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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.

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:


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.


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.

Asia Pacific

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.

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.

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