The global tally of confirmed cases of the coronavirus-borne illness COVID-19 headed closer to 164 million on Tuesday, as the Red Cross called on wealthier countries and drug companies to move faster to spread vaccines all around the world and end the “glaring inequity” in access.
“The extraordinary times of a global pandemic demand extraordinary measures from the international community,” the Red Cross said in a statement. “We encourage States to consider all possible measures to boost production, distribution and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines both between countries and within countries, to leave no one behind.”
That includes speeding up talks under the World Trade Organization relating to intellectual property and vaccines to remove the barriers to a rapid scaling up of production all over the world. Drug companies should share their technology and knowledge to enable poorer countries get vaccines that are urgently needed sooner, rather than later, said the statement.
‘There is a huge disconnect growing, where in some countries with the highest vaccination rates, there appears to be a mindset that the pandemic is over, while others are experiencing huge waves of infection. The situation in a number of countries continues to be very concerning. The pandemic is a long way from over, and it will not be over anywhere until it’s over everywhere.’
— Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO
“In the middle of the worst pandemic in 100 years, the intellectual-property waiver for COVID-19 vaccines is a necessary political commitment to address inequities in access at the scale and speed we need,” said Francesco Rocca, president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. “Millions of lives depend on it and on the equally important transfer of technology and knowledge to increase manufacturing capacity worldwide.”
The statement comes a day after President Joe Biden pledged to send 80 million vaccine doses overseas by the end of June, starting with an initial plan to ship 20 million doses.
“Just as in World War II America was the arsenal of democracy, in the battle against [the] COVID-19 pandemic, our nation is going to be the arsenal of vaccines for the rest of the world,” Biden said in a brief speech at the White House.
The Biden administration’s latest move comes after the U.S. has drawn some flak for being slow in sharing, particularly as domestic vaccine supplies have begun to outpace demand. Almost half of the American population is partially vaccinated against COVID, while outside of the U.S. there are continued concerns about virus hot spots, which now include India, Brazil and Taiwan.
But experts said the 80 million promised doses fall far short of what is needed. To inoculate 70% of the world’s population against COVID would require 11 billion doses, the New York Times reported, citing research by Duke University. That number may be too low if COVID variants prove resistant to vaccines, and boosters are required.
So far, the world has produced just 1.7 billion doses, said the Times, citing data analytics company Airfinity.
World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned Monday that countries are at unequal steps in managing the crisis. “There is a huge disconnect growing, where in some countries with the highest vaccination rates, there appears to be a mindset that the pandemic is over, while others are experiencing huge waves of infection,” Tedros said at a WHO news briefing. “The situation in a number of countries continues to be very concerning. The pandemic is a long way from over, and it will not be over anywhere until it’s over everywhere.”
Rick Bright, the U.S. virologist and immunologist who has worked under four presidents and is now at the Rockefeller Foundation, agreed. “We have an option, I believe, at creating a vaccine that is universal in nature, broadly reactive, and can stop this virus, and we don’t have to let it become endemic,” Bright told MarketWatch in an interview.
‘[W]e have to blanket the world’s immunity.’
— Rick Bright, Rockefeller Foundation
“The key to doing that is we have to make sure we vaccinate the world. We cannot allow pockets of the world to exist where the virus can still continue to evolve or change or recombine with other viruses and have a new hybrid version of the virus come out. So we have to blanket the world’s immunity. “
The U.S. vaccine program continues to slow, now that much of the adult population has been partially vaccinated. The CDC’s vaccine tracker is showing that as of 6 a.m. Monday, 157.8 million people had received at least one shot, equal to 47.5% of the total population, including children who are not yet eligible.
Some 123.8 million people are fully vaccinated, equal to 37.3% of the population, meaning they have received two shots of the two-dose vaccines developed by Pfizer Inc.
with German partner 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 and older, 39.8 million people are fully vaccinated, equal to 72.8% of that group. More than 46 million people in that age bracket have received a first jab, covering 84.6% of that population. About 3 million people aged 12 to 18 have received at least one dose, the tracker shows.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told reporters at a White House briefing that the seven-day average of daily deaths from COVID had declined to a new low of 546 a day, the lowest since March 2020, the start of the outbreak. New cases and hospitalizations have also fallen.
Elsewhere, India set another grim record for one-day fatalities on Tuesday with 4,329 deaths, a number expected to represent a significant undercount given a severe shortage of tests and the ongoing stress on the healthcare system.
In other news:
• Austria is planning to phase out use of the AstraZeneca vaccine over concerns about a rare blood-clotting disorder that has been linked to the jab, according to the Austrian version of news site the Local. The move makes it the third European country to drop the AstraZeneca vaccine, after Norway and Denmark. “We will probably continue to do first shots with AstraZeneca until early June, and then that’s it. … AstraZeneca will be discontinued,” Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein told private TV channel Puls 24 late Monday.
• California won’t lift its mask requirement until June 15 to give the public and businesses time to prepare and ensure cases stay low, state Health Director Dr. Mark Ghaly said Monday, as the Associated Press reported. “This four-week period will give Californians time to prepare for this change, while we continue the relentless focus on delivering vaccines particularly to underserved communities and those that were hard hit throughout this pandemic,” Ghaly said. Many other states lifted their mask requirements last week after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it’s safe for fully vaccinated people to skip face coverings and social distancing in most situations.
• Singapore has joined the U.S. in authorizing the use of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech for 12- to 15-year-olds, the Straits Times reported. The announcement from Health Minister Ong Ye Kung comes at a time when a number of schoolchildren have tested positive for the virus. The health ministry’s director of medical services, Kenneth Mak, said that children are less vigilant and disciplined when following safety measures but that vaccination would protect them along with the adults around them.
• The European Union’s drug regulator, the European Medicines Agency, said the Pfizer vaccine can now be stored at refrigerator temperature for much longer than it previously recommended, BBC News reported. The EMA said that once the vaccines thawed, unopened vials could be kept in the fridge for up to a month. The current limit is just five days. The increased flexibility is expected to have a significant impact on the vaccine rollout across the EU.
• GlaxoSmithKline has unveiled positive interim results from midstage trials of a vaccine it is developing with the Canadian biotech firm Medicago, the Guardian reported. The news comes a day after it announced strong data from a vaccine it is developing with French drug maker Sanofi SA. The U.K. drug maker and Quebec-based Medicago said the vaccine, a plant-based jab, triggered protective antibody levels 10 times higher than in patients recovering from COVID-19.
The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness climbed above 163.7 million on Tuesday, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, while the death toll rose topped 3.39 million.
The U.S. continues to lead the world in total cases with 32.9 million and deaths with 586,698, although cases, hospitalizations and deaths are all falling as more Americans become vaccinated.
India is second worldwide after passing more than 25 million cases. It is third with 278,719 deaths.
Brazil is third in cases with 15.7 million and second in deaths with 436,537.
Mexico is fourth by fatalities with 220,493 and has had 2.4 million cases.
The U.K. has had 4.5 million cases and 127,948 deaths, the fifth highest in the world and most of any country in Europe.
China, where the virus was first discovered late in 2019, has had 102,770 confirmed cases and 4,846 deaths, according to its official numbers, which are widely held to be massively underreported.
What’s the economy saying?
Construction of new homes slowed considerably as builders contend with shortages of labor and building materials, but the demand for housing remains elevated for now, MarketWatch’s Jacob Passy reported.
U.S. home builders started construction on homes at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.57 million in April, representing a 9.5% decrease from the previous month’s downwardly revised figure, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Tuesday.
Compared with April 2020, though, housing starts were up 67%, with the year-over-year comparison skewed somewhat by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic’s onset a year ago.
The pace of permitting for new housing units increased again in March. Permitting for new homes occurred at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.76 million, up 0.3% from March and 61% from a year ago.
Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected housing starts to occur at a pace of 1.7 million and building permits to come in at a pace of 1.77 million.
“Overall, we think building activity for new, single-family homes will remain supported by low inventories of new and existing homes and still-positive demand. However, rising input costs and a lack of availability are boosting prices, a headwind for affordability,” Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, wrote in a research note ahead of the report’s release.
“Building-permit issuance tends to track new-home sales, but developers will be aware that mortgage demand has fallen sharply, likely depressing future sales,” Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, wrote in a research note released before the housing starts report.