A previous version of this report provided an inaccurate date for the expansion of vaccine eligibility in the commonwealth of Virginia. All Virginians aged 16 and over become eligible on April 18. The story has been corrected.
The global tally of confirmed cases of the coronavirus-borne illness COVID-19 edged closer to 130 million on Friday, with the U.S. accounting for about a quarter of that total, with 30.5 million, as positive vaccine news weighed against a continued rise in case numbers.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and President Joe Biden’s top medical adviser, said AstraZeneca PLC’s COVID-19 vaccine, which has been plagued by problems during its rollout, may not even be needed in the U.S.
In an interview with Reuters, Fauci said that even if AstraZeneca’s
vaccine wins U.S. regulatory authorization, the country may have enough vaccine doses already secured to take care of the entire U.S. population, including possible boosters.
one developed by Moderna Inc.
and one from Johnson & Johnson
It has secured contracts for hundreds of millions of doses. Novavax
which last year signed a $1.6 billion contract with the U.S. government as part of Operation Warp Speed, is hoping to get emergency-use authorization for its vaccine from the Food and Drug Administration by May.
“If you look at the numbers [of doses] that we’re going to be getting, the amount that you can get from J&J, from Novavax, from Moderna if we contract for more, it is likely that we can handle any boost that we need, but I can’t say definitely for sure,” Fauci said.
Separately, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it has authorized two changes to Moderna’s vaccine that will produce more doses from each vial, the Associated Press reported, further bolstering the U.S. vaccine drive.
The agency OK’d new vials that can contain up to 15 doses each, compared with the original Moderna vials designed to hold 10 doses. Additionally, regulators said providers can safely extract up to 11 doses from the original 10-dose vials. Those changes will be added to instructions for healthcare workers.
The FDA has also authorized the Moderna vaccine to be kept at room-temperature conditions for 24 hours after being removed from refrigeration, up from a previous 12 hours. A punctured vial can be used for up to 12 hours, an increase from the previous 6 hours. The new guidelines have been updated in the company’s emergency-use authorization, and Moderna plans to start shipping the new 15-dose vials in the coming weeks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker is showing that as of 6 a.m. on Thursday, 200.5 million doses had been delivered to states; 153.6 million doses had been administered; and 99.6 million people had received at least one dose, equal to 30% of the population.
A full 56 million people are fully vaccinated, equal to 16.9% of the population. In the 65 years–and–older group, 28.5 million people are fully vaccinated, equal to 52% of that population.
But the U.S. case tally is still rising and at a far-higher-than-desired level. The U.S. added at least 77,718 new cases on Thursday, according to a New York Times tracker, and at least 955 people died. The seven-day new-cases average stands at 65,574, up 20% from the 14-day average. Experts say those numbers are climbing because some states have relaxed public safety measures, such as face-mask mandates, and Americans are showing clear signs of pandemic fatigue.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky earlier this week made an emotional plea to Americans not to let their guard down now that there is light at the end of the tunnel in the form of vaccines.
In other news:
• The FDA is investigating what caused a batch of the active ingredient for Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine to be scrapped for failing to meet quality standards at a contract manufacturing plant, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing a person familiar with the matter. The FDA may send an inspection team to assess the situation at the Baltimore plant operated by contractor Emergent BioSolutions Inc.
the person said. The regulatory scrutiny follows J&J’s disclosure Wednesday that a batch of the main ingredient for its COVID-19 vaccine manufactured at the Emergent plant didn’t meet standards. The batch didn’t reach the vial-filling and finishing stage, and no doses from it were distributed.
• England has added another four countries to its travel ban “red list” as of 4 a.m. Friday. Travelers who have visited or passed through Bangladesh, Kenya, Pakistan and the Philippines in the last 10 days will be refused entry to the U.K., the Guardian reported. British or Irish nationals and those who have residence rights will be allowed to enter but must quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10 days.
• Australia is investigating whether a blood-clotting case recorded on Friday is related to the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, Reuters reported, citing a health official. The news has raised concern as the AstraZeneca vaccine is the one most Australians are expected to receive and comes after several European countries temporarily halted use of that vaccine for the same reason. A 44-year-old man was admitted to a Melbourne hospital with clotting days after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine, suffering serious thrombosis and a low count of platelets, the blood cells that halt bleeding.
• Virginia has become the latest state to open its vaccine program to people aged 16 and older beginning April 18, the Washington Post reported, citing Gov. Ralph Northam. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has said he expects to open that neighboring state’s program to people 16 years old and up “within days.” Hogan, a Republican, had previously said Marylanders over 16 would be eligible to begin receiving shots on April 27. President Joe Biden has pledged to open vaccine eligibility to all Americans by May 1.
• The French and German governments are urging their citizens to stay home for the coming Easter holiday as they struggle to contain a new wave of COVID infections, according to media reports. German Chancellor Angela Merkel appealed to Germans not to mingle with other people as Germany confronts a third wave, CNBC reported. France, meanwhile, has been forced to cancel a number of summer festivals and events for a second straight year, because its hospitals are rapidly filling with patients, as AFP reported.
The global death toll from COVID rose above 2.8 million on Friday, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University. At least 73.5 million people have recovered from COVID, the data show.
The U.S. continues to lead the world by case numbers, at 30.5 million, and fatalities, at 553,138.
Brazil is second globally in cases at 12.8 million and also second with a death toll at 325,284.
India is third worldwide in cases with 12.3 million and fourth in deaths at 163,396.
Mexico is third by deaths at 203,664 and 13th highest by cases at 2.2 million.
The U.K. has 4.4 million cases and 127,006 deaths, the highest in Europe and fifth highest in the world.
China, where the virus was first discovered late last year, has had 101,772 confirmed cases and 4,841 deaths, according to its official numbers.
What’s the economy saying?
Restaurants and other businesses hired more workers in March than in any month in the past seven as the U.S. added 916,000 new jobs, signaling the economy is primed for a period of rapid expansion, MarketWatch’s Jeffry Bartash reported.
Employment accelerated after the weather warmed and a decline in coronavirus cases allowed states to relax business restrictions. Rising vaccination rates gave Americans more freedom to venture out to eat, attend a game or engage in other activities they would have avoided at the height of the pandemic.
Massive federal stimulus, including $1,400 checks for most households, also gave people more money to spend.
The jobs explosion in March easily exceeded Wall Street forecasts. Economists polled by Dow Jones and the Wall Street Journal had forecast a 675,000 increase.
Hiring in February and January was also much stronger than previously reported.
Economists predict even faster hiring in the months ahead if most Americans get vaccinated and the coronavirus fades away, though it will take time to know for sure. COVID-19 cases have actually risen slightly in the past few weeks for the first time in several months.
The official unemployment rate, meanwhile, slipped to 6% from 6.2%, the Labor Department said Friday. Yet the official rate doesn’t capture some 4 million–plus people who lost their jobs last year and left the labor force. Economists peg the true unemployment rate at above 9%.
“Job growth is now accelerating across the nation, helped by massive fiscal stimulus and a now speedy vaccination program,” said senior economist Sal Guatieri of BMO Capital Markets.
“While we still have a long way to go to repair the damage that was done to the economy last year, we’re making good progress,” said Chris Zaccarelli, chief investment officer at Independent Advisor Alliance
The Dow Jones Industrial Average
and S&P 500
closed higher on Thursday to finish out a shortened week. Markets are closed on Friday due to the Good Friday holiday.