The World Health Organization warned Friday that the global tally of confirmed cases of the coronavirus-borne illness COVID-19 has almost doubled in the last two months, and is now approaching the highest rate seen since the start of the pandemic.
“Some countries that had previously avoided widespread covid-19 transmission are now seeing steep increases in infections,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters at a briefing.
Case numbers are climbing in nearly all regions, including the Americas, with India, Brazil, Poland and Turkey becoming hot spots. Experts say part of the surge is due to new variants that are more infectious than the original virus. But the gradual easing of restrictions in some places and overall pandemic fatigue are also contributing to the trend.
In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory committee said it will reconvene on April 23 to discuss the blood-clotting issue that has led regulators to pause the rollout of Johnson & Johnson’s JNJ, +1.15% vaccine.
The committee gathered on Wednesday to comb through the data and attempt to understand why six women who were given the vaccine developed a very rare blood clotting disorder and voted to extend the “pause” and reconvene at a later date.
Much of the discussion focused on whether committee members needed additional clinical information before making a formal recommendation or whether waiting to make a choice would further harm Americans at risk for contracting COVID-19.
The J&J vaccine was granted an emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration amid much ballyhoo, as it is viewed as an easier and more equitable tool in the nation’s mass vaccination program because it only requires one shot and can be administered to people’s homes or in mobile units. The other vaccines require two doses set weeks apart and come with stringent storage requirements.
The J&J vaccine also offered a beacon of hope for the rest of the world, and especially for developing countries that are trailing badly in the race to get people vaccinated. The United Nations and WHO have consistently called on wealthier countries not to hog vaccines and have argued that doing so allows new variants to emerge, some of which may prove resistant to the existing vaccines.
The blood clotting issue, which has also been linked to the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca PLC AZN, -0.18% AZN, -0.27% and Oxford University, has undermined confidence in vaccines in some countries where citizens are already sceptical of them thanks to a legacy of colonialism and dubious medical practices by Western companies, the New York Times reported.
In Malawi, people are asking doctors how to flush the AstraZeneca vaccine from their bodies, the paper reported Friday. In South Africa, health officials have stopped giving the J&J shot, two months after dropping the AstraZeneca vaccine. And in the Democratic Republic of Congo, 1.7 million AstraZeneca doses have gone unused, according to the Times.
Dr Sara Oliver of the C.D.C. told the advisory panel that prolonging the pause in using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine “could have global implications.”
The U.S. vaccine program, meanwhile, continues to show good progress. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker is showing that as of 6 a.m. ET Thursday, 255.4 million doses had been delivered to states, 198.3 million doses had been administered, and 125.8 million people had received at least one shot, equal to 37.9% of the population.
A full 78.5 million people, or 23.6% of the population, are fully vaccinated, meaning they have received two shots of the two-dose vaccines developed by Pfizer Inc. PFE, +2.58% and German partner BioNTech SE BNTX, +7.69% and Moderna Inc. MRNA, +6.84%, or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson JNJ, +1.15% one-shot vaccine. The AstraZeneca vaccine has not been authorized for use in the U.S.
Among Americans aged 65 years and older, 34.8 million are fully vaccinated, equal to 63.7% of that group. Almost 44 million people in that age bracket have received the first jab, covering 80% of that population.
The U.S. added at least 74,367 new cases on Thursday, according to a New York Times tracker, and at least 912 people died. The U.S. has averaged 70,552 new cases a day for the past week, up 8% from the average two weeks ago.
The Biden administration will invest $1.7 billion to help states and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention track and fight COVID-19 variants, the White House announced Friday.
Three top federal health officials — Dr Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and President Joe Biden’s chief medical officer; Dr Rochelle Walensky, the C.D.C. director; and Dr David Kessler, who runs the Biden administration’s vaccine effort — urged Americans to continue to make appointments and get vaccinated at a hearing on Capitol Hill on Thursday.
Kessler sought to assuage vaccine fears by reminding Americans that the vaccines that have been authorized have “an excellent safety profile.” Experts emphasize that the six clotting cases associated with the J&J vaccine are a tiny number compared with the 6.8 million people who had received the shot when the pause was announced.
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