The global tally of confirmed cases of the coronavirus-borne illness COVID-19 climbed above 160 million on Thursday, as the U.S. braced for the start of a vaccination program for 12- to 15-year-olds after an authorization from the nation’s main public health agency.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approved the recommendation made Wednesday by a CDC committee to expand the emergency use authorization granted to the vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc. /zigman2/quotes/202877789/composite PFE +0.46% and German partner BioNTech SE /zigman2/quotes/214419716/composite BNTX +5.08% . The move is expected to restore momentum to the U.S. vaccine program, which has slowed sharply in recent weeks with many older people now fully inoculated.
The CDC’s vaccine tracker is showing that as of 6 a.m. ET Wednesday, 117.6 million Americans, or 35.4% of the population, were fully vaccinated, meaning they had received two shots of the two-dose vaccines developed by Pfizer and BioNTech and Moderna Inc. /zigman2/quotes/205619834/composite MRNA +2.34% , or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson /zigman2/quotes/201724570/composite JNJ +0.48% one-shot vaccine. The AstraZeneca /zigman2/quotes/200304487/composite AZN -0.10% /zigman2/quotes/203048482/delayed UK:AZN -0.08% vaccine has not been authorized for use in the U.S.
A full 153.9 million Americans have received at least one dose, equal to 46.4% of the population.
Among Americans 65 years and older, 39 million people are fully vaccinated, equal to 71.9% of that group. Almost 46 million people in that age bracket have received a first jab, covering 84% of that population.
The crisis in Asia continues, meanwhile, with the highly infectious variant first detected in India spreading fast. The International Federation of the Red Cross said cases are exploding in Asia and the Pacific regions with more than 5.9 million new confirmed cases in the past two weeks.
“COVID-19 is exploding across much of Asia, overwhelming hospitals and healthcare,” said Alexander Matheou, Asia Pacific Director for the Red Cross, in a statement. “More people have been diagnosed with the disease in Asia over the past two weeks than in the Americas, Europe, and Africa combined.
“Right now, we need global solidarity for regional support with more medical equipment, support for prevention and urgent access to vaccines,” he said.
It took Laos just 12 days to see cases double, while the number in India has doubled in less than two months to more than 23 million, Matheou said. The World Health Organization said this week that the variant, called B.1.617, has been detected in 44 countries.
India recorded 362,727 new cases on Thursday and 4,120 deaths , according to its health ministry. Both numbers are held to be vastly undercounted, given the stress on the nation of almost 1.4 billion people’s healthcare system. India’s vaccine program continues to stutter with just 3% of the population fully vaccinated so far.
Authorities in the eastern state of Bihar have set up a net across the Ganges River after scores of bodies of suspected COVID-19 victims washed up on the banks earlier this week, CNN reported. There are growing concerns that poorer people are resorting to placing bodies in rivers as India’s crematoria are overwhelmed and the cost of cremations has soared.
Officials found 71 corpses on Monday, the Associated Press reported, and images on social media of the bodies floating in the river prompted outrage. Authorities performed postmortems on Tuesday but said they could not confirm the cause of death due to the decomposition of the bodies.
Vitalik Buterin, co-creator of the crypto network ethereum /zigman2/quotes/108573964/realtime ETHUSD +0.54% , donated more than $1 billion in that currency on Wednesday to a relief fund to combat the spread of COVID-19 in India, The Wall Street Journal reported.
In other news:
• Mixing doses of COVID-19 vaccines increases the risk of mild to moderate side effects when compared with administering two shots of the same vaccine, but is safe, according to data from a key U.K. trial, MarketWatch’s Lina Saigol reported. The Com-Cov study, led by the University of Oxford, was launched in February to compare the effect of administering a first dose of the vaccine developed by Oxford and drug company AstraZeneca followed a few weeks later by the vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech. The trial involved 830 volunteers aged over 50, who received four different combinations of the AstraZeneca and Pfizer–BioNTech shots. The first full results are expected to be published in June.
• Ohio will end its pandemic restrictions on June 2, and will give away $1 million in prizes and college scholarships as incentives to get more people vaccinated against COVID-19, MarketWatch’s Mike Murphy reported. Ohio’s Republican Gov. Mike DeWine announced the unusual vaccination incentives Wednesday, in an effort to improve vaccination rates before the state fully reopens. Starting May 26, adult Ohioans who have received at least one vaccine dose will be entered into a drawing, with the winner getting $1 million . The lottery will run every Wednesday for five weeks, with five winners.
• California is likely to have “guidelines and mandates” for wearing masks indoors after the state fully reopens next month, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday, appearing to walk back comments from the previous day that indicated masks would be gone in nearly all situations, the AP reported. California’s mask requirements took effect in June 2020. Last month, Newsom announced he would lift most restrictions on business and activities on June 15 if the state’s coronavirus cases remained low but said mask orders would stay in effect.
• China supports a proposal by the World Trade Organization for a waiver on intellectual property related to COVID-19 vaccines, Reuters reported. Drug makers and some other governments opposed the idea, saying it would not solve global inoculation shortages. “China supports the WTO’s proposal on IP exemptions for anti-epidemic materials such as the COVID vaccine to enter the text consultation stage,” Commerce Ministry spokesman Gao FengGao said at a regular news conference in Beijing.
• A union of Japanese hospital doctors has warned that it would be impossible to hold the Olympic Games while the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage, AFP reported. “We strongly oppose holding the Tokyo Olympics at a time when people around the world are fighting the new coronavirus,” the union said in a statement submitted to the government. “It is impossible to hold a safe and secure Olympics during the pandemic.” The union, which represents staff doctors at hospitals, is one of a number in Japan for different medical professionals. It does not list the size of its membership.