The U.S. is planning to invest $3.2 billion to develop antivirals to treat COVID-19 and other viruses that have the potential to become pandemics, moving to fill the gap in treatments for such serious illnesses as Ebola, dengue, West Nile and Middle East respiratory syndrome.
A new program will invest in “accelerating things that are already in progress” for COVID-19 but also would work to come up with treatments for other viruses, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and President Joe Biden’s chief medical officer, the Associated Press reported.
Fauci stressed, however, that vaccines would remain the key tool in tackling COVID, even as research is advanced to come up with better treatments than the existing antibodies and Gilead’s antiviral remdesivir, which come with burdensome logistical hurdles as most must be given by IV in a hospital setting. Health experts have increasingly called for a convenient pill that patients could take themselves when symptoms first appear.
The news comes amid growing concern about the spread of new variants of COVID, and especially of the Delta variant, a highly infectious strain that was first discovered in India. That variant is behind a spike in infections in the U.K., even though that country has vaccinated more than 80% of its adult population.
The U.K. recorded 11,000 daily cases Friday for the first time since February, as the new variant spreads rapidly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention aligned with the World Health Organization earlier this week in declaring the Delta variant to be one “of concern,” a more worrying assessment than the previous classification as “of interest.”
Earlier this week, the U.K. delayed its reopening plans by four weeks to give Britons more time to get vaccinated.
The U.S. vaccine program, meanwhile, continues to slow with the number of fully vaccinated Americans rising to 147.8 million on Friday, or 44.5% of the total population, up from 44% on Thursday, according to the CDC’s vaccine tracker. Some 176 million Americans have received at least one dose of the two-dose vaccines developed by Pfizer Inc.
and German partner BioNTech SE
or Moderna Inc. Johnson & Johnson’s
one-shot regimen is also authorized in the U.S., but the AstraZeneca
one is not.
Among adults 18-years-and-older, 55.2% of the population is fully vaccinated. Among adults 65-years-and-older, 42 million people, or 76.8% of that group, is fully vaccinated and 87% of that cohort has received at least one shot.
The rest of the world is looking very different, however.
As the map above illustrates, parts of Africa have vaccinated less than 1% of their populations. Overall, there have been 2.5 billion doses administered globally, according to Johns Hopkins University. The world requires about 11 billion doses to vaccinate 70% of its population, according to a recent New York Times report that cited research from Duke University.
In other news, the European Union has now confirmed that is recommending that its member countries allow vaccinated U.S. travelers to visit this summer, although it will left to individual countries to decide on terms.
Moscow suffered a record number of new cases on Friday at 9,056, a 46% increase from Thursday, The Moscow Times reported. The Russian capital is being hit by new variants leading Mayor Sergei Sobyanin to announce new restrictions on gathering and extend a curfew for bars and restaurants.
Spain said it would drop its face-mask mandate next weekend for people outdoors, El Pais reported.
The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness headed above 177.4 million on Friday, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, while deaths climbed above 3.8 million.
The U.S. continues to lead the world in total cases at 33.5 million, while deaths total 600,935.
India is second in total cases at 29.8 million and third by fatalities at 383,490, although those numbers are expected to be undercounted given a shortage of tests.
Brazil has the third-highest caseload at 17.7 million, according to JHU data, and is second in deaths at 496,004.
Mexico has fourth-highest death toll at 230,792 and 2.5 million cases.
The U.K. has 128,209 fatalities and 4.6 million cases, the highest number of deaths in Europe and fifth-highest in the world.
China, where the virus was first discovered late in 2019, has had 103,471 confirmed cases and 4,846 deaths, according to its official numbers, which are widely held to be massively underreported.