Your Friday Briefing: Boosters and Vaccine Equity

We’re covering W.H.O. worries about the vaccine gap and tensions between Ukraine and Russia.

Waiting to receive a coronavirus vaccine this month at a hospital in Narok, Kenya.Credit…Baz Ratner/Reuters

Will boosters worsen the vaccine gap?

As wealthy nations step up their booster campaigns to confront the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, the World Health Organization is concerned that vaccine equity could be further undermined.

“Broad-based administration of booster doses risks exacerbating inequities in vaccine access,” Alejandro Cravioto, a W.H.O. immunization official, told reporters on Thursday.

The rate of booster shots that are being given daily is outpacing first shots around the world.

Most current infections, which are still overwhelmingly being driven by the Delta variant, are affecting unvaccinated people, the W.H.O. said, which means that getting vaccines to those who have no protection should be the priority.

In some countries with low vaccination rates, supply is only part of the story. A New York Times analysis of data highlights the countries where infrastructure issues and the public’s level of willingness to get vaccinated may pose larger obstacles than supply.

The numbers: Worldwide, about 73 percent of shots have been administered in high- and upper-middle-income countries, according to the Our World in Data project. Only 0.8 percent of doses have been administered in low-income countries.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

  • The coronavirus can infect fat cells, which may explain why obesity increases the risk of severe Covid-19.

  • U.S. regulators authorized an AstraZeneca treatment that protects people with weakened immune systems.

Ukrainian soldiers in a trench near the front lines.Credit…Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

Ukraine says it would stand no chance against Russia

Ukrainian generals say that if Russia were to invade, they would need military help from the West.

New tanks, armored vehicles and ships have been delivered to frontline units fighting Russian forces and Kremlin-backed separatists. But that would not be enough to repel the full-on Russian assault that Ukrainian and Western officials fear Moscow might be preparing.

Intelligence services say there is no indication that the Kremlin has made up its mind whether to do so.

President Vladimir Putin of Russia dismissed concerns about the troop buildup on the border during a video call with President Biden on Tuesday, and he shifted blame to the U.S. and NATO for supporting Ukraine. Biden ruled out sending U.S. forces to Ukraine to deter Russia. He held a call with Ukraine’s president on Thursday.

Details: U.S. intelligence officials have found that Russia has devised plans for an offensive involving 175,000 troops. Ukraine has only slightly more troops in its entire military. It is outgunned on land, at sea and in the air.

Political dynamics: NATO promised Ukraine full membership in 2008, but without explaining how or when. Putin sees that promise as an ongoing threat to Russia.

A farmer on a major expressway in Ghazipur, India, on Thursday.Credit…Altaf Qadri/Associated Press

India’s farmers are ending their protest

After a year of sustained protests that forced the government to roll back deeply unpopular farm laws, India’s farmers said that they were ending their action.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi stunned the nation last month when he announced that his government would repeal three laws that had been passed in September 2020. Last week, Parliament signed off on the repeal without debate.

The protesting farmers had other demands. On Thursday, they said Modi’s government had agreed to discuss and resolve the major ones, including a countrywide law guaranteeing minimum prices for crops and a withdrawal of tens of thousands of charges filed against demonstrating farmers.

Quotable: “It’s a complete victory,” Ramandeep Singh Mann, an engineer who became a farmers’ rights activist, said. At the same time, he acknowledged, there was much to be resolved. “In every movement, you don’t get everything,” he said.

Big picture: India’s farmers staged what may have been the largest single protest in recorded history, according to Slate, when 250 million people participated in a 24-hour strike and tens of thousands marched to New Delhi. Here’s how India’s farmers got Modi to back down.


Asia Pacific

Evergrande has $300 billion or more in obligations.Credit…Roman Pilipey/EPA, via Shutterstock
  • China Evergrande was declared to be in default by Fitch Ratings. The real estate giant is now waiting on a restructuring plan overseen by the firm hand of Beijing.

  • An Islamic militant in Indonesia was sentenced to life in prison over a 2005 market bombing that killed 22 people.

  • U.S. lawmakers passed a bill to ban goods produced through forced labor in China’s Xinjiang region.

  • Jimmy Lai, a Hong Kong media tycoon and pro-democracy activist, and two others were convicted for their roles in last year’s banned Tiananmen vigil, The A.P. reports.

  • New Zealand wants to ban all cigarette sales by gradually raising the legal smoking age.

Around the World

Jimmy Lai heading to court in Dec. 2020.Credit…Peter Parks/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
  • The number of imprisoned journalists worldwide reached a record high of 293 this year, more than a quarter of them in China alone, the Committee to Protect Journalists said.

  • The E.U. is pushing for new rules with broad support that would turn gig workers into employees.

  • President Biden ordered that federal vehicles and buildings use renewable energy, with the goal of making the government carbon neutral by 2050.

  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City will remove the name of the Sackler family from seven exhibition spaces, following outrage over the role the family may have played in the opioid crisis.

A Morning Read

“It basically became an experiment in misinformation,” Peter McIndoe said of his Birds Aren’t Real movement.Credit…Rana Young for The New York Times

In Pittsburgh, Memphis and Los Angeles, huge billboards have popped up declaring, “Birds Aren’t Real.” On Instagram and TikTok, Birds Aren’t Real accounts have racked up hundreds of thousands of followers. The 23-year-old creator of this viral movement knows that it’s not true. The effort is really about poking fun at the depths of misinformation.


Best-of lists, simplified

The onslaught of best-of lists in December can be overwhelming. Consider this a guide to the guides.

For the music nerds, Pitchfork unveiled its annual list of best songs. It pairs well with The Times’s wide-ranging picks for best albums of the year. Each of our pop music critics made lists, and two albums overlapped on all of them: Tyler, the Creator’s “Call Me if You Get Lost” and Olivia Rodrigo’s “Sour.”

In the Book Review’s 10 best fiction and nonfiction titles, there are ruminations on race in America and generation-spanning sagas. Craving some art? Of the year’s many ambitious exhibitions, two consistent themes were the African American South and climate change. In New York’s Madison Square Park, Maya Lin’s “Ghost Forest” contrasted the park’s greenery with a grove of dead, environmentally damaged Atlantic white cedars. Teenagers are repurposing the wood to make boats.

The return of in-person experiences was another recurring theme: The fall theater season was “as exciting as a child’s first fireworks,” Jesse Green writes, and the ritual of watching movies on a big screen made even the most mediocre movies glorious, Manohla Dargis writes in her list of best films.

There was also great TV. Many of our critics’ picks covered subjects like class conflict and pandemics. A personal favorite: “Reservation Dogs,” a meandering, occasionally surreal comedy about four teens desperate to escape their Oklahoma reservation. It’s full of the kinds of details “that can only come from loving the thing you want to leave,” James Poniewozik writes.

Find all of The Times’s best of 2021 lists here.


What to Cook

Credit…Anna Williams for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Susan Spungen.

Tahini thumbprint cookies and dulce de leche make a perfect pair.

Virtual Travel

The Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, mesmerizing and ethereal, is a ticking clock for climate change.

What to Watch

These recommendations for holiday movies include old classics and even a horror film.

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Graduating group (five letters).

And here is today’s Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. See you next time. — Melina

P.S. Readers wrote in to share tips and tricks for playing Spelling Bee, one of our most popular games.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about a Times investigation into a website sharing advice on making plans for a suicide.

Sanam Yar wrote the Arts and Ideas section. You can reach Melina and the team at [email protected].

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