By Ciara Linnane, MarketWatch
The global tally of confirmed cases of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 climbed above 26 million on Thursday, while the U.S. tally rose above 6.1 million, amid growing concerns that President Donald Trump’s administration may attempt to rush out a vaccine ahead of the November presidential election.
Those concerns were fueled by the news that the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has sent a letter to governors, urging them to prepare to start distributing a COVID-19 vaccine in their states by Nov. 1, just two days before the election.
In the letter dated Aug. 27, CDC head Robert Redfield said states “in the near future” will receive permit applications from drug distributor McKesson Corp. /zigman2/quotes/206975466/composite MCK +1.21% , which has contracted with CDC to distribute vaccines to places including state and local health departments and hospitals, as the Associated Press reported.
“CDC urgently requests your assistance in expediting applications for these distribution facilities and, if necessary, asks that you consider waiving requirements that would prevent these facilities from becoming fully operational by November 1, 2020,” Redfield wrote.
The Redfield letter was first reported on by McClatchy.
Public health experts pointed out that final-stage trials of experimental vaccines are still recruiting, and are at best halfway through that process. The vaccines consist of two doses, given a month apart. Experts told the AP they did not understand how there could be adequate data on whether the vaccines work and are safe before Nov. 1.
“Being ready is reasonable. Cutting short Phase 3 trials before you get the information you need isn’t,” said Dr. Paul Offit, a Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia immunization expert who sits on the FDA’s vaccine advisory committee.
Dr. Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota, said he was concerned about an “October surprise” with a vaccine being rushed through ahead of the election.
“The public health community wants a safe and effective vaccine as much as anybody could want it,” Osterholm said. “But the data have to be clear and compelling.”
Moncef Slaoui, a venture capital investor and former GlaxoSmithKline PLC executive who heads up the government’s Operation Warp Speed program, told NPR he cannot imagine trials producing data before the end of October.
Meanwhile, the State Department told Congress it is diverting funds owed to the World Health Organization this month, the Guardian reported. Trump issued a notice of withdrawal from the world’s leading public health agency in July, but the move does not take effect until next July. In the meantime, the U.S. is on the hook for $65 million in membership dues.
In other news:
• A group of 22 economists from leading universities has sent an open letter to U.S. policy makers urging them to “start over and do it right” to contain the virus. “Our nation’s economy will remain in crisis as long as the COVID-19 virus spreads unchecked,” reads the open letter, which is being distributed by U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups, a consumer advocacy group. “As experts on economic theory and practice, we have come together to insist that you reconsider your understanding of the economic reality we face.” Reopening bars, gyms and restaurants is “prolonging the harm,” they wrote, and driving up disease and deaths. The letter warns that people’s economic lives will be kept on hold for a long time, if the virus is not contained. Signatories include James Galbraith of the University of Texas at Austin, Martin Ravallion of Georgetown University, Jerry Green of Harvard University, Donald Davis of Columbia University, Amalia Miller of the University of Virginia, Francine D. Blau of Cornell University, and Debraj Ray of New York University.
• France counted 7,017 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, up from 4,982 on Tuesday, marking the third time since the onset of the pandemic that it has counted more than 7,000 infections in a single day, according to local media. “The virus keeps spreading in the country,” French health authorities said in a statement. About a fifth of France’s administrative districts are suffering from an “active circulation of the disease,” they said. The number of French people hospitalized stood at 4,632, well below the peak of 32,292 seen in April but worrying to experts after rising for more than five straight days. France has 331,060 confirmed cases of the virus, and 30,692 people have died, according to Johns Hopkins data.
• A Minnesota biker who attended the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota in August has died of COVID-19, the Washington Post reported, marking the first fatality linked to an event that drew more than 400,000 people. The man was in his 60s, and had underlying medical conditions, the paper said; he was hospitalized after returning from the rally. At least 260 cases in 11 states have been linked to the event, the paper said, based on a survey of health departments. Participants were filmed crowding bars and sidewalks, while failing to socially distance or wear face masks. Experts say the number of cases stemming from the event is likely understated, because many of the attendees are unwilling to be tested and the states they live in have limited contact tracing.
• Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and his family tested positive for the coronavirus. Johnson announced their diagnoses in an 11-plus-minute video on Instagram on Wednesday. He said he was shocked after hearing their test results, calling the ordeal “one of the most challenging and difficult things we’ve ever had to endure.” Johnson said the illness has made him more conscious. He made several suggestions to combat the virus, such as wearing a mask, boosting immune systems and committing to wellness.
There are now 26.1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide, according to the Johns Hopkins data, and 864,691 people have died. At least 17.3 million people are confirmed to have tested positive and recovered.
The U.S. has the highest case tally at 6.1 million, and the highest death toll at 186,185. The U.S. mortality rate stands at 56.77 per 100,000 people.
Brazil is second to the U.S. with 3.9 million cases and 123,780 deaths.
Brazil is followed in case numbers by India, Russia and Peru. India has the third highest death toll at 67,376, followed by Mexico with 65,816. The U.K. has 342,684 cases and 41,615 deaths, the highest in Europe and fifth highest in the world.
China, where the disease was first reported late last year, has 89,961 cases and 4,727 deaths, according to its official numbers.