Growing optimism in the U.S., where COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations have fallen fast since the vaccine program kicked into high gear, have many planning to travel over the Memorial Day weekend in contrast to a year ago when the pandemic was raging.
Daily deaths are at their lowest level since last summer, while cases are down 35% from two weeks ago, according to a New York Times tracker.
The U.S. has fully vaccinated about 133 million people, equal to 40% of the population, while 166 million, or 49.9%, have received at least one jab of a two-shot vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker shows.
Among adults 18 years and older, almost 51% are fully vaccinated, while in the 65-and-older group, 74.3% are fully inoculated.
The vaccine program has slowed dramatically as the number of people vaccinated rises, and some states have resorted to offering cash prizes to encourage holdouts to roll up their sleeves.
California said Thursday it will offer $116.5 million in prizes to residents who get vaccinated, the most of any state, the Associated Press reported.
The success in containing the spread stands in stark contrast to most of the rest of the world, with lower-income countries in particular struggling to access supply and get vaccines to their citizens.
A coalition of health agencies called on wealthy countries to rally together and deliver 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines to the Covax program in 2021, warning that worrying new variants of the virus are causing chaos in India and elsewhere.
“We are seeing the traumatic effects of the terrible surge of COVID-19 in South Asia — a surge which has also severely impacted global vaccine supplies,” the agencies — the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, Unicef and the World Health Organization — said in a joint statement on Thursday.
“We are also witnessing why access to vaccines before a surge occurs is so important. For that reason, we must focus on ensuring countries who have not benefited from these life-saving tools do so now, and with urgency.”
The latest call to action comes after the head of the WHO slammed richer countries at the start of the agency’s annual meeting on Monday for hogging vaccines, in some of the harshest terms he has used since the start of the outbreak. “There is no diplomatic way to say it: A small group of countries that make and buy the majority of the world’s vaccines control the fate of the rest of the world,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
For example, South Africa has so far vaccinated just 0.8% of its population, Egypt 0.3% and Sudan 0.2%, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.
India, a nation of 1.4 billion that is struggling with a wave of cases of a highly contagious variant called B.1.617, has vaccinated just 13.5 million people, the data show.
Countries need to share doses now, the agencies said. The WHO has consistently argued that best vaccination practice is for each country to vaccinate its elderly and high-risk people first, then donate its supply to neighboring countries, so they can do the same.
“Countries with higher coverage rates which are due to receive doses soon should swap their places in supply queues with Covax so that doses can be equitably distributed as quickly as possible,” the agencies argued.
In other news:
• Germany will start offering COVID-19 vaccines to children as young as 12 on June 7, pending a decision by the European drugs regulator, MarketWatch’s Lina Saigol reported. The European Medicines Agency could approve use of the vaccine developed jointly by German biotech BioNTech
as soon as today, when it is scheduled to hold a news briefing. “We will be able to make every citizen including children a vaccination offer by the end of the summer,” Chancellor Angela Merkel told a news briefing after talks with regional leaders, which was reported by Reuters. She stressed that immunization would be voluntary and wouldn’t have an impact on whether children can attend school.
• The Food and Drug Administration and vaccine maker Johnson & Johnson
expect to announce as early as Friday that contamination problems at a COVID-19 vaccine plant in Baltimore are resolved, clearing the way for millions more doses to become available, the Wall Street Journal reported. Vaccine production at the plant run by contract manufacturer Emergent BioSolutions Inc.
was halted after unsanitary conditions led to contamination of J&J’s vaccines. The facility made vaccine substance and finished vaccine doses for J&J and AstraZeneca
• The Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine has been authorized for emergency use by the U.K. medicines regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), MarketWatch’s European team reported. The single-dose vaccine, developed by healthcare company J&J’s Janssen unit, has been shown to be 66% effective in preventing moderate-to-severe cases of COVID-19 in its late-stage trial.
• Hong Kong residents reluctant to get the coronavirus jab have been given a million-dollar reason to roll up their sleeves after property tycoons donated a brand-new flat worth $1.4 million, or HK$10.8 million, to a vaccine lottery, Channel News Asia reported. The one-bedroom apartment will be the lucky draw’s grand prize, the property developers announced on Friday. They will also offer 20 other prizes worth HK$100,000, or $12,883, each. Hong Kong is one of few countries to have secured enough vaccine supply to inoculate its population of 7.5 million, but distrust of the government has led to hesitancy and a lagging vaccine drive.
• Japan has extended a state of emergency in Tokyo and other areas by about three weeks to June 20 as the COVID-19 pandemic shows no signs of easing less than two months before the Summer Olympics open, Reuters reported. The state of emergency in the capital and eight other prefectures had been scheduled to end on May 31, but strains on the medical system remain severe. Japan has seen a record number of COVID-19 patients in critical condition in recent days, even as the number of new infections has slowed. On Thursday, the head of the Japan Doctors Union warned of the possible emergence of an “Olympic strain” of the coronavirus if the games are held as planned in two months, the Washington Post reported.
The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness climbed above 169 million on Friday, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, while the death toll rose above 3.51 million.
The U.S. continues to lead the world in total cases with 33.2 million and deaths with 593,293.
India is second worldwide with 27.6 million cases, and third with 318,895 deaths, although those numbers are understood to be greatly undercounted, given a shortage of tests.
Brazil is third in cases with 16.3 million and second in deaths with 456,674.
Mexico is fourth by fatalities with 222,661 and 2.4 million cases.
The U.K. has had 4.5 million cases and 128,020 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 102,932 confirmed cases and 4,846 deaths, according to its official numbers, which are widely held to be massively underreported.
What’s the economy saying?
A key barometer of inflation leaped again in April and hit a 13-year high, reflecting a broad surge in consumer prices as the U.S. fully reopens and federal stimulus sloshes through the economy, MarketWatch’s Jeffry Bartash reported.
The so-called PCE index jumped 0.6% in April, marking the biggest monthly increase since 2008.
The rate of inflation over the past 12 months also shot up to a 13-year high of 3.6% in April from 2.4% in March.
Rising inflation has spooked some on Wall Street and made Americans gnash their teeth when confronting higher prices for goods and services ranging from hamburgers and plywood to used cars and vacation rentals. It has been a long time since they’ve experienced such a sharp upturn in prices in so short a time.
Separately, after a binge fueled by government stimulus checks, Americans pruned their spending in April and kept a sizable amount of savings on hand to carry them through what’s hoped to be the final stages of the pandemic.
Consumer spending rose 0.5% last month, the government said Friday. And incomes sank 13.1% in the absence of any further federal support.
The slowdown in spending was widely expected. Economists polled by Dow Jones and the Wall Street Journal has forecast a mild 0.6% increase.
Spending had skyrocketed 4.7% in March — the third biggest increase on record — after the government sent $1,400 checks to most individuals. That spawned a one-time 21% spike in personal income.
The U.S. trade deficit in goods narrowed 7.3% in April, according to the Commerce Department’s advanced estimate released Friday, MarketWatch’s Greg Robb reported.
The deficit narrowed to $85.2 billion from a record $92 billion in March. Economists polled by Econoday were looking to a $91 billion deficit.
The report also showed a 0.8% gain in wholesale inventories while retail inventories were down 1.6%. Excluding automobiles, retail inventories were up 0.5%.
A measure of business conditions in the Chicago region had another strong reading in May, reaching its highest level in 47 years, a trade group said Friday.
The Chicago Business Barometer, also known as the Chicago PMI, jumped to 75.2 in May from April’s 72.1, which had been the highest since December 1983. The May reading was the highest since 1973. Economists polled by the Wall Street Journal forecast decline to a 68 reading.
Readings over 50 signal expansion.
The index is produced by the ISM-Chicago with MNI. It is sent to subscribers three minutes before its release to the public at 9:45 a.m. Eastern.
The Chicago PMI is the last of the regional manufacturing indexes before the national ISM data for May is released on Tuesday. The ISM factory index slipped to 60.7% in April, but it was still the 11th straight month above the 50% break.