To some, Alaska’s announcement that it would try to entice travelers by offering Covid-19 vaccinations at its airports might signal the state’s plucky resolve and determination to revive a tourism industry that has been devastated by the pandemic.
To others, it’s a sign of everything that is wrong with the way that the United States is distributing its vaccines, as calls for more doses in surge-stricken Michigan are rebuffed.
“It’s hard for me to believe that we’ve so maldistributed a vaccine as to make this necessary,” said Dr. Larry Brilliant, an epidemiologist who was part of the effort to eradicate smallpox in the 1970s. “You don’t want to exchange a bad carbon footprint for a vaccination.”
Starting on June 1, any tourist traveling to Alaska will be able to receive a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine at the Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau or Ketchikan airports. It’s part of a larger multimillion-dollar marketing campaign, funded by federal stimulus money, to attract tourists back to the state, Gov. Mike Dunleavy of Alaska, a Republican, announced.
“We believe there’s a real opportunity to get folks to come to Alaska again,” Mr. Dunleavy said at a news conference on Friday.
Alaska is the latest state to announce plans to extend vaccine eligibility to nonresidents as production and distribution have increased around the country. Twenty-one other states do not have residency requirements for vaccination, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Some U.S. experts have worried for months about the growth in “vaccine tourism” — Americans crossing state lines to get a vaccine where there are excess doses. Virologists like Dr. Brilliant say that rather than incentivizing people to fly to Alaska to get a shot from the state’s abundant vaccine supply, doses should be redistributed to states most in need and no longer be allocated strictly by population.
Alaska is not lacking vaccines, said Heidi Hedberg, the state’s director of public health. Health administrators will begin the airport vaccine program for tourists at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, with a five-day trial at the end of April to gauge interest. Some visitors may have to get their second dose of mRNA vaccines in their home states, depending on how long they remain in Alaska.
Almost 40 percent of Alaskans have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, according to a New York Times database. Thirty-two percent of the state’s population is fully vaccinated. The state has used 68 percent of its doses.
Alaska was the first state to open up vaccine eligibility to anyone 16 or older living or working in the state, on March 9. At the time of the announcement, Alaska had the highest vaccination rate in the country.
The United States has continued to speed up vaccination efforts, and is now averaging 3.2 million doses a day, up from roughly two million a day in early March. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Saturday that about 129.5 million people had received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.
Dr. Brilliant said states like Michigan, the center of the country’s worst surge, should be receiving larger allocations of doses.
The Biden administration and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, a Democrat, have been at odds over her calls for an increase in her state’s vaccine supply. But the Biden administration held fast to distributing vaccines by state population, not by triage.
“The vaccine should go where it will do the most good,” Dr. Brilliant said. “Given the scarcity of vaccine in the world, every dose should be given in a way that is most effective at stopping this pandemic.”
But the issue could be moot by the time that Alaska’s tourist vaccination program begins in earnest on June 1: most Americans who want to be vaccinated might already have received at least one dose by then, said Dr. Peter Hotez, a vaccine scientist at the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
“We’re going to reach a point where people don’t need to fly to Alaska to get vaccinated,” he said. “I think it’s going to be more of the case that, here’s an opportunity to visit Alaska and it’s convenient to get vaccinated.”
A decision about whether to resume administering the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine should come this Friday, when an expert panel that is advising the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is scheduled to meet, according to Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert.
“I think by that time we’re going to have a decision,” Dr. Fauci said on Sunday on the CNN program “State of the Union.”
“I don’t want to get ahead of the C.D.C. and the F.D.A. and the advisory committee,” he added, but said he expected experts to recommend “some sort of either warning or restriction” on the use of the vaccine.
Federal health agencies recommended putting injections of the vaccine on pause on Tuesday while they investigated whether it was linked to a rare blood-clotting disorder. All 50 states, in addition to Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, have stopped administering the vaccine.
The unusual disorder includes blood clots in the brain combined with low levels of platelets, blood cells that typically promote clotting. The combination, which can cause clotting and bleeding at the same time, was initially documented in six women between the ages of 18 and 48 who had received the vaccine one to three weeks prior. One of the women died, and another was hospitalized in critical condition.
This pattern has prompted questions about whether vaccinations could resume in men or in older people. But because women fill more of the health care jobs for which vaccinations have been prioritized, it is not clear how much the problem might affect men, too. On Wednesday, two more cases of the clotting disorder were identified, including one in a man who had received the vaccine in a clinical trial.
Of the 129.5 million people who have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine in the United States, more than seven million have received Johnson & Johnson’s. If there is a link between the vaccine and the clotting disorder, the risk remains extremely low, experts say.
“It’s an extraordinarily rare event,” Dr. Fauci said on the ABC program “This Week.” The pause was intended to give experts time to gather more information and to warn physicians about the clotting disorder so that they can make more informed treatment decisions, said Dr. Fauci, who appeared on four TV news programs on Sunday morning.
European regulators have been investigating similar cases of the unusual clotting disorder in people who have received the AstraZeneca vaccine. Some European countries have since stopped administering that vaccine altogether, while others have restricted its use in younger people.
Dr. Fauci also expressed frustration that “a disturbingly large proportion of Republicans,” who have been critical of many coronavirus restrictions, have expressed a reluctance to be vaccinated. “It’s almost paradoxical,” he said. “On the one hand they want to be relieved of the restrictions, but on the other hand, they don’t want to get vaccinated. It just almost doesn’t make any sense.”
Dr. Fauci said that he expected all high school students to become eligible for vaccination before school begins in the fall, with younger children eligible no later than the first quarter of 2022.
An 18-year-old woman was stricken with severe headaches, vomiting, seizures, confusion and weakness in one arm early this month, strokelike symptoms that doctors at a Nevada hospital were shocked to see in someone so young.
Scans found several large blood clots blocking veins that drain blood from the brain, a condition that can disable or kill a patient.
Doctors performed a procedure to suction huge clots from her brain, only to find that new ones had formed.
The patient is one of six women ages 18 to 48 who developed clots in the brain within two weeks of receiving the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine. One died, and their devastating cases led U.S. health officials to recommend on Tuesday that use of the vaccine be paused.
A year ago, the United States government made a big bet on plasma.
The Trump administration, buoyed by proponents at elite medical institutions, seized on it as a good-news story at a time when there weren’t many others. It awarded more than $800 million to entities involved in its collection and administration, and put Dr. Anthony S. Fauci’s face on billboards promoting the treatment. Companies and nonprofit groups, with celebrity help, urged people who had recovered from Covid-19 to donate, and volunteers, some dressed in superhero capes, showed up to blood banks in droves.
No one knew if the treatment would work, but it seemed biologically plausible and safe, and there wasn’t much else to try.
But by the end of the year, good evidence for convalescent plasma had not materialized, prompting many prestigious medical centers to quietly abandon it. By February, with cases and hospitalizations dropping, demand dipped below what blood banks had stockpiled.
All told, more than 722,000 units of plasma were distributed to hospitals thanks to the federal program, which ends this month.
Because the government gave plasma to so many patients outside of a controlled clinical trial, it took a long time to measure its effectiveness. Eventually, studies did emerge to suggest that under the right conditions, plasma might help. But enough evidence has now accumulated to show that the country’s broad, costly plasma campaign has had little effect, especially in people whose disease is advanced enough to land them in the hospital.
The government’s bet did not result in a blockbuster treatment, or even a decent one, for Covid-19. But it did give the country a real-time education in the pitfalls of testing a medical treatment in the middle of an emergency. Medical science is messy and slow. And when a treatment fails, which is often, it can be difficult for its strongest proponents to let it go.
JERUSALEM — Buoyed by its recent success in combating the coronavirus, Israel lifted its outdoor mask mandate on Sunday, while schools fully reopened for the first time since September.
The country has been taking rapid steps back to normalcy in the wake of its world-leading vaccination campaign and plummeting infection rates. About 56 percent of the Israeli population has been fully vaccinated, according to a New York Times database.
“Finally, I can breathe again!” Eli Bliach, 35, an entrepreneur, said while walking mask-free in downtown Jerusalem on Sunday morning.
With the sun out and temperatures rising, some people joked about avoiding mask tan lines.
But other Israelis were hesitant to remove the layer of protection that had felt so alien at first, but that many have since gotten used to.
“I am not confident that the pandemic is over,” said Ilana Danino, 59, a cosmetician and caregiver who was still wearing a mask while walking down an almost empty street in the city center. “It is still out there all over the world.”
Besides, she said, “I feel good with this on,” gesturing to the air around her and explaining that springtime could still bring allergies and the spread of other viruses.
Israel’s health minister, Yuli Edelstein, urged people to continue carrying masks with them for entry into indoor public spaces, where they are still required.
Daily new coronavirus infections in Israel have fallen from a peak of 10,000 in January to around 100 on some recent days. Prof. Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute of Science said on Twitter last week that with 85 percent of people 16 and older in Israel either vaccinated or recovered from the virus, “Life is close to pre-Covid.”
As part of the transition, Israel has introduced a “green pass” system allowing people who are vaccinated or recovered to dine indoors in restaurants, stay in hotels and attend large cultural, sports and religious gatherings.
But there is some new concern after several cases of a virus variant with a double mutation first detected in India, B.1.617, were identified in Israel last week. Prof. Nachman Ash, Israel’s coronavirus czar, told the Hebrew news site Ynet on Sunday that the variant might have some characteristics that could make those who have been vaccinated vulnerable to infection.
Israel is working to prevent any further entry of the variant, he said, while trying to learn more about it and how it is behaving in other parts of the world.
ISTANBUL — Turkey hit another record high in new cases of Covid-19, reporting more than 62,000 new infections and 288 deaths in a single day, according to figures released by the Health Ministry on Saturday.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced new restrictions last week for the two first weeks of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, in recognition of the serious spike in new infections. He extended a nightly curfew and ordered early closing of shops.
The spike is being driven partly by more transmissible variants of the virus, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said recently. The variant first identified in Britain is now present in all of Turkey’s provinces, officials said, and those identified in South Africa and Brazil are present in a few provinces as well.
Yet doctors say the government is to blame for failing to impose a stricter lockdown from the beginning of the pandemic, and for failing to act sooner to curb the latest wave with tighter regulations.
“We need a full lockdown that would be economically and socially supported,” said Dr. Kayihan Pala, a public health official and member of the Turkish Medical Association. He said it was not sufficient to rely on vaccinations, which have not reached enough of the population to stem the surge.
Medical workers are overstretched in Istanbul, where the largest number of cases have been identified, he said, and the availability of hospital beds was become an issue.
The Health Ministry data released Saturday showed that just under 70 percent of intensive care beds across the country were filled. The ministry did not release a figure specifically for Istanbul.
Throughout the pandemic, Mr. Erdogan has resisted calls for a total lockdown, and has insisted on allowing private industry and large businesses to keep operating, in order to sustain an economy that was already in recession before the pandemic. Turkey has continued to welcome foreign tourists, and allows them to ignore weekend lockdown rules.
Residents of Istanbul have increasingly flouted restrictions, many of them by exercising outdoors on weekends despite the threat of fines. The interior minister, Suleyman Soylu, warned foreign residents in comments published Sunday that he would confiscate their residency permits if they were found breaking the weekend lockdown rules.
The health minister, Mr. Koca, has resorted to gentle pleading. “Let’s not leave all the work to the vaccine,” he tweeted last week. “Let’s reduce cases until vaccination. Partial closure is an opportunity.”
THIMPHU, Bhutan — There’s a quiet vaccine success story in one of Asia’s poorest countries. As of Saturday, Bhutan, a Buddhist kingdom that has emphasized its citizens’ well-being over national prosperity, had administered a first vaccine dose to more than 478,000 people — over 60 percent of its population. The Health Ministry said this month that more than 93 percent of eligible adults had received their first shots.
A vast majority of Bhutan’s first doses were administered at about 1,200 vaccination centers over a weeklong period in late March and early April. As of Saturday, the country’s vaccination rate of 63 doses per 100 people was the sixth highest in the world, according to a New York Times database.
That rate was ahead of those of Britain and the United States, more than seven times that of neighboring India and nearly six times the global average. Bhutan is also ahead of several other geographically isolated countries with small populations, including Iceland and the Maldives.
Dark windows. Quiet lobbies. Hushed halls.
With many of New York’s hotels and office buildings unoccupied for more than a year now — and questions over whether some will ever fill up again — an effort is afoot to convert some commercial structures into housing or other uses. The result could be a wave of building conversions not seen since the crash of the late 1980s.
From corporate high rises in the financial district to boutique lodgings near Central Park to mid-market accommodations in Midtown, real estate players are redeveloping or canvassing dozens of sites, according to those involved. The discussions fall into three categories: converting offices to housing, hotels to housing, and hotels to offices.
Eric Anton, an agent with the firm Marcus and Millichap who specializes in selling buildings, said that of the seven hotels in New York he represents, three are likely to become senior housing, one will become market-rate apartments and the balance will remain hotels.
“A lot of the conversations revolve around whether the conversions can happen efficiently,” Mr. Anton said.