Global COVID case tally climbs for fifth straight week, highlighting need to ensure vaccine equity


The number of global confirmed cases of the coronavirus-borne illness COVID-19 rose for a fifth straight week through March 28, according to the World Health Organization, and the number of deaths rose for a second week, highlighting the need for leaders to work to ensure all countries have access to vaccines.

“All regions reported an increase in the number of cases this week, with the largest increases in the Southeast Asia, Western Pacific, and African Regions, all of which have been on an upward trajectory in recent weeks,” the WHO said in its update. “All regions, except for the African Region, reported an increase in the number of deaths, with the largest increase of 21% from the Southeast Asia Region, which is on its third week of an increasing trend.”

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Europe and the Americas continue to account for more than 80% of reported cases and fatalities, amid new waves of infections in France and Brazil, in particular.

But cases are still climbing in the U.S., where the 7-day average of cases stands at 66,022 cases, according to a New York Times tracker, up 20% from the average two weeks ago. The U.S. added at least 61,752 new cases on Tuesday, according to the Times tracker, and at least 948 people died.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker is showing that as of 6.00 a.m. ET Tuesday, 189.5 million doses had been delivered to states, 147.6 million doses had been administered and 96 million people had received at least one dose, equal to 28.9% of the population.

A full 53.4 million people are fully vaccinated, meaning they have received a second dose of the two-dose jabs developed by Pfizer Inc. and German partner BioNTech SE and Moderna Inc.
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+8.80%
,
or one dose of Johnson & Johnson’s
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one-dose jab. That is equal to 16.1% of the population.

In the 65 years old and above group, 27.3 million people are fully vaccinated, equal to 49.6% of that population.

See now: Americans have tired of wearing masks and social distancing before; here’s what happened next

In positive vaccine news, r. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and President Joe Biden’s chief medical officer, said Wednesday the vaccines that have received emergency use authorization to treat COVID-19 are protecting against new, more infectious variants of the virus.

Fauci told reporters at a regular White House coronavirus briefing that individuals who have been vaccinated are showing a high titer of antibody and T Cell memory response, citing a study published on Tuesday.

Fauci also said the blood clotting issue that has been reported in some cases of people who have been dosed with the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca PLC
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+0.18%

AZN,
-0.58%

and Oxford University are at the same level as in the general population. 

“The data says this will be a good vaccine and will have a big role in the global response to the outbreak,” he said. A number of European countries have halted AstraZeneca vaccinations to investigate the issue.

Read now: U.S. COVID death toll nears 550,000 as Dr. Birx says most could have been avoided

There was further promising vaccine news from Pfizer
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+0.76%

and BioNTech
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,
when they said that a Phase 3 trial of their COVID-19 vaccine in adolescents aged 12 to 15 showed 100% efficacy and robust antibody responses, an even better result than seen in an earlier study of participants 16 to 25 years old. The trial involved 2,260 adolescents in the U.S.

“We plan to submit these data to FDA as a proposed amendment to our Emergency Use Authorization in the coming weeks and to other regulators around the world, with the hope of starting to vaccinate this age group before the start of the next school year,” Pfizer Chief Executive Albert Bourla said in a statement.

Last week, the companies dosed the first healthy children in a Phase 1/2/3 study to evaluate the vaccine in children 6 months to 11 years old. That trial will look at the vaccine in three age groups: children aged 5 to 11 years, 2 to 5 years, and 6 months to 2 years. The 5- to 11-year-old cohort started dosing last week, and the companies plan to initiate tests in the 2- to 5 year-old cohort next week.

See also: Vaccines are here. That’s no reason to call off the hunt for effective COVID-19 treatments.

Pfizer and BioNTech plan to begin testing a freeze-dried version of their COVID-19 vaccine shortly, which if proven to work safely could ease storage and handling of the shots in rural U.S. areas and low-income countries, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Don’t miss: Don’t laminate your COVID vaccination card before doing these 5 things

In other news:

• French President Emmanuel Macron scheduled a televised address to the nation for Wednesday night, a possible harbinger of tighter restrictions to combat surging coronavirus hospitalizations, the Associated Press reported. Previous nationwide lockdowns in March and October of 2020 were announced by Macron in televised speeches. His office said Wednesday that Macron will address the nation at 8 p.m. (1800 GMT), without saying what he will announce. Ahead of his weekly coronavirus strategy meeting Wednesday with ministers and aides, Macron was under intensifying pressure to close schools and further restrict people’s movements to ease growing pressure on hospitals. The total number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care in France surged past 5,000 on Tuesday, the first time in 11 months that the figure has been that high.

• The leaders of two southern German states badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic urged leaders in the rest of the country to reintroduce tougher lockdown measures to try to contain a third wave of infections, Reuters reported, citing local newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung. Markus Soeder, Bavaria premier and a possible conservative candidate to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Winfried Kretschmann, the leader of Baden-Wuerttemberg, wrote in a joint letter that the situation was “more serious than many believe”. “That is why we must live up to our responsibility now and not discuss it any longer,” they wrote in a letter.

Covid-19, a virus that many experts believe came to us from bats, has been transmitted on from humans to pets and other animals. Here’s why some scientists are worried that so-called spillbacks could potentially perpetuate a cycle of infection. Photo: Markus Scholz/Zuma Press

• The Spanish tourism industry is dismayed by the government’s decree that face mask must be worn in all outdoor spaces, including swimming pools and beaches, even when social distancing is possible, the Guardian reported. The industry fears that the measure will deter foreign visitors, which it is keen to bring back, as tourism accounts for about 12% of Spain’s GDP. Masks have been obligatory indoors and out in Catalonia since last July and in Valencia since early this year, despite claims by scientists that there is a very low risk of contagion in the open air.

• Russia has registered the first COVID-19 vaccine for use in animals, according to state media outlet TASS, as CNN reported. The vaccine is named Carnivak-Cov, and is expected to go into mass production as early as April, according to TASS. Clinical trials of Carnivak-Cov began last October, according to Konstantin Savenkov, the deputy head of Russia’s Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance (Rosselkhoznadzor.). The research involved dogs, cats, foxes, Arctic foxes, minks and other animals.

• Less than half of Americans say they would feel comfortable attending a live sporting event, according to a new Washington Post-University of Maryland poll. Baseball’s Opening Day is Thursday when stadiums across the country are expected to open their gates and allow fans back with certain restrictions and reduced capacity. The poll found 42% of Americans comfortable attending a live event in general, compared with 40% who are not and 18% who said they are unsure. But 66% said they would feel comfortable at an outdoor event such as baseball, while 32% would feel comfortable at an indoor event.

Latest tallies

The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness rose above 128.4 million on Wednesday, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, with the U.S. accounting for a quarter of that number at more than 30.4 million. The death toll rose above 2.8 million with the U.S. accounting for about a fifth, or 551,503.

Almost 73 million people have recovered from COVID, the data show.

 Outside of the U.S., Brazil is second globally in cases at 12.7 million and also second with a death toll at 317,646.

India is third worldwide in cases with 12.1 million and fourth in deaths at 162,468.

Mexico is third by deaths at 202,633 and 13th highest by cases at 2.2 million.

The U.K. has 4.4 million cases and 126,955 deaths, the highest in Europe and fifth highest in the world.

China, where the virus was first discovered late last year, has had 101,716 confirmed cases and 4,841 deaths, according to its official numbers.

What’s the economy saying?

Private-sector businesses added 517,000 new jobs in March to mark the biggest gain in six months, ADP said Wednesday, as a decline in coronavirus cases allowed more American businesses to reopen or expand hours, MarketWatch’s Jeffry Bartash reported.

The surge in employment points to a strengthening U.S. economy that’s being powered by a massive $1.9 trillion federal fiscal stimulus and a sharp decline in coronavirus cases this year as more Americans get vaccinated.

The increase in hiring was close to Wall Street’s mark. Economists polled by Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal had forecast 525,000 new private-sector jobs.

The ADP report suggests the government will publish similarly rosy employment figures when the official U.S. jobs report is released on Friday.

Economists forecast an increase of 675,000 new jobs in March. The Labor Department report also includes government workers.

Read: Hiring is speeding up and jobs are coming back as the economy gains steam

“The lifting of [government] restrictions is quickly feeding through to stronger economic activity,” said Michael Pearce, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics.

In other economic news, a gauge of business conditions in the Chicago region that’s seen as a bellwether for the U.S. economy surged in March to a nearly two-and-a-half-year high, offering more evidence that growth is picking up across the country.

The Chicago PMI climbed to 66.3 last month from a revised 59.5 in the prior month. Readings above 50 indicate an expanding economy, and anything above 50 is considered exceptional.

The last time the index was that high was in July 2018.

Other regional and national surveys of business conditions in manufacturing are also pointing to an acceleration in growth, though many companies say they are facing higher prices for supplies and that it’s constraining growth.

Read: Economists say inflation risks highest in two decades and could force Fed to raise interest rates in 2022

The Dow Jones Industrial Average
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was lower Wednesday, while the S&P 500
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was higher.



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