The global tallies of cases and deaths from the coronavirus-borne illness COVID-19 have started to plateau, according to the World Health Organization, but they remain at “unacceptably” high levels in many countries, notably India, where the crisis continues to deepen.
The positive declines in the Americas and Europe, the two worst-affected regions in the pandemic, are being offset by surging infections in Southeast Asia, where new variants are engulfing India, as well as Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia, which entered a fresh lockdown on Monday that is expected to stretch through June 7, according to Reuters.
The WHO declared the strain dubbed B.1.627 that was first detected in India a “variant of concern” on Monday and said it is likely far more transmissible than the original virus.
“Globally, we are still in a perilous situation,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “The spread of variants, increased social mixing, the relaxation of public health and social measures and inequitable vaccination are all driving transmission,” Tedros said in a Monday briefing with reporters.
Villagers in Northern India discovered dozens of corpses on the banks of the Ganges River, the New York Times reported, raising concerns that poorer people are disposing of COVID-19 victims in rivers because the cost of cremations has climbed so high. For weeks now, crematoria and graveyards have been overwhelmed by demand and Indians have been using parks and car parks for funeral pyres. Health officials working through the night Monday retrieved 71 bodies, officials in Bihar state said, the Associated Press reported.
In another grim development, Indian hospitals are reporting a rise in cases of mucormycosis, or “black fungus,” a rare but potentially lethal infection that is closely linked to diabetes. The disease can lead to blackening or discoloration over the nose, blurred or double vision, chest pain, breathing difficulties and coughing blood, Reuters reported. Diabetes can in turn be exacerbated by steroids such as dexamethasone, which are being used to treat severe COVID-19.
There was positive news on the vaccine front, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration expanded the emergency use authorization it had granted to the vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc. /zigman2/quotes/202877789/composite PFE -1.30% and German partner BioNTech SE /zigman2/quotes/214419716/composite BNTX -3.61% for use in 12- to 15-year-olds. The news comes at a time when the U.S. vaccine push has been slowing with most of those willing to be vaccinated having received at least one jab, leaving only antivaxers unprotected.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker is showing that as of 6 a.m. ET Monday, 152.8 million Americans had received at least one dose, equal to 46% of the population.
A full 115.5 million Americans were fully vaccinated, equal to 34.8% of the population, meaning they have received two shots of the two-dose vaccines developed by Pfizer and BioNTech and Moderna Inc. /zigman2/quotes/205619834/composite MRNA -2.41% , or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson /zigman2/quotes/201724570/composite JNJ -0.28% one-shot vaccine. The AstraZeneca /zigman2/quotes/200304487/composite AZN -1.84% /zigman2/quotes/203048482/delayed UK:AZN -0.96% vaccine has not been authorized for use in the U.S.
Among Americans 65 years old and older, 39 million people are fully vaccinated, equal to 71.5% of that group. Almost 46 million people in that age bracket have received a first jab, covering 83.7% of that population.
But the WHO’s Tedros again called on wealthier countries to do more to ensure poorer countries get access to vaccines, noting that high- and upper-middle income countries represent 53% of the world’s population, but have received 83% of the world’s vaccines. Experts have warned that hogging vaccines will allow new variants to emerge and they could eventually prove resistant to the vaccines that have been authorized for use.
“Redressing this global imbalance is an essential part of the solution, but not the only part, and not an immediate solution. We cannot put all our eggs in one basket,” Tedros said.
In other news:
• Novavax Inc. /zigman2/quotes/202614340/composite NVAX +0.11% has delayed plans to seek regulatory clearances for its COVID-19 vaccine, while shortages in raw materials are slowing the ramp-up of production of doses, the Wall Street Journal reported. The delays may set back efforts to increase vaccinations in developing countries, which have been dealing with limited doses of currently available shots and are looking forward to Novavax’s. The company previously expected to complete requests for regulatory authorizations of its COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S., the U.K. and other European countries by the end of June. Now, the company said Monday it expects to complete those filings by the end of September.
• Cerecor Inc. said its experimental COVID-19 drug had received a Fast Track designation from the Food and Drug Administration, MarketWatch’s Jaimy Lee reported. The treatment candidate is a monoclonal antibody being targeted at people with COVID-19 who are sick enough to be hospitalized.