By Ciara Linnane
The White House on Thursday announced more steps to make the antiviral treatment Paxlovid more accessible across the U.S., cautioning that COVID-19 cases are likely to continue to climb over the summer travel season.
The first federally backed test-to-treat site is opening Thursday in Rhode Island, providing patients with access to the drug immediately after they test positive, the Associated Press reported. More federally supported sites are set to open in the coming weeks in Massachusetts and New York City, both hit by marked rises in infections.
Federal regulators have also sent clearer guidance to physicians to help them determine how to manage Paxlovid’s interactions with other drugs, with an eye toward helping prescribers find ways to get the lifesaving medication to more patients.
Despite a nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases, deaths from the virus have remained largely stable over the past eight weeks, as vaccine booster shots and widely accessible treatments have helped to unlink infections and mortality.
But COVID cases continue to rise across the U.S. and are trending at the highest levels seen since February, when the first omicron wave was starting to ebb. Cases are higher in nearly every state, and there are concerns that case numbers are even higher than known, as many people are now testing at home and the data are not being collected.
The U.S. is averaging 110,084 cases a day, up 26% from two weeks ago, according to a New York Times tracker. The country is averaging 26,110 hospitalizations a day, up 29% from two weeks ago.
The daily death toll has fallen to 358 on average, up 12% from two weeks ago.
The rise in cases appears to be stabilizing in the Northeast, a recent hot spot, and are leveling off in New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island, the tracker shows.
In medical news, the Food and Drug Administration is expected to make a decision on the vaccine developed by Novavax /zigman2/quotes/202614340/composite NVAX -0.27% after the regulator’s vaccines advisory committee meets June 7 to discuss the risks and benefits of the investigational two-dose shot.
Experts believe the vaccine called Nuvaxovid, may serve as an alternative option for people who are hesitant to get an mRNA vaccine, as MarketWatch’s Jaimy Lee has reported.
Nuvaxovid is a recombinant protein-based shot that is similar in design to a flu shot that’s been available in the U.S. since 2013. This type of vaccine has a different makeup than the mRNA vaccines developed by Moderna /zigman2/quotes/205619834/composite MRNA +0.71% , Pfizer /zigman2/quotes/202877789/composite PFE +2.99% and BioNTech /zigman2/quotes/214419716/composite BNTX +1.32% /zigman2/quotes/222361179/delayed XE:22UA +5.67% , as well as the adenovirus shot from Johnson & Johnson /zigman2/quotes/201724570/composite JNJ +1.46% .
Nuvaxovid has been authorized as a vaccine or booster in several countries, including Australia, Europe, Japan, the U.K. and Singapore, where a rollout of the shot is currently in process. The company said Wednesday it is participating in a new Phase 2 trial in the U.K. that gives a Novavax booster to teens who were vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine.
The company applied for authorization of a booster for teens in the U.K. earlier this month.
Other COVID-19 news you should know about:
• North Korea says its COVID-19 outbreak has been brought under control, with state media reporting falling caseloads for a seventh straight day Friday as healthcare workers “intensify” testing and treatment, AFP reported. But experts question the numbers given the isolated country has a weak healthcare system and likely no treatments or mass testing ability. North Korea announced its first coronavirus cases on May 12 and activated a “maximum emergency epidemic prevention system,” with autocratic leader Kim Jong Un putting himself front and center of the government’s response. Kim blamed lazy officials for a sluggish reaction to the outbreak and deployed the army to staff Pyongyang’s pharmacies.
• An Apple supplier in Shanghai is facing a worker revolt after a lockdown that has lasted almost two months, Bloomberg News reported. Quanta Computer Inc.’s mostly low-wage workers are demanding more freedom and beginning to revolt against their overseers, people familiar with the matter said, asking not to be identified for fear of reprisal. Hundreds of workers have clashed with guards and some, fearful they will run out of supplies, swept past guarded isolation barriers to seek out necessities. The problems underscore the challenges facing China’s zero-COVID strategy.
• Beijing has detained 17 employees at a COVID-19 testing facility for failing to test samples properly, Bloomberg reported separately. Workers at the lab are alleged to have diluted samples to the point that they are no longer able to detect infections, and officials are concerned they are risking further spread.
• Japan will open its borders to foreign tourists in June for the first time since imposing tight pandemic travel restrictions about two years ago, but only for package tours for now, the prime minister said Thursday, the AP reported . Beginning June 10, Japan will allow the entry of people on tours with fixed schedules and guides, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said. Tourists from areas with low COVID-19 infection rates who have received three vaccine doses will be exempt from testing and quarantine after entry.
Here’s what the numbers say
The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 topped 527.9 million on Friday, while the death toll rose above 6.28 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University .
The U.S. leads the world with 83.8 million cases and 1,004,128 fatalities.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracker shows that 221 million people living in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, equal to 66.6% of the total population. But just 102.9 million have had a first booster, equal to 46.6% of the vaccinated population.
Just 12.9 million of the people aged 50 and over who are eligible for a second booster have had one, equal to 20.7% of those who had a first booster.