Federal vaccine mandate could hurt holiday travel


The federal vaccine mandate deadline falls just days before the Thanksgiving holiday, leaving travel experts concerned potential staffing shortages.

PHOENIX — The federal vaccine mandate deadline is just a few weeks away and travel experts said it might have a big impact on the busy Thanksgiving travel weekend.

TSA vaccinations last at 60%

The federal deadline for workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine is Nov. 22, just a few days before Thanksgiving.

A couple of weeks ago, TSA Administrator David Pekoske told CNN many of his workers are still needing their shots.

“About 60% of our workforce has been vaccinated,” Pekoske said. “That number needs to go up quite a bit higher over the next few weeks.”

A TSA spokesperson told 12 News in a statement the remaining 40% haven’t reported whether they’ve gotten the vaccine or not and added in the statement that they’re still anticipating a ‘vast majority’ of their employees to get vaccinated.

“TSA personnel are in jobs where they are not readily in front of computers. Many Transportation Security Officers do not have government-issued equipment to submit required information and responses to government-issued surveys,” The spokesperson said in the statement.

AFGE TSA Local 1250, the local branch of the union for TSA workers, said they also didn’t have exact figures on how many TSA workers at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport were vaccinated or not.

“We got misinformation, we got fear,” Jovan Petkovic, the secretary for AFGE TSA Local 1250 said.

Petkovic said while the union has been trying to help educate members, there are many in the organization who are opposed to the mandate because of vaccine misinformation and the vaccine being politicized.

“They don’t understand what it is,” Petkovic said. “So they’re, of course, afraid of it, and they’re opposing it.”

Not getting the shot can mean a TSA worker loses their job. Petkovic said there is a process a worker goes through, including time to get into compliance before action is taken against the worker.

“We are building contingency plans for if we do have some staffing shortages as a result of this, but I hope to avoid that,” Pekoske said.

Travel industry under strain

Janet Semenova with Boutique Travel Advisors said that. in her business and travels, she’s noticing more people also visiting different states and countries.

“Even as the world is opening up, and more, more people are vaccinated and feeling more comfortable and confident traveling, there’s still a lot of logistical things that you have to consider when booking a trip,” Semenova said.

Noting, the travel industry is already under pressure and is not immune to staffing shortages affecting many workforces.

Earlier in October, Southwest Airlines made headlines after it canceled nearly 2,000 flights blaming the weather and what the airline called “external constraints.”

“We’re seeing airlines canceling flights regularly, changing schedules at the last minute, bumping people at the last minute,” Semenova said.

Ripple effects

Stathis Kefallonitis, an associate professor of Aviation Business and Passenger Intelligence at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University – Prescott said he’s anticipating more people to travel for the holidays.

“About one in two Americans wants to travel and has plans to travel this holiday season,” Kefallonitis said. “This is about a 20% increase from 2020.”

Kefallonitis said however because more people are working from home, they may be able to leave a day or two earlier and may help ease congestion at airports.

But Kefallonitis said they could still face issues, with the combination of potential staffing shortages, delays, cancellations, and bad weather.

“We can still have problems, we can still have issues, mainly related to staffing, restrictions and unvaccinated employees and travelers. And this could still be a recipe for disaster,” Kefallonitis said.

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Covid-19 and Vaccine News: Live Updates


ImageAt the airport in Denver last year.
Credit…Kevin Mohatt/Reuters

Children under the age of 18 who are unvaccinated against the coronavirus, and a limited category of foreigners arriving from countries with low vaccination rates, are among the travelers exempted from forthcoming requirements that will determine who can enter the United States, Biden administration officials said on Monday.

The Biden administration has announced that it would lift travel restrictions on Nov. 8 and reopen the United States to fully vaccinated international travelers who had been barred for nearly a year and a half from entering the country by air or crossing the land borders.

But the new travel system also comes with stringent requirements, and will seal the United States off from most foreigners who have not yet received a vaccine cleared by the World Health Organization or U.S. federal regulators. On Monday, senior officials detailed opportunities to enter the United States for certain travelers who struggled to obtain a vaccine because of a lack of uniform vaccine eligibility for minors, as well as limited access to the global supply.

Unvaccinated children under the age of 18 will be permitted to enter the United States when the new system takes effect, officials said, confirming an earlier report from The New York Times. Children older than 2 who are traveling with a fully vaccinated adult will need to show a negative coronavirus test within three days of their departure date. Those traveling alone or with an unvaccinated adult will need to show such a result one day before they travel to the United States.

The exemptions will also apply to adults flying from countries where less than 10 percent of the overall population is fully vaccinated, if they can show a “compelling reason” for entering the United States, officials said. That carve-out, they said, would apply to a narrow group of unvaccinated travelers; entering the United States for tourism would not clear the bar for an exemption.

Others who show a U.S. government-issued letter approving an emergency or humanitarian need to travel will also be allowed to cross U.S. borders.

Many leaders in the tourism industry have praised the new rules, which will signal a new chapter in the U.S. recovery from the pandemic. The restrictions imposed in the early days of the pandemic have barred tourists and separated family members from traveling to the United States for nearly 18 months.

But on Nov. 8, the country will open to those who can show that two weeks have passed since they received either a second shot of the two-dose vaccines cleared by U.S. federal regulators or the W.H.O. (in any combination), or a single shot of a one-dose vaccine greenlit by those organizations, like the one from Johnson & Johnson. Digital or print proof of vaccination status will be required.

In addition, fully vaccinated American citizens or legal permanent residents arriving by sea or air will need to show proof of a negative coronavirus test taken within three days of traveling. Those who are unvaccinated will need to test negative within one day of traveling. Those crossing the land border from Canada or Mexico will not have a testing requirement.

Travelers will also be required to provide their personal information for potential contact tracing after arriving in the United States.

Credit…Velocity Clinical Research/Via Reuters

The coronavirus vaccine made by Moderna is safe and produces a powerful immune response in children 6 through 11, the company said on Monday.

One month after immunization was complete, the children in Moderna’s trial had antibody levels that were 1.5 times higher than those seen in young adults, the company said.

Moderna did not release the full data, nor are the results published in a peer-reviewed journal. The results were announced one day before an advisory committee of the Food and Drug Administration is scheduled to review data for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in children 5 through 11.

Moderna tested two shots of the vaccine given 28 days apart in 4,753 children. They received 50 micrograms of vaccine, half the adult dose, in each shot. (Last week, based on data showing that the half dose is still highly effective, the F.D.A. authorized a booster shot of the Moderna vaccine at this dose.)

Moderna submitted study results for the vaccine’s use for adolescents 12 through 17 in June, but the F.D.A. has not yet announced a decision for that age group.

Some research indicates that the Moderna vaccine may increase the risk of a rare side effect called myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, in boys and young men. In July, the F.D.A. asked both Pfizer and Moderna to expand the size of their trials in order to detect less common side effects.

In children aged 6 through 11, most of the side effects were mild or moderate; the most common were fatigue, headache, fever and pain at the injection site, Moderna said in its statement on Monday. An independent committee will continue to review the vaccine’s safety in the trial participants for 12 months after the second dose.

Moderna is still recruiting children aged 2 through 5 and 6 months to under 2 years for trials of the vaccine in those age groups. The company has enrolled about 5,700 children in the United States and Canada in the trial.

Moderna plans to submit the results soon to the F.D.A. and to regulatory agencies in Europe and elsewhere, the company said.

Credit…Shawn Rocco/Duke Health/Via Reuters

Covid-19 vaccines could be approved and available for younger American children soon, but the question of how quickly parents will allow them to get inoculated is another matter.

Children ages 5 to 11 could begin getting vaccinated in early November, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease official, said Sunday.

That means those children could be fully immunized by the holidays, if an advisory panel to the Food and Drug Administration endorses Pfizer’s application for vaccine use in that age group on Tuesday. Children 12 and up have been eligible for vaccination since May.

But hesitancy among parents of these children could be a hurdle. Only about one in three parents of 5- to 11-year-olds planned to get their children inoculated “right away” once a vaccine is authorized, according to polling by the Kaiser Family Foundation conducted last month. Another third said they wanted to “wait and see” how the vaccine affected children.

But that same polling showed that reluctance among parents of teenagers had dropped in the months since vaccines became available to that age group.

“This is critically important, and we know we have a lot of work to do,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on the NBC program “Meet the Press.” “Those survey data look very much consistent with where we were with adults last December, when we rolled out vaccines for adults. We have done a huge amount of hard work over the last 10 months, education, communication, providing information, getting vaccines to really convenient places and trusted messengers.”

F.D.A. regulators on Friday released their evaluation of data from the Pfizer-BioNTech submission for emergency authorization of a lower-dose vaccine for young children.

Pfizer’s data “look good as to the efficacy and safety,” Dr. Fauci said on the ABC program “This Week.” He said “if all goes well,” it is “entirely possible, if not very likely, that vaccines will be available for children from 5 to 11 within the first week or two of November.”

According to Pfizer and BioNTech, the children who were vaccinated as part of the clinical trial, who received doses that were one-third the size of the adult doses, developed robust immune responses after receiving the regimen of two shots three weeks apart. The companies have said the efficacy rate of the vaccine in children reduced the risk of developing a symptomatic infection by 91 percent.

The most common side effects in children were fatigue, headache, muscle pain and chills. According to the F.D.A., the data submitted indicated no cases of myocarditis, inflammation of the heart muscle, or pericarditis, inflammation of the outer lining of the heart, both of which are rare complications that have been reported among young boys and men receiving the vaccine.

Over the past week there has been a lot of regulatory guidance on who can receive booster doses of Covid vaccines, giving a large segment of the U.S. population access to more protection.

Both Dr. Walensky and Dr. Fauci sought to dispel confusion about booster shots and explain the option of “mixing and matching” initial vaccines and boosters.

Boosters of all three vaccines available in the United States have been authorized. Additional shots of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which use mRNA technology, have been approved for people 65 and older, those with underlying health conditions and all adults whose living or working conditions place them at high risk of exposure to the virus. Anyone over 18 who received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least two months ago is also eligible for a booster.

People can receive a booster shot that is different from the initial vaccine they first received, the health authorities said.

“If you were originally vaccinated with one product, could you and would it be appropriate and safe and effective to get boosted in the third shot for the mRNA and the second shot for J.&.J. by another product?” Dr. Fauci said. “The answer is, it’s perfectly fine.”

Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Australia, home to the world’s longest lockdown, is scrapping quarantine requirements for vaccinated residents returning from overseas. New Zealand, famed for its commitment to a “Zero Covid” strategy, abandoned it this month. Around the world, people are vacationing, visiting family and resuming business trips across international borders.

Not China.

The country where the coronavirus pandemic began is also the only one in the world still trying to completely eradicate the virus within its borders. Officials have repeatedly dismissed the idea of living with the virus, citing China’s large population and their success in containment so far — even as the country has continued to record sporadic outbreaks, triggering mass testing and strict lockdowns.

“Every locality should firmly adhere to the policy of ‘Defend externally against importation, defend internally against rebound,’” Mi Feng, a spokesman for the National Health Commission, said at a news conference on Sunday. “The current control measures cannot be relaxed.”

China has continued to record local cases — around 130 in recent days, after a spate of cases linked to domestic tourists. Parts of Beijing, Inner Mongolia and Gansu Province are under lockdown. Schools and businesses in those areas of Beijing are closed, and organizers of the Beijing Marathon, which had been planned for this weekend, announced on Sunday that it would be indefinitely postponed.

China’s tough stance on loosening Covid restrictions is possible in part because of China’s huge domestic consumer base, which has helped to keep retail spending afloat, and because of the ruling Communist Party’s tight grip on power. The authorities can implement lockdowns and mandate multiple rounds of testing with astonishing efficiency.

In addition, many Chinese are satisfied with the government’s approach. Domestic travel has surged in areas with no cases, and the country’s low death rate — it has officially recorded fewer than 5,000 deaths — has become a source of nationalistic pride, especially at a time when China’s relations with many other countries are growing increasingly fraught.

Xi Jinping, China’s leader, has repeatedly pointed to China’s success in containment as proof of the superiority of its governance model. When Zhang Wenhong, a prominent virologist, suggested this summer that China learn to live with the virus, he was attacked viciously online as a lackey of foreigners.

There is a clear incentive for China to remain closed off, at least in the short term: With Beijing set to host the Winter Olympics in February, officials have acknowledged that they are under pressure to keep cases under control.

Still, the question of sustainability looms. China’s economic growth is slowing. The country’s diplomatic efforts may also suffer from its long isolation; Mr. Xi has not left China or received foreign visitors since early 2020, even as other world leaders prepare to gather in Rome for a Group of 20 summit and in Glasgow for climate talks.

Some officials have started to tentatively broach the idea of loosening restrictions, though without any timelines or firm commitments. Zhong Nanshan, one of the country’s most prominent doctors, told a Chinese magazine this month that China could begin opening up when vaccination rates had exceeded 85 percent, a goal that could potentially be reached this year.

But, he added, there was another caveat: Other countries would also need to get cases under control.

Joy Dong contributed research

Credit…John Locher/Associated Press

After a series of endorsements over the last month by scientific panels advising federal agencies, tens of millions of Americans are now eligible for booster shots of coronavirus vaccines.

But the recommendations — even those approved unanimously — mask significant dissent and disquiet among those advisers about the need for booster shots in the United States.

In interviews last week, several advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and to the Food and Drug Administration said data show that, with the exception of adults over age 65, the vast majority of Americans are already well protected against severe illness and do not need booster shots.

All the advisers felt that they were obligated to make difficult choices, based on sparse research, in the middle of a public health emergency. But some said they felt compelled to vote for the shots because of the way the federal agencies framed the questions that they were asked to consider.

Other committee experts said that they wanted to avoid confusing the public further by dissenting, or that they voted according to their views of the evidence and were simply overruled.

After a series of votes, the official position of the F.D.A. and C.D.C. now is that older adults, people with certain medical conditions and those whose jobs or living situations regularly expose them to the virus can opt for a booster dose of any of the three vaccines.

The C.D.C. also advised last week that people in certain high-risk groups who got one type of vaccine could choose a different one for their booster.

In interviews, the experts bemoaned the limited data on the safety and efficacy of the booster shots. Still, some said they felt they had to vote in favor of booster shots of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines because they had already recommended boosters of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and did not want to deny other Americans.

Credit…Jeon Heon-Kyun/EPA, via Shutterstock

President Moon Jae-in of South Korea announced on Monday that the country had achieved its goal of fully vaccinating 70 percent of its population of about 52 million and would be implementing a phased recovery plan next month.

While Seoul, the capital, has been under the strictest level of social-distancing regulations since the summer, limiting social gatherings to a maximum of two at one point and barring customers from sitting in cafes, regulations were eased starting last week. Last week, South Korea also added five countries to the list of those whose vaccinated tourists will be eligible for quarantine exemptions.

Under the phased recovery plan that starts next Monday, restrictions will loosen further, including allowing gatherings of up to 10 people, lifting restrictions on business operating hours, allowing spectators at some sporting events and allowing the use of showers at fitness centers. The new regulations will be observed for a four-week period, followed by a two-week evaluation term.

While South Korea’s vaccination program had a slow start compared to those in the United States and several countries in Europe and Asia, it quickly picked up its distribution to surpass the United States. The country was a week early in reaching its immunization quota on Saturday.

On Monday, South Korea’s government also said it would donate one million AstraZeneca Covid shots to Iran, in recognition of the 60-year friendship between the two countries. Earlier this month, South Korea donated over a million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Vietnam and Thailand.

On Monday, South Korea reported 1,190 daily new cases. According to a database by Our World in Data, the country has seen a 35 percent decrease in cases over the past two weeks. The country has faced four waves of the pandemic since February, with its latest spike starting in July and still ongoing, the worst in terms of case count.

The government also announced a $519 billion budget for 2022 to help recover the pandemic-induced economic fallout. The proposed budget for next year is 8.3 percent higher than this year’s.

“We will do our best to recover both financially and in our daily lives,” Mr. Moon said at the National Assembly.

Credit…Chad Batka for The New York Times

The singer Ed Sheeran announced Sunday on social media that he had tested positive for the coronavirus and would be canceling public appearances and working at home, in quarantine.

It wasn’t immediately clear what appearances would be canceled or rescheduled, or whether Mr. Sheeran was sick with symptoms of Covid-19.

The news came days before the Friday release of his new album, “=,” pronounced “equals.” The 14-song album includes his recently released single “Bad Habits.”

And it comes just after Mr. Sheeran had been announced as the musical guest for “Saturday Night Live” on Nov. 6.

The four-time Grammy winner took a break from work and social media in late 2019 after two years of touring in support of his best-selling album “÷” (or “divide”).

Credit…Andrew Kutan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Papua New Guinea is facing its highest daily number of new Covid-19 cases since the pandemic began, and the surge threatens to overwhelm the country’s rudimentary health system, the Red Cross said on Monday. Data from global health organizations suggest that the crisis may be far deeper than the story told by official figures.

Since March 2020, the country has reported 27,627 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 335 deaths. Figures from the World Health Organization indicate that the true number of infections may be more than twice that, according to an Agence France-Presse report.

At least 2.6 million people, or more than a quarter of the population of nine million, have visited clinics with symptoms consistent with flu or pneumonia since the pandemic began.

Papua New Guinea’s health services are poorly equipped to deal with a major outbreak. The country has only 500 doctors and fewer than 4,000 nurses, according to Human Rights Watch. With most of the population living outside of urban centers, access to health care is limited.

“Hospitals are full, and patients are being turned away in Port Moresby and provincial areas,” said Uvenama Rova, the top Red Cross official in Papua New Guinea, in a statement. “We are deeply concerned that the risks of hospitalization and death from Covid-19 are skyrocketing due to limited health infrastructure, high rates of illness, all compounded by poor access to safe water, hygiene and sanitation facilities.”

As of Sunday, just 207,207 people in the country had been vaccinated, because of problems with the rollout and a lack of supplies. Intense misinformation and vaccine hesitancy have affected even the country’s health staff: One survey of 130 people working in an emergency department in Port Moresby, the capital, showed 24 percent would refuse a vaccine and 37 percent were unsure, according to A.F.P.

Credit…Andrew Testa for The New York Times

A study of more than 32 million Covid vaccine recipients in England published on Monday found that people given the AstraZeneca vaccine were at slightly increased risk of Guillain–Barré syndrome, a rare but potentially serious neurological condition.

Even so, the coronavirus vaccine posed a far smaller risk of the disorder than did Covid itself, the researchers said.

“The neurological complications of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines are much rarer than the neurological complications of Covid-19,” said Dr. Peter Openshaw, a professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London.

For every 10 million people who received a first dose of the AstraZeneca shot, the study estimated, 38 additional people would be expected to develop Guillain-Barré syndrome. In comparison, for every 10 million people who contracted the coronavirus, 145 would be expected to develop Guillain-Barré.

Concerns about the syndrome have already prompted regulatory action in Britain and the European Union. The European Medicines Agency said last month that it was “at least a reasonable possibility” that the AstraZeneca vaccine caused Guillain-Barré in very rare instances. And last week, Britain’s medicines regulator added it as a very rare side effect.

Guillain-Barré is a condition in which the body’s immune system attacks nerve cells, potentially causing muscle weakness or paralysis. The symptoms often pass within weeks, but in some cases, the condition can cause permanent nerve damage.

Researchers have reported that the Johnson & Johnson shot may also be associated with a small increased risk of Guillain-Barré. That shot and the AstraZeneca vaccine both rely on a virus known as an adenovirus. The study on Monday said that further studies were needed to assess whether antibodies against the vaccine can react with components of the peripheral nerves to cause Guillain-Barré.

Several European countries have already limited the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine because of an apparent link with other rare but serious clotting disorders. In the United States, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has largely been sidelined amid concerns about the same clotting problems and the wide availability of alternative vaccines.

The new study also found a small increased risk of hemorrhagic strokes — caused by the leaking or rupture of a blood vessel in the brain — after a first shot of the Pfizer vaccine, but scientists cautioned that any association was far from certain. The study said that there was no increased risk evident from a different set of Scottish vaccination data, and scientists noted that the diagnoses in England had not all been verified by stroke experts.





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Airline vaccine mandates: How will requirements affect holiday air travel?


As October winds down, the time when Americans typically start booking flights home for the holidays is beginning to ramp up. 

Traveling safely amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic comes with stringent guidelines, including mask-wearing, social distancing and rules regarding vaccination against the coronavirus. 

Air travel has slowly begun to rebound from 2020, but the path to recovery has been bumpy.

SOUTHWEST AIRLINES WON’T FIRE UNVACCINATED EMPLOYEES: ‘IT MAKES NO SENSE’

The airlines, which are also government contractors, fall under President Biden’s sweeping September order that companies with more than 100 workers require employees to be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing. 

The White House has pressed for U.S. airlines to mandate vaccines for staff members by December 8, without the testing option.

To comply with regulations, United Airlines said in September that 97% of its employees had been fully vaccinated – not including a “small number” of employees seeking a medical or religious exemption from vaccination.

Six United employees sued the company, claiming that the airline had been discriminating against employees who get exemptions from the vaccine mandate by placing them on unpaid leave.

FILE PHOTO: Travelers wearing protective face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) reclaim their luggage at the airport in Denver, Colorado, U.S., November 24, 2020.  (REUTERS/Kevin Mohatt/File Photo)

At the beginning of the month, American Airlines, Alaska Airlines and JetBlue said they would join United in requiring employees to be vaccinated.

A few days later, Southwest Airlines also told staff they needed to be vaccinated by the December deadline – with approval to skip the shots due to medical or religious reasons – due to the Biden administration’s rules.

However, on Thursday, the airline vowed that employees would not be fired for not getting the shot, arguing that it “makes no sense.” 

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While the airline “encourages every employee” to get inoculated, it does not want to “lose any employee” over Biden’s federal vaccine mandate, Southwest said in a statement to FOX Business. 

Employes must submit a request for exemption from vaccination by Nov. 24. 

American has said that workers who are granted medical or religious exemptions will likely have to wear face masks and undergo regular testing – but the carrier is still working on details.

“American will not be placing any team members on unpaid leave as part of the federal vaccine mandate,” American spokesman Matt Miller said this week. 

Delta Air Lines says it will also let workers undergo regular testing if they don’t want to be vaccinated – though they face a $200 monthly surcharge on their health insurance. 

Delta CEO Ed Bastian said last week that 90% of the airline’s employees are vaccinated and that he expects that figure will reach 95% come November.

United, meanwhile, has begun termination proceedings against around 200 employees who neither got the shots nor asked for an exemption.

What the future holds for passengers during all of this remains unclear, but officials have said that airlines would do their best to make deadlines and not let mandates disrupt holiday travel.

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The White House offered a similar message in its COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday. 

“Vaccination requirements will not impact holiday travel,” White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients said.

FOX Business’ Daniella Genovese and The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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Holiday travel plans could be in jeopardy, as vaccine mandates could create more pilot shortages


ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — If you haven’t made plans to travel for the holidays, you may want to do that now.

Multiple airlines have started issuing vaccine mandates since President Biden signed an executive order on Sept. 9 requiring federal contractors to mandate vaccinations and ensure workers are fully vaccinated by Dec. 8.

American, Southwest, and United Airlines are just a few of the many carriers who have started mandating the vaccine to their employees.

Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport’s Director of Marketing and Airport Service Development Brad Boettcher says if there aren’t enough vaccinated pilots, carriers could struggle to fly their current holiday schedule.

“I think this is a trend that we’re in,” said Boettcher. “We saw a shortage of pilots before the pandemic. And then, when the pandemic hit and airlines were buying employees out, a lot of pilots retired from that. Now, we find ourselves back in a pilot shortage as demand is increasing.”

Boettcher says that people shouldn’t wait to make plans for the holidays.

“Definitely buy those tickets. Don’t wait. Flights are filling up. There aren’t as many seats out there as historically there might’ve been. It’s very important, if people wanna travel, to go ahead and make those reservations now,” said Boettcher.

The demand for travel is already high as many carriers have started to fill their schedule. That demand could exceed the capacity airlines may have, if there aren’t enough pilots.

To be better prepared for possible disruptions, Boettcher suggests a few tips:

  • Book directly with your airline. This gives you a direct line to customer service, rather than going back and forth between the airline and any online booking service such as Expedia or Google Flights, should there be any issues.
  • Update your contact information.
  • Download the airline’s app with the push notification alerts enabled to ensure you are being notified of what’s going on.

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Covid-19 live updates: More Americans are getting their boosters than first vaccine doses – The Washington Post



Covid-19 live updates: More Americans are getting their boosters than first vaccine doses  The Washington Post



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White House, Airlines Say Vaccine Mandate Won’t Impact Holiday Travel


Recent speculation about Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and airline staffing shortages due to upcoming vaccine mandate deadlines would seem to be unfounded. The White House and two major U.S. carriers have just stated that they don’t foresee the Biden administration’s vaccination order for federal and federally-contracted employees causing holiday travel complications.

To clarify, the vaccine mandate for federal employees dictates that they be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by November 22 without an approved exemption, while the deadline for employees of federal contractors is December 8.

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With the deadlines falling around the busy Thanksgiving and end-of-year travel periods, fears emerged that a substantial number of unvaccinated airline and TSA employees might cause staffing shortages just when loads of Americans are trying to travel.

But, according to Reuters, White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters on Wednesday that, “Vaccination requirements will not impact holiday travel.” He explained, “The requirements for federal workers and contractors will not cause disruptions to government services that people depend on. Agencies have the flexibility necessary to enforce the mandate without impacting critical operations.”

Zients added, “The point here is to get people vaccinated, not to punish them. So, agencies will not be removing employees from federal service until after they’ve gone through a process of education and counseling.”

On Thursday, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly likewise asserted that the vaccination issue would not disrupt holiday travel. “We are not on a campaign here to force everybody to get vaccinated…We want our employees to know that nobody is going to lose their job on December 9 if we’re not perfectly in compliance,” he explained. He also said unequivocally, “We’re not going to fire anybody who doesn’t get vaccinated.”

On an earnings call yesterday, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said that he doesn’t expect any employees to leave the company because of the vaccine mandate. “We think we’re not going to see anyone leaving American. I don’t think anyone’s going to want to leave American because either they choose not to get vaccinated or they don’t have a religious or medical (exemption),” he said.


Mature man receiving a vaccination.
Mature man receiving a vaccination. (photo via iStock/Getty Images E+/Geber86)

Parker disclosed, “We don’t anticipate any operational impact,” and said that American is “highly confident” that it will have enough staff to fly its holiday schedule as planned, even if unvaccinated workers with approved exemptions have to comply with new testing requirements.

Since “fully vaccinated” means 14 days need to have passed since receiving the final dose of a vaccine, federal employees, including TSA workers, must receive their second dose (or single dose with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine) by November 8. Employees of companies that contract with the federal government, meanwhile, can receive theirs by November 24 at the latest.

The Cargo Airline Association, a trade group that represents FedEx, United Parcel Service and other cargo carriers, on Monday expressed in a letter to the White House that, “It will be virtually impossible to have 100 percent of our respective workforces vaccinated by December 8…Sliding this date into the first half of 2022 will allow association members to meet the demands of the e-commerce revolution during the holiday season.”

FedEx told Reuters yesterday that it’s “engaged with the relevant government agencies” about implementing the vaccination guidelines in a way that won’t interfere with deliveries during the bustling holiday shopping season.





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A 19th-Century Version of Covid-19 Vaccine Passports | History


Illustration of vaccine passports overlaid on map of Gibraltar
Survivors received “fever passes” that certified their immunity, allowing them increased freedom of movement at a time when a substantial portion of the population was being held under strict quarantine.
Photo illustration by Meilan Solly / Photos via Wikimedia Commons, courtesy of Lawrence Sawchuk and Lianne Tripp

In August 1804, a shopkeeper named Santo entered the gates of Gibraltar, unaware that a pernicious virus was coursing through his blood. He had taken a trip to neighboring Spain, where, it seems, his skin was pricked by a mosquito carrying yellow fever. Within a day of his return, Santo had fallen ill—the first documented victim in Gibraltar of a disease that would wreak havoc on the Mediterranean fortress town during the early years of the 19th century.

Over the course of just four months in 1804, yellow fever claimed the lives of more than 2,200 people in Gibraltar, an estimated quarter of the permanent residents and military personnel who lived within the fortress. This epidemic was followed by four others, fueling repeated bouts of fear and despair. Time and again, residents watched as their loved ones and neighbors succumbed to an illness that, in its severest forms, causes an alarming litany of symptoms: jaundice—a yellowing of the skin and eyes that gives the virus its name; black vomit; bleeding from the eyes, nose and mouth. Health officials tried to stamp out the disease but didn’t understand how yellow fever was transmitted. It was only at the turn of the 20th century that the Aedes aegypti mosquito was revealed to be a vector of yellow fever, silently transmitting the virus as it flits from person to person, sucking up its meals.

In 19th-Century Gibraltar, Survivors of a Deadly Virus Used 'Fever Passes' to Prove Their Immunity

Illustration showing the development of yellow fever in a patient in Cadiz, Spain, in 1819

Wellcome Collection via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY 4.0

But authorities were quick to recognize one important truth: People who contract yellow fever and survive are not vulnerable to subsequent infections. Today, this concept is known as immunity; in the 19th century, the term “non-liability” was used. By Gibraltar’s fifth epidemic in 1828, an innovative measure had been put in place to accommodate those with protection against yellow fever. Survivors were granted “fever passes” that certified their non-liability, allowing them increased freedom of movement at a time when a substantial portion of the population was being held under strict quarantine.

This concept resonates today, as countries wade through the Covid-19 pandemic and grapple with the challenges of easing lockdown restrictions while the virus continues to mutate, infect and spread. As part of their reopening plans, some governments and businesses have mandated “vaccine passports”—documents, either digital or paper, that prove vaccination status—to ensure that only those with a high degree of protection against Covid-19 are able to cross borders and access certain public spaces, like restaurants, movie theaters and concert venues.

Documents testifying to an individual’s good health have long been deployed during times of rampant sickness. As far back as the 15th century, travelers could carry “health passes” certifying that they came from a location free of the plague. According to a recent paper published in the journal BMJ Global Health, however, the earliest evidence of passports showing that the holder is immune to a disease comes from Gibraltar 200 years ago. 

“Having this passport gave you the freedom … to be able to do something that was almost normal, and that is to move about somewhat freely,” says study co-author Larry Sawchuk, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto Scarborough whose research focuses on the population health of Gibraltar and the Maltese Islands.

In 19th-Century Gibraltar, Survivors of a Deadly Virus Used 'Fever Passes' to Prove Their Immunity

1828 yellow fever pass for 14-year-old Anna

Courtesy of Lawrence Sawchuk and Lianne Tripp

Located at the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula, Gibraltar is a small strip of land dominated by a soaring promontory—the famed Rock of Gibraltar. For hundreds of years, this slip of a territory was coveted by diverse nations for its strategic location next to the Strait of Gibraltar, the only route into the Mediterranean via the Atlantic Ocean. Gibraltar was occupied by the Moors in the eighth century C.E.; captured by Spanish forces in 1462; and taken by the British in 1704, during the War of the Spanish Succession.

When yellow fever first struck in the early 1800s, “the Rock,” as Gibraltar is known colloquially, was a closely guarded garrison town under the absolute authority of a British military governor. Residents lived within the walls of an imposing fortress that had been built, modified, damaged and repaired over centuries of tumultuous history. Police surveilled the population, and the gates of the town were constantly guarded by soldiers. Permits were required to leave and enter these gates, which opened at daybreak and closed at dusk. 

“Under that sort of system, the citizen had absolutely no rights,” says study co-author Lianne Tripp, an anthropologist at the University of Northern British Columbia who studies health and disease in the Mediterranean in the 19th and 20th centuries. “They had to do whatever was needed to be done to serve the fortress.”

In spite of the restrictive nature of life on the Rock, Gibraltar was an important trade hub and a pulsing, crowded, cosmopolitan town. People from Italy, Spain, Morocco, England and other diverse locations flocked to Gibraltar, drawn in by its free port and the promise of year-round employment that couldn’t be found in the nearby south of Spain, where jobs tended to be seasonal.

In 19th-Century Gibraltar, Survivors of a Deadly Virus Used 'Fever Passes' to Prove Their Immunity

1803 map of Gibraltar

Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The virus that would come to plague the fortress likely originated in the rainforests of Africa, making its way to the Western Hemisphere via ships carrying enslaved people in the 17th century. Yellow fever eventually spread to Europe, possibly hitching a ride on trade ships coming from the Americas. A 1730 epidemic in Cadiz, Spain, killed 2,200 people and was followed by outbreaks in French and British ports. Yellow fever may have been introduced to Gibraltar in 1804 by someone coming from Spain—Santo, perhaps, or another traveler who escaped the notice of medical authorities. When it breached the walls of the fortress, the virus found a perfect storm of conditions that allowed it to proliferate to devastating effect.

The colony was, for one, notoriously overcrowded. Its residents, many of them impoverished, packed into the fortress, living in “patios,” or multi-tenant buildings that shared an open common area. “You’d have a room with ten people in it, and they would sleep in that room, and they were separated by about two inches,” says Sawchuk. For Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which do not fly particularly long distances, these dense urban conditions served up an easy smorgasbord of human hosts. Late summer heat and humidity also provided ideal temperatures for the insects to thrive, and an ample supply of standing water offered plenty of breeding grounds; no springs or rivers run through Gibraltar, so residents relied on rainfall for drinking water, which they collected in buckets and jugs.

Most people in Gibraltar had no previous exposure to yellow fever and thus no immunity against it. The virus usually causes mild flu-like symptoms, but some patients who seem to recover enter a toxic second phase that kills up to 50 percent of patients. In Gibraltar, the dead piled up so quickly that coffins could be produced fast enough for only one out of every four bodies. Corpses were heaped onto carts that trundled through the town, a haunting reminder to the living that they were surrounded by death. But the carts couldn’t keep up. One journal from the period records a young woman “throwing her dead father out of the chamber window,” perhaps knowing that his body would likely not be collected anytime soon.

In 19th-Century Gibraltar, Survivors of a Deadly Virus Used 'Fever Passes' to Prove Their Immunity

1828 yellow fever pass for 17-year-old Juan

Courtesy of Lawrence Sawchuk and Lianne Tripp

The epidemic slowed its fatal march through Gibraltar once cold weather set in and yellow fever’s bloodsucking vectors died off. Local authorities who had been blindsided by the virus established a Board of Public Health and were ready to act when a smaller series of epidemics broke out in 1810, 1813 and 1814. 

One significant measure involved the creation of a quarantine encampment on the isthmus between Gibraltar and Spain, an area known as the Neutral Ground. The site was established in 1810, quickly and secretly. In the dead of night, authorities rapped on the doors of households affected by yellow fever and forcibly escorted the sick to the Neutral Ground. They stayed there, sequestered in tents and monitored by guards, until the epidemic had waned.

Later, in 1814, a cohort of civilian volunteers was enlisted to keep track of the population’s health. Every day, the volunteers went door-to-door within the fortress, making note of residents who were sick and those who remained vulnerable to the virus. These observers recorded overcrowding and uncleanliness and doused homes that were affected by yellow fever with lime and hot water. 

Some of these protocols were quite innovative. Tripp notes, for example, that the practice of conducting door-to-door surveys during public health crises is typically associated with John Snow, a physician who mapped out cholera cases in London in the mid-1850s, nearly three decades after Gibraltar’s last yellow fever epidemic. Still, authorities on the Rock were basing their management strategies on two incorrect theories of yellow fever transmission: They believed the disease spread directly from person to person or that it dispersed through foul air emanating from rotting filth. It is largely coincidental that, after the first epidemic in 1804, Gibraltar managed to avoid a second severe epidemic for nearly 25 years. Factors like ample rainfall, which was used to cool feverish bodies, may have done more to temper yellow fever deaths than quarantines or sanitization efforts, according to Sawchuk.

In 19th-Century Gibraltar, Survivors of a Deadly Virus Used 'Fever Passes' to Prove Their Immunity

Map of the Neutral Ground, where yellow fever patients—and later those susceptible to yellow fever—were quarantined

Courtesy of Lawrence Sawchuk and Lianne Tripp

Despite officials’ best efforts, yellow fever returned to the fortress in fall 1828 with a virulence that recalled the first epidemic, ultimately killing more than 1,600 people. As the crisis raged, health officials decided to tweak one of their key management protocols. Instead of quarantining the sick in the Neutral Ground, they ordered all those who had not been infected by the virus to immediately relocate to the encampment, along with the rest of their households. 

Scholars cannot definitively say why this change in policy was made, but it required a “formidable” level of contact tracing, write Sawchuk and Tripp in their paper. Authorities relied on meticulous house-to-house surveys to identify and segregate people lacking immunity from those who had survived past epidemics. The measure was likely life-saving for reasons that officials wouldn’t have understood. Unlike the densely concentrated town, the Neutral Ground wasn’t filled with barrels of standing water where mosquitoes could breed. Windy weather on the isthmus also kept the insects away.

Not all of the 4,000 people relocated to the encampment needed this protection. Some had survived previous epidemics but were carted off to the Neutral Ground because they lived in the same household as an individual who had never been sick. The Neutral Ground wasn’t a particularly pleasant place to be: “You’re living in a tent or a shed,” Sawchuk says. “There’s no escaping everybody looking at you, hearing exactly what you’re saying. For four months … that would drive me a little crazy.” Life in the encampment would have been terribly dull, he adds. Those quarantined at the site were kept from their jobs, their friends, the bustle of the town—until authorities began issuing passes that allowed yellow fever survivors to travel in and out of the encampment and even reside in the town.

Only two such fever passes are known to survive today. Housed in the Gibraltar National Museum, they are printed on small squares of yellowing paper, with blank spaces for a physician to fill out the patient’s name, age and religious affiliation. The documents belonged to a pair of teenagers, Juan and Anna; their last name is difficult to decipher, but they were likely siblings. Juan was 17 and Anna was 14 at the time of Gibraltar’s last yellow fever outbreak. A physician’s signature certified that each had “passed the present Epidemic Fever.”

In 19th-Century Gibraltar, Survivors of a Deadly Virus Used 'Fever Passes' to Prove Their Immunity

1878 illustration of soldiers returning from Cuba being fumigated to protect against yellow fever

Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Experts don’t know how many fever passes were issued in 1828, but the fact that the documents were standardized and printed suggests there were “a good number of them,” says Tripp. The relief that came with obtaining one of these passes, particularly considering that residents were not afforded the luxury of quarantining in their own homes, must have been palpable. “[Fever passes] gave you the freedom to escape the monotony of living in this encampment,” Sawchuk says.

Modern vaccine passports are a comparable measure intended to ease restrictions for those with protection against Covid-19. But the case study of Gibraltar does not provide easy answers to the thorny questions raised by the vaccine passport system. After all, 19th-century Gibraltar was clearly not a free state. Even prior to its spate of epidemics, citizens’ movement was controlled through permits required to enter and leave the fortress. Fever passes may very well have seemed like business as usual to residents of the garrison town.

Today, by contrast, vaccine passports have caused considerable hand-wringing among ethicists, policy makers and citizens. Proponents argue that the documents allow individuals to safely return to gathering indoors, which comes with numerous benefits, like reuniting families and reviving the global economy. But good-faith critics have voiced concerns that the passports violate civil liberties and open the door for “chilling” invasions of privacy and surveillance.

Many of the fundamental mitigation strategies that we put in place have been around for hundreds of years.

Another fear is that vaccine passports worsen existing inequalities both within countries and on a global level. Requiring such documents for international travel “restrict[s] the freedom of people in low- and middle-income countries most because they have the least vaccine access,” says Nancy S. Jecker, an expert on bioethics and humanities at the University of Washington who authored a recent paper on vaccine passports and health disparities. She adds that domestic vaccine passports are also problematic because they have “unfair and disproportionate effects” on segments of the population that do not always have equal access to Covid vaccines, like low-income groups and racial and ethnic minorities.

Jecker does not broadly oppose the idea of a health pass; for domestic travel, she supports a “flexible” system that allows people to show proof of vaccination, past Covid infection or a recent negative test. “There’s a lot of emphasis in my field [on] this notion of respect for individual autonomy,” she says. “And it’s really not the value we need right now as a standalone. We need to balance it against other values like public health.”

Officials in 19th-century Gibraltar wouldn’t have been particularly concerned about striking this balance, and both Sawchuk and Tripp acknowledge that the colony is an imperfect model for contemporary pandemic management strategies. “It was a different time,” Sawchuk says, “a different disease.” But the researchers believe it is important to reflect on Gibraltar’s historic epidemics, which show that key experiences during times of public health crises are repeated across the centuries. 

“Many of the fundamental mitigation strategies that we put in place have been around for hundreds of years,” says Tripp, citing the examples of quarantines and health passports. “The idea of immunity has been around even before we understood how diseases were transmitted. So when we talk about unprecedented times, [today] really isn’t that unprecedented.”





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Switzerland to ban foreign vaccine certificates for events


The government of Switzerland has announced it will no
longer accept foreign Covid-19 certificates, including the UK’s NHS Covid-19
app, as proof of vaccination status for entry to events or facilities.

From 25 October, anyone accessing events or facilities that
require proof of Covid status must have a Swiss Covid certificate or an
EU Digital Covid Certificate.

The UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has
updated its travel advice, saying anyone who has been fully vaccinated outside
of Switzerland with a vaccine authorised by the European Medicines Agency –
including AstraZeneca, Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and Janssen – or who has had a positive PCR test result abroad can obtain a
Swiss certificate online for a fee of 30 Swiss Francs for non-residents. It is
recommended visitors submit their application at least two weeks prior to their
arrival in Switzerland.



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Covid-19 Live Updates: Latest Coronavirus Vaccine News


ImageA health care worker updating a Covid patient’s information in the intensive care unit of a hospital in São Paulo, Brazil, in May.
Credit…Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

The World Health Organization on Thursday urged countries to do more to protect health care workers, saying that they are increasingly plagued by anxiety, burnout, illness and death on the front lines of the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

The agency estimates that 115,500 health care workers around the world died of Covid-19 between January 2020 and May 2021, the middle scenario of its broader estimate of 80,000 to 180,000 deaths during that period.

Speaking at a W.H.O. briefing on Thursday, Annette Kennedy, the president of the International Council of Nurses, said that the world had entered the pandemic with a shortage of nurses and that the problem was only being worsened by the stresses of the pandemic.

“There is another crisis coming down the tracks,” she said, “and that is a shortage of health care workers.”

To combat the problem, the W.H.O. called on governments to strengthen their collection of data on Covid infections and deaths among health care workers and to accelerate the vaccination of those workers.

On average, two in five health care workers had been fully vaccinated by September, according to W.H.O. data from 119 countries, but that included less than one in 10 of health care workers in Africa and the western Pacific region. By contrast, 80 percent of health care workers in 22 mostly high-income countries had been vaccinated.

Ms. Kennedy noted a major problem that women face when working in health care settings: personal protective equipment designed by men. “And yet,” she noted, “90 percent of nurses are women. Seventy percent of all health care workers are women.”

W.H.O. leaders also highlighted inequality in the global distribution of vaccines and called on wealthy nations to lead the charge in addressing the issue.

The agency’s director general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said it had been more than 10 months since the first vaccines were approved and that the lack of vaccinations for millions of health workers was “an indictment on the countries and companies that control the global supply of vaccines.”

High- and upper-middle-income countries have administered almost half as many booster shots as the total number of doses administered in low-income countries, he said.

To meet global vaccination goals, Dr. Tedros said, “the barrier is not production. The barriers are politics and profit.”

Gordon Brown, the former British prime minister who is now the W.H.O.’s ambassador for global health financing, said the goal of vaccinating 40 percent of adults around the world by December, which was put forward last month at the Global Covid-19 Summit led by President Biden, had “no chance” of being met without action from wealthy countries.

Mr. Brown said 240 million vaccine doses were lying unused in the West, citing figures from Airfinity, a data research agency. He added that the number of unused doses was projected to reach 600 million by the end of December. A shortfall of 500 million doses in the global South could be alleviated by flying vaccine stockpiles to countries in need and by switching delivery contracts. Up to 100 million doses could pass their use-by dates and end up being destroyed, he said.

Ahead of the Group of 20 summit that starts in Rome on Oct. 30, Western leaders should make a plan to transfer vaccines, Mr. Brown said, and other G20 nations could follow suit.

Credit…From left: David Zalubowski/Associated Press; Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

In a sweeping victory for the Biden administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday endorsed booster shots of the Moderna and the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccines for tens of millions of Americans.

The decision follows an agency endorsement last month of booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and opens the door for many Americans to seek out a booster shot as early as Friday.

The coronavirus vaccines “are all highly effective in reducing the risk of severe disease, hospitalization, and death, even in the midst of the widely circulating Delta variant,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the C.D.C. said in a statement on Thursday night.

Her approval brings the country closer to fulfilling President Biden’s promise in August to offer boosters to all adults. The pandemic is now retreating in most parts of the country, but there are still about 75,000 new cases every day, and about 1,500 Covid deaths.

That pledge angered many experts, including some advising the Food and Drug Administration and the C.D.C., who said that scientists had not yet had a chance to determine whether boosters were actually necessary.

Studies showed that the vaccines remained very effective against severe disease and death, although their effectiveness might have waned against milder infections, particularly as the Delta variant spread across the nation this summer.

The purpose of the vaccines is to prevent illness severe enough to require medical attention, not to prevent infection, Dr. Wilbur Chen, an infectious disease physician at the University of Maryland and a member of the C.D.C. panel, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, said during the deliberations on Thursday.

“It might be too much to ask for a vaccine, either a primary series or the booster, to prevent all forms of infections,” Dr. Chen said.

The C.D.C.’s advisers last month tried to narrow the number of Americans who should receive a booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, saying that research did not support boosters for people whose jobs exposed them to the coronavirus, as the F.D.A. had indicated.

But in a highly unusual move, Dr. Walensky overturned their decision, aligning the agency’s advice with the criteria laid out by the F.D.A.

On Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration authorized booster shots for millions of people who received the Moderna and the Johnson & Johnson vaccines, just as it did for recipients of Pfizer-BioNTech shots last month. The F.D.A. also gave the green light for people eligible for booster shots to get a dose of a different brand.

But in practice, who will get the shots and when depends greatly on the C.D.C.’s final guidance. Though the agency’s recommendations do not bind state and local officials, they hold great sway in the medical community.

On Thursday, members of the C.D.C.’s panel endorsed the so-called mix-and-match strategy, saying people fully immunized with one company’s vaccine should be allowed to receive a different vaccine for their booster shot.

Limited evidence strongly suggests that booster doses of one of the two mRNA vaccines — Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech — more effectively raise antibody levels than a booster dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The committee advised that recipients of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccine should receive a booster shot at least two months after their first dose.

Among Americans initially immunized with an mRNA vaccine, adults over 65, adults who are 50 to 65 with certain medical conditions, and those who reside in long-term care settings should receive a single booster dose six months or longer after their second dose, the committee decided.

For adults ages 18 to 49 with certain medical conditions and adults whose jobs regularly expose them to the virus, the panel opted for softer language, saying they may choose to get a booster after considering their individual risk.

The experts emphasized that people who have received two mRNA vaccine doses or a single Johnson & Johnson dose should still consider themselves fully vaccinated. Federal health officials said they would continue to study whether those who had weak immune systems and had already received a third dose of a vaccine should go on to get a fourth dose.

Some advisers were concerned that young and healthy Americans who don’t need a booster might choose to get one anyway. Side effects are uncommon, but in younger Americans they may outweigh the potential benefits of booster doses, the scientists said.

“Those that are not at high risk should really be thoughtful about getting that dose,” said Dr. Helen Talbot, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University.

Credit…Alisha Jucevic for The New York Times

Booster shots in adults who received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were highly effective at preventing symptomatic Covid-19 breakthrough infections, Pfizer announced on Thursday.

The company said that out of more than 5,000 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine recipients enrolled in its study who received a booster shot, only five later developed symptomatic disease, compared with 109 people among a similar group that received a placebo instead of a booster dose.

The news arrived as an advisory committee to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention debates whether Americans should receive booster shots of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

The company claimed the findings came from the first randomized efficacy trial of booster shots. But the results, announced in a news release, have not been peer-reviewed or published in a medical journal.

Last month, the Food and Drug Administration authorized Pfizer-BioNTech booster shots for people 65 and over, people who are at high risk of severe Covid-19, and those who are at elevated risk of exposure because of where they work or live. That decision was based on limited effectiveness data.

The new findings appear to bolster proof that booster shots are highly effective, though the trial participants were only followed for a median period of two and a half months after receiving the booster.

“These important data add to the body of evidence suggesting that a booster dose of our vaccine can help protect a broad population of people from this virus and its variants,” said Dr. Ugur Sahin, founder and chief executive of BioNTech.

The results will be shared with the F.D.A. and its European equivalent, the European Medicines Agency, as well as other international regulatory agencies, according to Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s chief executive.

The randomized controlled trial of the booster included more than 10,000 participants aged 16 and older, half of whom received a booster that contains the same amount of vaccine as each of the two primary doses, and half of whom received a placebo.

The booster was given an average of 11 months after the initial regimen, and participants were monitored for symptoms of Covid that developed between a week and 2.5 months after the booster, on average.

Stratified analyses showed the relative efficacy rate of 95.6 percent for the boosters was consistent regardless of age, sex, race, ethnicity or chronic medical conditions.

Slightly more than half of the participants were between 16 and 55 years old, and just under one quarter were 65 or older. The companies said that they had not identified any new side effects or safety concerns during the trial.

Credit…Charles Krupa/Associated Press

An advisory panel to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discussed on Thursday whether Americans would be allowed to switch vaccines when choosing a Covid-19 booster shot.

The panel endorsed the so-called mix-and-match strategy — whether people fully immunized with one company’s vaccine should be allowed to switch to a different one for their booster. Limited evidence strongly suggests that booster doses of one of the two mRNA vaccines — Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech — more effectively raise antibody levels than a booster dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the committee noted.

Below is a rundown of the science behind mixing and matching, and what the future of the strategy may hold.

The Moderna vaccine, for example, is administered in two identical shots of mRNA, separated by four weeks.

A double dose can create much more protection against a disease than a single shot. The first dose causes the immune system’s B cells to make antibodies against a pathogen. Other immune cells, called T cells, develop the ability to recognize and kill infected cells.

The second shot amplifies that response. The B cells and T cells dedicated to fighting the virus multiply into much bigger numbers. They also develop more potent attackers against the enemy.

This mixed strategy is technically known as a heterologous prime boost. One of the first authorized vaccines of this kind for any disease is the Sputnik V vaccine, developed last year by Russian researchers to prevent Covid-19. It uses two different adenoviruses to deliver coronavirus proteins, which the immune system then attacks. The first dose contains an adenovirus called Ad5, and the second contains another, called Ad26.

Experiments on animals have suggested that two different vaccines can build a stronger defense by strengthening different parts of the immune system. In a study published Thursday, French researchers looked at what happened when people switched from a first dose of AstraZeneca to a second dose of Pfizer-BioNTech. The mixed vaccines were more effective at protecting against Covid-19 than two doses of Pfizer-BioNTech.

The mix-and-match option could also offer lifesaving flexibility in a world where Covid-19 vaccines remain in desperately short supply. If supplies were to run out before people got a second dose, they could switch to another vaccine and still get a strong immunity to the coronavirus.

The Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, which are both delivered in two doses, began showing some loss of effectiveness against infection over the summer, although they both remained strong against hospitalization. (A study published last month found that the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine was 71 percent effective against hospitalization, compared with 88 percent for Pfizer-BioNTech and 93 percent for Moderna.)

On Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration authorized boosters for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines and updated the authorizations for all three vaccines to allow mixing and matching of booster doses.

Dr. Kirsten Lyke of the University of Maryland School of Medicine presented the first results of the trial at a F.D.A. meeting last week. The researchers recruited people who had gotten one of the three vaccines authorized in the United States, and then gave them one of the three vaccines as a booster.

Dr. Lyke and her colleagues found that switching boosters raised the level of coronavirus antibodies, no matter which combination people got. And switching to a new booster did not produce any notable side effects.

Those receiving a Johnson & Johnson booster saw antibodies go up just fourfold. Switching to a Pfizer-BioNTech booster raised antibody levels by a factor of 35. A Moderna booster raised them 76-fold.

The researchers hope that by next month they’ll know how well the different boosters increase T cells, not just antibodies. It’s possible that Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine will shine in those results. “We’ll get a more rounded picture,” she said.

Adam Wheatley, an immunologist at the University of Melbourne in Australia, predicted that some of those new vaccines could prove to be superior boosters. Unlike vaccines made from mRNA or adenoviruses, those from companies like Sanofi-Pasteur and Novavax contain large amounts of viral proteins.

Nicolas Kressmann, a spokesman for Sanofi, said the company was far along in trials of its protein-based vaccine as a booster for people who have already received other vaccines. “Our intention is also to develop our vaccine as a universal booster, able to boost immunity regardless of the vaccination first received,” he said.

Credit…Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

MOSCOW — Schools, shops and restaurants in the city of Moscow will close next week, municipal officials said, in one of the tightest lockdowns in the Russian capital since the pandemic began, a measure made necessary by low vaccination rates.

Russia’s coronavirus response, like that of many other countries, has seesawed between strict controls and lax enforcement of mask-wearing and vaccination rules. Russia pivoted again this week toward tighter lockdowns as reports of new cases and Covid-19 deaths climbed.

Reported cases are up 33 percent over the last two weeks, reaching more than 32,400, according to a New York Times database. And on average over the past week, 983 people a day died from the coronavirus; on some days that number exceeded 1,000. Only Russian-made coronavirus vaccines are available in the country, and many people are hesitant to get them. Russia’s vaccination rate of 33 percent of the population is lower than the global average of 37 percent and far behind the rates in most of Europe.

To combat the surge in cases and deaths, President Vladimir V. Putin on Wednesday declared a countrywide “nonworking” week from Oct. 30 to Nov. 7, extending a regular fall holiday by several days. The restrictions the city of Moscow announced on Thursday were even stricter.

Mayor Sergey Sobyanin ordered schools and nonessential businesses to close two days sooner, starting on Oct. 28. He said in a statement posted online that the spread of the virus had gone “by the worst scenario” and that Moscow would soon be setting daily records for new cases.

Early in the pandemic, Moscow locked down more strictly than many Western countries did. Residents were prohibited from leaving their apartments other than to shop at grocery stores or pharmacies, attend medical appointments or walk their dogs.

The city also lifted many restrictions this year before other European countries did on a wide scale, a move that became a point of pride. Mr. Putin contrasted Moscow’s bustling restaurants with the continuing lockdowns abroad.

Over the summer, Moscow imposed, but then dropped, a requirement that patrons be vaccinated to eat in some restaurants or to visit bars. Enforcement of mask-wearing rules in Russia is generally lax.

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Canada Rolls Out Standard Vaccine Passport

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada said a national standard for vaccination credentials would be required for domestic and international travel, unifying the country’s patchwork of proof-of-immunization programs.

We made a commitment to ensure that there is a national standard for a proof of vaccination certificate that will be issued by every province and territory so that people can travel domestically, but particularly internationally. And today, I’m happy to confirm that all provinces and territories have confirmed that they will be moving forward with a standardized national proof of vaccination. As of today, so far we have Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and all three provinces — all three territories, Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Yukon, who already have put into use the national standard for proof of vaccination.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada said a national standard for vaccination credentials would be required for domestic and international travel, unifying the country’s patchwork of proof-of-immunization programs.CreditCredit…Blair Gable/Reuters

Canada is rolling out a national standard for vaccination credentials that will be required for domestic and international travel, unifying the country’s patchwork of proof-of-immunization programs, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Thursday.

The national proof of vaccination standard features a QR code and official logos from the federal government and the recipient’s province or territory. It will be available digitally and in hard copy.

Some of the country’s 10 provinces and its three territories, which are responsible for delivering health care, now offer digital vaccine cards with scannable QR codes and paper copies; others offer paper cards that can be digitized or displayed in phone photos. Regulations about what residents may be asked to present when they enter places like restaurants and movie theaters vary from province to province.

So far, five provinces — Saskatchewan; Ontario; Quebec; Nova Scotia; and Newfoundland and Labrador — as well as the Yukon, Nunavut and Northwest Territories have implemented what will now be the national standard, Mr. Trudeau said, adding that the remaining five provinces were expected to catch up soon.

“We will be picking up the tab for it at the federal level, to ensure that all provinces are able to do it,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters outside the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa.

On Oct. 30, Canada is scheduled to begin enforcing requirements that anyone aged 12 or over who travels domestically by air, rail or cruise ship must be fully vaccinated. For a month, proof of a recent negative Covid-19 test will also be accepted, but immigration authorities warn the unvaccinated that “they risk not qualifying for travel as of Nov. 30.”

About 72 percent of Canadians are fully vaccinated, according to government figures.

No vaccine is yet authorized in Canada for children under 12, but Mr. Trudeau said on Thursday that Pfizer was seeking regulatory approval to administer the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to children aged 5 to 11.

“This is great news,” he said. “I can assure you that Health Canada is going to be examining attentively that submission.”

When the authorization is granted, the Canadian government would be scheduled to receive 2.9 million pediatric doses of the vaccine, Anita Anand, the minister of public services and procurement, said in an emailed statement.

Also Thursday, the government announced it was no longer advising against non-essential travel for fully vaccinated people.

Global Roundup

Credit…Prakash Singh/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

India on Thursday celebrated having administered a billion doses of Covid vaccine, drawing on local manufacturing after devastating early stumbles in its pandemic response.

Still, the country has some way to go in fully vaccinating its population: Just 30 percent of the 900 million people eligible for vaccination in India have received two doses.

The billion-dose milestone represented a turnaround in a vaccination drive that got off to a slow start, as India’s governing party prioritized elections and took up a lax attitude in tackling the virus, continuing to hold crowded political rallies and allowing religious festivals to take place even as cases surged.

“Gratitude to our doctors, nurses and all those who worked to achieve this feat,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Twitter. More than 70 percent of adults have received at least one dose of vaccine, according to government figures. India is administering second doses 12 to 16 weeks after the first.

More than 450,000 people have died from Covid in India, according to government data that many experts say greatly downplays the true toll. India’s second wave earlier this year led to a shortage of medical care, oxygen, and hospital beds.

But the worst of the pandemic seems to be over, with India reporting about 15,000 new cases daily, down from a recorded peak of more than 400,000.

While other countries have struggled to secure enough doses to vaccinate their populations, India’s gigantic vaccination drive was made possible by domestic manufacturing capacity. The Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine maker, has supplied more than 80 percent of the doses administered in the country.

The demand for vaccines in India after the devastating second wave was such that the Serum Institute fell short on its commitments to supply vaccines to poorer nations. But as India’s situation stabilizes, vaccine exports from India — seen as crucial to global efforts — have slowly resumed.

The toll of the pandemic on India’s already slowing economy, however, will take years to reverse.

In other news from around the world:

  • Melbourne, Australia, came out of its 78-day lockdown late on Thursday night, after the state of Victoria passed the milestone of having 70 percent of the eligible population fully inoculated against Covid, though the state’s cases are still spiking. Melbourne has spent more time under heavy virus restrictions than any other in the world, with 262 days in lockdown since March 2020.

  • Bulgaria, which is struggling with record coronavirus cases and rising deaths and has the lowest vaccination rate of any E.U. nation, began requiring residents to show proof of vaccination to eat at restaurants, attend movie theaters and enter shopping malls starting Thursday. “The situation is critical,” the interim health minister, Dr. Stoycho Katsarov, said in a television interview on Wednesday. “The nation is facing tremendous hardship and most people cannot even reckon the scale of the calamity.”

  • Several Caribbean countries are reporting significant surges in known coronavirus cases, World Health Organization officials warned on Wednesday. Many Caribbean countries have had difficulty with vaccination efforts, because of both difficulty obtaining doses and widespread public hesitancy. Reports of new cases are up 40 percent over the last week in the Dominican Republic and Barbados, and cases are also rising in Trinidad and Tobago, St. Martin, St. Kitts and Nevis, Anguilla and the Cayman Islands.

  • Sweden has extended its pause of Moderna’s Covid vaccine for people aged 30 and younger beyond Dec. 1, out of concern over rare heart-related side effects, the country’s public health agency said on Thursday, according to Reuters. The agency also said it would remove the recommendation for testing for those who are fully vaccinated, even if they are displaying symptoms, because the vaccine was so effective at preventing severe disease and the spread of infection.

  • Singapore extended social curbs for around a month on Wednesday to contain the spread of the coronavirus, Reuters reported, aiming to ease pressure on the health care system amid a spike in infections that thwarted the country’s nascent reopening. The health ministry recorded 18 new Covid deaths on Wednesday, the highest since the beginning of the pandemic.

Credit…Zack DeZon for The New York Times

As New York City struggles to revive its economy after the devastation wrought by the pandemic on restaurants, hotels, theaters, tours, souvenir shops and the people who keep them running, one crucial element is still missing: big-spending foreign tourists.

Before the virus, the city was flooded with record numbers of visitors from Europe, Asia and South America. In 2019, they filled hotels, restaurants, Broadway theaters and museums, spending billions and fueling a surge in jobs. While American tourists have returned, the city can’t wait until Nov. 8, when the federal government is opening the country’s borders to vaccinated visitors. New York is preparing its most aggressive campaign in an effort to lure those visitors back in time to salvage, if it can, the end-of-year holiday season.

The city’s tourism agency, NYC & Company, plans to spend $6 million in eight countries on an advertising campaign themed “It’s Time for New York City,” with billboards trumpeting the message: “New York City Is Ready for You.”

Fred Dixon, the chief executive of the agency, said it would take years to regain all the lost tourism, but that the campaign could help. “There is an enormous amount of pent-up demand, and people are anxious to travel again,” he said.

Before the pandemic, tourists spent $47 billion annually and supported more than 280,000 jobs in the city, according to official estimates. About half of that came from international visitors, even though they accounted for just 20 percent of all tourists.

This year, the city’s tourism agency forecasts visitor spending of about $24 billion, half of the 2019 total.

Many New York businesses and workers say their survival depends on the robust return of international tourists.

“We’re hoping the city tries to bring back these international tourists because they’re our lifeline,” said Mohammed Rufai, an immigrant from Ghana who sells tickets in Times Square for a double-decker bus tour of Manhattan. “We need them.”

Mr. Rufai, 45, said he could earn $200 a day before the pandemic, more than 70 percent of it from other parts of the world. He now struggles to make half that.

“You cannot ask people to ride if there are no people here to ask,” he said.

Credit…Made Nagi/EPA, via Shutterstock

While fully vaccinated Americans can fly to hundreds of cities and towns across the country and 27 European capitals, border rules across Asia remain far stricter than in any other region in the world.

Governments in Asia have promised to reopen their borders because of the improved Covid situation and progress on vaccinations. But they are falling behind the rest of the world. Air travel in August across the region was still 10 percent of what it was two years ago, lagging the rebound in the United States. Travelers must navigate an inconsistent patchwork of border restrictions, visa rules and travel corridors — one likely to continue for months.

Vaccinated travelers from a handful of countries, including Britain and Spain, won’t have to quarantine to visit Singapore. But Ireland and Portugal, which have comparable vaccination rates, didn’t make the list. And visitors from only four places in Asia — Hong Kong, Macau, China and Taiwan — may enter by applying for a special pass.

The list of eligible countries from which tourists can visit Indonesia is longer, with travelers from 19 countries cleared to visit Bali and the Riau Islands. People from India, which has vaccinated about a quarter of its population, are good to travel. But those from Malaysia, which has vaccinated 72 percent, or Singapore, 82 percent, aren’t yet welcome.

And the regulations in the Philippines have led to some confusion. Two tourists were sent back to Singapore after they arrived without the proper visas. They were not aware that the Philippines had only opened travel for business or humanitarian reasons.

Thailand is taking a different approach, requiring visitors not to make any stopovers. Tourists can go to the island of Phuket without quarantining if they arrive on a direct flight, and they can tour other parts of the country after seven days. Quarantine-free arrivals to the rest of Thailand will be open to vaccinated tourists from at least 10 countries starting Nov. 1, the authorities said last week.

South Korea has taken yet another path: Instead of allowing tourists to arrive from particular locations, it has allowed people of certain nationalities to visit without a visa. Tourists of one of 49 nationalities may apply for permission to visit.

But a separate list, based on where travelers arrive from, governs who has to undergo two weeks of quarantine on arrival in South Korea; the authorities are adding five countries to the list of those from which fully vaccinated travelers will not have to quarantine starting next month.

Fully vaccinated people flying in from Malawi, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Zambia and Chile will not be required to isolate for two weeks starting in November. Visitors from 16 nations will still need to quarantine, down from 20 in October.

South Korea also relaxed some social distancing regulations on Monday, after several months in which they have been at the highest level in the capital.

Most other countries in the region, including China and Japan, still require visas for vaccinated foreign travelers. Tourists have yet to get approval to enter.

Credit…Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Israeli health officials announced a plan on Thursday to allow vaccinated tourists to enter the country starting Nov. 1, the first time the country will open its borders to tourism since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Since May, Israel has allowed entry only to immediate relatives of Israelis who are vaccinated or have recently recovered from a coronavirus infection, provided they obtain approval from the government. The new plan, which still requires official government approval, comes at a time when infection rates in Israel are steadily declining after a fourth wave.

The country, which had one of the world’s fastest vaccination drives but has now been surpassed by more than 30 countries, is currently leading in booster shot distribution, with some 3.8 million of its 8.8 million people having received a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Israelis lifted domestic restrictions and largely returned to normal in May.

According to the office of the prime minister, tourists who have been fully vaccinated with most internationally recognized vaccines, as well as those who have recovered from Covid-19 within the last six months, will be allowed to enter the country, unless they are from “red” countries with severe outbreaks.

Tourists qualified to enter the country can receive a digital Green Pass, allowing them to enter restaurants, cafes, bars and other indoor places in Israel.

The plan will not allow those vaccinated with Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, which is not approved by the World Health Organization, to enter the country yet. Mr. Bennett is mulling postponing their entry until Dec. 1.

The plan came a day before Mr. Bennett was scheduled to meet with President Vladimir Putin of Russia in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi.

Credit…Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times

The National Institutes of Health said on Wednesday that a nonprofit group under fire from some congressional Republicans for its research collaborations in China had failed to promptly report findings from studies on how well bat coronaviruses grow in mice.

In a letter to Representative James Comer, Republican of Kentucky, the N.I.H. said that the group, EcoHealth Alliance, had five days to submit all unpublished data from work conducted under a multiyear grant it was given in 2014 for the research. The organization’s grant was canceled in 2020 under President Trump’s administration during his feud with China over the origins of the coronavirus.

In recent months, N.I.H. officials have rejected claims — sometimes in heated exchanges with congressional Republicans — that coronaviruses studied with federal funding might have unleashed the pandemic. Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the N.I.H., released a statement Wednesday night reiterating that rebuttal.

“Naturally occurring bat coronaviruses studied under the N.I.H. grant are genetically far distant from SARS-CoV-2 and could not possibly have caused the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said in the statement. “Any claims to the contrary are demonstrably false.”

EcoHealth Alliance has come under scrutiny because of its collaboration on coronavirus research with researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is situated in the city where the pandemic began.

Robert Kessler, a spokesman for the group, said on Thursday that EcoHealth Alliance was trying to resolve what it described as a “misconception” about its findings with the N.I.H. He said that the group had reported data from its studies “as soon as we were made aware” in April 2018, and that the agency had reviewed the data and never indicated that further reviews were needed.

Some scientists have argued that it’s possible SARS-CoV-2 was the result of genetic engineering experiments or simply escaped from a lab in an accident. But direct evidence for those theories has yet to emerge. Others have deemed those scenarios unlikely, pointing instead to many lines of evidence suggesting that people acquired the coronavirus in a natural spillover from bats or an intermediate mammal host.

The controversy has drawn scrutiny to the experiments that EcoHealth Alliance and the Wuhan Institute of Virology carried out with funding from the N.I.H.





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This Country Will Roll Out A Standardized COVID Vaccine Passport


Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Thursday that the country will start rolling out a standardized COVID-19 vaccination passport that will be required for domestic and international travel.

The new “Canadian COVID-19 proof of vaccination” will be available as a file on a mobile device, computer or mobile wallet. It will also be available on paper, by printing the PDF file with the QR code. Provincial and territorial health departments will be responsible for providing the vaccine passport.

“As Canadians look to start traveling again, there will be a standardized proof of vaccination certificate,” Trudeau said at the news conference, adding that they have “worked very closely with airline operators to ensure that it is as easy and seamless a process as possible.”

The proof of vaccination will include the person’s name, date of birth, and a COVID-19 vaccine history including the type of vaccine received, doses and the dates those doses were administered, CNN noted.

About five provinces and three territories are now offering the nationally standardized vaccine passports and the remaining five provinces are expected to catch up soon, Trudeau said. 

“We will be picking up the tab for it at the federal level, to ensure that all provinces are able to do it,” Trudeau told reporters outside the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa.

As mentioned by Trudeau, Canada is one of the leading countries in vaccination rates. Currently, 76% of Canadians have at least one dose of the vaccine while almost 72% are fully vaccinated, government data shows.

Starting on Oct. 30, Canada will require all travelers aged 12 or over to be fully vaccinated or show a recent negative COVID-19 test administered within the past 72 hours. By the end of November, they will no longer be accepting COVID testing as travel eligibility and all travelers will be required to show proof of vaccination, the New York Times noted

In 2019, Canada received a record 22.1 million international tourists from abroad.





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