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Covid-19 Live Updates: Second J. & J. Shot Gives Strong Gain, Trial Finds

Second Amendment


Credit…Robyn Beck/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A booster shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine dramatically raises the levels of antibodies against the coronavirus, the company reported on Wednesday.

Johnson & Johnson will submit the data to the Food and Drug Administration, which is evaluating similar studies from Pfizer and Moderna. If authorized by the agency, the Biden administration wants to provide booster shots eight months after vaccination.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was absent from the government’s initial booster plan, announced last week. But with the new data, the company hopes to be part of the initial distribution of additional shots, which could happen as early as September.

“We look forward to discussing with public health officials a potential strategy for our Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine, boosting eight months or longer after the primary single-dose vaccination,” Dr. Mathai Mammen, the global head of Janssen Research & Development at Johnson & Johnson, said in a statement.

In February, the F.D.A. gave emergency authorization to Johnson & Johnson for its one-shot vaccine. A clinical trial carried out last fall and winter showed that a single shot had a 72 percent efficacy in preventing symptomatic Covid-19 among U.S. participants. In the trial, none of the vaccinated volunteers were hospitalized or died.

Johnson & Johnson carried out its clinical trial before the Delta variant became widespread, leaving open the question of how well the vaccine worked against the highly contagious form of the virus. But in a study released earlier this month, South African researchers found that a single shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was up to 95 percent effective against death from the Delta variant, and reduced the risk of hospitalization by 71 percent.

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In its new study, Johnson & Johnson tracked 17 volunteers from last year’s clinical trial. Six months after vaccination, their level of antibodies had changed little.

That’s different than the pattern seen with the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. Those shots initially produce higher levels of antibodies, but their levels then drop over several months.

When volunteers in the Johnson & Johnson trial were given a booster shot at six months, their antibodies against the coronavirus jumped nine times higher than after the first dose.

Studies on the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines found a comparable jump in antibody levels. Because the three vaccines were not tested in a head-to-head comparison, it’s not possible to determine which one provides the biggest boost.

Johnson & Johnson said that it had submitted a manuscript describing the research to the website Medrxiv. It has not been posted there yet.

Noah Weiland contributed reporting.

Security personnel standing guard outside the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, China, in February.
Credit…Hector Retamal/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The director of national intelligence delivered a report to President Biden on Tuesday on the origins of the coronavirus epidemic, according to U.S. officials, but the nation’s spy agencies have not yet concluded whether the disease was the result of an accidental leak from a lab or if it emerged naturally in a spillover from animals to humans.

Mr. Biden had ordered the nation’s intelligence agencies three months ago to draft a report on the origins of the virus, which has been the subject of an intensifying debate, in part to give the agencies a chance to examine a trove of data that had not been fully exploited.

But the inquiry, which examined data collected from a virology research institute in Wuhan, China, the city where the virus first spread, has yet to answer the biggest outstanding question about where it came from. Its absence of conclusions underscores the difficulty of pinpointing the source of the virus, particularly given China’s refusal to continue to cooperate with international investigations into the origin the coronavirus.

In the months after the pandemic began, intelligence agencies began looking into how it started. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pushed the agencies to look into the theory that the virus was created inside a Chinese lab and accidentally leaked. Mr. Pompeo formed his own research group to study the question.

During the Trump administration, intelligence agencies ruled out theories that the virus was deliberately leaked. But they said they could not make a conclusion about what was more likely: an accidental leak from a lab researching coronaviruses or a natural development of the virus.

While many scientists were initially skeptical of the lab leak theory, at least some became more open to examining it this year. And some criticized a World Health Organization report in March that found the lab leak theory unlikely.

After that report, Biden administration officials became frustrated with a decision by the Chinese government to stop cooperating with further investigations by the World Health Organization into the origins of the pandemic. In the face of what they called Chinese intransigence and a divided American intelligence community, Biden administration officials then ordered a 90-day review of the intelligence, resulting in the report delivered to the president on Tuesday.

Current and former officials have repeatedly warned that finding the precise origins of the pandemic may be more of a job for scientists than spies. Under Avril D. Haines, the director of national intelligence, the agencies have stepped up cooperation with scientists, hoping to better understand the current pandemic and possible future ones.

Officials also warned that the 90-day review was probably too brief to draw any definitive conclusions.

The report remains classified for now, and officials would not discuss its findings. But officials said that Ms. Haines’s office would most likely declassify some information later this week.

“It typically takes a couple of days, if not longer, to put together an unclassified version,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said on Monday.

Global Roundup

Administering vaccines in Wuhan, China, in March. China has now fully vaccinated roughly 55 percent of its population.
Credit…Getty Images/Getty Images

The authorities in at least 12 cities in China have warned residents that those who refuse Covid-19 vaccinations could be punished if they are found to be responsible for spreading outbreaks.

The latest government notices, issued this and last week, reflect China’s anxiety about stamping out the more transmissible Delta variant, which has spread recently in several cities. China has fully vaccinated roughly 55 percent of its population, but officials have said that rate needs to hit 80 percent for the country to reach herd immunity.

While private companies and government organizations in many countries are mandating Covid-19 vaccinations, China appears to be going much further in tying a refusal to get a vaccine to direct punishment.

The authorities said they would “hold accountable” people who refused to be vaccinated if they were responsible for spreading an outbreak, unless they had a medical exemption. They did not specify what the punishment would be. On Aug. 17, several cities in central Hubei Province announced that people who refused to be vaccinated would have that entered into their “personal credit score.” They could be barred from going to work or entering hospitals and train stations.

On Weibo, a popular instant messaging platform, some Chinese expressed anger at the latest mandates. Many said the policy went against their free will.

Although China has managed to reduce its number of daily cases to single digits, the recent outbreak has posed a threat to the government’s resolve in maintaining a zero-Covid strategy.

In other news from around the world:

  • New South Wales, the most populous state in Australia, reported another daily record on Wednesday, with 919 new coronavirus cases. Its capital, Sydney, has now been locked down for two months. There are concerns that Sydney’s health care system is struggling to cope with the Delta outbreak after reports that one hospital at the cluster’s epicenter has started limiting the number of new patients it can admit. On Wednesday, the state of Queensland closed its borders to New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory, all of which are struggling to contain outbreaks, with Queensland authorities saying its quarantine system was overwhelmed.

  • Five people in New Zealand may have been given saline solution instead of a vaccine dose at a center in Auckland, the country’s largest city, last month. Ashley Bloomfield, New Zealand’s top health official, said at a news conference on Wednesday that it was only a “possibility” that some of the 732 people vaccinated that day had not received a dose. On Wednesday, New Zealand reported 62 new cases, its highest daily total in more than a year, bringing its total number to 210. The country had gone months without a case before an outbreak last week precipitated an immediate national lockdown.

  • The western Pacific’s share of global coronavirus cases and deaths is “rising sharply” partially because of the Delta variant, the World Health Organization said in a briefing on Wednesday. “Until a few weeks ago our region had fared comparatively well, with around 2 percent of global cases and global deaths,” said Dr. Takeshi Kasai, the W.H.O. western Pacific regional director. However, in the first three weeks of August, that number jumped to 10 percent of new global cases and 8 percent of new global deaths, he said.

  • A day after the Tokyo Paralympics held a spectator-free opening ceremony, Japan expanded its state of emergency to eight more prefectures on Wednesday, with 21 of the country’s 47 prefectures now under an emergency order. The number of new daily cases has increased by 65 percent over the past two weeks, to an average of 23,003 a day, according to a New York Times database. The state of emergency is expected to last until Sept. 12. The Paralympics, which close on Sept. 5, are being held almost entirely without spectators, much like the Olympics earlier this month.

  • Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday promised a million doses of the Pfizer vaccine to Vietnam, which has been dealing with its worst outbreak to date. The pledge would bring total U.S. vaccine donations to the country to six million doses. Vietnam has also begun offering patients who have recovered from Covid a monthly allowance if they agree to stay on at stretched hospitals to help health workers, Reuters reported. The news agency cited a letter to patients from a hospital chief that promised “personal protective equipment, food, accommodation and a monthly allowance of 8 million dong,” about $350.

Natasha Frost, Hikari Hida and Yan Zhuang contributed reporting.

A registered nurse preparing to see a Covid-19 patient at a hospital in Miami last month.
Credit…Scott McIntyre for The New York Times

Coronavirus vaccines provided strong protection against infection for essential workers earlier this year, but became less effective as the highly contagious Delta variant became the dominant form of the virus, according to a study published on Tuesday by federal health officials.

It was not clear whether the decline in protection was caused by the emergence of the Delta variant or the lengthening period of time since the inoculations were begun. Vaccine effectiveness showed possible signs of decline starting four months after vaccinations were first rolled out.

“What we were trying to figure out is: Is this Delta, or is this waning effectiveness?” said Ashley Fowlkes, an epidemiologist on the Covid-19 response team at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the study’s lead author. “Our conclusion is that we can’t really tell.”

Researchers followed thousands of first responders, health care workers and others who could not work remotely in eight locations in Arizona, Florida, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Minnesota. The participants were tested for coronavirus infection every week for 35 weeks, as well as any time they developed Covid-like symptoms.

Most of the vaccinated workers received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine; one-third received the Moderna vaccine and 2 percent the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Overall, the vaccines reduced infections among vaccinated workers by 80 percent from Dec. 14, when the U.S. vaccination campaign began, to Aug. 14, compared with unvaccinated workers. (The results were adjusted for factors including occupation, demographic characteristics, frequency of close social contact and mask use.)

But while the shots reduced infections by 91 percent before the emergence of the Delta variant, their protectiveness dropped to 66 percent as the variant became dominant in each region.

“We really wanted to let people know that we were seeing a decline in the effectiveness of the vaccine in protection against any infection, symptomatic or asymptomatic, since the Delta variant became dominant,” Dr. Fowlkes said.

“But we also want to reinforce that 66 percent effectiveness is a really high number,” she added. “It’s not 91 percent, but it is still a two-thirds reduction in the risk of infection among vaccinated participants.”

The drop-off in effectiveness “should be interpreted with caution,” however, because the observation period during which Delta was dominant was short, Dr. Fowlkes said, and the overall number of infections was small.

Another C.D.C. study released on Tuesday analyzed infections and hospitalizations in Los Angeles County from May 1 to July 25 of this year. While vaccinated people did become infected, the researchers concluded that among the unvaccinated, infection rates were 4.9 times as high, and the hospitalization rate was 29 times as high.

Of 43,127 known infections in Los Angeles County among residents 16 and older, 25 percent were in fully vaccinated people, 3.3 percent in partly vaccinated people and 71.4 percent in unvaccinated people. (The proportion of fully vaccinated Los Angeles County residents increased to 51 percent on July 25, from 27 percent on May 1.)

Three percent of vaccinated individuals were hospitalized, 0.5 percent were admitted to intensive care units, and 0.2 percent required mechanical ventilation. The comparable rates for unvaccinated individuals were 7.6 percent, 1.5 percent and 0.5 percent, the study reported.

Those who were hospitalized despite vaccination were also older, on average, than the unvaccinated who were hospitalized. The death rate among the vaccinated was lower: 0.2 percent, compared with 0.6 percent among the unvaccinated. The median age at death was also higher among the vaccinated, at 78, compared with a median age of 63 among the unvaccinated.

A laboratory scientist at the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command at Fort Detrick in Maryland.
Credit…Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

When a conspiracy theory started circulating in China suggesting that the coronavirus had escaped from an American military lab, it largely stayed on the fringe. Now, the ruling Communist Party has propelled the idea firmly into the mainstream.

This week, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman repeatedly used an official podium to elevate unproven ideas that the coronavirus may have first leaked from a research facility in Fort Detrick, Md. A Communist Party publication, Global Times, started an online petition in July calling for that lab to be investigated and said it had gathered more than 25 million signatures.

Officials and state media have promoted a rap song by a patriotic Chinese hip-hop group that touted the same claim, with the lyrics: “How many plots came out of your labs? How many dead bodies hanging a tag?”

Beijing is peddling groundless theories that the United States may be the true source of the coronavirus as it pushes back against efforts to investigate the pandemic’s origins in China. The volume has risen in recent weeks, reflecting the authorities’ anxiety about being blamed for the pandemic that has killed millions globally.

“This not only contributes to the further deterioration of U.S.-China relations but also makes it even less likely for the two countries to work together to face a common challenge,” said Yanzhong Huang, director of the Center for Global Health Studies at Seton Hall University. “We haven’t seen any bilateral cooperation over the vaccines, tracing the trajectory of the virus or mutations, any of these kind of things.”

Palestinians receiving a shipment of coronavirus vaccine donated by the United States in the West Bank on Tuesday.
Credit…Mohamad Torokman/Reuters

For months, the Palestinian Authority struggled to inoculate many residents of the West Bank for want of vaccine supplies.

Now the government has a large quantity of doses in its stockpile, but it lacks something else: enough recipients.

“We’ve got vaccines, but we urgently need people to get vaccinated,” said Shadi al-Liham, the top health ministry official in the Bethlehem district.

As of Tuesday, about 35 percent of West Bank residents had received at least one dose of vaccine and about 22 percent were fully vaccinated, according to data from the health ministry. By contrast, Israel has fully vaccinated about 60 percent of its population and is now administering booster shots to vulnerable people.

Several Palestinian officials declined to say exactly how many vaccine doses the ministry had on hand. But they noted that a shipment of 500,000 doses from the United States government had arrived on Tuesday by way of the Covax global vaccine-sharing initiative, with 300,000 intended for the West Bank and 200,000 for the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian Authority is now facing a challenge familiar to many governments around the world: trying to persuade a skeptical segment of society to get vaccinated.

Health officials said they hoped the vaccine drive would gather steam, especially after the authority’s cabinet decided on Monday that public-sector employees who do not get vaccinated would be placed on unpaid leave until the end of the pandemic.

The N.R.A.’s annual meeting in 2018, in Dallas.
Credit…Ashley Gilbertson for The New York Times

The National Rifle Association announced on Tuesday that it was canceling its annual meeting in Houston because of concerns over the rising number of Covid cases in the area, fueled by the Delta variant.

“The N.R.A.’s top priority is ensuring the health and well-being of our members, staff, sponsors and supporters,” the organization said in a statement. “We are mindful that N.R.A. Annual Meeting patrons will return home to family, friends and co-workers from all over the country, so any impacts from the virus could have broader implications.”

It is the second year in a row that the meeting has been canceled because of the pandemic.

The N.R.A. did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday night.

The meeting, which was scheduled for Sept. 3 to 5 and usually hosts thousands of people, was canceled after N.R.A. leaders consulted with medical professionals, local officials and sponsors, the group said.

Like most counties in Texas, Harris County, home to Houston, has had its hospitals overwhelmed as infections reach levels not seen since January. The state’s seven-day average death rate was 139 on Monday, compared with 34 on June 1, and hospitalizations in Harris County have rapidly climbed since July. Gov. Greg Abbott, who recently tested positive for the coronavirus, has prohibited mask and vaccination mandates.

The N.R.A. said it understood that its exhibitors and sponsors would be affected by the cancellation, but it planned to “support many other N.R.A. local events and smaller gatherings — in a manner that is protective of our members and celebrates our Second Amendment freedom.”

Cancellations of large meetings and conventions, such as the New York International Auto Show, which had been scheduled for late August, have recently ramped up across the country as the Delta variant continues to spread, largely among unvaccinated people.

Ohio State University students and local residents filled bars in June as Covid restrictions were lifted.
Credit…Gaelen Morse/Reuters

Ohio State University announced on Tuesday that all students, faculty and staff would be required to be vaccinated against Covid-19 during the fall semester, becoming one of the first large state universities to issue a vaccine mandate that extends beyond students.

“The university is taking this step because vaccines are the safest and most effective form of protection against Covid-19,” Kristina M. Johnson, the president of the university, said in a statement on Tuesday. “This step will increase our ability to support our students in continuing their educational experiences as well as help protect our current and the state’s future work force.”

The decision from the university, which has more than 66,000 students and 30,000 employees, comes after the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval for the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for those 16 and older. That’s given schools and companies room to announce similar mandates.

Louisiana State University said on Tuesday that all its students would have to either submit proof of vaccination or “be tested for Covid on a regular basis.” The University of Minnesota also issued a mandate for students to be vaccinated following the F.D.A.’s approval. And in New York, all in-person students in the state and city university systems are required to be vaccinated.

Staff, faculty and students at Ohio State University have until Oct. 15 to receive their first dose and until Nov. 15 for their second, Ms. Johnson said. More than 73 percent of the university’s community has received at least one shot, she added.

“A limited set of exemptions will be approved on a case-by-case basis,” Ms. Johnson said, adding that the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, as well as others approved by the World Health Organization, would also meet the university’s vaccine requirement.

WBNS 10 reported that hundreds of people went to the Ohio Statehouse on Tuesday to voice support for a Republican-backed bill that would prohibit employers from requiring workers to be vaccinated.

A health care worker treated Covid-19 patients on Wednesday at a chapel converted into an intensive care unit in Manila. Deaths from Covid have been rising recently in the Philippines.
Credit…Ezra Acayan/Getty Images

Reports of new coronavirus cases around the world are showing signs of flattening, even though they are still rising rapidly in the United States, the World Health Organization said in its latest weekly assessment.

In the week ended Aug. 22, the W.H.O. said, some 4.5 million new cases were reported worldwide, about the same as the week before, and the rate now “seems to be stable” after two months of sustained growth.

“It is stable at a very high level,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the organization, said at a news briefing. “As long as this virus is circulating anywhere, it’s a threat everywhere.”

Deaths reported from Covid-19 were also similar to the previous week, at 68,000 overall, though they continued to rise in Europe and the Americas, the W.H.O. said.

The United States reported the most new cases and deaths of any country, and a 15 percent increase in cases from the week before, the W.H.O. noted, as the Delta variant spread rapidly and politicians sparred over whether to reintroduce mitigation measures. The country recorded 6,712 deaths for the week, an increase of 58 percent from the previous week.

Cases are also rising fairly rapidly in Britain, which recorded 219,919 new cases for the week, an 11 percent increase, the W.H.O. said. Iran and India each reported more new cases than Britain did, but their figures and those of Brazil, another major locus of the pandemic, fell last week.

Japan, host to the Olympic Games and now the Paralympic Games, reported the fastest case growth — its 149,057 new cases for the week represented an increase of 34 percent from the week before. Some Southeast Asian countries, particularly Malaysia and the Philippines, also reported significant increases in cases, while Thailand and the Philippines reported sharp increases in deaths.

So far, the W.H.O. said, about 211 million people around the world have had confirmed coronavirus infections since the start of the pandemic, and just over 4.4 million people are recorded as dying from Covid-19.

Experts from a World Health Organization team arriving earlier this year at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, in the Chinese city where Covid-19 emerged.
Credit…Hector Retamal/AFP — Getty Images

Experts studying the origins of the coronavirus for the World Health Organization warned on Wednesday that the inquiry had “stalled” and that further delays could make it impossible to recover crucial evidence about the beginning of the pandemic.

“The window is rapidly closing on the biological feasibility of conducting the critical trace-back of people and animals inside and outside China,” the experts wrote in an editorial in the journal Nature. Several studies of blood samples and wildlife farms in China were urgently needed to understand how Covid-19 emerged, they said.

Amid a rancorous debate about whether a laboratory incident could have started the pandemic, the editorial amounted to a defense of the team’s work and an appeal for follow-up studies. A separate report by American intelligence agencies into the pandemic’s origins was delivered to President Biden on Tuesday, but did not offer any new answers about whether the virus emerged from a lab or in a natural spillover from animals to humans.

The international expert team, sent to Wuhan, China, in January as part of a joint inquiry by the World Health Organization and China, has faced criticism for publishing a report in March that said a leak of the coronavirus from a lab, while possible, was “extremely unlikely.”

Immediately after the report’s release, the W.H.O.’s director-general said that the study had not adequately assessed the possibility of a lab leak.

Virologists have leaned toward the theory that infected animals spread the virus to people. In the editorial published on Wednesday, the expert team reiterated calls to test the blood of workers on wildlife farms that supplied animals to Wuhan markets, to see if they carried antibodies indicating past coronavirus infections. The team also recommended screening more farmed wildlife or livestock that could have been infected. (The editorial also notes, somewhat pessimistically, that many Chinese wildlife farms have been closed and their animals killed since the pandemic emerged, making evidence of early spillover from animals to humans hard to come by.)

The team pointed to a recent report showing that markets in Wuhan had sold live animals susceptible to the virus, including palm civets and raccoon dogs, in the two years before the pandemic began, and argued that the weight of evidence behind a natural spillover was greater than that for a lab leak.

Marion Koopmans, a Dutch virologist and co-author of the editorial, described it in an interview as a “cry for urgency.”

“We were getting a little concerned that there really is virtually no debate about the bulk of the recommendations that are not related to the lab hypothesis, and of course there’s a lot of discussion of the lab story, particularly coming from the U.S.,” she said. “Our concern is that because of that emphasis, the rest doesn’t get any more attention.”

To identify the first cases of the virus, Dr. Koopmans said, scientists also needed to examine blood specimens from late 2019 before they are thrown away. The expert team received assurances on its visit to Wuhan that blood banks there would keep samples beyond the usual two-year period, she said, but has still not received access to them.

The Chinese government has stopped cooperating with investigations by the W.H.O., making it difficult to assess any theories about the virus’s origins.

The editorial on Wednesday also raised concerns about delays at the W.H.O. The organization said this month that it would form an advisory group to study the emergence of new pathogens, and that the group would support inquiries into the coronavirus. The editorial warned that this new layer of bureaucracy “runs the risk of adding several months of delay.”

The organization said in a statement that “the establishment of the advisory group won’t delay the progress of the virus origins studies,” and that it has already been working to verify studies into the earliest known cases outside China.

Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Delta Air Lines is intensifying pressure on employees to get vaccinated with a series of increasingly burdensome requirements over the coming weeks and months, though it stopped short of the mandates that other airlines and businesses have put in place.

In a letter to employees on Wednesday, the carrier’s chief executive, Ed Bastian, said that those who have not been vaccinated will immediately be required to wear masks indoors. Starting on Sept. 12, they will also have to take weekly coronavirus tests.

On Sept. 30, unvaccinated workers will lose pay protection for employees who test positive for the virus and miss work while having to quarantine. Finally, starting on Nov. 1, any employee who remains unvaccinated will have to pay an additional $200 per month to remain on the company’s health care plan.

“This surcharge will be necessary to address the financial risk the decision to not vaccinate is creating for our company,” Mr. Bastian said. “In recent weeks since the rise of the B.1.617.2 variant, all Delta employees who have been hospitalized with Covid were not fully vaccinated.”

The average coronavirus-related hospitalization has cost the company about $40,000 per person, he said. Like many large employers, Delta insures its own work force, meaning it pays health costs directly and hires insurance companies to manage its plans.

The onerous requirements apply to a shrinking share of the airline’s work force, with 75 percent of employees now vaccinated, Mr. Bastian said.

“We’ve always known that vaccinations are the most effective tool to keep our people safe and healthy in the face of this global health crisis,” he said. “That’s why we’re taking additional, robust actions to increase our vaccination rate.”

Delta, which is based in Atlanta, its biggest hub, operates the largest vaccination site in Georgia out of its flight museum, Mr. Bastian said. More than 115,000 doses have been administered to state residents there and more than 150,000 doses have been given to employees, their family and friends.

About 50.5 percent of Georgia’s adult population is fully vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which puts the state near the bottom of the country.

The airline’s approach differs from that of some competitors. Earlier this month, for example, United Airlines announced that it would require vaccines across the board. That mandate will take effect on Sept. 27. United employees who provide proof of vaccination by Sept. 20 will receive a full day’s pay. Frontier Airlines, a smaller carrier, said it would require vaccination by Oct. 1.



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