Your Thursday Briefing: Pfizer’s Booster and Omicron.
We’re covering tests of Pfizer’s booster vaccine against the Omicron variant and a new chapter in Germany after 16 years under Angela Merkel.
A vaccination clinic in San Antonio, Tex., in September.Credit…Matthew Busch for The New York Times
Pfizer says its booster protects against Omicron
Pfizer and BioNTech said Wednesday that two doses of their Covid vaccine “may not be sufficient to protect against infection” by the new Omicron variant, but lab tests suggested that three doses offered significant protection.
The companies said that blood tests from people who received only two doses found much lower antibody levels against Omicron compared with an earlier version of the virus.
Blood samples obtained from people one month after a booster shot showed neutralizing antibodies against Omicron, comparable to the levels of antibodies against a previous version of the virus after two doses, the companies said.
Big takeaway: These experiments, done with blood samples in the lab, cannot determine for sure how the vaccines will perform in the real world. But the results seem to underscore the importance of booster shots.
What’s next: Pfizer’s chairman said the company started developing a version of its vaccine targeting Omicron last month, and that it could be produced within 95 days. Moderna is on a similar path.
Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.
In other developments:
A study suggested that Omicron might cause more breakthrough infections but not necessarily more severe illness.
Cities are canceling crowded events over Covid risks, including Christmas markets in Germany and New Year’s Eve parties in Rio de Janeiro.
Some students and parents in South Korea are protesting the government’s plan to shut unvaccinated students out of private cram schools and study rooms.
A new era in Germany
Angela Merkel handed over the chancellery to Olaf Scholz, beginning a new chapter for Europe’s largest democracy.
Scholz will lead the first center-left government in 16 years and will be in the difficult spot of trying to live up to the high expectations set by Merkel.
Several crises demand his immediate attention, chief among them the coronavirus pandemic and a possible Russian military invasion of Ukraine. Scholz is also working to win back a working-class base.
End of an era: Under Merkel, Germany became Europe’s leading power for the first time in modern history. We looked at Merkel’s tenure in photos.
Swearing-in: Scholz omitted the “so help me God” of the traditional oath. The transition was harmonious, with kind words from Merkel and Scholz to each other. In her farewell remarks, Merkel called the chancellorship “one of the most beautiful duties there are.”
Firsts: Turkish people are Germany’s largest immigrant group. Germany elected its first Turkish-German minister. Also, Scholz’s incoming cabinet will have more women than ever before. Half, to be exact.
Countries join diplomatic boycott of Olympics
Britain, Australia and Canada were among the latest countries to join the U.S. in pulling their top officials from the 2022 Beijing Olympics. Their athletes will still be allowed to compete.
The move allows the countries to register their disapproval of China over its human rights abuses. The nations hope to send a message to China about the internment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang and other issues of concern.
Iain Duncan Smith, a member of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party, said Johnson’s move was “not at all strong enough.”
China’s response: The word “boycott” appeared to have been banned in online searches. A spokesman for the Chinese embassy said, “The Beijing Winter Olympics is a gathering of Olympic athletes and winter sports lovers across the world, not a tool of political manipulation for any country.”
Analysis: Our columnist writes that the diplomatic boycotts are a start, but they do not go far enough. Corporations sponsoring the events should also act, he writes.
Olympics viewing guide: Speedskating, curling and monobob: Here’s a look at every sport that will be contested at the 2022 Winter Games.
THE LATEST NEWS
Gen. Bipin Rawat, India’s highest-ranking military official, died in a helicopter crash along with his wife and 11 others. He had led efforts to modernize India’s armed forces.
The death toll from a volcanic eruption in Indonesia rose to 34. Rescuers are searching for survivors buried under ash.
Twenty minutes was all it took for China’s censors to mobilize after Peng Shuai, the tennis star, accused a former vice premier of sexual assault. This is how they did it.
Yusaku Maezawa, a Japanese billionaire, arrived at the International Space Station for a 12-day stay.
Serena Williams bowed out of the Australian Open, saying, “I am not where I need to be physically to compete.”
Around the World
A former air traffic controller in Minsk has been telling Polish investigators what he knows about the diversion of the plane carrying a Belarus dissident in May.
French authorities released a Saudi man who shared the name and age of a suspect in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, saying it was a case of mistaken identity.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a $768 billion defense bill — roughly $24 billion more than what President Biden had requested.
Instagram’s chief executive testified at a U.S. congressional hearing about leaked research that showed the platform was harming young users.
Chile became the 31st country to legalize same-sex marriage.
The global supply chain is in upheaval, with little end in sight. How did we get here?
The idea that Yoko Ono doomed the Beatles has long been criticized. Amanda Hess, a critic at large for The Times, writes that in “The Beatles: Get Back,” a new eight-hour documentary, Ono’s presence is a sort of artistic performance in itself. “Ono simply never leaves,” Hess writes. “She refuses to decamp to the sidelines, but she also resists acting out stereotypes.”
Lives Lived: Hyun Sook Han was 12 when she fled her home during the Korean War. She dedicated her life to an adoption program for Korean orphans. Han died at 83.
ARTS AND IDEAS
10 firsts of 2021
We rounded up 21 things that happened for the first time this year — some are surprising trends, others are serious events. Here’s an excerpt, or see the full list.
1. An African woman led the World Trade Organization.
2. A purely digital artwork sold at auction for millions.
3. A human brain was wirelessly connected to a computer via a transmitter device.
4. Mexico elected its first transgender lawmakers.
5. The world’s first 3-D-printed school opened in Malawi.
6. El Salvador became the first country to make Bitcoin a national currency.
7. NASA’s Perseverance rover made oxygen on Mars.
8. National Geographic cartographers recognized the Southern Ocean as the world’s fifth ocean.
9. SpaceX launched the first all-civilian crew into space.
10. Sales of zero-emission vehicles surpassed diesel sales in Europe.
PLAY, WATCH, EAT
What to Cook
Endlessly adaptable, this is one version of aloo anday, a Pakistani dish of spicy scrambled eggs and potatoes.
What to Listen To
Five minutes that will make you love the organ.
Here’s how to use your phone’s privacy protection tools.
Now Time to Play
Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Speaking platform (four 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. The Times is debuting an iPhone audio app for podcasts and more.
The latest episode of “The Daily” is about Ukraine.
You can reach Melina and the team at [email protected].