to identify where this variant is present amongst staff and the prisoner population and we will continue to do everything we can to keep the prisoners, our staff and the community safe,” Heidi Washington, director of the Michigan prison system, said in a news release.
Maura Turcotte and