The global tally of confirmed cases of the coronavirus-borne illness COVID-19 climbed above 156 million on Friday, and India set another record with 414,188 new cases in a 24-hour period, as Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE started the process of applying for full regulatory approval of their vaccine.
India recorded nearly 4,000 deaths in a single day, alongside its new case tally, with both numbers widely held to be vastly understated as its healthcare system remains under severe pressure. The official daily death count offered by its health ministry has exceeded 3,000 for the past 10 days, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is coming under pressure to impose a nationwide lockdown, with no signs the viral surge is slowing, as the Associated Press reported.
Medical experts, opposition leaders and some Supreme Court judges have suggested the lockdown is the only option with the virus raging in cities and towns, where hospitals are forced to turn patients away while relatives scramble to find oxygen. Crematoriums and burial grounds are struggling to handle the dead, and families have resorted to using parks and even car parks for funeral pyres.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, also suggested that a complete shutdown in India may be needed for two to four weeks to help ease the surge of infections. “As soon as the cases start coming down, you can vaccinate more people and get ahead of the trajectory of the outbreak of the pandemic,” Fauci said in an interview with the Indian news channel CNN News18 on Thursday.
India’s case surge is being blamed on two highly infectious variants, including a “double mutant” variant. Called the B.1.617 strain, the new variant has two spike proteins instead of one. The World Health Organization said recently that the variant has now been found in at least 17 countries.
The crisis has spread to neighboring Nepal, which shares a long border with India. Nepal reported its highest one-day increase in cases on Thursday at 8,970, AFP reported.
In vaccine news, Pfizer and BioNTech have gotten the ball rolling on their submission to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for full approval of their COVID-19 vaccine in individuals 16 years of age and older.
The vaccine was already granted emergency-use authorization last December, a measure used by the FDA in emergency situations. “Data to support the BLA will be submitted by the Companies to the FDA on a rolling basis over the coming weeks, with a request for Priority Review,” the vaccine partners said in a joint statement.
Pfizer and BioNTech also submitted an application to expand the EUA to include 12- to 15-year-olds. That expansion is widely expected to be granted by next week. The partners plan to submit a supplemental biologics license application, or BLA, to support licensure of the vaccine in that age group once the required six months’ worth of data after a second dose are available.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker is showing that as of 6 a.m. Eastern time on Thursday, 149.5 million Americans had received at least one shot, equal to 45% of the population.
Some 108.9 million people are fully vaccinated, equal to 32.8% of the population, meaning they have received two shots of the two-dose vaccines developed by Pfizer Inc.
with BioNTech SE
and Moderna Inc.
or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson
single-dose vaccine. The AstraZeneca
vaccine has not been authorized for use in the U.S.
Among Americans 65 years older, 38 million people are fully vaccinated, equal to 70% of that group. More than 45 million people in that age bracket have received a first jab, covering 83.4% of that population.
In other news:
• Healthy adults under the age of 40 should be offered an alternative to the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine where possible as a precaution, due to an “extremely small risk” from rare blood clots in recipients of the shot, the U.K.’s expert panel of vaccine advisers said on Friday, MarketWatch’s Lina Saigol reported. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) widened the age range of people who should be offered alternatives to include people aged 30-39.
• The European Medicines Agency has started a real-time review of the COVID-19 antibody treatment developed by GlaxoSmithKline and Vir Biotechnology.
The EU drug regulator said it would start the rolling review based on preliminary results from an ongoing study looking at whether the treatment can prevent hospitalization or death in non-hospitalized patients with COVID-19. The drug proved 85% effective in reducing hospitalizations or deaths in initial clinical trials. However, the EMA cautioned that it had not yet received the complete data and said it is “too early to draw any conclusions about the benefit-risk balance of the medication.”
• Australia will rescind a controversial ban on its citizens returning from India on May 15, Channel News Asia reported. Prime Minister Scott Morrison stood by his decision to impose a biosecurity order last month barring all travel to and from India, a policy that drew heavy criticism from lawmakers, expatriates and the Indian diaspora. The move came with fines and up to five years in jail, and was aimed at preventing the more infectious variants circulating in India from spreading in Australia.
• A new analysis estimates that the number of people who died from COVID-19 globally, as well as in the U.S., is significantly higher than official death tolls, MarketWatch’s Jaimy Lee reported. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, a health research center affiliated with the University of Washington, estimates that 905,289 people in the U.S. died from COVID-19, compared to the official tally of 574,043, as of May 3. India is estimated to have had around 640,000 deaths, which is nearly three times more than the official number of 221,181. And, worldwide, the IHME’s analysis puts the number of COVID-19 deaths at 6.93 million, which more than twice as many deaths (3.24 million) that have been officially reported. There are two main reasons why IHME believes that death rates are higher: there was a lack of adequate testing in the earliest days of the pandemic that would have confirmed infections, and there are discrepancies between reported deaths by governments and excess mortality rates.
• Germany is planning to recommend the Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine only for people above the age of 60, Reuters reported, citing German magazine Der Spiegel. The magazine did not offer a source. The J&J vaccine was put on pause in the U.S. to allow regulators assess some very rare cases of blood-clotting, but the pause was lifted when they concluded that the benefits outweigh the risks. The EMA came to same conclusion in April.
The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness rose above 156 million on Friday, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, while the death toll rose above 3.25 million. More than 92 million people have recovered from COVID, the data show.
The U.S. continues to lead the world in cases and deaths by wide margins, with 32.6 million cases and 580,068 deaths, or about a fifth of the worldwide tallies.
India is second to the U.S. by cases at 21.5 million and third by fatalities at 234,083.
Brazil is third with 15 million cases and second by fatalities at 416,949.
Mexico has the fourth-highest death toll at 218,173 and 2.4 million cases, or 15th highest tally.
The U.K. has 4.4 million cases and 127,843 deaths, the fifth-highest in the world and highest in Europe.
China, where the virus was first discovered late in 2019, has had 102,589 confirmed cases and 4,846 deaths, according to its official numbers, which are widely held to be massively underreported.
What’s the economy saying?
The U.S. created just 266,000 new jobs in April on a seasonally adjusted basis even as the economy gained strength, suggesting companies might be struggling to fill open jobs even with millions of people still unemployed, MarketWatch’s Jeffry Bartash reported.
The increase in new jobs fell well short of Wall Street’s forecast. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal had estimated 1 million new jobs.
“The April jobs report was a huge disappointment,” said senior chief economist Gus Faucher of PNC Financial Services.
The official unemployment rate, meanwhile, rose to 6.1% from 6%, the U.S. Labor Department said Friday. Yet the first increase in 13 months stemmed from more people entering the labor force in search of jobs — a good sign for the economy.
The small increase in new jobs belies mounting evidence that companies are eager to hire more workers in response to soaring demand for goods and services.
Job openings have surged, for instance, and a survey of small businesses showed that 60% tried to hire people in April.
“The report is a bit of a head scratcher that tempers recent projections of a smoothly accelerating economic recovery,” said senior economist Daniel Zhao of Glassdoor. “”By all accounts, the improving public health situation should drive faster job gains, but the report is a humbling reminder that the road to recovery is not a straightforward one in a pandemic.”
“This speaks to the growing challenges in finding workers to fill positions due to health fears, child-care duties and even the expanded unemployment benefits,” said senior economist Gus Faucher of PNC Financial services.