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Your Thursday Briefing – The New York Times

Safety scares over the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have jeopardized campaigns to inoculate the world, undercutting faith in two shots with the potential to be global workhorses and threatening to prolong the coronavirus pandemic in poor countries.

In Malawi, people are asking doctors how to flush the AstraZeneca vaccine from their bodies. In South Africa, Johnson & Johnson doses have been paused, a repeat blow after the country dropped the AstraZeneca shot. Two million AstraZeneca doses languish in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where no one has been vaccinated.

In countries where colonialism and unethical medical practices left a legacy of mistrust, health officials worry about an explosion of antivaccine fervor if a perception takes hold that rich countries — where officials fear the two shots could be linked, in very rare cases, to blood-clotting problems — are dumping second-rate vaccines on poorer ones.

Alternatives: The E.U. announced yesterday that it was putting trust and money into the Pfizer-BioNTech shot to salvage its vaccination rollout. But much of the world has no such backup plan. The AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are cheaper and easier to store than others, which has made them mainstays of the plans for global inoculations.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

  • The Moderna vaccine has been more than 90 percent effective in the U.S. at protecting against Covid-19 six months after vaccination, the company announced Tuesday.

  • Keeping an airplane’s middle seats vacant could reduce passengers’ exposure to airborne coronavirus by 23 to 57 percent, researchers reported in a new study.

In light of the news that the U.S. will pull all its forces from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, NATO’s foreign and defense ministers agreed yesterday to begin withdrawing their 9,600 troops on May 1 and finish “within a few months,” according to a statement.

In Washington, President Biden formally announced the U.S. withdrawal, but he warned the Taliban that if Americans are attacked on the way out, “we’re going to defend ourselves and our partners with all the tools at our disposal.” Here’s what you need to know.

The withdrawal will end the longest war in U.S. history, but it is likely to start another difficult chapter for Afghanistan’s people. It is unclear what the future holds and if the fighting will ever stop. Some fear that everything will be lost when the Americans leave.

Personal account: “I am so worried about my future. It seems so murky. If the Taliban take over, I lose my identity,” said Wahida Sadeqi, 17, a high school student in Kabul. “I was born in 2004 and I have no idea what the Taliban did to women, but I know women were banned from everything.”

Context: U.S. intelligence officials paint a grim portrait of what lies ahead for Afghanistan, but they do not expect it to become a terror threat to America right away. Mr. Biden’s decision to withdraw makes clear his belief that contending with a rising China takes precedence.

Just over two months into his tenure, Mario Draghi, the Italian prime minister, has shaken up a Brussels leadership that had seemed to be asleep at the wheel.

His seizure of a shipment of AstraZeneca vaccines destined for Australia was a turning point for both Europe and Italy — and a clear sign that a new, aggressive and potent force had arrived in the European bloc. The E.U. has since authorized even broader and harsher measures to curb exports of Covid-19 vaccines badly needed in Europe.

In his short time in office, Mr. Draghi, renowned as the former European Central Bank president who helped save the euro, has quickly leveraged his European relationships, his skill in navigating E.U. institutions and his nearly messianic reputation to make Italy a player on the continent in a way it has not been in decades.

Muldrow Glacier, in the shadow of Denali in Alaska, is currently moving at up to 90 feet a day, about 100 times faster than normal. This rare surge has provoked the delight of glaciologists, who have seized on the chance to study it.